Things could get even worse for Cubs on offense

LOS ANGELES — The Dodgers have surrendered a mere five hits in two games — all singles — and not one pitch has been thrown by Los Angeles star Clayton Kershaw.

Not yet, at least.

That comes Sunday as the Dodgers aim to complete a sweep of the defending world champion Chicago Cubs, who have taken a step back on the road following a 7-2 homestand.

“We haven’t strung together enough quality at-bats the last two games,” Ben Zobrist said after Saturday’s 5-0 loss. “It’s not just us. They’ve pitched well. The task doesn’t get any easier [Sunday].”

We’ll get to Kershaw in a moment, but the off-kilter start to the season has continued to plague the Cubs at a time when many thought they could begin to finally separate themselves within the division. But the past two days have seen a sluggish offense taken to task by Alex Wood and Brandon McCarthy, respectively.

“As a group, they are an elevated fastball group,” manager Joe Maddon said of Dodgers pitching. “It’s up to us to make an adjustment.”

Infielder Addison Russell concurred. He has been swinging at a lot of pitches he shouldn’t be, as he and fellow youngster Kyle Schwarber continue season-long slumps. Maddon saw positive signs in the latter player’s swings Saturday, but that’s little consolation with his batting average having dropped to an unsightly .178.

And there is no magic wand to wave here. Instead of going macro, the Cubs are going micro, focusing on the process.

“It comes down to execution,” Zobrist said. “And maybe minimizing the game to one at-bat as opposed to the whole game. … At the end of the day, wins are a compilation of a lot of little wins throughout the game.”

The competition has something to do with that, as well. The Dodgers improved after losing to the Cubs in the NLCS. In fact, it seems as if all the competing divisional opponents around the Cubs improved in an attempt to catch last season’s best team in the league. So far, the champions haven’t pushed back enough. They’re in the mix, but they aren’t dominating by any stretch of the imagination.

At least not yet.

Jason Heyward was asked about the start-and-stop to the season, with every step forward seemingly followed by one back. “It’s not a start-and-stop,” he said. “It’s just a continuation of a season when you’re playing good teams. I don’t think many teams got worse coming into the season.”

Some thought the Cubs also got better due to the return of a healthy Schwarber, but in reality, how many World Series winners actually get better? Whatever they gain in experience, they can easily lose in other areas, such as fatigue or even desire. So what’s the answer?

Stay the course, the Cubs say. It’s not as if they’re trailing in the division by double digits.

“It’s just the process,” Russell said. “Things aren’t going as well as we want them to, but we need to keep our heads up.”

Perhaps Zobrist said it best — though it won’t satisfy frustrated fans. Sometimes you just get out of “rhythm” but can’t put your finger on why. That’s a fitting description of the Cubs this year, especially on offense. After the past two days, they’ve fallen to 12th in batting average and next face a pitcher who gives up hits less than 20 percent of the time. Perhaps the Cubs haven’t hit bottom this weekend yet; that could come Sunday.

“It’s important to get good at-bats and be process-oriented and avoid results,” Maddon said. “Should be an interesting game.”

That is if the Cubs can make it so.

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