Baseball / Sports

Cubs continue to struggle in clutch in loss to Braves

ATLANTA -- Cubs manager Rick Renteria hasn't considered moving pitchers Travis Wood or Jeff Samardzija out of the ninth spot in the batting order.

But there could be some changes if the Cubs' offense continues to stagnate as it did Sunday in a 5-2 loss that completed a three-game sweep for the Braves. .

The Cubs (12-24), who dipped to a season-high 12 games under .500, have scored nine runs in their last six losses. That has placed an anvil of pressure on their starting pitchers, from Samardzija (no wins despite a 1.45 ERA) to Edwin Jackson, who pitched six innings of six-hit ball but surrendered what turned out to be a game-winning home run to Evan Gattis in the fourth inning Sunday.

In fact, the Cubs have not had a starting pitcher throw at least six innings and allow more than three earned runs and still earn a win since Matt Garza allowed five earned runs in six innings of a 12-7 victory on June 16, 2011.

The Cubs' nine-hit attack Sunday was nullified by their 1-for-8 performance with runners in scoring position. After Nate Schierholtz hit a two-run double near the top of the fence in right field that tied the game in the fourth, Welington Castillo, Mike Olt and Darwin Barney struck out in succession.

Adjusting to specific situations has been an ongoing process for the Cubs, who are batting .195 with runners in scoring position.

"What we need to do is chip away, hopefully, at how we're supposed to approach our at-bats," Renteria said. "That's the bottom line. We can put the bat on the ball. I think we've got to do a better job of understanding the situation, not getting ourselves where we're too excited and kind of take the emotion out of it a little bit.

"(Hitting coach) Billy Mueller and (assistant hitting coach) Mike Brumley talk to the players a lot about trying to take the emotion out of it, slow the game down. But it's still a process and obviously we haven't gotten where we need to be, so we've got to keep chipping way and as the season progresses, we find that formula that gives us an opportunity to do those things."

Renteria shunned the notion that his players have peaked and have no room for growth.

"Are these guys the final product?" Renteria replied. "No. There's a lot of skill in these guys, and they're not completely there yet. They're chipping away.

"If you want to call it the beauty of the process, the reality is I have to understand the perspective and understand their skill set and know we're still chipping away and helping them become the players we want them to be."

Renteria looked at the lineup card of the Braves, who feature the likes of everyday players Jason Heyward -- who hit a two-run home run off left-hander James Russell -- Freddie Freeman and Gattis.

"A lot of these guys didn't become who they are immediately," Renteria said, smiling. "It took a little time."

One potential change could occur at the leadoff spot after Emilio Bonifacio didn't start for the second time in three games. After carrying the offense though April, Bonifacio is in a 3-for-28 slump, and Renteria acknowledged that Bonifacio has been chasing high pitches out of the strike zone.

Ryan Kalish, who usually bats second when Bonifacio starts, could switch places.

"They are interchangeable," Renteria said. "At least if you have Boni in the second spot as a switch hitter, it gives you a couple of different options. So it's something you possibly can see."

But as for other spots, the Cubs will have to wait patiently for a turnaround. Castillo is 2-for-15 on this nine-game trip that concludes with four games this week in St. Louis.

(c)2014 Chicago Tribune

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