Why the Chicago Cubs Can’t Win on the Road

SAN FRANCISCO, CA - JULY 23: Brad Brach #29 of the Chicago Cubs stands and looks on after giving up a solo walk-off home run to Pablo Sandoval #48 of the San Francisco Giants in the bottom of the 13th inning at Oracle Park on July 23, 2019 in San Francisco, California. The Giants won the game 5-4. (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)

Embarrassing might not be the first word used to describe a second-place team. However, that’s the term Chicago Cubs President of Baseball Operations Theo Epstein used to describe the team’s struggles on the road this season. In a radio appearance on Chicago’s 670 The Score last week, Epstein said that the team is embarrassed by having not won a series on the road since May. He also pointed out that the Cubs have lost all seven road series against division opponents.

Why the Chicago Cubs Can’t Win on the Road

Not Chicago’s Style  

The NL Central is better. The eleven game difference between first and fifth place on August 1st is the closest the NL Central has been since Joe Maddon arrived in 2015.

That point aside, the Cubs road winning percentage is .389 in 2019. If that number holds, it will be the worst season the team has had on the road during Maddon’s tenure. One would have to go back to 2012, Epstein’s first year in Chicago, to find a Cubs team that was worse away from home. The “north siders” lost 101 games that season.

Furthermore, Chicago has the worst road record in the National League. The Cubs have won just 21 games away from Wrigley Field. That’s as many road wins as the Baltimore Orioles and Seattle Mariners — both last-place teams. In fact, only the Orioles, Chicago White Sox, Kansas City Royals, and Detroit Tigers have a worse winning percentage as the away team this season. For a club that has World Series aspirations, one might believe that the Cubs do not want to be in the same conversation as teams in various stages of rebuilding.

Strong Road Start

Losing on the road wasn’t always the norm. Though the Cubs went 2-7 on the road to start the season, they won 14 of 21 to finish the month of April. This stretch included three of the team’s four road series wins this season.

The Cubs have lost 33 games on the road this season. Twelve of those losses have been decided by a single run. Twenty have been by a margin of two runs or fewer. So what is the issue, one might ask? It’s not the bats. Since 2017, the Cubs offense has steadily averaged around five runs per game no matter where they play.

Struggling Arms 

The Cubs bullpen has allowed their opponent to walk-off a winner six times this season. As a matter of fact, Chicago relievers are 4th in blown saves (20), 20th in ERA (4.21), and have been saddled with the loss 13 times in away games. The Cubs signed Craig Kimbrel in June to help with their bullpen issues. Before landing on the IL earlier this week, Kimbrel was 0-2 with a 5.68 ERA as the closer. Every earned run Kimbrel has allowed has come on the road this year.

It’s not just the bullpen that can shoulder the blame. The starting rotation is 16-19 with a 4.20 ERA in away games in 2019. The pitching staff as a whole carries a road ERA of 4.73, nearly a run and a half higher than their home ERA (3.33).

Hamels Return 

That starting staff got a breath of fresh air with the return of Cole Hamels this weekend. At Wrigley on Saturday, Hamels struck out six across five scoreless innings against the Brewers. Hamels is 4-3 in road starts this season, the only Cubs pitcher with a winning record away from home. His 3.42 road ERA is also the lowest among Chicago starters. His re-addition to the roster, along with new additions like Nicholas Castellanos and Tony Kemp, may be what the Cubs need to turn things around away from Wrigley.

The Cubs head out on the road this weekend for a four-game series against the Cincinnati Reds. If their road struggles continue, they can take solace in this fact. Of the Cubs forty-eight remaining games, 21 are at home. At Wrigley Field, the Cubs have a .673 winning percentage. That home winning percentage is good enough for 2nd in the NL, 5th in Major League Baseball.

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