October 5, 2022

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Cubs' new offensive blueprint shows in big win

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CHICAGO — The lineup that the Cubs have assembled this season lacks the familiar names of recent campaigns. That does not mean the club feels the offense will lack an ability to generate runs.

“I want us to be an offensive club,” said new Cubs hitting coach Greg Brown. “We have different ways of scoring runs, and I think that [when] you look at it from a team aspect, our goal is – we’re going to have to find runs up and down the lineup, through our bench.

“We need to be able to be a little bit more dynamic and be able to score. I think that that’s our goal. It’s to not be siloed into the three-run homer. I think that we need to be able to do multiple things.”

Here are a few examples from Saturday’s win.

One day after holding their own against Corbin Burnes, the reigning National League Cy Young Award winner, the Cubs forced righty Brandon Woodruff to toil through 40 pitches in the first inning.

Rafael Ortega opened with a leadoff walk, followed by a hit batsman (Nick Madrigal), another free pass (Willson Contreras) and a bases-loaded walk (Ian Happ). Chicago sent eight batters to the plate, with their only hit coming via an infield single by Jason Heyward.

“It puts a lot of pressure on the opposing pitchers, if you can get deep in the count, lay off the tough pitches, and then don’t miss the ones that are over the middle,” Madrigal said. “I think that’s a pretty simple game plan for us.

“It’s easier said than done. There are going to be times [and] games where it doesn’t go our way.”

In Saturday’s win, the Cubs’ lineup saw 184 pitches total, averaging 4.18 per plate appearance. Last season, the MLB average was 3.94 pitches per PA, including a 3.94 showing by the Cubs overall on the year.

Seiya Suzuki and Contreras were among the batters to crush a pitch to right field, where a strong wind off Lake Michigan worked against their flight en route to outs. Patrick Wisdom‘s would-be grand slam in the fourth was also knocked down.

“That ball Wiz hit was absolutely crushed,” Happ said. “You’ve got to put together some at-bats like we did against Woodruff to kind of get to the end of his rope and really force him to throw a bunch of pitches.”

The Cubs churned out six hits off Woodruff, who was chased after 3 2/3 innings and 89 pitches. The two hits that drove in runs were singles. On the day overall, the Cubs only swung and missed 14 times, showing excellent discipline. They had just 26 games total in 2021 in which they whiffed 14 or fewer times.

“I don’t know that power is going to be our strongest suit,” Cubs manager David Ross said, “but the good at-bats and turning over to the next guy seems to be a trend already that I love.

“And that — with these guys, their characteristics — should play out, if we continue to put these guys in the right spots. That’s the kind of offense I hope we can have.”

3. Aggressive baserunning

During Spring Training, third-base coach Willis Harris’ message to the team was to err on the side of aggressiveness on the basepaths. If they ran into outs in the preseason, at least it was a way to test limits in preparation for the season.

“It’s just seeing how far we can push the envelope,” Cubs outfielder Michael Hermosillo explained during the spring.

In the sixth inning against the Brewers, that mindset paid off. With the bases loaded, Wisdom hit a hard grounder to shortstop Willy Adames. The Milwaukee infielder looked to second, hesitated and then fired the ball to first base.

With two outs, Frank Schwindel — who was on second base — kept hustling around third and toward home. Wisdom was narrowly safe at first and Schwindel slid after Happ scored for the second run on the play.

“A big part of that was Willie in his ear, yelling at him,” Ross said. “If you watched Frank after he slid in and ran back around toward the dugout, he gave Willie a big fist pump.

“That’s what Willie brings. He’s always got his attention to detail, and he doesn’t lose sight of what’s about to happen. He’s got good vision there.”

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