By: Thomas Gibbons
It was not the opening weekend Cub fans hoped for. I for one had the Cubs penciled in as 4-0 heading to Cincinnati on Monday afternoon. But their kryptonite was in full effect: leaving runners in scoring position.
One out of the four Cubs starters put up a solid performance and that was Kyle Hendricks. He allowed one run on four hits in six innings of work. As for Lester, Darvish and Quintana, they combined to allow 14 earned runs. Not good considering all the money tied up there. You can make the argument that it was their first start of the season and not to panic just yet, but after a solid spring you would expect for them to come out sharp to start the season.
As for the offense, we saw plenty of high’s and plenty of low’s, mainly leaving runners on base. In the 17 inning thriller on Friday night, the Cubs were 0-11 with RISP. Brutal.
Last season, the Cubs were 9th in the league in home runs, 5th in RBI’s and OBP. Those numbers do not call for the hitting coach to be fired, but the Cubs went in a new direction letting go of John Mallee and hiring Chili Davis. This change centered around the need to fix the Cubs situational hitting which the team was horrific at last season. With a ball club that has so much potential and star power, getting runners in can push them from great to elite status.
“I try to bring a mentality not as much as a philosophy in hitting,” said Davis. Everyone has a philosophy. A lot of them, to me, match. But I try to bring a mentality in how we approach games day in and day out.” -Chili Davis in January of ’18
Davis formerly was the hitting coach for the Boston Red Sox from 2015-2017. During his tenure, the Red Sox have led the majors in runs with 2,411 (2,411) and third in OPS at .762. Impressive resume to say the least.
Now, Davis has a new task and that is bringing another World Series title back to the North Side. The hitting coach can only do so much. Ultimately, it’s on the players to execute.
We hear it all the time from Joe Maddon or the players themselves when talking about RISP: “just get the ball in play. There are plenty of times we see Javier Baez or Jason Heyward try and swing for the fences with men on 2nd and 3rd with one out. As much as the players want to hit one out of the park and the fans to enjoy that moment, it is not all about that. You have to hit it in the gaps in the outfield or drive the ball to the opposite field. Also, you have to recognize the shift and play to it. Seems easy right? It’s not but players have to work the field to their advantage and not go for the power swing every time.
Hitting was not generally the problem this weekend. The Cubs did hit five home runs, two coming from Kyle Schwarber. And if you like the exit velocity stat, the Cubs were making good contact and driving the ball. Kris Bryant had a nice weekend hitting .389 with 1 HR and driving in four. Ben Zobrist had the game winning RBI on Saturday night which was good to see from him after a lingering back issue at the beginning of spring. Overall, the Cubs were OK at the plate but situational hitting kept them from being great.
For the four game series vs the Marlins, the Cubs left an average of 5 men on base per game. That is not going to cut it. The Cubs have a quick stop in Cincinnati for a two game set then they are off to Milwaukee for a four game series before the home opener on April 9th.