Cubs notes: Striking the right balance with lineup rotations and stacking up against southpaws
David Ross has preached a desire to keep the starting lineup stable whenever possible and he held true to that process Thursday, rolling out the same position player group as in Wednesday’s win.
That meant everyday players Jason Heyward and Joc Pederson on the bench again, though we found out a little before game time that Pederson’s absence was also due to left wrist tendinitis that landed him on the 10-day IL.
With the Cubs in a stretch of three straight games against left-handed starting pitchers, Ross opted to keep his veteran role players like Jake Marisnick and Matt Duffy in the starting lineup. Part of that is because of the offense’s success (16 runs) the night before, of which Duffy played a big role (3 hits, 3 RBI).
The consistency paid off, as the Cubs walked off the Mets Thursday night 4-3 in 10 innings for a series sweep. Heyward came up with the game-winning knock, a pinch-hit single with the bases loaded in the bottom of the 10th inning.
“That’s a character win,” Ross said. “It says a lot about this group — continue to fight. … Hopefully the momentum can carry forward after a nice win on the back side of a series.”
The Cubs also improved to 5-0 against left-handed starting pitchers this season and will face another southpaw Friday in Milwaukee’s Brett Anderson.
That’s a marked improvement for the Cubs offense, who went 21-22 against left-handed starters the last two seasons. Cubs hitters posted a .196/.308/.311 (.619 OPS) batting line against southpaws in 2020.
They’ve changed their tune this year, thanks in large part to the performances of their top right-handed bats – Kris Bryant (1.375 OPS), Willson Contreras (1.089), David Bote (.940) and Javy Báez (.919) have all hit lefties hard in the early going.
Duffy is also contributing, with an .829 OPS as a regular starter against lefties.
Over the offseason, the Cubs were cognizant of their performance against southpaws but they also expected a natural rebound as their star players returned to form.
“That was a weakness of ours last year, but I think our righties in general were just kind of off on both sides maybe a little bit more than what their career track record would tell us,” David Ross said. “Definitely it was something that was on the radar but I think you’re seeing the version of a lot of guys that we didn’t see last year.”
The Cubs may have surprised quite a few folks when they opted to take Duffy on the Opening Day roster but they’ve maintained all along they like his contact-oriented approach. He was a non-roster invite to spring training and flew under the radar in Arizona to the point where even he thought he wouldn’t make the big league roster out of camp.
“Obviously pumped about it, but I was a little bit surprised,” Duffy said.
Ross and Co. expressed to Duffy how much they liked his skillset of putting the bat on the ball, especially off the bench. His first strikeout of the season came in Thursday’s game after 15 at-bats.
When Duffy isn’t starting, he and Eric Sogard form a dynamic veteran duo off the bench. They’re valuable role players who understand their job and find a way to produce even without consistent playing time.
“They’ve been exactly what we expected — even better than expected,” Ross said. “…I’ve been really thankful for having those guys on my team and what they’ve brought so far to the group.”
Sogard came up with a pair of big hits in the series with the Mets, driving in runs on both Tuesday and Wednesday night.
KB in the OF
Duffy has seen most of his playing time against lefties, starting at third base.
That gives the lineup another right-handed bat but it also pushes Bryant to the outfield, where he continues to provide steady defense.
Bryant doesn’t take many outfield reps but he feels comfortable out there and started each of the final two games against the Mets in right field. Wednesday night, he made a couple of nice plays, including a sliding grab that reminded his manager of Heyward.
“He looks so comfortable out there and at ease,” Ross said. “It really is a nice luxury to have to be able to move a guy of his caliber around a little bit. I thought he played that ball off the wall and slid perfectly yesterday to protect himself and still give himself a chance.
“The slide coming in looked really J-Hey-ish. I don’t know if he watches Heyward a lot on that little one-knee slide. That was nice. He’s gotten some action out there and there’s been no panic in the movements. It’s been very clean. He’s done a great job.
“He looks really natural out there and that’s a really big value, especially when I want to get guys like Duffy in and give an outfielder a day off here and there. Being able to move that type of player around is extremely valuable.”
Aftermath of Pederson’s injury
With Pederson now on the shelf for at least the next nine days, Bryant may see some more time in the outfield in the coming weeks.
The Cubs called up Nico Hoerner to take Pederson’s spot on the 26-man roster and the young player has some experience in center field but is a Gold Glove-caliber defender on the infield.
Heyward figures to be the everyday right fielder against righties and Marisnick will often play against lefties with Ian Happ moving to left field.
Ross can mix and match with those three and Bryant in the outfield until Pederson returns.
The Cubs welcome the Brewers into town for a three-game series beginning Friday. The pitching matchup for the three games (which will all be on Marquee Sports Network):
Friday: Kyle Hendricks vs. Brett Anderson
Saturday: Adbert Alzolay vs. Freddy Peralta
Sunday: Jake Arrieta vs. Brandon Woodruff