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Cubs off to a hot start in the situational hitting department

3 years agoTony Andracki

They always say baseball is a game of failure, where you can fail 7 out of 10 times and still be an All-Star.

Well, the 2021 Cubs are nearly succeeding 7 out of 10 times so far this season.

Joc Pederson’s RBI groundout in the 1st inning Sunday gave the Cubs a 70% success rate (7-for-10) in driving home a runner from third base with less than two outs. Javy Báez actually upped the percentage in the 6th inning but Matt Duffy’s groundout later that frame dropped the Cubs’ success rate to 8-for-12 (66.7%).

“I think the whole series was a display of how we can produce runs when not everything’s firing on all cylinders,” Ian Happ said.

Of course, it’s an incredibly small sample size but it’s important for the team to get out to a good start in that area this season. Early success can build confidence and a belief — both individually and as an entire lineup.

“I think it’s huge [to have early success manufacturing runs],” Happ said. “From a team and lineup standpoint — the confidence it gives you as a hitter when you can move a guy over and the next guy gets him in.

“…That just gives you the confidence that you can go up and have that team at-bat, get the guy over when you’re not feeling great or not seeing it great, when you’re down to two strikes. And then trusting the guy behind you. For us as a team, as a lineup, that trust is gonna go a long way.”

Last year, the Cubs brought the runner home from third base with less than two outs 46.1% of the time, which ranked 20th in Major League Baseball.

Since 2014, their best mark in such situations was a 50.5% success rate in 2019 (which ranked 17th in MLB).

“That’s one of those things that’s been a narrative around here and I think it’s just something that’s extremely difficult to do all over the league,” David Ross said. “The fact that the guys are getting runners in with less than two outs from third is important, for sure.

“I think that’s a big value and it does stand out when we don’t execute those things. But that happens — it happens around the league. Every team has that.”

Pederson was also the first Cubs player to succeed in such situations, driving home a run with a sacrifice fly in the bottom of the 1st inning on Opening Day.

In between, the Cubs have also seen sacrifice flies from Anthony Rizzo, David Bote and Willson Contreras and RBI singles from Jake Marisnick and Báez.

It didn’t drive in a run, but Kris Bryant had a quality plate appearance with runners in scoring position and less than two outs in the opener. With Rizzo on second and Contreras on third, Bryant got down in the count 0-2 but didn’t expand the zone and wound up walking to set up Pederson for the sacrifice fly.

Rizzo also worked a one-out walk in Saturday’s contest with Bryant on third base.

“The fact that these guys are staying in their approach,” Ross said. “I love the David Bote at-bat [Saturday] — just stayed in it, got two strikes and still stayed in his right-center, up-the-middle approach. Joc did a good job the first day with the sac fly. These guys are doing a really nice job of not trying to do too much.

“Rizz worked a really nice walk when he got two strikes on him and got a little aggressive on one pitch and recognized that and really toned it back down and was able to get his pitch and work a walk off [Wil] Crowe.

“You’re seeing that around. We gotta stay diligent in that. That’s gonna be something that typically comes and goes throughout the season, but I’m glad we’re off to a nice start.”

The Cubs only had 13 sacrifice flies all season in 2020 and they were already almost a third of the way to that mark through the first 2 games of this year.

Again, it’s a small sample size but that’s exactly the kind of contact-oriented approach the Cubs are aiming for in those situations. They also don’t want to get into spots where they’re overly aggressive and expand the zone, so the pair of walks from Rizzo and Bryant speak volumes.

As Ross said, the trick now will be maintaining that approach throughout the season.

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