Cubs News

Cubs offense clicking early behind consistent top of the order

12 months agoChris Emma

CHICAGO – Last season, as the Cubs began to set a foundation towards the future, manager David Ross wrote 150 different lineup combinations over the course of the regular season. Ten different players each hit in the first four spots of the batting order. 

Ross is now writing out a more familiar lineup early this season, which represents continuity and a budding core in place. Nico Hoerner has led off every day, Dansby Swanson has played all but one game, Ian Happ has served as a steady presence in the third spot and Seiya Suzuki returned from an oblique injury to occupy the cleanup spot.

From there, Ross has played matchups with the hot-hitting Cody Bellinger and Patrick Wisdom and written a lineup card for one of the most productive teams in baseball. The Cubs entered Saturday’s game against the Dodgers hitting an MLB-leading .290 collectively through 19 games. The Cubs also lead the National League with 114 runs scored this season.

While Ross recognizes the Cubs’ sizzling numbers are not entirely sustainable, he sees characteristics that can be lasting.

“Right now, the guys just got a great plan,” Ross said. “I think it’s extremely difficult to get hit after hit, but this group does not give away at-bats. When you do that, especially when you start to take leads, the opposing team has to go to either side of their ‘pen because they don’t want to use their (high) leverage guys down, it just equates to these guys tack on runs and you start to see these big numbers. It’s a product to how these guys start the game and never waver from their approach throughout – all nine innings.”

During the Cubs’ 13-0 win over the Dodgers on Friday afternoon, the team’s bats were seemingly an afterthought to the near-perfect performance by Drew Smyly. But the Cubs had 17 hits and each of their nine starters had recorded a hit by the fifth inning.

The Cubs’ top five hitters of their lineup for Saturday – Hoerner, Swanson, Happ, Suzuki and Bellinger – each entered this game hitting over .300 on the season. Hoerner has been the catalyst, hitting .365 in the leadoff spot and reaching base at a .405 clip.

Eric Hosmer, a 13-year MLB veteran, took notice of the Cubs’ 39-31 finish in the second half of the 2022 season and saw a team he believed was heading in the right direction. Now, he sees the right mesh of a young core with a veteran cast.

“It’s been a fun group,” Hosmer said. “Really fun, energetic group. A young group that the way they handled the second half last year, it felt like when they got a full 162, they can maintain that pace of play for the whole time. I think they added a group of veteran guys in here that know their roles and gel in with these guys well. It just makes for a fun group, an energetic group and guys that really make it fun to go to work every day and go to battle.

“Getting to see these guys day in and day out, it just gives you a whole ‘nother respect for them.”

Closer by committee

In a baseball oddity, the Cubs have won a dozen games with just two saves recorded. They haven’t been forced to count on a closer just yet. 

But when Ross signals to the bullpen in a save situation, it’s not quite clear who will jog out to the mound. The Cubs are planning to utilize a closer-by-committee approach for the ninth inning – just as they will count on relievers for various roles throughout a ballgame.

“I definitely don’t feel like we have that typical guy, like a Craig Kimbrel, that has the resume,” Ross said. “There will definitely be somebody to pitch the ninth when we’re winning every night. But I don’t know if it will be the same names. And those guys are OK with that.”

The Cubs turned to Michael Fulmer for their first save of the season during a 2-0 win over the Rangers on April 7 at Wrigley Field. In a 3-2 victory over the Dodgers last Sunday in Los Angeles, it was Brad Boxberger who finished out the game with the save.

“Nobody feels like they need to have the ninth (inning) or the sixth or the fifth,” Ross said. “I think that’s a positive thing. I think they understand Keegan (Thompson) can give you multiples and Adbert (Alzolay) can give you multiples and how the pockets may line up, they know to stay ready to get out in their areas. We try to communicate what that is before the game.”

Mancini finding his form

Trey Mancini was traded by the Orioles to the Astros prior to the 2022 trade deadline and hoped to make his mark on a championship team. Instead, he struggled and hit just .176 over 51 games in Houston.

Mancini earned a World Series ring with the Astros while keeping his head held high amid personal struggles at the plate. Since arriving to the Cubs on a one-year deal this season, Mancini has been searching for consistency at the plate.

It seems the 31-year-old Mancini could be hitting his stride. He had five hits over the last two games, including a home run and three RBIs during Friday’s victory at Wrigley Field. Mancini credits adjustments to his approach for the promising results.

“It’s all about just being in a position and recognizing the pitch instead of having a lot of head movement while the pitch is coming in, things like that,” Mancini said. “I tried to settle down and be a little more grounded up there.”

‘Different’ Madrigal

There was a perception of the ballplayer Nick Madrigal seemed to be when he was acquired by the Cubs prior to the 2021 trade deadline. He was viewed as a gifted contact hitter who was simply limited in the rest of his game.

Madrigal and the Cubs believed there was more in store and now they’re starting to see it. Madrigal has played third base for the first time in his career and embraced being versatile for Ross’ lineup plans. He also put in the work to becoming a better baserunner and a more rounded all-around player.

Through 37 plate appearances, Madrigal has a slash line of .314.351/.429 (.780 OPS) while adding a pair of stolen bases and showing himself well as a third baseman.

“It feels like a different player,” Ross said. “I think he’s healthy, he’s moving well, stealing bases. He’s really embraced the position change in a great way and understanding ‘I’m here to help in any way I can.’ There’s no ego within that. Yeah, he’s got the hit tools, the bat-to-ball skills. But he just looks like the guy that you saw glimpses of last year but wasn’t able to consistently be on the field. He just looks like he’s in a really hood place physically to let his game come out, who we thought he was and who he knows he is.”

Hendricks on the mend

Kyle Hendricks is taking another step forward in his recovery from a right shoulder tear.

Hendricks was scheduled to throw three innings in an extended spring training game on Saturday in Arizona. The Cubs also planned for Codi Heuer to pitch one inning in a simulated game.

Jameson Taillon expressed hope that his groin strain could only a brief stay on the 15-day injured list. Taillon was placed on the injured list retroactive to April 17 after experiencing groin discomfort during workouts in Oakland.

The Cubs have not filled Taillon’s spot in the starting rotation.

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