Downright explosive: Cubs offense breaks out in a big way
The Cubs knew if they were going to break out of their offensive slump, they needed to follow the “Finding Nemo” advice: “Just keep swimming.”
Although in their case, it was *swinging*.
“We just gotta keep swinging and somehow relax a little bit and just keep playing baseball,” Anthony Rizzo said after Friday’s loss.
The Cubs did exactly that and Willson Contreras’ 1st-inning homer helped lead to some early relaxation for the lineup.
Then Kris Bryant singled two batters later. Then Jason Heyward doubled the next inning. Then David Bote followed with a double of his own. Then Contreras struck again — this time into the center field basket. Then Rizzo got a hit and after a fielder’s choice and a walk, Javy Báez got in on the action with a 3-run shot.
Suddenly, the Cubs had built a 6-0 lead through 3 innings and all the talk of “hitting is contagious” started to take on a different meaning. It was the first time all year they scored more than 5 runs in a game.
The Cubs continued to pile on, as Bryant hit a 2-run shot in the 5th inning. And then Bote added a 3-run homer later in the frame. Oh, and then Bryant hit another 2-run homer in the 6th inning.
They finished with 14 hits and 13 runs, both season highs.
It was exactly the kind of offensive performance this team has been waiting for.
“It lets you relax,” David Ross said. “These guys have been trying so hard and pushing. We use the word ‘grind’ a lot. They really are. Mentally, it’s frustrating — even if you hit a ball hard, you want to see some results. These guys have put in the work and today was definitely a positive and a nice little, ‘OK, relax.’ We got home runs, we got doubles, we got guys hitting the ball all over the yard. It was fun to be a part of.”
The Cubs will ride the good vibes as long as they can, but they also know it’s important to carry over the offensive production.
“It’s just a collective sigh of relief a little bit,” Bryant said. “We can feel good about this one for 24 hours until the next one, but we are able to use the success from today and just carry that confidence, that comfort forward to not just tomorrow but we have a lot of games left. I think we were kinda in the 60-game mindset in that right out of the season, you feel like you gotta do so much. But this year is a normal season. It’s 162 games.
“It’s important to kinda step back sometimes when things aren’t going your way and evaluate. See what you’re doing good, take the positives, forget the negatives and move on. It’s a long season.”
Even some of their outs were hit hard, as Bote and Contreras each lined out and Ian Happ drove one to the warning track in right field that was knocked down a bit by the wind.
After stranding 12 baserunners and going 0-for-8 with runners in scoring position in Friday’s game, the Cubs continued to exude confidence that their fortunes would turn.
“You’re gonna have ups and downs and it’s how you carry yourself through these times that make the good times that much sweeter,” Rizzo said.
For at least one day, the Cubs and their fans can certainly enjoy the “sweet” this game has to offer.
Building the momentum
There’s a saying in baseball that momentum is only as good as tomorrow’s starting pitcher.
Well, the Cubs have to be feeling good about carrying over Saturday’s momentum with ace Kyle Hendricks ready to make his return to the mound Sunday night against the Braves.
Hendricks was slated to start Tuesday in Milwaukee but was scratched after feeling under the weather as the Cubs worked to get past a couple of positive COVID-19 tests on the coaching staff.
The Cubs have another off-day Monday so they could conceivably roll with Jake Arrieta, Zach Davies and Trevor Williams in the upcoming series against the Mets and then throw Hendricks again Friday (if all goes according to plan). Alec Mills — who got the spot start Tuesday night — could also slot in the rotation mix somewhere along the line.
Adbert Alzolay is set to make an appearance with the South Bend team Sunday and could be ready to rejoin the Cubs in Chicago late next week.
Before Saturday’s game, the Cubs activated relievers Dan Winkler and Brandon Workman off the COVID list. Both right-handers threw bullpens Friday after going on the COVID related list Monday.
Pedro Strop was sent back to the alternate site and Justin Steele was also optioned to South Bend. Both pitchers appeared in Friday’s game and combined for 2 shutout innings.
When the Braves announced a pinch-hitter in the 5th inning of Saturday’s game, it marked a banner moment in the life of Sean Kazmar Jr.
Trevor Williams got the 36-year-old to ground into an inning-ending double play but it was Kazmar’s first MLB appearance since 2008.
It had been 12 years, 206 days since Kazmar last took an at-bat in a big league game.
He has spent the last decade-plus playing in Triple-A with the Padres, Mariners, Mets and Braves organizations.