Ebbs and flows: Cubs hope breakthrough is a harbinger of offensive success
The Cubs knew an offensive lull was coming.
The only question was when.
They also knew their current team-wide slump wouldn’t last forever and hope Tuesday will serve as a harbinger for future offensive success.
After scoring 3 runs in the previous 3 games, the Cubs broke through for 4 runs in the 6th inning Tuesday night en route to a 7-1 victory over Cleveland at Wrigley Field.
It was the first time in 10 games where the Cubs plated more than 3 runs in a contest. That’s the longest stretch since April 29-May 6, 2006 when the Cubs went 11 straight games scoring 3 or fewer runs.
It wasn’t a huge offensive explosion, but it was at least a giant step in the right direction and a much-needed reprieve for the Cubs.
The lineup got out to a historically slow start to the 2021 campaign but warmed up in a hurry in mid-April and maintained that stretch through the end of May, sitting near the top of the league in most offensive categories.
But David Ross, Anthony Rizzo and the rest of the team continued to preach patience. They know a 162-game MLB season is full of ebbs and flows, which means a cold spell was inevitable for the Cubs offense.
As they slogged through the recent downturn, the Cubs knew the way out was to stop chasing hits.
That might sound counterintuitive but it’s a mental battle the Cubs had to overcome.
“The more you struggle, the more you want success and the harder you try,” Ross said. “And you chase hits, you chase results. That’s why we try to preach patience and process and those type of things. Just continue to come in and do your routine and have your at-bat.”
This is a lineup that features six All-Stars (Anthony Rizzo, Kris Bryant, Javy Báez, Willson Contreras, Jason Heyward, Joc Pederson).
The onus is on Ross and his coaching staff to remind the players of their long track records of success when things may not be going so well.
“These guys have identified what type of players they are throughout their career,” Ross said. “If they continue to have those [at-bats] on a daily basis, we’re gonna be fine at the end of the season. I think when we get out outside of that and start chasing results is when you get in trouble.
“All of us do — any team, any player. That’s natural, wanting to have success. It’s a hard thing to fight mentally.”
The Cubs have also been facing a tough task on the schedule of late. The entire month of June has been packed with teams who rank in the top half of MLB in ERA — Mets and Padres (who are tied for 1st), Giants (4), Marlins (7), Indians (14).
It won’t get any easier on the upcoming road trip with the Dodgers (3) and Brewers (11) on tap.
Even against tough competition, Ross wants to see the Cubs hitters maintain their aggressiveness while also remaining patient and taking their walks when they can.
“Hitting’s hard and if you got one in your zone, you let it rip,” Ross said. “But when it’s not there or you’re getting pitched tough, passing it on to the next guy is important as well. It’s a balance.
“These guys do a really nice job and we’re going through a tough stretch right now that we all knew was gonna be hard. We’re still in it and it’s hard. We had a good start and it’s getting tough right now and it doesn’t get any easier the next two weeks.”
Ross preached a need for the team to continue to push forward and that’s really all they can do right now.
The rule of “ebbs and flows” works both ways. The offense had been cold of late but due for some better results.
Like May when things were going well, the real mystery is when a hot streak will come around.
After grinding out 10 baserunners Monday and breaking through Tuesday, the Cubs certainly hope it’s the start of an upswing.
They’ll get some offensive reinforcements soon, with Nico Hoerner and David Bote potentially beginning rehab assignments soon.
Matt Duffy is another important contact bat for this team and helped change the complexion of the lineup in May but he still looks to be a ways off from returning. Duffy has been out for nearly a month due to a low back strain and had to scale back his recovery last week.
It will also help to have the Cubs’ stars return to form.
Contreras doubled twice Monday night and homered Tuesday. Rizzo will head to Los Angeles refreshed after back-to-back days off.
Bryant performed at an MVP level for the first couple months of the season and Ross talked before Tuesday’s game about how he felt like a hot stretch was coming soon for the slugger. Even though it went down as an 0-for-2 in the scorebook Monday night, Bryant drew a pair of walks and Ross felt like his timing was better.
Bryant responded with a home run in the 4th inning Tuesday night, snapping a stretch of 49 straight at-bats without an extra-base hit — the longest drought of his career.
In many ways, his recent slump has been indicative of the team’s offensive rut.
“It’s just the way of baseball — you go up and down,” Bryant said. “It means you’re living. When it’s flat, that means you’re dead. It’s as simple as that. You ride the waves and realize that, hey, it’s not always gonna go your way.”