Patience, familiarity and aggressiveness leading Cubs offense to find late inning success
All season long, David Ross has preached about his hitters’ plans.
Each and every day, against each and every pitcher, every Cubs hitter has a set strategy with tactics on how to attack the opposing teams’ pitching staff.
The specifics of those schemes will probably never be known — you don’t want the opposing team to know your plan of attack — but if you follow the patterns, the approach revolves around being patiently aggressive. Anthony Rizzo admitted to as much on Saturday night after facing Reds ace Trevor Bauer earlier in the day.
“I think we made him grind really well and that’s our M.O.,” Rizzo said. “We can get 1-through-9 grinding like that and making the pitcher really go deep into counts and just not breeze through a couple batters, it pays off in the long run.”
The “long run” being the late innings. And, boy, is Rizzo right about that. As a team, the Cubs are slashing .225/.329/.411 for a .740 OPS. In the 7th through 9th innings, though, the Cubs are terrific to the tune of a .272/.351/.492 slash line with an .843 OPS.
That’s because, more often than not, the Cubs hitters will have grinded enough pitches out of a starter and have forced the opposing team to turn to their bullpen. In a season where the Cubs are playing the same 9 opponents the whole year, that’s a plus to the hitters because they gain a sense of familiarity against more one-dimensional bullpen arms who they’ve seen multiple times.
“When the starters come out of there and you get guys that, one, you’ve seen before, usually the pitch mix is a little more probably thinner with the repertoire from a guy down there,” Ross said. “The plan may get a little bit simpler the more you [are] able to get in those guys and you get to see those guys in a series, that’s gonna benefit you and wear them down.”
But that’s not to say the Cubs hitters are going to take pitches just for the sake of taking pitches. Rizzo showed as much in Friday’s series opener. On the second pitch of the game, Rizzo crushed a home run to right field to give the Cubs the lead. It was the first pitch he had seen that day.
“We wanna work and grind and if there’s first pitch opportunities to do damage, we definitely wanna do it,” Rizzo said. “We’re definitely not shying away from swinging early. There’s just a lot that goes into the cat and mouse game of getting to the starter and working at-bats.”
And while the patience doesn’t and won’t always mean success, the Cubs know that eventually it’ll create runs. That’s what makes them believe they have a shot in every game. Like the nightcap of Saturday’s doubleheader when they rallied from a 4-1 deficit to take the lead.
“I think the good part is that we fought back in a situation where we coulda given up early on,” Ross said. “I’m gonna focus on the great at-bats we had to get ourselves in the game and in the lead.”