Summer Awakening: Top of Cubs order coming alive to put slumps in rearview mirror

2 months agoAndy Martinez

Offensive ruts are part of the baseball season.

The 162-game grind means you’ll most likely ride the highest of highs and go through just as bad of lows. When those valleys happen, a player looks for some sort of assurance.

“The one thing I do know as a former player, in my experience is that you want to feel confidence from your manager and I think you want to feel like you can go through [struggles],” Cubs manager David Ross said. “There’s gonna be [tough] stretches.”

That’s why Ross has elected to keep three of his most important offensive players — all of whom have been struggling — at the top of the lineup.

Nico Hoerner, Seiya Suzuki and Ian Happ were expected to be key cogs this season offensively and have struggled of late, at a time when the Cubs needed a strong performance heading into the trade deadline. Since returning from London on June 26, the trio entered Tuesday’s game against the Nationals collectively hitting .189/.284/.254 with 2 home runs and 56 strikeouts.

Ross is going to ride the trio and hope they break out of the funk — and they just might have on Tuesday. The three went 9-for-15 with a walk, a double, a home run and 6 RBI in the win over the Nationals. Ross kept them in the top 3 spots in the order against the lefty Patrick Corbin. He did the same on Saturday and Monday against southpaws. Against a righty, he’ll likely still have Mike Tauchman leading off with Hoerner behind him and Happ and Suzuki in the heart of the order.

“[Suzuki] is important and I think we still haven’t seen the best version of him, as far as for long stretches,” Ross said after the win Tuesday night. “He’s got one of the best swings, I think, in the league. When you watch him, [he’s] just gotta get consistency with that timing when it’s there. He feels really good and hopefully he can build off today because he looked really good tonight.”

If the Cubs hope to climb up the NL Central standings, they’ll need offensive contributions beyond just the red-hot Cody Bellinger. Hoerner, Suzuki and Happ have to be part of that offensive equation.

So, with the three of them in a rut, why not move them down in the lineup and try to let them figure it out? Well, as Ross said, it comes back to that confidence that a player wants out of his manager. Moving them down might show a lack of faith and amidst a struggle, it would send the wrong message to the player.

“You need the belief of your manager, you need the belief of your coaches, you need the belief of your organization and the fanbase as well,” Ross said. “Those are what make good players and going through struggles makes you better in the long run.

“All the guys that are scuffling have been there before. So, continue to show positivity in them is my process.”

Giving any of those guys a “reset” day isn’t always the best solution, either. It’s not realistic for Hoerner, either. With Dansby Swanson on the IL, the Cubs need Hoerner’s glove at shortstop.

“They’re not gonna figure it out sitting on the bench,” Ross said.

Playing through it might have been the answer and Tuesday night could be the proof.

“It’s just nice to see after guys going through a little bit of hard work and trying to fix some things mechanically and approach-wise, just to throw a bunch of knocks out there,” Ross said Tuesday night. “Seiya looked phenomenal tonight, I thought he was really calm and the discipline and the home run. Nico threw some hits out there. Happer from the right side looks really good right now.

“These guys [have been] putting in a lot of work and grinding a little bit lately, it’s nice for that to break open and be able to add on for sure.”

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