What mattered the most from Cubs’ historic victory
It’s hard to draw up a more perfect day at the ballpark than the Cubs enjoyed on Saturday.
It was a gorgeous spring afternoon and Wrigley Field was nearly packed to capacity (39,917).
Cubs starter Kyle Hendricks tossed 7 shutout innings, a pair of relievers also threw up zeroes and the pitching staff as a whole did not walk a single batter.
Oh yeah, and then there’s the offense that put up 21 runs on 23 hits.
It’s exactly the kind of game a manager dreams about.
Even apart from the 21-0 outcome (the largest shutout victory in franchise history), David Ross had several key takeaways from his team’s performance.
For starters, Hendricks’ outing was encouraging on several fronts.
The stat line (7 shutout innings, 2 strikeouts, only 2 hits allowed) was solid but even more than that, he was vintage “Professor.” Hendricks needed only 76 pitches to dispatch the Pirates for 7 innings. He picked up his first win of the season and got back to the ace the Cubs need him to be after back-to-back bumpy starts.
The offense gave him a huge lead but Hendricks stuck to his pregame plan and continued to pitch as if it was a close game.
“That was the key mindset,” Ross said Sunday. “The conversation in the dugout between innings was about the things that we noticed from the last time he started against Pittsburgh and had some struggles and got away from what he does well.
“That was the perfect game to continue to hammer home: ‘This is what we want to do to try to execute.’ And then to see the results was really refreshing.”
It was also important to Hendricks to pitch deep into a ballgame for the first time in several months and remind his body what that feels like.
His main focus Saturday was continuing to work on establishing his fastball and getting to a spot where he can carry that forward throughout the season. That didn’t change just because the score became lopsided quickly.
“I’d say the approach changed just from being more aggressive because of the run support,” Hendricks said in an interview with Marquee Sports Network. “But you have to keep the same focus of: Just make one good pitch at a time and keep it moving.”
On the offensive front, the Cubs may have scored 21 runs but how they accomplished that feat was more impressive. On a day where the wind was gusting out, the Cubs only hit 1 longball — a 3-run shot from Alfonso Rivas in the 2nd inning.
Seiya Suzuki, Willson Contreras, Ian Happ and Jason Heyward each doubled but apart from that, the rest of the offensive firepower came via 18 singles, 4 walks and a hit-by-pitch.
The Cubs lineup utilized the whole field, spraying hits from foul line to foul line. The team was 15-for-25 with runners in scoring position and 7 different players tallied multiple hits in the game.
It was a perfect example of the formula for success for this Cubs offense. The roster is built with a bunch of contact-oriented players and not as much pop as recent Cubs teams.
“The homers are nice. I like homers; I think everybody likes home runs,” Ross said. “But we’re built to be contact-based and hopefully that’s a strength of ours.”
That being said, Ross and the team understands 21-run outputs are not exactly going to be a regular occurrence — even if the team executes its style to perfection.
It’s just about trying to put the offense in the best position possible each day.
“A lot more can go your way besides a strikeout and we’re gonna have some of those days where those things happen for us,” Ross said. “And there will be days where they gobble up a lot of groundballs that we hit.
“We’re just gonna have to continue to grow and try to get better and work on getting the ball in the air a little bit more maybe at times. You’re also not overhauling swings in the middle of the season.”
For now, the team will rest easy with the best offense in the game.
Entering play Sunday, the Cubs lead baseball in batting average (.273), runs (81), on-base percentage (.355) and OPS (.772).