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Why Cubs believe they can still reach another level offensively

2 years agoTony Andracki

If you ever wondered what people mean when they say a lineup is “relentless,” watch the home half of the 5th inning of Friday’s Cubs-Brewers game.

It was one of the most impressive offensive frames of the season for the Cubs as they entered the inning without a hit in the game off Brewers ace Brandon Woodruff and wound up scoring 3 runs.

The inning included 4 hits, 2 walks and a bunch of tough at-bats as the Cubs fouled off nasty pitches and deployed a patient approach up and down the lineup to change the complexion of the game.

The Cubs ultimately lost Friday night, but they certainly didn’t make it easy on the Brewers staff, eating up 183 pitches in the game. On Saturday afternoon, the Cubs lineup picked up right where it left off, forcing Brewers right-hander Adrian Houser to throw 30 pitches in the 1st inning and plating a pair of runs.

The Cubs rank 3rd in Major League Baseball this season with a .340 on-base percentage and are averaging just over 5 runs a game as they jumped out to a 13-5 start.

This is the same offense that went into Cleveland this week and faced an Indians pitching staff that entered the series with a 2.04 ERA and had not allowed more than 4 runs in a game to any opponent this year. The Cubs scored 7 runs in both games.

But they believe they’re only scratching the surface of what they could accomplish as an offense this season.

“We’ve had success from such a wide range of people already,” Nico Hoerner said. “And it’s pretty amazing how we’ve won so consistently but other than Happ, I don’t really think we have anyone who’s going off or performing at a crazy-high level. So that’s really encouraging personally and as a group just knowing that we’ve had success so far and I think there’s even more to come.”

Hoerner is right — Happ (1.015 OPS) and Jason Kipnis (1.205 OPS) are the only members of the Cubs lineup whose stats jump off the page while Anthony Rizzo has continued his typical production. Willson Contreras is hitting the ball as hard as anybody in baseball this year, but his season OPS (.749) is actually below his career .820 mark.

And the Cubs are wearing out opposing pitching staffs even though a pair of MVP-caliber players — Kris Bryant (2016 NL MVP) and Javy Báez (2018 MVP runner-up) — have yet to find their groove in 2020.

Entering play Sunday, Bryant and Báez were hitting a combined .201 with a .634 OPS and 41 strikeouts. But it’s still such a small sample size — even in a shortened season — and manager David Ross isn’t concerned about the slow start, knowing both guys are capable of singlehandedly carrying an offense when they’re locked in.

“I trust in the players that have the track record,” Ross said. “We’re gonna have good days and bad days. I’m not panicked. … I don’t worry about the big boys and their resumes. They’re our horses.”

While the Cubs wait for their “horses” to settle in, the bottom of the order has been doing some serious damage this season.

The 6-through-9 hitters in the lineup have combined for a .283 average and .370 OBP — both tops in the majors.

“It seems like there’s not really a letdown in our lineup,” Bryant said. “I can’t really remember a time playing for this team where it was really like that, where it was 1-through-9 and there was just damage all through the order.”

Beyond the well-rounded contributions, the Cubs also believe this level of offense is sustainable all season because of the passion and support the dugout provides each day in a fanless environment.

“The guys have been tremendous pulling for each other,” hitting coach Anthony Iapoce said recently. “When players hear that in the box, they really become outside of their own at-bat and think things more of a team at-bat.

“They’re prolonging the at-bat basically for the next guy who’s coming up. The energy in the dugout is a tribute to that.”

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