Why the Cubs are feeling optimistic about their offense entering the postseason
When the Cubs step into the batter’s box for the bottom of the 1st inning Wednesday afternoon, the stats on the huge video board in left field will show all zeros.
Every hitter is starting over with a .000 batting average, 0 homers, 0 RBI, 0 runs scored.
That reset button might not normally matter that much, but for the 2020 Cubs, it could be a huge factor.
“I mean, who benefits more from that than us?” veteran Jason Kipnis asked last week. “We’re the No. 1 team out of any team that’s in the postseason that’s happy about everyone starting back at zero when you look at it. I try to keep the focus on that, telling guys: ‘hey, a good postseason, I don’t think anybody’s gonna remember your regular season numbers. Everyone just remembers what you did in the postseason.’
“These are the big moments and the big at-bats. So I think try to keep the focus on what can be is the saying that I’ve been preaching to the team. What can be. Don’t worry about what’s happened — that’s already in the past. Let’s worry about what’s ahead of us.”
Kipnis also praised the way the Cubs lineup showed up to play in the final series of the regular season. After running into a speed bump in the previous week, the Cubs offense scored 25 runs and hit 9 homers against the White Sox.
That performance gave the team confidence as a whole going into the playoffs, but it was especially important for guys like Kris Bryant, Willson Contreras, Kyle Schwarber and Javy Báez. All four of those guys hit homers off South Side pitching and both Contreras and Bryant went yard twice.
“I think the series was big because all of them had homers, all of them had good at-bats,” Kipnis said. “I thought you saw adjustments were made. You saw a little less weight on their shoulders. I think they’re able to have a little bit more fun and breathe easier and that’s what you want these guys feeling going into the postseason.”
The 2020 season has been a difficult year to hit in. Batting averages and offensive numbers are down all across the game, with some of baseball’s best players feeling the pressure of the shortened slate and enduring struggles.
Kipnis compared it to quicksand, where the harder you try to get out of it and the more pressure you put on yourself, the deeper the hole you dig for yourself.
But now that 60-game pressure is off and everybody gets to hit the reset button. There’s a different kind of pressure in the postseason, of course, but the Cubs have been here before. This will be the team’s fifth appearance in the playoffs over the last six seasons.
David Ross isn’t sure how what kind of effect the postseason “reset button” will have on his team, but he’s confident in his guys.
“That’s kind of a wait and see. I don’t know how to predict that,” Ross said. “But I think just watching the guys get in and the looks on their faces and what they’ve accomplished and just their attitude. You see the group coming out and swinging it good Sunday. I think there’s a sense of like, ‘OK, now we go,’ from the group.
“They know how to play in this environment. They expect a lot out of themselves from hearing what they tell [the media] and what their ultimate goals are. They know what it’s like playing pitch-to-pitch, at-bat-to-at-bat in this environment and how crazy this time of year can be. This is exciting. This is the fun part. This is where you make history.”
As the Cubs offense was enduring its struggles last week, Ross said he tries to preach a sense of calm and compassion within the group. He feels like these guys put so much pressure on themselves and wanted to remind them that the names on the lineup card instill fear in the opposing pitching staffs.
Bryant has an MVP Award and 3 All-Star appearances to his name. Anthony Rizzo has been one of the best hitters in the game for most of the last decade. Báez finished 2nd in NL MVP voting in 2018 and both he and Contreras were named starters on the last 2 All-Star teams. Schwarber hit 38 homers last season.
Jason Heyward (.848 OPS) and Ian Happ (.866 OPS) have been consistent forces in the lineup. David Bote led the team in RBI (29) despite making only 35 starts.
When it comes down to it, statistics won’t tell the story in the postseason. These guys know the only thing that counts is wins and losses and they feel like they can put any regular-season offensive struggles behind them and come together at the most important time.
“It doesn’t matter who gets it done in October; it doesn’t matter how it gets done,” Rizzo said. “It’s just a matter of staying in the moment, staying with your teammates and being together with your teammates. I know there’s 27 guys in there that have my back and I have all their backs. When you do it as a unit, that’s when special things happen.”