Power numbers are down across the league, and just over three weeks into the season, the Cubs have not been an exception.
On Saturday, the Cubs may have shown the kind of offense they will feature going forward. They handed the Pirates their worst road shutout loss since 1952, winning 21-0. That score also represents the biggest shutout victory for Chicago since at least 1901. But surprisingly, on a warm, windy afternoon at Wrigley, they put up all of those runs despite only one homer, Alfonso Rivas’ three-run shot to right field in the second inning.
“I think that’s going to be more our signature, right?” manager David Ross said. “I mean, I think it’s unique here with the wind blowing out the way it was and you look up and put up a number like that.”
No longer having power hitters like Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo, and Javy Báez was naturally going to have an impact on the Cubs’ style of offense. They do still have hitters like Patrick Wisdom and Frank Schwindel who can supply homers, but a lineup like what Ross used Saturday is going to have to score in other ways.
And even with a few sluggers still remaining, it’s possible that, just like the rest of the league, Chicago is experiencing a dip in power. That dip might be driven by a new, “deadened” ball that the league said would be in use this season, or it might be driven by bad April weather. Sunshine and 73 degrees at first pitch Saturday couldn’t have hurt.
The Cubs have not had a day like that at home yet this season, and multiple Cubs players cited both the weather and the 39,917 people in the stands for the added energy in the lineup. Kyle Hendricks called it a “classic Wrigley day,” and Nico Hoerner said it was “a true Wrigley experience.” Those things certainly must have helped, but the offense is also beginning to show that new signature style that Ross mentioned.
The Cubs had 23 hits Saturday, but other than Rivas’ homer, all of them were singles until the fifth inning, when they hit four doubles. As a group, they worked four walks and took extra bases, including Seiya Suzuki recording his first stolen base in the majors during an eight-run second inning.
“We all benefit from the quality of each others’ at-bats, whether it shows up during one game or two games, or maybe it’s the third game that we break through, but I think that’s just going to be something over the course of six months that’s really valuable for everyone and we’re all going to benefit from each other,” Hoerner said.
Hoerner led his club with four hits, and he was one of seven to get multiple base knocks Saturday. Every batter in the lineup, including Michael Hermosillo – who came in to give Suzuki a “breather,” per Ross – had at least one hit.
That kind of production up and down the lineup is the product of the work Hoerner described. He said the hitters meet as a group regularly and work together on staying consistent in their work, regardless of the ups and downs of early season numbers.
Everyone in the batting order having such a productive day at the plate, especially coming off of a four-game losing streak and a long weather delay Friday, is a benefit for a team still trying to figure out its identity.
“It’s just good for the psyche,” Ross said. “Pile on hits, get your numbers in a game like that. Build up a little bit. It’s always nice. Really good day for a lot of guys. Quality at-bat after quality at-bat, not giving anything away. Taking advantage of some mistakes in there too.”
Not to be lost in the exploits of the batters, Kyle Hendricks had his best performance of the young season. He was the first Cubs starter to go seven full innings, and he allowed only two Pirates baserunners while not giving up a run.
Under different circumstances, Hendricks would have gone longer. Pitching to contact and benefiting from solid defense behind him, Hendricks needed just 76 pitches to get through seven innings. But ahead by 17 at that point, it was a good time for Ross to go to newest Cubs reliever Sean Newcomb.
“It was a really good spot to get Sean in, just having a new guy, getting him comfortable,” Hendricks said. “It’s a really, really long year, so we’re going to need everybody and getting everybody comfortable and in the game.”
Newcomb pitched a scoreless eighth inning. He didn’t give up a hit and struck out one. Scott Effross took the ninth and worked around an Anthony Alford single to finish off the win.
Hendricks said after his Opening Day start that one of the things that held him back in 2021 was him struggling to spot his fastball where he wanted it. On Saturday, he continued to show that he is getting his signature command back. So although he had plenty left in the tank to potentially finish a complete game shutout, Hendricks was satisfied with his work against the Pirates on Saturday.
“I had already kind of accomplished everything I was trying,” Hendricks said. “Establishing that fastball, my changeup working off of it. Didn’t have to throw a lot of curveballs. But to really rely on it and to see the results, I got everything I needed out of it, for sure.”
Time will tell whether the Cubs really do have a new style of offense. But Saturday might have been a look at what the offense can do when all cylinders are firing.
“I’ve had a lot of confidence in this group since the beginning of spring,” Hoerner said. “Didn’t have the best results through this week, but that’s just part of the season. I don’t think there was anything too different about preparation for today, and that’s a great thing. We’ve been really consistent, whether we’ve been down or up. I think that’s going to be a really good quality of this group.”