It’s no secret that Chicago Aprils are usually tough. Snow is as likely as 80 degrees with sunshine. Any Cubs batter who has spent a spring at Wrigley knows that runs can come at a premium, especially runs via the longball.
Going into Saturday’s 10-3 win over the Rangers, the Cubs were tied for last in the league in home runs with only four. Patrick Wisdom was responsible for two of those himself. Conversely, the undefeated Rays had 18 home runs before Saturday’s action.
Even with homers from Wisdom and Yan Gomes Saturday, the Cubs still sit near the bottom of the league in power. They have six team homers, and fifteen other teams have at least 10. But despite not hitting many home runs yet, their 40 runs scored so far are in the top third.
“I just like the way we’re approaching at-bats,” manager David Ross said. “There are a lot of balls hit up the middle, right-center, left-center, so that’s a really good approach early on.
“Early on, it’s nice to have the gap-to-gap, base hit type guys, here especially. When it warms up, they’ll get rewarded for some of those fly balls.”
Against the Rangers, the Cubs offense scored in the double-digits for the second time in just the seventh game of the season. Two of the ten runs scored on Saturday were from the Wisdom and Gomes homers, but the Cubs put up 12 against the Reds last Tuesday without hitting a home run.
“The longball will be there, but to be able to do it without it is really good,” Ian Happ said.
In the meantime, that means the Cubs offense has to find different ways to be productive. They don’t necessarily change their plate approach, but in the colder weather, baserunners have to think through decisions to take an extra base differently than on warmer days, Happ said, and in some cases, it means they have to be more comfortable with taking some risks on the basepaths in order to help manufacture more runs.
This was probably best typified on Saturday by Dansby Swanson’s choice to score from first base in the eighth inning on a two-out, bases-loaded single from Happ. Arguably, the extra run was not needed at that point, with the Cubs up 9-3 thanks to Nick Madrigal and Nico Hoerner scooting across the plate from second and third. No one would have batted an eye at Swanson headed for third and staying here.
“That’s the player that he is, and we talk a lot about this group and the baseball player IQ,” Ross said. “Keeping his head up and finishing the play. Making those guys [think about] the small details, securing the baseball. Those little things go a long way and you continue to put pressure on the defense.”
The Rangers committed five errors on defense, and the Cubs successfully capitalized on those mistakes. There wasn’t an error on the Swanson score in the eighth, but he was still alert to the chance to take another base and score a run.
“If you can get that extra 90 feet, it puts us as a group in good positions,” Wisdom said. “We’re just going to feast on that, and we kind of base the baton, and it creates momentum. If we can run the bases like we’ve been doing, we’ll be in a really good spot.”
What’s even more impressive about Swanson’s play is that he did it despite understandable distraction. His wife Mallory, who was playing for the United States women’s soccer team in an international friendly against Ireland, suffered a significant knee injury shortly before the Cubs game started.
Swanson and some of his teammates were watching his wife’s game in the clubhouse and then had to take the field.
“Pretty impressive to come out and do what he did,” Happ said. “We were all watching the game in here, and [it was] pretty somber. And then to be able to do that and show that kind of emotion.”
Happ said he was high-fiving with first base coach Mike Napoli after what he thought was just a two-run single, only to see Swanson had scored and see him celebrating. Again, it was arguably an unnecessary run at that point in the game, with the Cubs then up by six runs in the eighth inning, but going from first to home speaks to how Swanson approaches baseball.
“Just a really heads up play from him, and good of him all around,” Happ said. “That’s who he is, and that’s why he’s played on so many winning teams.
“He loves this stuff. He loves being out here. He loves competing.”
Yes, fly balls that land in outfielders’ gloves in April often end up in the outfield seats in July. That’s one of the realities of playing home games at Wrigley Field. But in the meantime, the Cubs can benefit significantly from having an offense that can string together hits and be smart and effective on the basepaths.
And then a few months from now, coupling that with a few more deep shots to the Wrigley bleachers will equal a very potent offense.