After losing to the first-place Reds by one run on Monday, the Cubs spent the next two nights putting up a combined 36 runs. That’s the most in two days since June 29-30, 1897, when they scored 43 against the Louisville Colonels. In this week’s series, the Cubs beat Cincinnati 20-9 on Tuesday and won 16-6 on Wednesday.
Their 12 combined home runs between Tuesday and Wednesday are also a franchise record dating back to at least 1901. On Wednesday, Christopher Morel, Dansby Swanson, Ian Happ (twice) and Seiya Suzuki all went yard.
This year’s Cubs team was built to win on pitching and good defense, but when they score like they have in the last 48 hours of baseball, that can change expectations about what the group is capable of as a whole. Their offensive production has been a part of why the team has gone on a run good enough to get above .500 for the first time since early May.
“[When] we’re able to put up these types of numbers offensively, yeah, you do feel like the ceiling goes way up,” Cubs manager David Ross said.
Obviously, scoring like they have the last two nights is not going to happen all the time, but the results of these last couple games are a product of the quality of the at-bats the offense is having. Even when those at-bats aren’t yielding runs or even hits, they are tough outs that run up opposing pitchers’ pitch counts. And that will score runs and help win games most nights.
“In the first, we made [Reds starter Brandon Williamson] throw 24 pitches,” Ross said. “It was not going down 1-2-3. It’s hard to get everybody out. Nobody’s chasing, nobody’s going outside of what they’re trying to do and sticking to their plan, so [opponents] have to work.”
The Cubs got just one baserunner through the first two innings, but Williamson needed 41 pitches to get those six outs. After that, Jeimer Candelario led off the third inning with a double and then scored on Morel’s homer. The Cubs had at least one hit and scored in every inning from then on.
“Guys do a really good job of learning from the first [at-bat],” Happ said. “Even if we go through the order one time and don’t have a ton of success, learning from that and the second time through being really productive.
“The feeling of being just one swing away or a couple good at-bats away from getting something started is really nice for a lineup, and we’re pretty deep right now.”
It’s easy to dream about what is possible when the Cubs play like this. It’s easy to overlook that Drew Smyly struggled through yet another outing. Or that Marcus Stroman is on the injured list with right hip inflammation and will miss at least one start. The Cubs are 12-3 in their last 15 games, going back to July 18. They have the third-best record in baseball since June 9, going 29-17 in that stretch. The Cubs have climbed their way out of a deep hole in the standings to three games behind the Reds in the National League Central and only 2 1/2 out of an NL Wild Card spot. All of that was enough to keep them from being sellers at the trade deadline.
If they are going to keep going at a pace like this, scoring dozens of runs will help, for sure, but anyone who has watched at least a week’s worth of baseball knows that it never happens that way. When the 1897 Chicago Colts scored 43 runs in two days, 36 of those came in the June 29 game. The 2023 Chicago Cubs will need the aforementioned quality at-bats to continue winning at the clip they have had since early June.
Wednesday night was a good example of those kinds of at-bats. The Cubs hit five home runs, but they had 16 hits in all. In their five-run sixth inning, they scored via walks and base hits only. And all of this happened after they trailed 3-0 early in the game.
“I think the more impressive part is getting down early and fighting back,” Happ said. “It’s not just the homers. It’s guys going out there, getting on base. The singles that lead to getting pitchers deep into pitch counts and then being able to take advantage. That part of it is the more impressive part.”
And Candelario, for his part, was the catalyst for the scoring. He had the Cubs’ first hit of the game Wednesday, and he has gone 8-for-9 with three doubles and a walk since joining the team after they acquired him from the Nationals on Monday. Candelario lengthens the lineup and also adds another switch-hitter, something that makes an opposing manager’s job even harder. Ross said having the ability to impact which pitcher comes in out of the bullpen because of Happ and Candelario’s presence “bring[s] a lot of trouble” for those decisions.
Candelario scored four times Wednesday, thanks to getting on base every time he went to the plate.
“That was on my mind,” he said. “The first day that I’m in the lineup, put myself in a good position to help my team win, be on base for them, and always find a way to win ballgames.”
After Wednesday’s win, the Cubs have a plus-77 run differential. That’s good for the third-highest in the NL, behind only the Dodgers and Braves. However many runs they score each night, getting quality at-bats like they had on Tuesday and Wednesday is a part of their recipe for continuing to play meaningful games in August and September.