Coming through in the clutch hasn’t been one of the Cubs’ best attributes in recent years.
Which is why this season’s performance with runners in scoring position has been almost shocking. After Saturday’s 10-3 victory over the Texas Rangers at Wrigley Field, the Cubs hitters are a robust .349 with the chance to drive in runs.
At the start of the day, that ranked fourth in MLB, but they might have moved up a rung or two after going 4-for-8 in this game.
How unusual is this performance? Well, in the past three seasons, the Cubs ranked 28th, 22nd and 25th in MLB. Even the 2016 World Series team was just 21st with a .252 average. They haven’t finished in the top 10 in the category since Lou Piniella’s playoff teams in 2007 and ’08.
It’s the new guys getting it done. Eric Hosmer (4-for-7), Trey Mancini (4-for-8), Cody Bellinger (5-for-12) and Dansby Swanson (3-for-5) are the team leaders. The RBI count is also balanced, as Mancini, Hosmer, Bellinger, Ian Happ and Patrick Wisdom all have six.
“I think it’s experience,” Mancini said after the game. “I’ve had a couple years where that was a struggle of mine. Sometimes you get a little tight or you try to do too much in those situations, but you have to treat it like every other at-bat, but also be pretty locked in and stay in the middle of the field. I think that’s the best approach in those situations.”
Most every year, there’s at least one team that goes a full season hitting above .300 with runners in scoring position. The Cubs have struggled to keep it above .250.
“We’ve got a different crew, guys that know how to have a professional at-bat, right?” manager David Ross said. “Winners and guys with hardware, who know how to get runs in. Guys that’s are going to use the big part of the field.
“These guys just have a little bit more of knowing what their plan is and are a little more established and have been around the league. They don’t get too excited, don’t try to hit the 3-run homer, they’re just going to stay up the middle.”
One thing Mancini, Hosmer, Bellinger and Swanson have in common is World Series rings. Maybe they can pass some of the knowledge around the clubhouse.
Happ helped put this game away with a 2-run, two-out single in the eighth inning with the bases loaded. When the throw back to the infield got away, Swanson sprinted home and punched the air in celebration. The Rangers (4-4) finished the day with 5 errors.
In the previous inning, Mancini punched a single to right with two out to score Nico Hoerner and make it 6-2. Wisdom and Yan Gomes hit solo homers.
“As cliché as it can sound sometimes, when you trust the guy in front of you, trust the guy behind you, keep it moving, that’s really something we want to enact here,” Mancini said. “Hitting can be contagious, nobody was really trying to do too much.”
Starting pitcher Justin Steele gave up 4 hits and 4 walks, but got through 6 innings allowing just 1 run. It’s been a great start for the top of the Cubs rotation. Through two starts, Steele has a 0.75 ERA with Marcus Stroman at 0.00.
“It’s fun to follow him up,” Steele said of Stroman. “After his outing yesterday, I went up to him and was like, ‘You showed me the way, I’ve just got to go out there and do it.’ We always joke back and forth, but it’s always good to follow ‘Stro up.
“I would say it’s tough on hitters because it’s a completely different look, going from him to me the next day with lefty-righty, with a lot different mixes and stuff.”
Ross paid a nice compliment to third baseman Nick Madrigal, who 2-for-4 with 2 runs scored. When the Cubs traded for Madrigal in 2021, he was coming off a torn hamstring injury with the White Sox.
“I feel like we’ve got a completely different player this year than we had last year,” Ross said of Madrigal. “As far as how comfortable he looks at third, how comfortable he is moving on the bases, the swings he’s taken. He just looks like a healthy version of himself and it’s not taking him all day to get his body ready to play. It looks like he’s in a good place.”
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