Levine: Scoring Runs Without The Long Ball Challenging For Cubs

By Bruce Levine–

CHICAGO (CBS) — The home runs have been coming in bunches for the Cubs as of late.

Since the second game of the doubleheader in Colorado on May 9, Chicago’s offense has hit 21 home runs in 12 games. During the last five games, the hitters have pounded out 15 home runs.

The dynamic of scoring with little or no speed at the top of the batting order begs the question: How do you consistently tally runs without long balls as part of the equation? The cruel north and east winds at Wrigley Field can prohibit the home run hitters from being successful in a changing climate.

Sluggers Kyle Schwarber, Anthony Rizzo and Kris Bryant have begun to get the wheelhouse swing out of dry dock and produce the long ball. The Cubs rank seventh in the National League in home runs, a year after they finished second in the NL with 199 homers. Chicago is up a tick in average this season, averaging 1.30 per game after averaging 1.24 last season.

The Cubs’ brass and coaching staff believe the team is multi-dimensional in run production ability. The challenge is defining ways to get on, get over and score without the ball flying over the fence.

“We obviously have power,” manager Joe Maddon said. “I really want us to be better scoring runs with singles. I want us to be able to go first to third. In this ballpark, you never know what works. Like today, the wind is blowing straight in. Each day here it can be an entirely different yard.”

“We need to work our at-bats and accept our walks, go to the opposite field, have a two-strike approach. Those are the things I want to have embedded in the offensive culture here, in the years to come beyond just hitting the ball out of the ballpark.”

Maddon may wish for some of these pieces of the offensive puzzle to show up quickly. The reality of the situation is without Dexter Fowler leading off this season, a different dynamic must show itself for the lineup to flourish. The Cubs rank seventh in the NL in runs scored and sixth in on-base percentage.

Scoring with singles and doubles isn’t out of the question for this club, as it has a lineup full of quality on-base percentage men. The problem is the Cubs have left way too many men on base — 331, which is the second-most in the league and about seven per game.

“The other day we scored seven runs without hitting a home run,” catcher Miguel Montero said. “We just have to focus on runner on third, less than two outs, get him in. Don’t try to go for the big shot — go for the RBI. This game is all about the runs and RBI. I  need to go for the base hit and just put the barrel on a good pitch.”

The inexperience on the Cubs is often forgotten. Other than Rizzo, Jason Heyward, Montero and Ben Zobrist, it’s a roster full of hitters with two years experience or fewer in the big leagues.

“I talk all the time about the room for growth because we are young,” Maddon said. “So, the two-strike approach, the middle-of-the-field approach with runners in scoring position. They will still be able to hit it out of the ballpark when they get their pitch. I still think all of that is in our abilities over the next couple of years.”

The Cubs have scored 41 percent of their runs via the home run. They rank 15th in baseball in that department.

Bruce Levine covers the Cubs and White Sox for 670 The Score and CBSChicago.com. Follow him on Twitter @MLBBruceLevine.

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