By Bruce Levine–
CHICAGO (CBS) — It took a couple of days, but the Cubs finally did respond to the proddings of their team president and manager.
Both Theo Epstein and Joe Maddon had public and private messages for the underachieving defending champion Cubs on Thursday. The positive reinforcement was delivered with both subtlety and a not-so-hidden anxious tone.
On Friday, the Cubs’ big boppers took matters into their own hands. Third baseman Kris Bryant went 4-for-5 with two homers and a triple, while first baseman Anthony Rizzo hit a two-run homer as well as a dormant offense stepped up in a 6-1 win against the Pirates at Wrigley Field. The production came after an inauspicious start, with the Cubs leaving seven runners on base in the first three innings without scoring on Pirates right-hander Trevor Williams early.
“Everybody depends on their big guys,” manager Joe Maddon said. “It is really great when your two/three guys are going for you. I really believe in the talent up and down the lineup. I am looking for all of us to gain from that approach — more methodical, beating the other team down by execution offensively.”
All good offenses begin with table setters. Finally back at good health, Ben Zobrist led off and went 2-for-5. That came after Maddon admitted his in pregame media session that the team missed the presence of former lead-off hitter Dexter Fowler and his consistent on-base ability. The failed experiment of Kyle Schwarber at lead-off had an impact that rippled through the batting order.
With Zobrist and part-time outfielder Jon Jay to choose from as the lead-off man, Maddon may have a better chance to create some synergy in the lineup.
Bryant drove in four runs and now has 18 homers on the season. Rizzo’s blast was his 20th, giving the Cubs (43-43) a 3-0 lead in the fourth inning after Bryant opened the scoring with his RBI triple.
Bryant became the first Cubs players with two homers and triple in a game since Todd Walker did it on June 14, 2004.
“I have had to remind myself I am a No. 2 hitter,” Bryant said about his lack of RBI opportunities in the first half. “Sometimes you don’t get those (RBI) opportunities, so you don’t try too hard when you do get them. You look at Zo today and Jon Jay, there are a lot of guys who have on-base skills. Last year Dexter did a great job of getting on base and setting the tone for the game. We have guys that can do that as well.”
The game itself was ugly. Both teams made three errors, and the pitchers struggled with their control as the offenses left men on base.
“The beginning of the game, we both had so many opportunities,” Maddon said. “Nobody could cash in. That is the part we have to get better in — situational hitting.”
Bruce Levine covers the Cubs and White Sox for 670 The Score and CBSChicago.com. Follow him on Twitter @MLBBruceLevine.