By Bruce Levine–
CHICAGO (CBS) — The Cubs finished April with their best winning percentage ever in the first month of the season. No team ever plays .771 baseball all season, but when asked about it on Sunday, manager Joe Maddon found a few areas where his team can improve.READ MORE: Chicago Weather: Best Rain Friday Night
“I would like to continue to being doing this,” Maddon said. “It’s hard to knock our guys now. Offense, defense, pitching, base-running has been all really good. To be able to sustain all of those components would be great. I really think you see guys hit better. That is an area I think you will see them improve in.”
The Cubs are hitting .255 entering Sunday’s home contest against the Braves, which is eighth in the NL. That assessment by Maddon is interesting for a team that’s second in the league in runs scored and on-base percentage.
Chicago’s production has been based on patience and bases on balls.
“A lot of our offense has been based on just some really good at bats,” Maddon said. “Certainly we have had some timely hitting. To literally go out there and knock the cover off of the ball, we really have not done that yet. So I think there is an offensive push that we are capable of. Pitching, I will take the same. Defense, the same. Base-running, I will take the same. I really mean all of that. When you look at the guys in general, there are guys who are capable of more, numerically speaking. If there is any improving, it will probably come from the offense.”
Getting Kris Bryant back into the lineup should help in that area. Bryant tweaked an ankle and missed Friday’s game due to a minor sprain. The 24-year-old infielder/outfielder was slotted in the lineup batting third and playing left field Sunday. Bryant was riding a six-game hitting streak when he turned the ankle Thursday while scoring on Anthony Rizzo’s double.READ MORE: Getting Hosed: A Look At The Universe Of Chicago Water, And Its Sometimes-Sordid History, This Earth Day
“Yeah, you know this says a lot about the team in general,” Bryant said about the 17 wins in April. “Someone picks each guy up every day. This last month, it was the pitchers. They pitched unbelievable and hit pretty good to. So at times they picked themselves up at times. It is true a lot of us are just getting gong. It will be fun to see when things are clicking. There is no doubt the pitchers carried us the whole month.”
Maddon’s a great believer in Bryant as an accomplished baseball position player who can move around and still be productive defensively.
“The training staff said he was fine,” Maddon said of Bryant returning quickly. “He is a flex guy (can play different positions). He is definitely an everyday third baseman. I really believe that, but again, looking at today’s matchup and getting (Tom La Stella) involved. He has turned into a really good third baseman, but today it’s about getting Tommy in there.
“We try to fit all of the pieces and reshuffling, game in progress. A flex player is a good way to describe how we look at Kris. The nice thing is he is comfortable with it. It’s not like it’s an issue for him whatsoever. It’s not like you have to give him so much advance warning, because he has to prepare himself. Nope, he is fine with it.”
After Sunday, the team’s hot start will soon be challenged by having to play to equally as hot teams in Pittsburgh and Washington, which Chicago sees in the next two series. The seven teams the Cubs have played in their first 22 games are a combined 68-99. Only the Cardinals have at least a .500 winning percentage in that group.MORE NEWS: Shuttered By Pandemic Last Summer, Guthrie's Tavern In Wrigleyville Has New Owner And Will Be Reopening
Bruce Levine covers the Cubs and White Sox for 670 The Score and CBSChicago.com. Follow him on Twitter @MLBBruceLevine.