By Bruce Levine–
CHICAGO (CBS) — The Cubs having lost five of the first eight games at home was unexpected to the Wrigley Field faithful over the inaugural homestand of the season for the defending champions.
One apparent trait missing early on had been power. On Wednesday, the Cubs looked more the part of last season’s magical run, with Addison Russell’s walk-off, three-run homer giving them a 7-4 win against the Brewers at Wrigley Field. Chicago had been out-homered 18-12 before Russell’s blast in the ninth inning.
The long ball has been a key element to Cubs victories since the beginning of 2015. Certainly, this isn’t a major concern with the likes of Anthony Rizzo, Kyle Schwarber and Kris Bryant the centerpieces of a powerfully built group of hitters. Still, the small ball element to winning takes more people pulling on the rope.
“I was just trying to put the ball in play,” Russell said after he took a Neftali Feliz pitch out of the park on a 2-0 fastball. “He threw me two sliders away to start me out. I was looking for something a little more inside. He gave in and threw a fastball.”
The elements dictate a good deal of home-run activity at Wrigley Field in the first two months of the season. During the nine-game homestand, there was wind variances, blowing in at 25 mph to gusting out at a similar speed. Some of the home run production is dependent on the wind.
“It was really one of those ugly wins,” Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. “You will take that any day of the week. It is the fact we are resilient. That is a fact — it’s in the ring. We are a home run-hitting team. You can’t always. The Brewers were puncturing hurricane winds. Give them credit. So, to win two out of three is pretty good.”
With top home run threats Rizzo, Bryant and Schwarber having hit just a combined six homers so far, the Cubs have naturally had some closer games. The outcome of such contests depends more on pitching, defense and small-ball abilities. On Wednesday, the Cubs ground out some long at-bats and got a gift run when Russell hit over first base to score the third run in the eighth inning.
“Sometimes you just need an at-bat like that to get going,” Russell said of his eighth-inning single. “It did just that, and we came away with a win.”
Chicago was 13th in home runs and 11th in slugging percentage entering play Wednesday. That will all change as the weather starts to warm up, but for now, the Cubs will have to grind out wins.
“That is part of the game,” said Albert Almora Jr., who hit his first home run of the season in the second inning. “We really had to battle. One swing of the bat is all that it took.”
The Russell walk-off home run was the team’s first since Sept. 16, 2016. That was also against Milwaukee, with Miguel Montero turning the trick that day.
Bruce Levine covers the Cubs and White Sox for 670 The Score and CBSChicago.com. Follow him on Twitter @MLBBruceLevine.