By Bruce Levine —
CHICAGO (CBS) — As the Cubs took two of three games against the Brewers in a battle for first place in the NL Central this weekend, it became more evident that a disciplined offensive approach and situational hitting will be a focus for Chicago in the regular season’s last 58 games and beyond.
In his team’s 4-2 win against the Brewers at Miller Park on Sunday, Cubs manager Joe Maddon sat Javier Baez, Ian Happ and Kyle Schwarber against Milwaukee right-hander Zach Davies, while Anthony Rizzo was scratched with back tightness. Maddon also emphasized that the Cubs have to have better plate discipline if they’re going to repeat as champions this season.
“We need to force the opposition pitchers to get us out with pitches in the strike zone,” Maddon said. “This is a contagious method both ways. I don’t want us to fall into that trap of giving them easy outs. I want us to be tough outs. I want us to see pitches and use the whole field. The message (of better at-bats) is for everybody.”
The Cubs have had terrific starting pitching since the All-Star break, and right-hander John Lackey continued that Sunday by turning in six innings of two-run ball. The rotation is now 11-1 with a 2.60 ERA in the second half of the season.
The worry in the back of Maddon’s mind is an undisciplined, pitch-chasing approach that has led to poor at-bats by some of the youngsters. While the Cubs extended their NL Central lead to 2.5 games this weekend, they only scored seven runs combined in the three games. Four of those were on solo homers, including Victor Caratini’s tiebreaking blast in the seventh inning Sunday.
The Cubs’ first run was scored on an infield dribbler by Willson Contreras in the sixth inning, and the second came on Addison Russell’s bloop single on an off-speed pitch from Davies. A smart approach in which his young hitters battle and lay off pitches out of the zone is exactly what Maddon is looking for.
Maddon continues to press Baez and Happ to use the opposite field, a point he reiterated to each player in private conversations this weekend.
“I just want us to nurture using the whole field,” Maddon said. “I want (opposing pitchers) to get us out in the strike zone and not be so amenable.”
With the non-waiver trade deadline looming Monday afternoon, the Cubs are searching for a backup catcher and another reliever, not a high-profile bat. The belief is they have all the offensive talent they need on the roster. It’s simply a matter of producing more consistently.
“We need to score runs on singles,” Maddon said. “We had a two-strike base hit from Addison (Russell) on a curveball. That is what we have to do. Those are the kind of things we need. Then you hit the home run — beautiful. You have to piece those moments together to be consistently good. To get on a good roll, it is about good pitching and good situational hitting.”
Bruce Levine covers the Cubs and White Sox for 670 The Score and CBSChicago.com. Follow him on Twitter @MLBBruceLevine.