ST. LOUIS – Chicks may dig the long ball (if you believe Greg Maddux). But Anthony Rizzo seems a little less impressed.
“In my opinion they’re very overrated,” said the Cubs’ All-Star first baseman, who finished second in the National League in homers last year.
As if to underscore Rizzo’s point, the Cubs opened their four-game series against the St. Louis Cardinals with three walks to load the bases, followed by four consecutive one-out singles to open a 5-0 lead.
Of course, the Cards’ Mark Reynolds then disputed the point with a grand slam off Travis Wood in the bottom of the fourth. And Rizzo himself hit his fourth of the season in the second inning.
The fact is the Cubs expected to be hitting home runs at a much better clip than the 18-in-23-games pace they took into Monday (ranking them 20th in the majors). Especially after ranking second in the NL last year with 157 and adding more power potential to the lineup – including slugging prospects Jorge Soler and Kris Bryant.
“We’re going to have to hit some homers,” manager Joe Maddon said, attributing some of the issue to young kids adjusting to tough big-league pitching. “They’re there. It’s going to happen. It’s all there. We haven’t done it yet, but still have held serve pretty well. So I find it encouraging, actually.”
The Cubs hit two on Monday, including a ninth-inning solo shot by rookie Addison Russell.
Rizzo’s take on the long ball came in response to a question about Bryant, professional baseball’s top home run hitter in 2014, wh’s still looking for his first homer 16 games into his big-league career.
“It’s baseball. He’s going to go through droughts of not hitting a home run,” said Rizzo, who didn’t feel the need to counsel Bryant on a weeklong slump. “People are going to try to blow it out of proportion, but really home runs are so overrated.
“It’s a statistic [on which you get] judged because you took 25 good swings a year that happened to [hit the ball] over the fence? As long as you do the little things, get on base, get runners over.”
As for Bryant, Rizzo said pitchers are trying to build a book on him.
“Everyone’s trying to get a read on him,” said Rizzo, who had to make adjustments after a rough 49-game debut in 2011, then again after a tough 2013 season. “I think he’s done tremendous taking the pitches. They’re trying to throw him bastard pitches, and he’s talking his walks. Which is not easy to do as a young hitter who wants to get hits and hit for power. It’s not like he’s been up there completely lost.
Bryant, in fact, reached base all five times Monday, including four walks – the first Cub to draw that many since Rizzo more than a year ago.
“And everyone knows that as the weather heats up, so do we.”
NOTES: Soler, who was 2-for-26 with 15 strikeouts before a 5-for-12 weekend against the Brewers, got his first day off from the starting lineup Monday — just a “breather,” said Maddon. He came off the bench in the ninth and grounded out.
–Right-hander Justin Grimm (forearm), who was to make his rehab appearance for AAA Iowa Monday, is “very close” to returning to the Cubs’ bullpen, Maddon said.