BY JOHN GROCHOWSKI
For the Sun-Times
Pitching heroics by Jake Arrieta aside, the Cubs’ leap forward since the All-Star break has been fueled by a surge in the offense.
Through Sunday, they were 40-22 (.645) since the break after going 47-40 (.540) before it. That’s even though the staff ERA had jumped from 3.31 before the break to 3.83 since.
By the numbers, the offensive gain has been sharp and broad-based, with a power surge from 0.88 home runs per game before the break to 1.39 since being the biggest component.
Before the break, the Cubs averaged 3.85 runs, just below the National League average of 3.98. Since then, they’ve averaged 4.90, well above the 4.36 NL teams have averaged in the second half.
There was concern about the team’s .239 batting average in the first half, but that has risen to .252 in the second half.
More important than the rise in batting average have been the gains in on-base percentage and slugging percentage. The Cubs lead the NL with 520 walks and have improved from 3.37 per game before the break to 3.62 after. That has helped them improve from a .315 on-base percentage in the first half to .330 in the second.
A jump in slugging percentage, fueled by the homers, has been dramatic. After slugging .374 in the first half, the Cubs are slugging .438 in the second. Add the on-base and slugging percentages, and the Cubs’ .768 OPS in the second half is well above the NL average of .730. (Their .690 OPS in the first half was slightly below the .704
Anthony Rizzo has produced at star level in both halves, with a .955 OPS and 16 homers before the break and a .964 OPS and 14 homers after. But four hitters have been especially important in the offensive rise:
◆ Addison Russell has become an offensive contributor besides providing stellar defense at second base and shortstop. After hitting .226 with a .296 on-base percentage, .354 slugging percentage and .650 OPS with five homers before the break, he’s at .255/.305/.439/.744 and eight homers since.
◆ Catcher/outfielder Kyle Schwarber has provided power and walks. He had only 23 plate appearances in the first half. His batting average in 209 plate appearances in the second half is only .232, but his 29 walks boost his on-base percentage to .344 to go along with a .515 slugging percentage and an .859 OPS. His 15 homers in the second half have been a big part of the Cubs’
◆ Third baseman Kris Bryant has stepped up his power, slugging .527 after the break, up from .472 before. His 13 homers in the second half represent one per 19.77 plate appearances. His 12 before the break were one per 28.33.
◆ Outfielder and leadoff man Dexter Fowler has been an on-base machine in the second half. He has a .405 on-base percentage after the break, compared with .308 before. He has provided more power, too, slugging .504 in the second half after .369 in the first.
With so many big by-the-numbers increases, it’s no wonder the Cubs have transitioned from a team that was scoring just enough to win into one that can overpower the opposition.
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