‘Remember who you are’: Cubs’ hitters turning it on as David Ross’ message starts to hit home
The Cubs have had success throughout their lineup in May, and an adjustment in the team’s approach has helped generate more consistent offense.
ST. LOUIS — Coming off a down year for his offense, manager David Ross had a simple message for his lineup of MVPs, All-Stars and 2016 World Series champions during spring training:
“Remember who you are.”
That message has gotten through to his club, and after a slow start, the Cubs’ offense has become one of the best in baseball in the last month.
Javy Baez, one of the players who got off to a slow start, came through in the 10th inning with a two-run home run in the Cubs’ 2-1 victory Sunday against the Cardinals.
“It’s been good,” first baseman Anthony Rizzo said. “We obviously got off to a terrible start as a unit, and everyone has started to settle in big-time now and kind of find their own groove and their ins and outs with the ebbs and flows of the season.”
A few members of the team’s core moved on in the offseason, but much of the team’s lineup has stayed the same.
One big reason behind the offensive resurgence has been the MVP-level play of Kris Bryant. Bryant has been healthy and is back to being one of the best players in the majors. He leads the Cubs in nearly every offensive category, slashing .312/.406/.604 with 10 home runs and 28 RBI. Bryant ranks second in the National League in extra-base hits.
“Confidence is very important in our game and remembering how good of a baseball player you are,” Ross said. “I think KB has said it. . . . I can’t speak for players, but last year I felt there was such an anxiety to get going.
“I really feel like this season just continues to go and we’re in May and we’re like, ‘Wow, we still have a long way to go.’ This feels a little more normal to those guys, and they settled and stopped putting so much pressure on themselves to do this or that, and they understand, ‘I’ve got four or five at-bats every day.’ ”
The knock against the Cubs’ lineup the last several years has been its reliance on home runs. But what has made this run of success stand out has been the uptick in run production without the long ball. The Cubs are averaging 5.5 runs per game in May.
“It’s been a lot of fun to watch us hit,” Cubs president Jed Hoyer said. “I also think that one of the things that has been really fun to see is that we’ve been putting the ball in play more. That’s been a challenge for us historically, striking out and relying too much on homers to score. Homers are great, but you have to have more than one club in your bag as far as scoring runs.”
“We’re going to hit home runs as a unit, that’s for sure,” Rizzo said. “But when we’re not hitting ’em, [we’re] going to [have to] do it in different ways and put the ball in play to get the next guy up there.”
Some of the Cubs’ offseason additions have been a major part of the change in offensive profile. Matt Duffy, Eric Sogard and Nico Hoerner have had strong starts, and their ability to contribute regularly with a contact approach has clearly had a trickle-down effect on the rest of the lineup.
After ranking near the bottom of most NL offensive statistics, the Cubs rank third in the league in hitting (.263) and OPS (.756) this month.
The Cubs have seen how an all-or-nothing approach can be a frustrating way to score runs, but the current version of the offense, with some of the various adjustments in approach, has a much higher chance of being sustainable over a season.
“They’re always picking each other’s brains,” hitting coach Anthony Iapoce said. ‘‘It’s kind of nice to hear from other guys who haven’t been Cubs [like Sogard and Duffy] on how they go about their routine or what they think about the opposing pitcher and [also having] experienced guys who aren’t afraid to speak up.
“It’s all contagious. Everybody’s feeling good and getting hits.’’