TORONTO — A conversation about aggres-sive baserunning with Cubs third-base coach Willie Harris doesn’t just cover a general mindset. He’ll delve into the opposing pitcher and how likely he is to give up another hit. He’ll pick apart the fielder, his arm, where and how he’s picking up the ball. He’ll analyze his baserunner’s speed and jump.
“It’s a fine line between being smart and aggressive,” Harris said earlier this season.
Too often in their series against the Blue Jays this week, the Cubs leaned too far toward aggressive and left smart behind.
But overall, August was a good month for them. Their 15-15 record was their best for any month since May of last year. And they closed out this August — and a stretch of 20 games in 19 days — with a win, beating the Blue Jays 7-5 on Wednesday.
“We’ve still got to get better in a lot of areas,” manager David Ross said. “There’s still some baserunning stuff we can clean up. There’s still, defensively, some things we can clean up. But this club is so fun to manage because of the way they go about their business on a daily basis, how they want to get better, where they’re willing to learn, the conversations they’re willing to have.”
As baserunning goes, they Cubs are already having those conversations. Pushing the envelope on the basepaths has been a focus all season. Although they added power to their lineup by claiming Franmil Reyes off waivers Aug. 8, they entered Thursday ranked 23rd in the majors in RBI (506).
Sometimes they have to come up with more creative ways to manufacture scoring opportunities. Against poor defensive teams, they’ve been able to trigger unnecessary or wild throws and capitalize.
Against the Blue Jays, they more often ran themselves out of innings. And the issue was widespread.
“We have to be always aggressive,” Reyes said, “but you have to be very smart about when to use it.”
Reyes is sneakily speedy for a 6-5 power hitter. But in a 5-4 loss Monday, he wasn’t quite fast enough to go from first to third on Nico Hoerner’s ground-ball single through the right side of the field in the fourth inning, nor to leg out a double on a fly ball to shallow right-center in the 11th.
“I have to recognize who I am as a runner,” he said. “I cannot make it to every base.”
In the same game, Nick Madrigal tested Blue Jays first baseman Vladimir Guerrero Jr.’s arm on a dropped third strike and was thrown out trying to steal home.
“You don’t want to take away the aggressiveness,” Ross said. “But your baseball instincts also have to know Vladimir Guerrero’s a third baseman converted to a first baseman, having a really good year at first and a really good arm.”
Even the Cubs’ highest-scoring inning in their victory Wednesday included outs on the basepaths. Zach McKinstry was thrown out at home trying to score on a grounder to second baseman Whit Merrifield, who was playing inside the basepath. McKinstry was going on contact.
“I kind of got a bad jump on it,” McKinstry said. “I’ll keep working on those.”
To end the inning, Rafael Ortega hit an RBI single but was thrown out trying to advance to second.
“We’ve got some work to do,” Ross said, “but these guys fight hard every night.”
NOTE: With rosters expanding for September, the Cubs recalled infielder David Bote from Triple-A Iowa on Thursday and selected the contract of reliever Jeremiah Estrada, who had served as a substitute player in Toronto. They returned their other substitute player, reliever Brendon Little, to Iowa.
To clear a spot on the 40-man roster for Estrada, the Cubs transferred lefty Wade Miley (strained left shoulder) from the 15-day injured list to the 60-day.