The Rundown: Cubs’ Bats Signal Big Things, Bullpen Dunceing

It’s usually a good sign when a team hits for the cycle in the 1st inning of a game, which the Cubs did Saturday afternoon. A Kyle Schwarber double, Kris Bryant home run, Addison Russell triple, and Jason Heyward single had the Cubs up 4-0 before the dust from their circuits around the basepaths had even settled.

Russell would later double home two more and Bryant would add another homer, though none of it was enough to overcome a bullpen implosion that led to five Pirate runs in the 7th inning. Still, you’re going to win a lot of games when you score 8 runs, something the Cubs should be able to do quite frequently with this lineup.

Consider that the Cubs are walking at a 10.1 percent clip after leading all of baseball with 10.4 percent last season. That’s a slight drop, but you’ve got to love Schwarber at the top of the order with a 17.3 percent and Bryant at 15.1 percent, nearly 50 percent higher than last season’s mark (10.7). Even a little regression from those guys would see them posting incredibly solid numbers.

Then you’ve got Rizzo, who’s at only 7.7 percent to this point. Given his uncanny consistency — he’s been between 10.9 and 11.9 percent each of the last four seasons — it figures that Rizzo will draw a few more free passes here soon. Russell, meanwhile, has reached via walk in only 2 percent of his plate appearances, a drastic step down from his roughly 8.5 percent career average. That’s got to come up.

Here’s the thing about the All-Star shortstop, though: he’s not striking out nearly as often. Russell improved markedly from his rookie to sophomore season, going from 28.5 to 22.6 percent as he increased his contact rate. He’s now down to a 10.2 percent strikeout rate and has increased his power numbers at the same time. Pitchers are going to start working around him before long.

It’s a long season and these numbers can all change dramatically between now and October, but its very encouraging to see what the Cubs hitters are doing.

Maddon’s curious bullpen moves

Joe Maddon appears to be a big fan of putting his players through trial by fire, throwing them into situations that make them at least a little uncomfortable. There are, after all, few better ways to test an athlete’s mettle than to see how he reacts to pressure.

That’s cool and all, but I think a few people might take issue with those choices when they seem counterproductive to the goal of winning baseball games. On one hand, it makes sense that someone would be willing to punt on a given inning or game if the lessons learned would translate to more wins in the future. On the other, it seems odd to not try to win whenever possible.

Perhaps it’s extreme to insinuate that Maddon was punting or not trying to win Saturday’s game, but throwing newly activated Brian Duensing into the fray with the wind blowing out was a bit curious. So was leaving the lefty out there when he clearly wasn’t missing any bats.

Pedro Strop will catch some flack for giving up the three-run homer to Andrew McCutchen, though it was the decision to leave Duensing out there that may have cost the Cubs the game. Or maybe it’s just the whole thing with Maddon’s questionable bullpen management in the past coloring my thoughts here.

More news and notes (10-day DL edition)

  • Orioles place Zach Britton on 10-day DL with left forearm soreness
  • Reds place Brandon Finnegan on 10-day DL with a strain in the trapezius area; he is expected to be out about three weeks
  • Blue Jays place Aaron Sanchez on 10-day DL with blister
  • Rays place Jake Odorizzi on 10-day DL with with a left hamstring strain
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