Over the last couple of seasons, the Chicago Cubs have built a reputation as a team that doesn’t hit many home runs. In 2016, the Cubs ranked 13th in the majors with 199 long balls during their World Series run. Just a year ago, Chicago finished the regular season ninth with 223 home runs, ranking behind teams like the Oakland Athletics and Tampa Bay Rays.
This season, the Cubs have continued their trend of not hitting many home runs. Prior to the All-Star break this season, the North Sider’s hit the tenth fewest home runs (100) in the league. Of teams currently in playoff contention, the Cubs were last in the category through the first portion of the season as the Atlanta Braves finished with 101 long balls.
The Cubs’ lack of home runs in the first half contributed to their .161 ISO, a number that was tied for 14th in the league.
So far in the second half, the Cubs’ power numbers have taken a steep downturn. Entering play on Thursday, Cub batters had hit the seventh fewest home runs since the break, recording an ISO of just .140, a number good enough for 26th in the league.
Surprisingly, those numbers have been helped along by the Cubs home run hitting ways over the last week or so. Beginning on August 16 and spanning five games, the Cubs hit one solo home run per game for a total of five long balls. While that strategy worked for the first two games of their series against the Pittsburgh Pirates, the Cubs dropped the next three games (two against the Pirates and one against the Detroit Tigers) by scoring a combined three runs, all on home runs.
Without those home runs, Chicago’s offense would likely have been shutout in those five games as the team never really showed the ability to string hits together in key situations.
On Wednesday, the Cubs’ streak of scoring just one run was finally put to bed. In an 8-2 win over the Tigers, the North Sider’s posted 11 hits, with three of them coming with runners in scoring position.
Just because they strung together multiple runs of the first time in what felt like forever doesn’t mean the Cubs strayed away from their home run hitting ways. Of the Cubs’ eight runs on Wednesday, six of them were via the long ball. That means of the Cubs’ 13 runs over their last six games prior to Thursday, 11 of them came from home runs. For a team that has failed to hit many home runs in recent years and especially in 2018, those numbers are incredible to think about.
With a slim lead atop the NL Central entering Thursday, the Cubs opened a four-game series with the Cincinnati Reds. As Cole Hamels took the mound for the home team on a perfect afternoon for baseball at Wrigley, the consensus was the Cubs would not need to score many runs for the left-hander. Across four starts and 25 innings since coming over from the Texas Rangers, Hamels has pitched to a sub-one ERA while recording a perfect 3-0 record.
Combine the ideas that Hamels has been solid for the Cubs of late and the Reds’ pitching staff has posted the highest HR/9 rate (1.42) in the majors this season, and it seemed likely a couple of home runs by the Cubs would be enough for a win.
With a breakout offensive game fresh in their minds, that is exactly what the Cubs did on Thursday night, defeating the Reds 7-1 and hitting two more home runs.
It did not take the Cubs long to start mashing balls into the bleachers. Just three batters into the game and following a reach by Javier Baez on an E6, Anthony Rizzo tied off on an Anthony DeSclafani fastball, sending it deep into the right-center field seats, putting the Cubs up 2-1 in the first.
That home run, Rizzo’s 21st of the season, continued a solid stretch of play for the first baseman. Entering play, Rizzo had recorded at least one hit in three straight games and at least one home run in two straight contests. His first inning home run on Thursday was the sixth of the month for the lefty slugger, building upon his solid August slugging percentage of .543.
The score remained 2-1 in favor of the Cubs into the third inning when Baez launched his own solo blast 481 feet over the left-center field stands. Baez’s 27th long ball of the year is now tied for the second longest shot in the majors this season as the 25-year-old continued to better his already career-high numbers.
Chicago’s second home run of the night gave the Cubs a 3-1 lead and would spell the end of the North Sider’s power display for the evening. With that being said, the Cubs did tack on another run in the home half of the fifth — making it a 4-1 ball game — on a Rizzo sac-fly that was set-up by a Baez double and stolen base. The game remained in a three-run Cubs’ advantage until the bottom half of the seventh when Ben Zobrist punched a ball through the right side of the infield, plating the home team’s fifth run of the game.
An Ian Happ walk with two outs in the seventh prolonged the inning and gave Victor Caratini a chance to bat with the bases loaded. Caratini did not disappoint, padding the Cubs’ lead with a two-RBI single into center field, a hit which pushed Chicago’s lead to 7-1.
That is where the score would stay as the Cubs scored seven times following their eight-run performance a night prior.
Of their seven runs on Thursday, three came on two home runs by the Cubs, giving them ten home runs over their last seven contests.
On the pitching side of things, it was more of the same for southpaw Cole Hamels. In the first, it looked like the veteran may turn in his first rough outing in a Cubs uniform after he allowed the first two Reds’ batters to reach, setting up second and third with no outs. Despite that, Hamels was able to wiggle out of the jam with minimal damage. The southpaw got the Reds’ three- and four-hole hitters to punch out swinging before an infield single off the bat of Phil Ervin gave the Reds an early and short-lived 1-0 lead.
Hamels’ first inning struggles did not persist deep into his start as the left-hander rolled through the remainder of his outing. Through eight innings, the Reds had six at-bats with runners in scoring position against Hamels. Of those six, five of them came in the first inning with the remaining at-bat coming in the following frame.
In the ninth, with a chance to record his 17th career complete game and the first for a Cubs’ pitcher this season, Hamels loaded the bases before inducing a game-ending 5-3 double play that kept the Reds off the board and capped off what was another sparkling outing by the veteran.
The left-hander’s final line looked like this: nine innings, eight hits, one earned run, two walks and seven strikeouts on 114 pitches.
With the win, the Cubs improve to 73-53 while the Reds drop to 56-72 on the season.
Next Up For The Cubs
The Cubs will continue their four-game set with the Reds on Friday, August 24 at 1:20 p.m. at Wrigley Field. With Mike Montgomery and Tyler Chatwood both hitting the DL in recent days, the Cubs will call on Alec Mills (5-12, 4.84 ERA at Triple-A) to make the spot start. Mills, 26, has made 23 starts for Iowa this season, logging 108 strikeouts in 124.2 innings. In addition, the right-hander has worked two scoreless innings for the big league club so far this season with 5.1 total frames of major league experience under his belt.
Taking the ball in opposition of the Cubs on Friday will be right-hander Matt Harvey (6-7, 4.91 ERA). Harvey has been solid in each of his last three outings after recording a 4.68 ERA in five July starts. The 29-year-old has posted a 3.63 ERA over his last 17.1 innings while striking out 13 batters and allowing just four walks.
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