It’s the question every Cubs opponent must confront: How do you stop the offensive firepower of Jake Arrieta, Kyle Hendricks and Travis Wood?
It probably would be good if some of the other Cubs, the ones who get paid to hit a baseball, step up their games in the upcoming National League Championship Series. You know, just in case the three pitchers go into a slump at the plate. I’m not saying they will! I’m saying there probably should be a backup plan in case Hendricks (two RBI in the division series) suddenly remembers he’s not Ted Williams or if opponents start pitching around Arrieta and Wood, who each hit a home run against San Francisco.
The Cubs did not hit well against the Giants, but it should be pointed out that they had to face Madison Bumgarner, Johnny Cueto and Matt Moore. No team they’ll see the rest of the way in the postseason will have as good a group of starters as San Francisco did.
The Cubs head into the NLCS against either the Dodgers or Nationals confident that a lack of offense from their non-pitcher hitters in the previous series was either a Cueto-induced occurrence or some sort of small-sample-size fluke. But the numbers are there, nonetheless:
— Anthony Rizzo and Addison Russell hit .067 after each of them went one-for-15 against the Giants.
— Dexter Fowler hit .133.
— Ben Zobrist hit .188.
— Jason Heyward hit .083, but the Cubs aren’t worried because he has been a disappointment at the plate all season. Anything they get out of him in the playoffs will be a bonus.
The Cubs hit .200 as a team in the four games against San Francisco, which means they’re fortunate to be in the NLCS for the second year in a row. They figure to break out of it sometime, if the regular season means anything – and if it doesn’t, why did we just spend 162 games watching? They led the National League in on-base percentage (.343) and were second in on-base/plus slugging (.772).
“I do have a lot of faith in our guys,’’ manager Joe Maddon said Thursday at Wrigley Field. “I’d like to believe that just getting to this next moment will chill everybody out even a little bit more. We’ve been there last year. We’ve been through it.
“Furthermore, it looks like the weather report’s going to be favorable, regardless of what city we’re in, and that may help the hitters too. We’re going to find out. But I’d like to believe the experience we had last year, combined with what we’re doing, should help moving forward.’’
The Cubs really, really need Rizzo to start hitting. Maddon, who has never seen, heard or spoken evil of any of his players, thinks there’s a chance Rizzo’s two Game 4 walks will turn into a flood of hits.
And Rizzo indeed will hit again. It’s just a matter of time. But time is condensed in the playoffs, pressure mounts and who knows? His career playoff batting average is .149. Lest you think that is skewed by his stats against the Giants, he hit .188 in the 2015 postseason.
Opponents clearly view Rizzo as dangerous, which is why they’re pitching around him. But as long as Kris Bryant and Javy Baez hit .375, as they did in the NLDS, Rizzo’s lack of production doesn’t mean as much.
I swung and missed on getting Rizzo to talk with me Thursday, so I can relate to his troubles at the plate. Heyward did stop and chat with reporters.
“I look at it as Ws and losses,’’ he said of the hitting woes. “That’s how we all look at it. We all understand that it’s not going to happen every time at the plate. We understand sometimes you’re going to face good pitching.’’
Maddon said the reason Rizzo drew those two walks Tuesday night was simple.
“Not swinging at balls,’’ he said. “When guys aren’t hitting well, it’s normally because their strike zone becomes unorganized. That’s it. When you start chasing pitches out of the zone, you get in bad counts, the pitcher gains an advantage. That’s why guys don’t hit.’’
Russell hit .214 with two home runs and nine RBI in September and October during the regular season, which sounds like a trend, but Maddon said he’s not thinking about moving Baez up into Russell’s spot in the order.
“The threat there is that Javy won’t be Javy, and I like what’s going on right now,’’ he said. “I still have a lot of faith in Addison. … I don’t think he’s been awful, by any means. I haven’t lost any faith.’’
That’s a good thing. But Maddon has to be getting a little nervous. How long can a team ride the hitting of Arrieta, Hendricks and Wood?