Big run totals and big flies.
The two always seem to go hand-in-hand, and that’s certainly been the case during the Cubs’ five-game winning streak, which has seen quite the power surge, even for a team that’s been hitting balls out of the ballpark all season.
They might have done it quietly for much of the season’s first two months, but the Cubs have been among the league leaders in homers and extra-base hits for some time now. They entered play Saturday with 60 on the year, which ranked third-best in the National League, trailing only Atlanta and Colorado. But the recent winning streak has seen the most overt display of North Side power, as the Cubs have crushed 11 homers during the span.
The Cubs have hit a trio of homers in each of the last three games--all played at Wrigley Field and all featuring run totals of at least seven runs. Wednesday against the White Sox, Dioner Navarro went deep thrice; Thursday’s rout of the White Sox featured homers from Luis Valbuena, Nate Schierholtz and Travis Wood; and Friday’s big win over the Diamondbacks saw Alfonso Soriano, Scott Hairston and Cody Ransom all go deep.
It was the first time the Cubs have put together three straight three-homer games since 2005.
“I see this team as having a good chance to do good things offensively,” Ransom said. “The pitching staff this year has been unbelievable, and we expect that to keep happening. I think it’s up to us to score more runs. But if you look at it--as far as extra-base hits and runs scored and stuff like that--it looks like we should have a better record than we do. We definitely expect to do good things offensively, and from top to bottom, there’s definitely an opportunity to do that.”
The recent home-run binge begs the question: Are the 2013 Cubs a home-run team?
“We’ve hit a good amount of home runs already for the season. We’re on pace to have about 170 or something, which isn’t bad,” Cubs manager Dale Sveum said before his team rattled off three more long balls Friday. “You just can’t replace one swing of the bat scoring a run, and then if there are people on base. We have a lot of guys that are capable of driving the ball out of the ballpark. Hey, we all know that three-run homers win games and home runs win games and it’s very difficult to string hits together, produce runs that way.”
“I guess that’s what they were trying to do,” Navarro said of the team’s makeup. “I think we can hit the long balls, having Soriano and [Anthony] Rizzo. [Starlin] Castro can go deep, too. Welington [Castillo]’s got some power. But I don’t think that’s our goal, don’t think that’s our mindset. We’re just trying to go up there and have good swings on the ball and the pitch and try to make something happen and keep the ball rolling.”
An impressive facet of the Cubs’ power output during the last five games comes from the variety in home-run hitters. Eight different Cubs have homered during the run, which Sveum pointed out takes some of the pressure off the expected sluggers like Rizzo and Soriano.
“We are getting a different hero, so to speak, every day,” Sveum said. “Whether it’s Travis Wood or yesterday Hairston getting bigger hits in bigger situations. Right now we’re not having to rely on Rizzo or Soriano to do a lot. Right now everybody else seems to be doing their job. And adding on, tacking on runs, whether it’s a home run or a single, we seem to be doing that right now.”
Navarro was quick to laugh and admit he didn't know whether or not home-run hitting was contagious, and Ransom called baseball “a streaky game.” But the Cubs are certainly happy to be on their current streak, one that could be making up for some earlier streaks that weren't quite as fortunate.
“I think we knew we can score. I think we knew,” Navarro said. “That’s what the team is built for. We had a rough start, which is understandable. A lot of teams went through it. We hope we’re getting out of it right now. Keep things rolling and keep doing our best and keep winning, which is the most important thing.”
Rotation shuffle coming on road trip
The Cubs will be doing some rotation shuffling on their upcoming road trip.
A couple off days next week means the Cubs can give starting pitcher Travis Wood some rest. Wood, whose turn in the rotation would have set him up to start Wednesday in Anaheim, will be pushed back to pitch Friday in the series-opener in Pittsburgh. Matt Garza will move up to pitch Wednesday, but because of the off day Monday, he’ll pitch on normal rest.
So it’s an off day Monday, Scott Feldman against the Angels on Tuesday, Garza against the Angels on Wednesday, off day Thursday and Wood against the Pirates on Friday.
Got all that?
Cubs manager Dale Sveum cited high pitch counts in recent outings as the reason Wood will earn some rest. Wood threw just 88 pitches in six innings Thursday against the White Sox. But before that, his previous five starts all featured pitch counts of 96 or higher.
“He’s pitched a lot of innings already and a lot of pitches in those games, a lot of stressful innings, too. So it’s just kind of one of those, giving him a few extra days,” Sveum said.
Sveum admitted that it also works out, as the lefty won’t have to go up against the Angels’ heavily right-handed lineup.
“They’re predominantly right-handed. It works out that way, and you’re always going try, when everything works out, to give somebody some extra time,” he said. “It’s a good time, two months into the season, to give him a little breather.”
In additional pitching news, the Cubs placed reliever Rafael Dolis on the 15-day disabled list Saturday with a forearm strain. They selected the contract of Blake Parker from Triple-A to replace Dolis. This a couple days after promoting Zach Putnam from Iowa and optioning Alex Burnett, who was designated for assignment Saturday.
“I guess that seems to be the go-to injury right now,” Sveum said of Dolis’ ailment. “Unfortunately, that’s part of bullpens. And for the depth, to have Parker and Putnam throwing the way they’ve been throwing at Triple-A, it’s nice assets to have.”