Patience at the plate pays off for Cubs in opening series
Right before Willie Mays Hayes takes his first at-bat in the movie "Major League," announcer Bob Uecker notes: "A lot of people say you can tell how the season's gonna go by the first hitter of the year."
Hayes beats out a dribbler to second base and -- although he's picked off thanks to a snarky remark by the first baseman -- Cleveland goes on to make the playoffs.
Comparing a movie from 1989 to real-day baseball in 2022 may be a bit of a stretch, but the way the Cubs have started this season makes you wonder if they won't surprise quite a few teams over the next 5½ months.
Showing patience at the plate was one of the more impressive things the Cubs did while taking two of three from the Brewers at Wrigley Field last weekend.
Rafael Ortega set the tone by leading off each game with a walk. Ortega and Seiya Suzuki ended up drawing 8 of 17 free passes issued by Brewers pitchers. The Cubs were also hit by pitches four times.
"We're preaching just trust the guy behind you," manager David Ross said. "Zone into your zone, (make) these pitchers work and (don't swing) at borderline pitches. Sometimes you'll get rung up on borderline balls and strikes, but sometimes those pitches are going to go your way, too.
"These guys have done a nice job of staying honed into their strike zone ... and not getting outside of that. I've loved that."
The Cubs did strike out 13 times in a 5-4 loss Sunday, with four of them looking.
But if hitters keep drawing walks, it will certainly help a lineup that doesn't have a ton of power. The Cubs rank No. 1 in the majors with 5.66 walks per game through Sunday. They're also second in on-base percentage at .374.
Last season, the Cubs were 19th in walks (3.1 per game), 20th in OBP (.312) and struck out more than any team (9.85 per game).
One of the most impressive at-bats came from Jonathan Villar in the first inning Sunday. After falling behind 1-2, Villar took the next three pitches -- the last of which missed by an inch or two -- and trotted to first base.
After Alfonso Rivas singled, Suzuki crushed a 3-run homer to left-center. If Villar doesn't have that plate discipline, the homer by Suzuki never happens.
"The entire team has been taking incredible at-bats," said Cubs pitcher Marcus Stroman. "Even though we didn't come out with the win today, I think we played an incredible game. ... We're putting quality swings on in-zone pitches."
We'll see if it continues when the Cubs play a two-game series starting Tuesday at Pittsburgh.
Ever see a 1-2-3 inning where the pitcher throws two strikes?
Well, Stroman accomplished the feat Sunday when he:
• Got Rowdy Tellez to ground out on a 2-0 count.
• Walked Hunter Renfroe on four pitches.
• Snared an Omar Narvaez line drive and then doubled Renfroe off first base.
Stroman has been around, having pitched six seasons in Toronto and two in New York for the Mets. With that in mind, you wouldn't think Stroman would be awestruck by the atmosphere at Wrigley Field.
You'd be wrong.
"The way everyone talked about playing at Wrigley, it's definitely true and probably even more incredible than you can discuss," said Stroman, who signed a three-year, $71 million deal in the offseason. "To have that behind you, that's hard to put into words because that's not uniform around the league to ... feel that energy each and every time. That's super rare in baseball.
"I don't know if you guys know that or if you guys are spoiled with that crowd. I'm excited for each and every game."