Jorge Soler isn’t a finished product or the most polished hitter, but he’s someone the other team has to account for, a fast-twitch athlete with the power to change a game with one swing.
That’s exactly what Soler did for the Cubs during Wednesday night’s 6-1 victory over the Milwaukee Brewers at Wrigley Field, crushing Jimmy Nelson’s 93-mph fastball and driving it into the back of the left-center field bleachers, nearly hitting the bottom of the video board with a three-run homer.
That became the exclamation point to a five-run, first-inning blitz that allowed Jon Lester to go into cruise-control mode and gave the bullpen a breather the day after a doubleheader. Soler might not ever be able to do this for 150 games and 600 at-bats a year – the injury-prone label sticks – but he can be a dangerous hitter in a short playoff series.
Just look at what Soler did to the St. Louis Cardinals last October, setting a new major-league record by getting on base in his first nine career postseason plate appearances and hitting two homers in four games.
“Presence,” said Lester (13-4, 2.86 ERA), who pitched into the seventh inning and limited the Brewers to one run and three hits. “He’s a big feller.
“(It) adds to that pitcher having to work to get to the bottom of that order, (because) guys aren’t allowed to take breaks. That’s the biggest thing. Tonight (against the Brewers), you get to the bottom of the order, you’re like: ‘OK, I got this guy, I got this guy, then I got the pitcher.’ And you feel like you can navigate. I don’t feel like you can do that with our lineup.
“It’s very, very deep. And I think that plays well into October, and hopefully to where we can use different matchups as far as the DH.”
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Yes, the didn’t-come-here-for-a-haircut Cubs are already thinking about the World Series, moving to 33 games over .500 for the first time since the end of the 2008 season and keeping a 12.5-game lead over the Cardinals in the division.
Soler embraced that playoff pressure last year, admitting he played with sharper focus, and the Cubs might need another big bat with Kyle Schwarber unable to hammer pitches onto video boards and Jason Heyward enduring one of the worst offensive seasons in baseball this year.
“When George is swinging it well, he’s a huge part of this team,” said David Ross, who also homered off Nelson in the third inning. “He’s a presence with the power he has – and how well he hits lefties – and now he’s hitting righties. He’s just not missing the ball. You can tell he’s locked in.
“It makes our lineup that much deeper. When he was out, from the catcher’s standpoint, you see that the lineup’s shortening. Once you get past a certain guy, then it’s a little easier to navigate the lineup.”
After missing almost two months with a strained hamstring, Soler has gone 11-for-29 with a double, four homers and 10 RBI in 10 games since coming off the disabled list, adding another dimension to the best team in baseball.
“That’s why the ball is being struck as well as it is – he’s really staying in the zone,” manager Joe Maddon said. “He’s been very patient. That’s something (our hitting coaches) promote with all of our hitters. But with him, it’s really obvious. When he’s in the zone, when he’s not permitting the pitcher to expand, he’s really good.”