NEW YORK – The Cubs don’t have any magic tricks to fix their offense. Not hitting consultant Manny Ramirez, sports psychologist Ken Ravizza or even Simon the Magician, who all showed up here at Citi Field.
“I shook his hand,” Kris Bryant joked when asked if there’s any magic in the bats he inspected in the dugout before Tuesday’s 1-0 win over the New York Mets.
Mentalist/mind reader Simon Winthrop had just put on a magic show inside the visiting clubhouse to ease the tension. But the Cubs don’t have any quick fixes for this lineup. This is how Theo Epstein’s front office built the team, using trade chips and draft picks to try to create an American League-style lineup.
“They’re being schooled right now,” manager Joe Maddon said.
The Cubs were coming off a week in which they scored 11 runs in seven games, seeing a pair of Los Angeles Dodgers aces (Cy Young Award winners Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke) and getting swept by a St. Louis Cardinals staff that had an overall 2.61 ERA.
The return of Jorge Soler (ankle) should help – maybe by this weekend – but the focus leading up to the July 31 trade deadline will be on starting pitching. The Cubs understand the answers will have to come from within.
The Cubs began the day leading the National League in strikeouts by a wide margin, but that’s just part of this lineup’s DNA. They had also gone 2-for-27 with men in scoring position over the weekend, leaving 28 men on base against the Cardinals and looking overmatched at times.
“Everybody knows we do strike out a lot,” Maddon said. “As they get more experience, that’s going to come down. We have a lot of power. A lot of these guys haven’t hit to their power yet. That’s going to go up.
“It would be easy to get frustrated if you really didn’t understand development and what it takes, how you have to be patient with it. If you’re able to step back and really look at it in those terms, you go: Whoa, these guys are going to be really good the next couple years.
“That’s what I do. So if Soler’s having a tough stretch, or (Addison) Russell’s having a tough stretch, or Bryant’s having a tough stretch, whoever’s having a tough stretch: Chill, man. They’re going to be fine.”
The Cubs went for offense at a time when – as Maddon likes to say – pitching and defense gets all the shiny new toys. It’s advanced statistical analysis, extreme defensive shifts and extensive video databases (and tougher testing for performance-enhancing drugs).
“Yeah, they do the shift,” Ramirez said. “They got all this kind of stuff. But it’s the same game. Even the pitchers that throw 95-97 (mph), they still make mistakes. I don’t think the game is harder. Remember, you’re talking about guys that are 21, 23 (years old). All we got to do is be patient.
“I know they’re going to be good. They’re going to be maturing. They’re going to have their ups and downs. All we got to do is be patient, because I know they got an awesome team.”
Up next is 42-year-old Bartolo Colon, who won a Cy Young Award 10 years ago, followed by Jacob deGrom, the NL’s reigning Rookie of the Year.
“There’s good pitching everywhere,” Maddon said. “Look at the bullpens…every guy they bring out is throwing 97. It’s industry-wide right now, so I don’t see where the breaks are.”