Red Sox Way: How and why Cubs built American League lineup for Wrigley

Red Sox Way: How and why Cubs built American League lineup for Wrigley

The Cubs studied the architectural blueprints, renovating Wrigley Field in phases and trying to turn it into the Midwest version of Fenway Park. After years of rebuilding, this team now might have the American League-style offense that once transformed the Boston Red Sox.

Get ready for more commercial breaks, games approaching the four-hour mark and all those managers and pitching coaches walking back and forth between the visiting dugout and the mound. With “Go Cubs Go” playing at the end of the night in Wrigleyville.

The punting-on-2016-and-2017 Cincinnati Reds definitely aren’t the end-of-the-dynasty New York Yankees. But Theo Epstein’s front office certainly had Boston’s 2004 and 2007 World Series teams in mind while assembling this roster.  

This lineup buried the Reds during Wednesday’s 9-2 win, scoring five runs in the first inning and knocking out Cincinnati starter Alfredo Simon after 49 pitches. The Cubs are now 7-1, have the best record in the National League and still get 36 more games against the Reds and Milwaukee Brewers, the division’s have-nots.

Simon – an All-Star in 2014 who put up a 5.05 ERA in 31 starts for the Detroit Tigers last year – got two outs before five Cincinnati relievers combined to throw 139 more pitches. Manny Ramirez is a hitting consultant for this organization, while Kevin Youkilis is an assistant in baseball operations, and that imprint of The Red Sox Way can now be seen in Chicago.

“Having a relentless lineup full of professional hitters works on so many different levels,” Epstein said. “It works in terms of just pure baseball reason: If you get on base, you’re going to score runs.

“It works psychologically, because you have a chance to become that team that no starting pitcher wants to draw. You saw the look on a couple of the pitchers’ faces (last week) when they had to face us as we got into the fourth, fifth inning.

“Their pitch counts go up and there’s a cumulative effect within the course of a game. You get second time through the lineup, third time through a lineup, then you get into their bullpen.

[SHOP: Gear up, Cubs fans!]

“There’s a cumulative effect during the course of a series. As you wear their bullpen down, they can’t go to their first options by the end of a series.

“And then there’s the cumulative effect over the course of a season, too, where you see so many pitches, have so many at-bats that you can wear down your opponents.”

The Cubs have outscored their opponents 56-20 this season, drawing 48 walks through eight games. That’s the cumulative effect of 286 losses between 2012 and 2014, a series of calculated decisions and some good fortune.

The Cubs traded for Anthony Rizzo – a former Red Sox prospect – before the 2012 season and helped him develop into a two-time All-Star first baseman who finished fourth in last year’s NL MVP voting.  

The Cubs drafted Kris Bryant (homer, two walks on Wednesday) – whose dad had learned the science of hitting from Ted Williams as a minor-leaguer in the Red Sox system – with the No. 2 overall pick in 2013 and watched him emerge as last season’s NL Rookie of the Year.

The Cubs committed $253 million to the top three hitters in Wednesday’s lineup – Dexter Fowler, Jason Heyward and Ben Zobrist – after winning 97 games and two playoff rounds last year.

“You don’t want the pitcher to ever feel like he can take a break,” Heyward said.

Fowler – who has reached base safely in all eight games this season – is manager Joe Maddon’s you-go, we-go leadoff guy. Heyward won’t turn 27 until Aug. 9 – the day after Rizzo celebrates the same birthday. Zobrist waited to sign until the Cubs could make it work by trading Starlin Castro – a free-swinging hitter with unbelievable hand-eye coordination – to the Yankees at the winter meetings.

FanGraphs published an analysis piece on Wednesday that once would have sounded like a headline from The Onion: “This Cubs Lineup Might Be the Most Disciplined Lineup Ever.”

“Once you develop that reputation as a club, year after year, players come in and they tend to fit in with that profile,” Epstein said. “It’s been a process, because we were kind of on the other end of the spectrum as an offense for many years.

“We were pretty aggressive. We didn’t see a lot of pitches. We didn’t get on base a ton. It’s not something you can change overnight. But I feel like now it’s part of our culture.”

Summer of Sammy: Sosa's 32nd homer in 1998

Summer of Sammy: Sosa's 32nd homer in 1998

It's the 20th anniversary of the Summer of Sammy, when Sosa and Mark McGwire went toe-to-toe in one of the most exciting seasons in American sports history chasing after Roger Maris' home run record. All year, we're going to go homer-by-homer on Sosa's 66 longballs, with highlights and info about each. Enjoy.

Sosa victimized the Tigers pitching staff again on the next night, taking Brian Moehler deep in the 7th inning for a 400-foot solo blast.

The homer tied the game at 3, but the Cubs blew the lead in the bottom of the 7th when the Terrys (Adams and Mulholland) gave up 3 runs. The Cubs wound up losing 6-4.

The Cubs were putting together a really nice season in 1998 that ended with a trip to October. They entered the series with the Tigers with a 42-34 record, yet lost both games to a Detroit team that entered the series with a 28-45 record. The Tigers finished the season 65-94; the Cubs finished 90-73.

Fun fact: Luis Gonzalez was the Tigers left fielder and No. 5 hitter for both games of the series. He spent part of the 1995 season and all of '96 on Chicago's North Side. 1998 was his only year in Detroit before he moved on to Arizona, where he hit 57 homers in 2001 and helped the Diamondbacks to a World Series championship with that famous broken-bat single in Game 7.

Fun fact  No. 2: Remember Pedro Valdes? He only had a cup of coffee with the Cubs (9 games in 1996 and 14 in '98), but started in left field on June 25, 1998. He walked and went 0-for-1 before being removed from the game for a pinch-hitter (Jose Hernandez).

A series to forget: Facts and figures from Cubs' rough weekend in Cincinnati

A series to forget: Facts and figures from Cubs' rough weekend in Cincinnati

The Cubs and their fans may want to invent and use one of those Men In Black neuralyzers because the four-game series in Cincinnati was one to forget.

The Reds finished off a four-game sweep of the Cubs on Sunday with an 8-6 win. The way the Reds won the finale will be especially painful for the Cubs considering they led 6-1 after six innings. Mike Montgomery appeared to tire in the seventh inning and Pedro Strop got rocked out of the bullpen to lead to a seven-run seventh for the hosts.

The Reds have now won seven in a row and 10 of 12, but still sit 13 games under .500. Bizarrely, the Reds also swept the Dodgers, the Cubs’ next opponent, in a four-game series in May. Duane Underwood will start for the Cubs Monday against the Dodgers and make his major league debut.

Here are some other wild facts and figures from the series:

  • The last time the Reds swept the Cubs in a four-game series was back in 1983. That was the first week of the season and three weeks before the infamous Lee Elia rant.
  • One positive for the Cubs from the game was Montgomery’s start. Through six innings he allowed one run on three hits and two walks. However, he gave up a single, a double and a single in the seventh before Strop relieved him. Montgomery had gone six innings and allowed one run in each of his last four outings.
  • Strop was definitely a negative. On his first pitch, Strop gave up a home run to pinch-hitter Jesse Winker, the second home run for a Reds pinch-hitter in the game. Then Strop allowed a single, a walk, a single and a double before getting an out. Strop’s final line: 2/3 inning pitched, four runs, one strikeout, three walks, four hits.
  • The Cubs led in three of the four games this series, including two leads after five innings.
  • The Cubs were 5-for-23 (.217) with runners in scoring position in the series. On the season the Cubs are hitting .233 with RISP, which is 22nd in the majors and fourth-worst in the National League (but ahead of the division-rival Brewers and Cardinals).
  • The Reds outscored the Cubs 31-13 and scored at least six runs in every game. The Reds are now 6-3 against the Cubs this year after going a combined 17-40 against the Cubs from 2015-2017.