You may have heard the phrase "grinding out at-bats." It's one of Theo Epstein's favorites and it was one of the first things the Cubs president of baseball operations packed when he left Boston.
Yankees-Red Sox games routinely last almost four hours because both teams follow the grinding model at the plate. They make the opposing pitcher work each at-bat of each game.
That's where the Cubs want to be and it's part of the reason why respected hitting coach Rudy Jaramillo was let go last week.
This weekend's marquee series with the Red Sox was a measuring stick for the Cubs for several reasons, but maybe none more important than the quality of at-bats.
On Saturday, Jeff Samardzija was pitching well, but he needed 95 pitches to get through just five innings, something the Red Sox are famous for.
"Yeah he had I think 50 something after three innings...so that's what the Red Sox, Yankees do," Dale Sveum said. "They'll get your pitch count up there. You're not putting them away in the 1-2 counts and that kind of thing, so they're going to foul balls off and they're going to spit on the borderline pitches."
In the three-game series at Wrigley Field, the Red Sox saw 471 pitches, or an average of 157 per game. The Cubs, on the other hand, forced Boston pitchers to throw just 398 pitches, or an average of roughly 133 pitches per game.
Now, the Cubs didn't have to bat in the ninth inning of Game 1, since they won the game. But there's a clear discrepancy there in the numbers.
Sveum, a former hitting coach, preaches the importance of getting into the opponent's bullpen. His goal is for the Cubs offense to try to get the starter up to 100 pitches through five innings, just as the Red Sox did to Samardzija Saturday.
That theory worked for the Red Sox over the weekend, as the Cubs' bullpen gave up five runs in the 6.2 innings they pitched in the final two games of the series, both Boston wins. In Game 1, the Red Sox couldn't get to Ryan Dempster and were left facing Dempster, a setup man (James Russell) and the Cubs' closer (Carlos Marmol).
Sveum's goal would put the opposing starter at an average of 20 pitches per inning. In 26 innings over the weekend, the Cubs saw 20 or more pitches just five times. They scored in three of those innings.
The crazy thing about that total is the offense actually saw 28 and 24 pitches in the first two innings of the weekend, touching Daisuke Matsuzaka up for three runs Friday. So in the final 24 offensive innings of the weekend, the Cubs saw 20 or more pitches just three times.
They took just six walks all weekend while the Red Sox collected 11 free passes. But it's not just about walks. The Red Sox rarely swung at the first pitch all weekend and even though Paul Maholm had only one walk Sunday, he still threw 95 pitches in six innings.
As the Cubs enter their first full week with James Rowson as the hitting coordinator, Sveum and his staff understand the Cubs will not become the Red Sox overnight. It will be a work in progress.
"I think we're having more quality at-bats," Sveum said. "We're walking a little bit. We walked four times Friday.
"Just the quality of at-bats have to keep it going from everybody and not panic with two strikes. Things like that. The message is trying to get through in games."