The Wrigley Field organist got his money’s worth trying to drown out the sound of batting practice on Tuesday afternoon, as early-arriving fans with bleacher tickets were treated to their first taste of what’s to be expected on the North Side over the next three games.
The Los Angeles Dodgers are in town, and with them comes one of -- if not the -- best offenses in baseball. LA sits atop of any customizable leaderboard you care to take a look at. They lead all of baseball in fWAR (7.2), almost two whole runs higher than the runner-up. They’re second in on-base percentage (.357) and RBI (132); third in total homers (44), ISO (.225) and slugging (.489).
“They’re not going to just go up there recklessly,” Manager Joe Maddon said before Tuesday’s game. “They’re going to make you throw the ball where you want to see it. You got to make your pitch.”
The good news is that, since their home opener 11 games ago, the Cubs have been making their pitches. No team has walked less hitters over that time than Chicago (22). They’ll need to keep that trend going against a Dodgers team that is especially selective at the plate -- per MLB’s Statcast numbers, LA chases pitches only 21% of the time, seven percentage points lower than league average. Of their top-10 hitters in terms of pitches seen so far, not a single one has an above-average chase rate - the closest is Corey Seager at 24%. Cody Bellinger (11) and Joc Pederson (10) have more home runs between the two of them than Marlins, Pirates, Indians, Giants or Tigers have as a team.
“When you face offenses like that, you have to be able to get them out in the zone,” Maddon said. “That’s what you have to do as a pitcher. If you tap dance or get them in their counts, they’re going to hurt you.”
The bad news is that a shallow dive into some of the contact numbers spells potential trouble - especially in the bullpen. Three of the Cubs’ five most-used relievers (Kintzler, Rosario, and Webster) all have average exit velocities that fall in the bottom sixth-percentile or worse. Both Kintzler and Webster’s exit velocities (93.7 mph for both) fall in the bottom 2% of MLB pitchers. That’s tough sledding against a team that has 6 every day starters with better-than-average exit velocities.
Despite what’ll surely be 72 hours of hard contact, this late-April series between two of baseball’s marquee franchises may come down one of the sport’s finer nuances: defensive positioning.
“You have to catch the baseball - give them 3 outs an inning and that’s it,” Maddon added. “You have to set your defenses up well. This is when you do have to catch line drives. Really good defense catch line drives because they’re in the right spots.”