The cluster of baseballs looked like a section of the Milky Way, curling from the grass behind the pitcher’s mound, past second base and into shallow left field.
Anthony Rizzo, standing at home plate, repositioned the tee and sent another ball into the fray.
Pre-batting practice tee work became part of Rizzo’s daily routine at Wrigley Field this week, leading up to an 8-1 loss against the Twins on Saturday. He liked the freedom it gave him, to take as many or as few swings as he wanted.
The results showed up during the Indians series, with four hits and two walks in those two games. But his production quieted again in the Cubs’ first two games against the Twins.
His approach wasn’t the problem. Rizzo made contact in three of his four at-bats Saturday, including hard line drives to right field in his first two at-bats. The first was right at Twins outfielder Max Kepler. The second pulled Kepler out to the warning track. Both he caught.
The problem was the results. Rizzo went 0-for-4 Saturday. The top five hitters in the Cubs batting order combined to go 0-for-19.
From summer camp throughout the season, the Cubs have talked about focusing on wins over individual results. This time of year, with the stakes heightened by the shortened season and rapidly approaching playoffs, will test that resolve.
“It’s easy to kind of get away from (the right mindset),” Rizzo said this week, “especially when you’re not feeling it, and you’re not being who you normally are.”
Rizzo addressed the issue head on with two weeks left in the season.
In the locker room before the Cubs’ series opener against the Indians Tuesday, Rizzo gathered Javier Báez, Kyle Schwarber and Kris Bryant — all players who have struggled at the plate this season — to talk about their mentality moving forward.
“It was very organic,” Rizzo said. “But when our whole lineup comes together, we’re really scary. … A couple of us heat up at the right time, that’s what it’s all about.”
According to Báez, they talked about, “trying to make adjustments for the team, not for our numbers.”
In that two-game Cleveland series, it was clear what this Cubs lineup could be capable of down the stretch, as they racked up 20 hits in two games and won both in walk-off fashion.
Then, against the American League’s Twins, the Cubs scored just two runs in as many nights.
“You’ve just got to understand that this is this time of year,” said Jason Heyward, who had three of the Cubs’ five hits Saturday. “Everybody for the most part has faced everyone, except for a situation like tonight, last night. … There’s something to be said about that. You don’t really have a chance to make an adjustment per se.”
Wins over individual results. The three-game series is tied with a win apiece.
“We still have a chance to win the series tomorrow,” Heyward said, “and I think that’s huge.”