Podcast: Is it time to start worrying about the Cubs' lack of power?


Podcast: Is it time to start worrying about the Cubs' lack of power?

The Cubs head to St. Louis this weekend firmly in second place in the National League Central after dropping 2 of 3 to the Brewers in Milwaukee where they didn’t score a run for the final 18 innings. What’s going on with the offense? Is it time to start panicking about the lack of power? What more does Mike Montgomery need to do to stick in the rotation?

Kelly Crull, Jon Graff and Tony Andracki discuss these topics on the latest CubsTalk Podcast plus a couple under-the-radar reasons why the series may have turned after the Cubs’ big win Monday night.

Listen to the entire CubsTalk Podcast here and check out more on the lack of longballs below:

The lack of power has been particularly troubling. 

After hitting 1 homer less than the National League leaders (Mets, Brewers) last year, the Cubs currently rank 10th in the league in longballs. They're on pace for only 169 homers after hitting 223 in 2017. Every player on the team besides Javy Baez is on pace for a surprisingly low homer total based on track record and potential. 

Kris Bryant hasn't homered in a month and is on pace for only 20 longballs, which would be well under his career norm. Anthony Rizzo is on track for 27 dingers and he hasn't hit fewer than 31 in a season since 2013 (though, he did get off to a slow start for the first 5 weeks of the season). Jason Heyward has turned things around at the plate this year, but is still on pace for 7 homers, which would tie his career low of 2016.

Addison Russell and Willson Contreras have both flashed their 20-homer power in the past yet are on pace to combine for only 15 dingers in 2018 (5 for Russell, 10 for Contreras). 

Even Kyle Schwarber is on track for only 27 bombs after hitting 30 last year in a season where he struggled to hit over .200 for much of the year and spent three weeks in the minor leagues. Ian Happ clubbed 24 homers as a rookie in 364 at-bats but is on track for only 20 in 384 at-bats this year.

Only Baez (on pace for 35 homers) has lived up to his power potential so far this year, but he also has only 4 longballs in the last 5 weeks of action (dating back to May 7).

The Cubs altered their offensive approach under new hitting coach Chili Davis, looking for more contact and aiming to use the whole field rather than pulling the ball with power and striking out a bunch.

Has that mindset messed with the Cubs' power? Is it just randomness of the early going this year? 

Weather has been a factor, but the cold, wintry weather is gone (probably). It's mid-June now and the halfway point in the season is coming up. Yes, there are still more than 90 games remaining on the Cubs' schedule and homers do tend to come in bunches, but the "small sample size" excuse can't be used anymore.

The Cubs insist they haven't sacrificed any power for contact, so maybe it just is a bad stretch in the power department. Before being shut out on back-to-back days, the Cubs had won 13 of 17, so however they approached their at-bats was working to some extent.

Last season, their offense got too reliant on homers for stretches and wasn't able to manufacture runs against tougher pitching. They worked to rectify that for this year and while it's largely worked out (the Cubs are near the top of the NL in runs/game, on-base percentage and OPS even after these last two losses), the offensive woes are not fully in the rearview mirror.

Looking back on Rick Monday's flag-saving incident in 1976


Looking back on Rick Monday's flag-saving incident in 1976

"I would rather be remembered as someone who stood up and did something about something I felt strongly about, than as someone who just stood there and watched the parade go by."

When you least expect it, life can come at you pretty quickly. The way Rick Monday reacted 43 years ago in a Cubs uniform is still worth remembering.

The Cubs were playing at Dodger Stadium on April 25, 1976. Monday was in his fifth season with the Cubs and playing in center field. Steve Stone was the starting pitcher and in the bottom of the fourth inning, Monday heard something going on around him. Two fans ran onto the field and then past Cubs left fielder Jose Cardinal.

"Is it because they have a bet with somebody?" Monday said. "Is it because they've had too much to drink? Is it because they don't like you?”

The fans turned out to be protesters and one of them was carrying the American flag under his arm. As they laid down the flag and doused it with a can of lighter fluid, Rick Monday darted at them from center field.

"It angered me for a lot of reasons," he said. "First of all, you're interrupting the game. Secondly, now you're bringing out a flag and I was only about three or four years removed from being in the Marine Reserves."

Monday considered bowling them over if he got there on time, but the first match blew out as they tried to ignite the flag. Monday improvised. He scooped up the soaking wet flag and kept running with it. By the time he'd handed it to a teammate near the dugout, Tommy Lasorda let the protesters have a few choice words. At the time, Lasorda was the third baseman for the Dodgers.

"He [Lasorda] came running past me yelling about every expletive that a longshoreman would utter on a bad, bad day!" Monday said.

The fans were arrested, and when Monday came to the plate for his at-bat in the top of the fifth inning, the scoreboard in center field paid tribute with - "Rick made a great play" and the California crowd gave the Cubs outfielder a standing ovation. One year later, they'd be cheering for him again. The Cubs traded Rick Monday in a five-player deal that brought Bill Buckner and Ivan DeJesus to the North side. Rick Monday went on to play a total of 19 seasons in the Majors. He was part of the Dodgers World Series championship team in 1981.

43 years after the flag incident, Rick Monday works in the Dodgers radio broadcast booth and that American flag is still a part of his life. He and his wife take the flag around the country while raising money for military charities. Monday says he reacted quickly that day because that's the way he was raised. Six years in the United States Marine Corps Forces Reserves only reinforced those instincts.

"It's a good thing I did get it, because I did not want any of my former drill instructors from the Marine Corps to come and say, 'Hey Marine! Why did you stand there and watch when they ignited the American flag?" Monday said.

An All-American play by a two-time All-Star outfielder

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Addison Russell goes 1-for-4 in rehab assignment with the Iowa Cubs

Addison Russell goes 1-for-4 in rehab assignment with the Iowa Cubs

Addison Russell is nearing the end of his 40-game suspension for violating the MLB's domestic abuse policy. He made his first rehab start with the Iowa Cubs on Wednesday night, performing quite well in the stint.

He was 1-for-4 with an RBI, one walk and a stolen base to boot in Iowa’s 6-4 win over the Nashville Sounds. Unless there any changes in the expected gameplan, Russell will be able to rejoin the big league club on May 3 at the earliest, when they begin a series against the division-rival St. Louis Cardinals.

Russell was a key piece of the 2016 World Series team but it will be interesting to see how he fits into the mix with Javier Báez in the midst of an excellent season at shortstop.

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