The bottom third of the Cubs batting order was coming up. Traditionally, that’s not the strongest part of the order for a National League team.
But this was the year of the universal designated hitter. And this was a team with more hitters than they could pack into nine spots.
The Reds made a pitching change in the seventh inning Tuesday that would immediately backfire.
Through the three games the Cubs played against the Reds this week – Wednesday’s series finale was postponed due to rain – Cubs manager David Ross continually adjusted the bottom of the order. And yet it consistently produced runs.
“We’ve got good players down at the bottom of that lineup,” Ross said. “… The more good players you put in the lineup, that stuff’s going to happen. And that’s what we feel like, this DH gives us a little bit of length there.”
The men responsible for the bottom of the order’s success so far this season are:
Ian Happ, who has mostly batted ninth this season but also took a turn in the seven-hole Tuesday. He’s hit two home runs this season, second-most on the team.
Victor Caratini, the backup catcher who’s been the Cubs DH more than any other player this season.
Nico Hoerner, whose rookie status is still intact through this year but has a .389 batting average.
David Bote, a versatile infielder who has only had 10 at bats but gotten on base in seven of them.
Jason Kipnis, who hit the Cubs’ only triple of the season.
Through all its iterations, the bottom third of the Cubs order has combined to hit .346 so far this season. Happ, Hoerner and Bote lead the team in RBIs with five apiece.
“With the bats we have hitting one and two in the lineup,” Hoerner said, “not your typical top of the order guys, it’s maybe even that much more important for us at the bottom of the lineup to get on base and produce. Because if we’re able to do that, then we have a chance to really put up big innings because that creates some serious depth in the lineup.”
This year, Ross named Kris Bryant the leadoff hitter, followed by Anthony Rizzo. Bryant has more traditionally hit second or third, and Rizzo third or fourth.
“It’s really good to see guys going out there and having good at-bats,” Bryant said, “working counts, barreling the ball up.”
On Wednesday, with 7-8-9 coming up in the Cubs batting order, the Reds pulled their starter Sonny Gray. He’d thrown 6 2/3 one-hit inning, but his pitch count was rising.
Left-hander Brooks Raley came in to face switch-hitting Happ.
Raley walked Happ to load the bases. Then he hit Caratini, and a run scored.
Hoerner stepped to the plate with the bases loaded and two outs. He poked a ground ball up the middle to knock in two more runs. The Cubs had already started a three-run rally by the time the top of the order got in on the fun.
Of course, the rally didn’t end up changing the final result on Wednesday – the Cubs lost 12-7. But if the bottom of the lineup continues to produce the way it has to start the year, it’ll put its imprint on the season.