Signs of Things to Come?

The Cubs beat the Mets last night, 7-1.

But that score is deceiving; it was 2-1 in the bottom of the eighth, and then the Cubs put up 5 runs, thanks to three key at-bats that showed their new commitment to patience and a smart hitting approach.

In the bottom of the 8th, Derrek Lee gets on due to a Jose Reyes error, and then Ramirez gets hit by a pitch. Fukudome comes up, and he takes two out of the zone, then gets to two strikes. He then fouls off 5 pitches in a row, all of them the opposite way, before nailing a fastball straight through the hole between short and third. This was a hitting clinic; Fukudome has had a few of these type of ABs already this season.

Now it’s bases loaded, nobody out. DeRosa and Soto make quick outs, and with Ronny Cedeno coming up, it looks like it may be a wasted scoring chance. Cedeno has had some problems on offense the last couple of years, enough problems that he has had trouble staying in the big leagues.

But this at bat showed definite signs of progress. He got to 1-and-2, fouled off a couple of pitches, and then drove a pitch straight back up the middle to drive in 2 huge, HUGE runs. He did it by using a shorter, more compact swing with two strikes, just like a smart veteran hitter would.  And Cedeno has been looking more like a smart veteran hitter this year, to the tune of a .333 avg (8-for-24), a .407 OBP, and 8 RBI, 8 runs scored, and only 3 strikeouts. 8 runs scored and 8 RBI in 24 AB is an amazing level of production: over a full season of 600 plate appearances, that works out to around 180-190 RBI. So, a very promising start for him.

So now, first and second, two outs, Cubs up 4-1. Felix Pie comes up. He’s another guy who rocks it in AAA, then struggles in the majors, by striking out too much and generally not having a good approach at the plate. Cubs hitting coach has been working with him, before and after practice, to go “oppo” on outside pitches and to (I assume) generally cut down the length of his swing after strike two. He took the first two for balls, and then ripped the next pitch into the right field bleachers for a three run homer — his first in almost a year — to put the game away. He raced around the bases like a little kid.

So in these three ABs — Fukudome, Cedeno, Pie — we may have seen, quite literally, the future of the Cubs. Fukudome is a pro, and is a very tough out with runners on base, and seems able to do it every time, and his influence is no doubt helping the team adopt a more patient approach overall. Along with Lou’s encouragement, of course. Cedeno and Pie, though, are wild cards; if they can continue to grow and improve over the year, and deliver production even close to this, that then gives Lou Pinniella more options game-to-game as to who to play, and a higher confidence level that whoever he plays, he’ll get production. Which leads to more wins.

Of course, all this new-found patience and smart approach to hitting makes me ask, “what took so long”? How does an organization consistently fail to draft players who exhibit a smart hitting approach, and then fail to teach every player in their system what it takes to succeed as a major league hitter?  Probably because nobody in the organization understood it.  But now that the Cubs are scoring runs in huge bunches — they have scored 5 runs or more six times already this season, by far leading the majors — and now that the Red Sox have won two World Series with the Moneyball approach to offense — where getting on base and working deep counts is the single most important factor in scoring runs — it should be apparent that this works, if you have commitment to it across the entire organization.

But the good news is, that looks to be turning around, at least at the big league club, and one would hope this would lead to new scouting strategies and some type of “Cubs University” to drill these ideas into the heads of young players so they already know how to hit when they come up. This is a key part of the recipe for World Series titles.  Just ask the Red Sox.

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