The Cubs have this little problem hitting with runners in scoring position.
Actually, it’s a big problem. They went into Thursday night’s 6-4 loss to the Los Angeles Dodgers with a .227 batting average with runners in scoring position. That ranked them second to last in the major leagues.
They went 0-for-1 in that department against the Dodgers as the opportunities weren’t there.
Easing the pain somewhat, but illustrating another problem, were 4 solo home runs, 2 by Anthony Rizzo and 2 by rookie left fielder Junior Lake. Those were 4 of the 5 hits the Cubs got all night.
General manager Jed Hoyer cited the Cubs’ poor on-base percentage and lack of hitting with runners in scoring position as problems the Cubs must address.
The St. Louis Cardinals have a .333 batting average with runners in scoring position. That’s just off the charts and probably unsustainable. (The Detroit Tigers were second, at .294.)
Before Thursday’s game, I raised two questions with Cubs manager Dale Sveum: Is hitting with runners in scoring position something that can be taught, and do “clutch” hitters exist?
On the first point, Sveum had this to say: “It’s probably the most difficult thing to teach in hitting because you can’t throttle somebody’s heart rate in the batter’s box. You can talk all you want about hitting and mechanics and everything like that, but it’s hard to find that heart rate that handles those situations better than other people.
“Our biggest problem is we want to hit 3-run homers with guys on second base instead of just driving the guy in.”
As to the second question, debate has raged among old-schoolers and sabermetricians on whether “clutch” hitters exist. The old-schoolers say yes. The new-schoolers say no, in part because a hitter can’t guide the ball after he hits it.
They say a good hitter is a good hitter, and those guys hit in all situations.
What does Sveum think? Are there born “clutch” hitters.
“Yeah, there’s no question,” he said. “I’ve been in the game long enough to see what guys do when nobody’s on base and see what they do when people are in scoring position. It’ll be a whole different at-bat.
“There’s definitely a difference. A guy might be hitting .240, and you look, and he’s 40-for-90 with men in scoring position.”
In the game, Lake and Rizzo went back to back in the first inning to give the Cubs a 2-0 lead. The Dodgers scored twice in the third off Chris Rusin, but Lake’s second homer of the game tied it in the bottom of the inning.
Rizzo’s second blast, an opposite-field drive to left-center, brought the Cubs within 5-4 in the eighth.
“The solo home runs are always nice, but you want the big ones,” Rizzo said.
Lake also made a nice catch, leaping into the wall in the ninth to catch Adrian Gonzalez’s foul out. Although he came up sore, Lake said he was OK. Did he know the padded wall is a brick wall?
“Now I know,” he said.
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