Gonzales: The challenge facing David Ross in 2022? Fixing a broken Cubs' offense

                                                                                                                                                                                                   
  • Cubs manager David Ross welcomes Patrick Wisdom back to dugout after he scored against the White Sox Aug. 8 at Wrigley Field.

    Cubs manager David Ross welcomes Patrick Wisdom back to dugout after he scored against the White Sox Aug. 8 at Wrigley Field. Associated Press

  • It seems only a matter of time before Cubs manager David Ross gets a contract extension.

    It seems only a matter of time before Cubs manager David Ross gets a contract extension. Associated Press

 
Updated 1/18/2022 12:00 PM

David Ross won a National League Central title during a 60-game 2020 season despite a feeble offense.

And Ross increased the intensity and focus in the final two months of the 2021 season after his slumping stars were traded to playoff contenders.

 

It's axiomatic that Ross, 44, will receive an extension from the Cubs for his ability to manage his first two teams during unusual circumstances.

But we might not see what Ross can do with a playoff-caliber team over a 162-game schedule for at least a few seasons, even if the Cubs sign a premier free agent like Carlos Correa or Trevor Story.

The offense has too many unknowns, as well as too many strikeout-prone hitters. President Jed Hoyer likes power, and Patrick Wisdom smacked 28 home runs -- most among returning players.

But Wisdom also had a 40.8 percent strikeout rate in his first full major league season, and there's also not a lengthy track record with the likes of second-half sensation Frank Schwindel.

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Marcus Stroman and Wade Miley provide upgrades to a rotation that will need depth. Left-hander Justin Steele pitched five innings of one-hit ball against Minnesota on Sept. 1 and threw seven shutout innings in his final start at Pittsburgh. But he walked 20 and allowed 10 home runs in 43⅔ innings as a starter.

The bullpen will be hard-pressed to match the achievements of veterans Andrew Chafin and Ryan Tepera before they were dealt at midseason. Simply, there are too many ifs to envision a postseason contender soon unless the playoffs are expanded to 14 teams.

In the meantime, much of the scrutiny on Ross -- who is signed through 2022 with a 2023 team option -- and his retooled coaching staff will be on their ability to teach, such as their pre-workout video and game playing sessions that became more publicized after Anthony Rizzo, Javier Baez and Kris Bryant were traded shortly before the July trade deadline.

There will be a brief honeymoon period for new hitting coaches Greg Brown and Johnny Washington as they try to cut down on the team's major league high 1,596 strikeouts with few seasoned batters.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

If there is a consolation prize to the trades of Rizzo, Baez and Bryant, it's that Ross can't possess the same patience he displayed with a struggling 2020 lineup because he currently doesn't have a core with the productive resume as the departed trio. He can't duplicate the style of mentor Bobby Cox because he doesn't have Fred McGriff, Chipper Jones or Andruw Jones.

Despite the grumblings of some followers, Ross was afraid to call for more steals with two out because of the collective struggles of his core players and the need for runs that eventually was enough for a 2020 division title.

And Ross was just as assertive in emphasizing preventive measures that made the Cubs the only team in 2020 to not produce a positive COVID test among its players.

For the most part, discipline hasn't been an issue with Ross. Kyle Schwarber was pulled during a nationally televised game in 2020 for not hustling toward a ball that sailed past him in left field.

Baez also was lifted during a game last season for losing track of outs on the bases paths and failing to retreat to first base. Unfortunately, Rizzo wasn't penalized for similar base running lapses. It's doubtful that the current roster won't be cut similar slack for mental gaffes.

Milwaukee has the power starting pitching and enough resourceful offense to threaten to repeat as division champions, and St. Louis has enough quality starting pitching to threaten the Brewers -- provided the Cardinals respond to new manager Oliver Marmol as well as they did for successful predecessor Mike Shildt.

By midseason, Ross could find himself delicately handling top prospect Brennen Davis and the hype attached to him, as well as pitcher Caleb Killian -- one of two players acquired from San Francisco for Bryant.

In the meantime, Ross has a chance to gradually ink his own stamp on a franchise that will put its trust in him for several seasons.

@MDGonzales

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