Cubs hit some real high notes in sweep of Bucs

Hoerner heats up as Chicago pitchers pull their weight in fourth straight series win

June 21st, 2023

PITTSBURGH -- As the Cubs head to London this weekend, it seems as though -- to steal from the legendary British-born band The Beatles -- they’ve “Come Together” in a remarkable way.

The North Siders will cross the ocean on the way to the U.K. with four straight series wins in hand after completing a sweep of the Pirates with an 8-3 decision on Wednesday afternoon at PNC Park.

With “London Calling” the Cubs across the Atlantic, let’s take a look at each area of the team’s game to see how each end has been pulling its weight.

Here come the hits

Even without the high-slugging prowess of many other teams, the Cubs have enjoyed one of the best offensive stretches over the past week-plus in baseball. The bats strung together 64 runs in nine games, which led the National League as of final out on Wednesday.

It’s largely been a product of timely base hits vs. big homers.

“The offense as a whole continues to pass the baton, have good at-bats,” manager David Ross said. “We’re taking our walks, which we were also doing early on, but now we’re getting key hits. The key hits were something we weren’t doing [as well earlier].”

One of the Cubs’ hottest hitters early in the season is beginning to warm up again. While fewer than 8% of 's hits this season have gone for a triple or a homer, he notched one of each for his two hits on Wednesday.

Since June 9, Hoerner has hit .327 with five extra-base knocks, including his first opposite-field homer in the big leagues in the Pittsburgh finale.

“I was looking for the fastball down the middle, and I cover the fastball up pretty well, so [I was] able to get some good contact on it,” Hoerner said.

Rotation rolling

After a shaky first outing of the season on May 25, Kyle Hendricks is pitching to crisp results.

The right-hander lowered his ERA to 2.60 with a solid 6 1/3-inning effort, allowing three runs, though only two were earned after an odd play at first base between Trey Mancini and reliever Mark Leiter Jr. in the seventh. Though Hendricks said he was a little upset he got out of his mechanics and exited without completing seven frames.

Hendricks missed nearly two months to begin the season with a right shoulder strain, but now, he’s part of a surge by the starting group. Marcus Stroman leads the NL in ERA (2.28) after his seventh straight win on Tuesday. Justin Steele is third in the NL (among starters with at least 70 innings pitched) with a 2.71 ERA. Drew Smyly’s June has been up and down, but he still is among the qualified NL leaders with his 3.38 ERA.

And even though Jameson Taillon began the season with an 8.04 ERA through May, Hendricks and the Cubs can see the new North Sider beginning to turn it around to round out the starting five.

“We’re feeling really good right now. Jamo has been a big part of bringing us together, and he’s been pitching well lately,” Hendricks said. “We’re going to all get rolling, but we feel like a cohesive unit. … It’s kind of like friendly competition in a way: Do better than the guy before you.”

And because of their two consecutive off-days leading into the London Series, the Cubs will be able to use their two best starters this season vs. the Cardinals (Steele and Stroman). There’s a good chance this stretch will only continue.

“Our starting pitching has been so consistent this year,” Hoerner said. “I feel like that’s the one part of our game that hasn’t really wavered at all, so definitely grateful for the work that those guys have done throughout.”

Bullpen bearing down

The starters have obviously made it easy on the bullpen and on Ross’ reliance on them, but they’re holding their own too, with one of their best months this season. With 2 2/3 scoreless innings from Leiter, Julian Merryweather and Michael Fulmer, Cubs relievers have a 3.20 ERA across 56 1/3 innings in June.

This comes despite the fact that Chicago doesn’t have a regular closer. But the Cubs haven’t put themselves in too many save situations across the four-series win streak; Adbert Alzolay has collected the only two saves required over the past 12 games.

All this makes for an easy transatlantic flight before what should be a fun rivalry series.