1 through 9, Cubs' lineup is straight damage

August 13th, 2020

As trotted around the bases on Wednesday night, two gold chains bounced from shoulder to shoulder. When the Cubs’ first baseman crossed the plate after his third-inning homer, he grabbed the jewelry with his left hand and gave a quick smile to .

“Those things are heavy,” Cubs manager David Ross said with a laugh after the 7-2 victory over the Indians. “I don't even know if I could hold those around my neck. Rizz, whatever works, right? This is baseball. We'll do anything for knocks.”

There were plenty of knocks over the past two nights in Cleveland against a Tribe pitching staff that had not allowed more than four runs in any of its first 17 games. That was before the Cubs came to town and struck for seven in each win, giving the North Siders eight victories in nine games and a 12-3 record at the season’s quarter pole.

While the rotation has been a major factor -- ’ six strong innings on Wednesday trimmed the group’s ERA to 2.65 on the year -- Chicago’s unrelenting lineup has powered the .800 winning percentage. The latest win upped the Cubs’ rate to 5.3 runs per game, and the team entered the evening leading the Majors in pitches seen per plate appearance (4.17).

“It seems like there's not really a letdown in our lineup,” said . “I can't really remember a time playing for this team where it was really like that, where one through nine there was just damage all through the order. I think it shows in our record.”

Let’s take a walk through the Cubs’ order after their latest rout.

Nos. 1-3 spots
Entering Wednesday: .220/.335/.427, 114 wRC+
Wednesday vs. CLE: 4-for-13, 2 HR, 2 RBIs, 2 BB, 4 R

Going into this season, Ross named Bryant his new leadoff man, slotting Rizzo and Báez in the next two slots of the batting order. In a season where all the sample sizes are small, those three stars have been relatively quiet out of the chute.

“Once they get going, that's when the real fun’s going to start,” Cubs second baseman Jason Kipnis said recently. “And I think what we've preached this whole time is championship at-bats, making it a tough out, not giving at-bats away.”

The group has looked to Rizzo as a great example to follow. In Wednesday’s win, his third-inning shot off Carlos Carrasco put the Cubs on the board. Rizzo also drew a walk in the first, and his leadoff single in the fifth helped spark a three-run outburst.

Bryant, who is batting .196/.315/.391 on the year, could be seen favoring his left wrist in the bottom of the fifth, after he made a valiant diving attempt at a flared single to shallow left by César Hernández. No matter. Bryant belted a homer off sidearmer Adam Cimber in the sixth.

“I’m fine,” Bryant said.

Nos. 4-6 spots
Entering Wednesday: .237/.318/.391, 99 wRC+
Wednesday vs. CLE: 1-for-10, 2 RBIs, 4 BB, 3 R

For the most part, Kyle Schwarber has occupied the cleanup spot, with Willson Contreras (either catching or serving as the designated hitter) behind him. Ross has rotated a few batters in the No. 6 slot, giving Jason Heyward time there and recently moving the hot-hitting Ian Happ up.

Happ has stressed the importance of the guys hitting behind the core offensive stars following their lead.

“It takes pressure off the guys up top,” Happ said recently. “The first five guys in the lineup are absolute bangers. [The goal is] to make sure that once the pitcher gets through those five guys, you can't relax.”

Schwarber (right knee soreness) was out of the starting lineup on Wednesday, but Happ drew a pair of walks out of the fifth slot. Heyward (batting sixth) walked twice, delivered a sacrifice fly and provided an RBI double in the ninth that gave the bullpen more breathing room.

“J-Hey had a really good series,” Ross said. “That last double was a big extra run for us. Up and down the lineup's been really good. I don't want to single anybody out.”

Nos. 7-9 spots
Entering Wednesday: .282/.364/.472, 132 wRC+
Wednesday vs. CLE: 3-for-10, 3 RBIs, 3 BB

This is the segment of the lineup that has done a lot of heavy lifting in the first quarter of the season. Kipnis has credited the group’s collective mentality for the strong start.

“The back-of-the-order guys are looking at it as leadoff-type guys,” Kipnis said, “where we need to get on base because those two guys are at the top.”

Happ has spent time in the lower third, along with David Bote, Nico Hoerner, Victor Caratini, Kipnis and others. Bote came through with a key two-run single on Wednesday, Caratini had a single and a walk and Kipnis slashed an RBI double in the eighth.

Hendricks benefited from all the support, and he agreed with Bryant that the lineup is operating at a level he has not seen in years past.

“I totally agree,” Hendricks said. “Guys are as locked in as I have ever seen.”

Asked if Rizzo should keep wearing the gold chains, the pitcher laughed.

“I mean, he went deep, so he pretty much has to,” Hendricks said. “You never know what you're going to get out of him.”