Hoerner becoming fixture in leadoff spot

April 22nd, 2023

CHICAGO -- The revolving door at the top of the Cubs' lineup has stopped turning. After years of cycling through platoon players, sluggers with on-base ability, contact bats and speed guys, the North Siders appear to have found their answer at leadoff in .

"He's just kind of the tone setter," Cubs manager David Ross said. "He's a phenomenal hitter. He has a lot of confidence in himself, and I think we've just really touched the edge of what he can be."

In Saturday's 9-4 loss to the Dodgers, Hoerner's impact was felt as he tried to help ignite another April comeback for this surprising Cubs offense. Both of his hits sparked a rally, putting Chicago in a position -- before a late lapse by the bullpen -- to try to overcome a tough start for rookie .

After Wesneski allowed a run in the first inning, Hoerner led off the home half with a single and came around to score. In the seventh, following a two-run outburst by Los Angeles, the second baseman delivered a two-run home run off reliever Yency Almonte, cutting the Cubs' deficit to two runs.

"Big home run, " Ross said. "You felt like it was a little bit within reach."

The Cubs will have a shot at salvaging a split of the four-game series with the Dodgers on Sunday, and Hoerner can count on seeing his name atop the batting order once again.

There has been stability at the front of Ross' lineups, which have featured Hoerner, followed by Dansby Swanson, Ian Happ and Seiya Suzuki in the first four slots. Hoerner said that consistency has enabled him to center his preparation and focus on his daily routine.

"To truly know the same thing every day is a huge luxury in our game," Hoerner said. "It really allows you to just take care of your work and go from there. I'm really grateful to have that opportunity."

With his two-hit showing against the Dodgers, Hoerner left Wrigley Field with these statistical achievements:

• He has reached base in 18 consecutive games, extending a career-best streak. Hoerner has actually reached base in 19 of the Cubs' 20 games this season.

• Hoerner took over as the Major League leader with 33 hits, raising his season average to .367. That ranked fourth in the Majors.

• The second baseman was tied for the MLB lead in both stolen bases (nine) and runs scored (19).

• When Hoerner struck out looking in the ninth, it ended a streak of 42 plate appearances without a strikeout. That had been the longest active run in MLB.

Entering Saturday's game, Hoerner ranked third among qualified Major League hitters in both contact rate (91.8 percent) and swinging-strike rate (3.4 percent). Only the Marlins’ Luis Arraez and the Guardians’ Steven Kwan ranked higher in either category.

"The way he's played so far is, I think, the way he wants to play all the time," Cubs president of baseball operations Jed Hoyer said. "He's going to be aggressive. He's going to get his on-base or batting average, but in a lot of ways, he's adding to his slugging percentage right now by running so much and getting to second.

"He's in scoring position all the time. He's been excellent."

To Hoyer's point, Hoerner currently has a .489 slugging percentage due to the surplus of early season hits. That includes five doubles and a pair of homers. If his steals are added to his total bases, that theoretical slugging percentage jumps to .589. For perspective, Paul Goldschmidt had a .578 slugging percentage in his National League Most Valuable Player campaign a year ago.

The homer Hoerner launched on Saturday came on a 1-2 fastball from Almonte that tailed up and in at 96 mph. The bulk of Hoerner's career home runs have been pulled down the left-field line, but this blast found its way to the bleacher seats in left-center field.

"Obviously, hitting for more power makes you a lot more valuable player," Hoerner said. "I know it's something I can do, so it's just continuing to figure out how that happens organically."

The Cubs are plenty happy with the type of all-around offense Hoerner has provided.

Since Dexter Fowler was Chicago's "you go, we go" leadoff man in 2016, Chicago has given 31 players at least one start in the No. 1 slot. That included 10 players given a trial run last year. Hoerner is bringing that search to an end.

"He seems to be off to a great start and has embraced that role," Ross said. "I think that's, in my mind, what you envision when you write that [name] in there. But to see it transpire is awesome for us and I think it's a big reason for our success."