CHICAGO -- Watching Seiya Suzuki settle in at first base after his seventh-inning RBI single on Tuesday night, one couldn’t help but notice an apparent sense of relief. The Cubs right fielder stepped onto the bag with his head down and arm outstretched, displaying a big thumbs up toward Chicago’s dugout before high-fiving first-base coach Mike Napoli.
The single was Suzuki’s third hit of the night, following a sixth-inning homer that kickstarted the Cubs’ 17-3 comeback victory over the Nationals at Wrigley Field, helping snap what's been an uneven stretch at the plate for him over the past month and a half.
It also served as more proof of how significant his bat can be during a crucial point of the season for Chicago.
“Seiya looked phenomenal tonight,” Cubs manager David Ross said. “He’s got one of the best swings in the league. When you watch him, the consistency with that timing, when it’s there, he feels really good. Hopefully he can build off today, because he looked really good tonight.”
Ross had spent the previous few days hammering home how important it was for the top of Chicago’s lineup to get going, specifically pointing out Suzuki, who went 4-for-6 at the plate with three RBIs Tuesday night. It was the kind of performance the Cubs had been sorely missing for quite some time.
After homering five times in May and assembling a .977 OPS for the month, Suzuki’s bat went cold. From June 2 through Monday, the 28-year-old slashed .198/.268/.270, with his overall OPS plummeting 152 points during that stretch. For a Cubs team in need of consistent power, Suzuki’s struggles were hardly helping the cause.
Which is why a night like Tuesday could help to jumpstart the clubhouse.
Suzuki’s first-inning single, a Statcast-projected 114.6 mph liner to left, seemed to provide an early jolt. Come the sixth inning, though, he showed his ability to change the game with one big swing.
Suzuki worked a seven-pitch at-bat against Washington lefty Patrick Corbin, battling back from an 0-2 hole and sending a slider 108.2 mph towards the bleachers in left. Suzuki took a second to admire the blast before casually tossing the bat aside as the ball bounced off a fan’s hands and onto Waveland Avenue.
“We’re lucky to have him,” said Miles Mastrobuoni, who logged the first three-hit game of his career. “What Seiya does on a day-to-day basis is impressive.
“I watch him all the time, I watch his work. He goes about his work the right way. To have a guy like that in this clubhouse, he brings a lot to this team.”
That point was further demonstrated by what happened after Suzuki’s homer cut Chicago's deficit to 3-2.
Cody Bellinger’s sixth-inning RBI single tied the game, but the score wouldn’t stay tight much longer. Chicago ended up scoring 14 runs down the stretch, thanks to a six-run seventh and eight-run eighth. It was the first time the Cubs recorded six-plus runs in back-to-back innings during the same game since May 5, 2001, against the Dodgers.
As for who the team could thank for starting the rally, the answer in the clubhouse was clear.
“[Suzuki] definitely sparked it, for sure,” said Patrick Wisdom, whose seventh-inning solo shot put the Cubs up for good. “He’s a special player. He’s electric. He hits the ball super hard all the time. Just a fun guy to be around, fun player to watch.”
The big night followed some extensive work Suzuki has been conducting lately in order to help steer himself out of his skid. He was in the cage after Monday night’s loss, working on his head movement and front leg kick in the batter’s box in an effort to turn his performance around at the plate.
Though just one game, Suzuki can see Tuesday as proof his dedication is paying off. He also showed just how crucial it could be for the Cubs to finally see him heat up on a consistent basis. On a night where it looked as though Chicago was yet again heading for disappointment due to a lack of big hits, Suzuki helped fuel a badly-needed outburst.
“He is important,” Ross said, “and I think we still haven’t seen the best version of him.”
If Tuesday’s performance turns out to be the introduction of that, it’ll go a long way towards getting the Cubs back on track.