Cubs pounce on Mets, flash offensive potential

Club scores 10 runs in first three innings before holding off NY

August 29th, 2019

NEW YORK -- The Cubs had an offensive identity over the first six weeks of the season. They slugged to the opposite field, displaying the approach preached by manager Joe Maddon all spring long. They made pitchers work, drew their walks and were on the attack.

And then that brand of offensive baseball went missing -- except in sporadic, overwhelming bursts -- for the better part of the past three months. On Wednesday night, the Cubs once again flexed their offensive potential, chasing Mets righty Noah Syndergaard after three innings and holding on for a 10-7 victory at Citi Field.

"We have it in us to be multidimensional and locked in and really grind out at-bats and get on base," Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein said this week. "But I think using last year, too, as a guide, I think we are susceptible. There's no way around it.

"We're susceptible to these long stretches where we lose that identity, and we're a little more one-dimensional and more vulnerable to certain kinds of pitching."

Wednesday's win served as a microcosm of this season for the Cubs, who pulled within two games of the National League Central-leading Cardinals.

Chicago churned out 10 runs on a 9-for-18 showing in the first three innings against Syndergaard, who gave up two-run homers to , and in the worst start of his career. All three blasts were to the opposite field, giving the Cubs a Major League-leading 56 oppo homers this year, per Statcast.

That was, in essence, April and May in a nutshell.

Then, the Cubs went 3-for-20 over the game's final six innings against the Mets' bullpen. At the same time, Chicago's pitching staff labored and allowed New York to climb back into the game. Starter was on the hook for six runs, and an error in the eighth helped the Mets cut the Cubs' lead to 10-7.

That was, to an extent, the past three months summarized.

"A win's a win," Castellanos said. "Whether it's by 10 runs or one run, as long as we get a 'W,' it's all we care about."

This is where it is worth noting that Castellanos was not around for the explosive offense at the outset of the season or the inconsistencies that followed through June and July. In fact, while the Cubs have a 27-39 road record overall, the North Siders have a much more respectable 6-7 mark away from Wrigley Field since he was added to the roster.

In 25 games since joining the Cubs, all Castellanos has done is hit at a .365/.400/.712 clip, with nine homers, nine doubles and 16 RBIs.

The win over the Mets was the second consecutive at Citi Field, securing not only a series win, but also a second straight series victory on the road. The Cubs had not won back-to-back road sets since taking three in a row in late April/early May.

"How 'bout it?" Maddon said. "We have a very good ballclub. We have tried and true, tested, playoff kind of guys. So there's no reason why we shouldn't win on the road."

And the Cubs see no reason the offense can't keep trending back to a dynamic level.

In April and May combined, the Cubs had a 107 wRC+ to go along with a .256/.345/.460 slash line and 5.4 runs per game. Entering Wednesday, the last three months had included a 94 wRC+, a .248/.319/.440 slash line and 4.7 runs per game. Beyond the noticeable drop in on-base percentage, Chicago has also experienced a drop in contact rate and chase percentage in that time period.

Against Syndergaard, Castellanos said the Cubs "stayed in the strike zone" effectively -- another trait preached by Maddon. It was the kind of showing that keeps Epstein, Maddon and the players in the clubhouse confident that the offense can avoid a repeat of last year, when the lineup cratered over the final two months.

"We have to find a way to be the best version of ourselves," Epstein said. "It's within us. It's not as if it's not. April and May, I don't think it was a mirage. At the same time, we can't just show up and assume that's who we are, because you are what you do."