Chicago Cubs: In a game of inches, this is what to watch for this season

(Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
(Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images) /
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4. Back to the offensive grinder

In 2017, the Cubs’ high-powered offense slumped significantly in October. Its K-rate jumped from 22 percent to 33 percent. Plus in five games against L.A., the lineup managed just eight runs – all on homers.

In his annual wrap-up news conference, Theo Epstein reflected on this:

"“You have to evaluate. Is it the fact that all offense is depressed in October? Is it a small sample? Is it a coincidence?” he said. “It is virtually impossible to answer [with certainty], except to say you are safer to assume there is some element you can control.”"

The one controllable element Epstein identified was his young players’ plate approach. He emphasized their need for more consistently grinding at-bats. This means chasing fewer pitches, spoiling more pitchers’ pitches, and employing a better two-strike approach.

Useful criteria are K rate and pitches seen per AB (P/AB). So whenever the Cubs face an elite pitcher, scrutinize how deep into counts hitters battle. Must the opposing starter throw 90 pitches by the fifth inning? When retired, are hitters quickly start chasing or do they first spoil a few tough pitches?

And young hitters who don’t excel at this? Well, watch if their name(s) gets mentioned more in proposed July 31 deadline deals.