Once again, the Cubs struggled offensively – prompting a long look in the mirror.
At this point, I’ve written this story annually for three years now. Despite their relative success in an unprecedented 60-game 2020 season, the Cubs offense fell well short of expectations – again. But, at long last, it looks like the front office and coaching staff is taking it seriously and the answer (hopefully) won’t be running back the same group again and expecting different results.
Chicago non-tendered a pair of former first-round picks in Kyle Schwarber and Albert Almora, which is more substantive change than we’ve seen in the last three offseasons put together. I assume we’ll see a more contact-oriented roster and approach from the Cubs in 2021 – especially after reading comments from hitting coach Anthony Iapoce and assistant hitting coach Chris Valaika.
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The duo seems to be taking a thoughtful approach when considering next steps in remedying a Cubs offense that batted just .220/.318/.387 this season.
"“You do have to look at it through the lens of, this was a sprint,” Valaika told MLB.com. “And it’s not a complete sample size. There is some good and there is some bad that comes out of it, but I think you look at the whole picture, too. You go through 2019. You see if there’s any trends that have continued or that changed or whatever had been going on. And then, let’s try to address those changes.”"
If Kris Bryant and Javier Baez are both on the roster come Opening Day, they’ll come with a hardline expectation to improve. The Cubs cannot win without these two playing up to the level they’re capable of. After all, Bryant is a former Rookie of the Year and MVP and Baez is a former MVP runner-up. We know what these two can do – and we didn’t see it from either one in 2020.
As a team, the Cubs put up some abysmal numbers against four-seam fastballs this year. MLB.com points out their .255 average and .440 slugging percentage were near the very bottom of all big league clubs. Based on everything I saw, few embodied those struggles more than Baez and Bryant.
Both are guys who, in the past, made pitchers pay for get-me-over fastballs. So when all of the sudden they looked totally overmatched on fastballs over the heart of the plate, it was really jarring. With Bryant, you immediately think he’s working through another injury. After all, he hasn’t been the same guy consistently since injuring his shoulder a few years back.
For Baez, the Cubs seem to think it was more a result of playing in empty stadiums. I mean, we can hope that’s the case, but you’re betting an awfully lot on that being the case. Iapoce and Valaika – and second-year manager David Ross – face a tough task: fixing a problem that’s grabbed hold of this club for multiple seasons.
Granted, it’s encouraging to see some roster turnover in an effort to shake things up and bring in a different type of hitter. But you can’t replace an entire roster in one fell swoop (although we could see a wildly different roster in the next 12 months). Guys returning will need to cut down on strikeouts while getting back to attacking hittable pitches. This year, we saw too many hitters head into at-bats on their heels and that approach killed the Cubs down the stretch.