Cubs' offense breaks out after missing over weekend


ST. LOUIS -- Lost in the Chicago Cubs' meltdown on the mound Monday night against the St. Louis Cardinals was a breakout performance by the Cubs' offense. They matched a season high, scoring nine runs on 12 hits and seven walks. Unfortunately, the Cardinals scored 10 in their come-from-behind 10-9 victory.

The Cubs also struck out 10 times, giving them 45 over their past four games. Strikeouts aren't a problem if they are accompanied by getting on-base. The Cubs had their problems over the weekend against the Milwaukee Brewers before breaking out against a Cardinals team with a 1.87 home ERA entering Monday night's contest. They walked seven times on Monday, one less than the entire weekend against the Brewers. And then there are the strikeouts.

"It's a trade off," Cubs hitting coach John Mallee said before the game on Monday. "The by-product of working counts is hitting a lot with two strikes. That means some strikeouts."

The Cubs lead the National League seeing 3.99 pitches per plate appearance while also leading the league in strikeouts with 232 (that's with playing three fewer games then the team right behind them, the Washington Nationals.) So Mallee's explanation does make some sense. Seeing a lot of pitches can lead to more strikeouts.

Remember, Mike Olt, Javier Baez and Junior Lake aren't to blame for the high strikeout totals this time around. The Cubs have highly touted prospects and veterans amassing these totals. They believe experience will make the difference.

"I'd like to believe the next time we see the same guys our kids will make adjustments," manager Joe Maddon said of the Brewers' pitching staff. "It's a learning process right now."

Mallee added: "A lot of the young guys are striking out because they don't have the experience against the opposing pitcher. Once we see a guy we have a better idea how they're getting a guy out."

They'll get that chance when they face the Brewers again this weekend. The good news is the baseball IQ of rookies Kris Bryant, Addison Russell and Jorge Soler is very high. It's not hard to believe experience will be the difference-maker as the season moves on. Soler has been the biggest mystery, though, as he's chased some bad pitches. Actually, he hasn't chased as many as you might think for the player that leads the NL in strikeouts with 38, he's just missed the ones he's chased.

According to ESPN Stats & Information, Soler chases pitches outside the zone 31 percent of the time. That's middle of the pack. But he misses about 60 percent of the time. In other words, he's no Vladimir Guerrero, who was notoriously a bad ball hitter. It makes sense because Soler isn't used to chasing pitches. It's not what he came up doing.

"Some anxiety of being a young hitter," Mallee explained. "He wants to hit so bad. It's hard for him to be so patient, especially with men on-base."

As for Bryant, there is no concern with his at-bats. After a four-walk night on Monday, he already ranks sixth in that category in the NL. His on-base percentage is .458. His 19 strikeouts are simply part of his game.

"Kris has a couple areas of the strike zone he doesn't cover really well," Mallee admitted. "But he's doing just fine."

Down-and-in is where Bryant has been a little vulnerable, but he's exactly the type of hitter who you're just fine with having a high strikeout total. The bottom line is, unlike last year when the Cubs also led the league in strikeouts, they're getting on-base this time around, led by guys such as Bryant. It's made the swings and misses much more acceptable.

"All of a sudden we have a lineup that's not fun for a starting pitcher to go through three or four times," Cubs president Theo Epstein said Monday. "Joe [Maddon] said it well. They're not all going to be oil paintings. I think we had a couple moments this weekend that were [Jackson] Pollocks. That's part of it with young players and it should be that way."

So it's a work in progress, something that might have needed reminding after this past weekend. But just when you thought the Cubs' offense had reverted to some old ways, they have a great game against a stingy Cardinals staff. That's the kind of year the team is probably in for. Some unpredictable days and nights -- both good and bad.

"The league adjusts to young players then young players adjust back," Epstein said. "That's what makes it so interesting ... embracing the struggle. It's going to be a fun year."