The Cubs parlayed all the power into an 8-4 victory, matching an April 6 victory over the Philadelphia Phillies for most runs scored in a game this year.
“It’s definitely what we need,” Olt said of an 11-hit afternoon that helped to end a five-game losing streak. “It only takes one game or one at-bat to really get a team going, so hopefully we come in tomorrow and stay focused, and I guess start back where we left off.”
The right-handed hitting Olt showed his power capabilities this spring with five home runs in 19 Cactus League games, a performance that helped him to earn a roster spot. Maintaining that type of production, though, was going to be tough while sharing time at third with the left-handed hitting Luis Valbuena.
Olt has started in just half of the team’s 16 games, and the stop-start playing time has shown up in a .212 batting average and .257 on-base percentage. But he has managed to deliver on power potential with three home runs in 33 at-bats. Everybody else with multiple home runs on the Cubs' roster has at least 46 at-bats.
A key component in last year’s trade that sent Matt Garza to the Texas Rangers, Olt continues to show that the deal has a chance to pay huge dividends. After all, C.J. Edwards and Justin Grimm came to the Cubs, as well.
For Olt, his season could depend on finding consistency in an inconsistent world that has him starting one day and pinch hitting the next.
He followed his productive spring with a home run off Rodriguez, the Pittsburgh Pirates left-hander, in the third game of the season. When the Pirates came to Chicago a week later, Olt did the same thing to Rodriguez. His home run Saturday came against Reds left-hander Tony Cingrani.
Right-handers have been more of an issue. When the Reds switched to right-hander Logan Ondrusek in the sixth inning, Olt struck out. It was his seventh strikeout against right-handers this season, compared with three against lefties.
Until results such as those change, the platoon will continue, regardless of how Valbuena performs. Shoring up defensive miscues will be key, as well. He booted a ground ball that allowed a run to score in the seventh inning and practically compounded the issue when he then threw wildly to first base. He was spared another error when first baseman Anthony Rizzo quickly tracked down the ball.
It cut the Cubs’ lead to just two runs at the time, but the offense rebounded with two more in the bottom of the seventh.
“I definitely shouldn't have thrown it, but that happens,” Olt said.
Miscues like that figured to be remedied with more experience at the big league level. Between his 16 games with the Rangers in 2012, his full year at Triple-A last year and his 14 games with the Cubs this season, he is starting to make more sense of things.
“What I have taken from the last couple of years is learning how to evaluate how other hitters are being approached by the pitcher and pick up certain tendencies,” he said. “I’m paying attention a lot more to the game and understanding it so it will definitely carry over.”
Rizzo said his back tightened up on him after making a stretch for a high pickoff throw earlier in Saturday’s game.
Mike Olt moved from third base to first base to cover for Rizzo, and Luis Valbuena took over at third base.
Cubs manager Rick Renteria said he would wait until the morning to see if Rizzo will be able to play in Sunday’s series finale against the Reds.
“We’ll see,” Rizzo said. “I expect to wake up a little sore tomorrow, but nothing really (serious) to keep me out of the lineup.”
Since scoring four times last Sunday in St. Louis, the Cubs had managed just one run before beating the Reds. Cincinnati had won 16 of the last 17 at Wrigley Field.
Edwin Jackson (1-1) allowed two runs and eight hits in 5 2/3 innings.
Tony Cingrani (1-2) gave up three runs in five innings.
Jay Bruce went 3 for 3 with a walk for the Reds.
CHICAGO – The Chicago Cubs ended a five-game losing streak Saturday with an 8-4 victory over the Cincinnati Reds.
How it happened: Justin Ruggiano, Mike Olt and Starlin Castro all delivered RBIs in the first three innings to get the Cubs started. Olt hit his third home run of the season in the second inning, a shot down the left-field line that stayed just inside the foul pole. Darwin Barney added a home run -- his first -- in the sixth inning, and Welington Castillo added his third in the seventh. Edwin Jackson gave up two runs on eight hits over 5 ⅔ innings as the Cubs won for the first time since April 11.
What it means: A better brand of baseball Saturday led to a much better result, although Olt threatened to undo things on defense in the seventh inning. The Cubs allowed two unearned runs in Friday’s 4-1 defeat to the Reds and were 1-for-7 with runners in scoring position. On Saturday, Olt booted a ground ball with two outs in the seventh, allowing a run to score, and then threw late and wild to first base. It could have been two errors on the same play, but first baseman Anthony Rizzo tracked down the errant throw and nailed Chris Heisey trying to advance to second.
Outside the box: In just six innings Saturday, Emilio Bonifacio delivered more hits than he had in his previous six games. His 19-for-38 start over his first eight games became but a memory when he went 2-for-24 in his six games before Saturday. But his 3-for-5 game Saturday could be the start of a new hot streak. His early hitting display still has his batting average up to a robust .358.
Off beat: Not always the most efficient pitcher around, Jackson couldn’t have been more economical in the third inning. The right-hander unleashed the rare three-pitch frame that actually included a Reds hit. Billy Hamilton led off the inning against Jackson with a first-pitch bunt single, but Joey Votto grounded into a nifty double play when Barney went up the middle from his spot at second base and flipped the ball to Castro at the bag to get it started. Brandon Phillips followed with a first-pitch comebacker to end the quickest of half innings.
Up next: The Cubs will send right-hander Carlos Villanueva (1-3, 11.57 ERA) to the mound Sunday against the Reds in the finale of a three-game series. Cincinnati will counter with right-hander Mike Leake (1-1, 2.45) in the 1:20 p.m. start from Wrigley Field.
The right-hander, who was dealing with shoulder stiffness in spring training, was said to be going to the Cubs’ Triple-A affiliate for what was potentially his final rehab outing. Instead, he will make an appearance at the Single-A level.
“Get out there and get up to 100 pitches, kind of fine tune and refine some things and hopefully that will be the last stop,” Arrieta said Saturday morning in the Cubs’ locker room.
Arrieta has already made three rehab starts for Double-A Tennessee since the season started, working his way up to 82 pitches in his most recent outing. He could make his first big league start of the year on the Cubs' next road trip to Milwaukee and Cincinnati.
“I don’t think that I’ll be 100 percent until I get here, get in a game and kind of pitch at that intensity for the first time,” he said. “I’m right where I need to be right now.”
Arrietta, who was acquired in a July 2 trade from the Baltimore Orioles, went 4-2 with the Cubs in nine starts last season, posting a 3.66 ERA.
“He’s just continuing to move forward in the process of coming back, and he’s been doing well,” manager Rick Renteria said. “But warm weather (at Daytona) is definitely conducive to moving forward.”
Chicago Cubs manager Rick Renteria said Saturday that if he has to commit to anything, he would lean on Castro’s lineup versatility rather than make him a permanent fixture in the No. 5 or 6 holes. But for now, anyway, he’s going to ride out any productive streak he can get his hands on.
Castro was batting fifth against the Cincinnati Reds on Saturday, but it’s actually the No. 6 spot where he has flourished. In five games as a No. 6 hitter, Castro is 9-for-20 (.450) with two doubles, two home runs, seven RBIs and an .850 slugging percentage. His combined numbers as a No. 5 and No. 6 hitter: 12-for-35 (.343).
In four games as a No. 2 hitter, Castro is a solid 6-for-17 (.353), but his run-producing opportunities are diminished. He has just one RBI and hasn’t produced an extra-base hit from the No. 2 spot.
The plan in previous years to turn Castro into a more patient hitter clearly didn’t work and it’s possible his stints in the situational-hitting No. 2 spot could end up working against him. It could help to explain why he has taken such a liking to batting lower in the order.
“Hopefully they have an understanding of who they are as hitters, but it sure is nice to have him out there in case there are runners on base in the heart of the order able to drive in runs,” Renteria said.
As long as there are others who can handle the No. 2 hole, Castro’s days in run-producing spots in the order will continue.
After the Chicago Cubs' 4-1 loss to the Cincinnati Reds on Friday -- their fifth straight defeat -- Cubs manager Rick Renteria seemed less concerned with his team pressing at the plate than what he deemed a poor approach to the game.
Renteria was then asked if there was anything he could do to rectify his team's apparent sloppiness.
"It's just a matter of focus," he said. "They know, I think our players know. It's a long season, but I think the reality is good clubs really do grind out every single game. That's what we want to become. I think it's a great lesson, because we're playing in a great division and we're gonna be competing against clubs that have been in the playoffs most recently. Hey, listen, nobody's going to give us anything, so we're going to go out there, and every single day, if we fall short in the way we're supposed to approach the game -- whatever it might be -- we'll talk about it if we have to and then we'll deal with it."
Renteria had no response when asked if he addressed the team about the lack of focus.
After going hitless in 13 opportunities with runners in scoring position in Wednesday's doubleheader against the New York Yankees, the Cubs didn't fare much better Friday, going 1-for-7 in those opportunities. The struggling outfield had a particularly poor day at the plate, with the trio of Ryan Sweeney, Junior Lake and Nate Schierholtz combining to go 0-for-12 with Lake striking out three times.
Making his third start, Simon (2-1) allowed an unearned run in six-plus innings and sent the Cubs to their fifth straight loss. Simon is in the rotation while Mat Latos recovers from elbow and knee injuries.
Jonathan Broxton pitched a hitless ninth for his second save in two tries, completing a six-hitter for the Reds, who stretched their winning streak to a season-best three.
Jeff Samardzija (0-2) gave up three runs -- one earned -- and six hits in seven innings with seven strikeouts and two walks. He is 0-4 despite a 3.86 ERA in 10 starts since winning at San Diego on Aug. 24.
Boston RedSox: FireBrand of the AL
A large cup of coffee: Jeff Polman catches up with former Red Sox starting pitcher Dana Kiecker. Who’s Dana Kiecker, you ask? He’s just the pitcher who followed Roger Clemens in the 1990 ALCS by starting Game 2. Follow on Twitter: @jpballnut.
Chicago Cubs: View From The Bleachers
Which pitchers have nasty stuff? If you missed the 10-strikeout performance put up on Wednesday afternoon by Masahiro Tanaka, it showed off his nasty stuff. Joe Aiello takes a look at what other pitchers have "nasty" stuff. Follow on Twitter: @vftb
Chicago White Sox: The Catbird Seat
The art of patience: Collin Whitchurch examines the White Sox offense's hot start as a product of a new organizational emphasis on plate discipline. Follow on Twitter: @cowhitchurch
Colorado Rockies: Rockies Zingers
What are the keys for pitching at Coors? and ¿Cuáles son la claves para lanzar en Coors Field? The debut of Sabermetrics in Spanish, Juan Pablo Zubillaga compares Rockies pitchers with non-Rockies pitchers and analyzes which metrics can indicate success for Rockies pitchers.
Milwaukee Brewers: Disciples of Uecker
The Brewers' line-driving frenzy: Jonathan Judge looks at the value and sustainability of the Brewers' high line-drive rate so far. Follow on Twitter: @bachlaw
New York Yankees: It's About The Money
How good could the 2015 infield really be? Matt Seybold wonders how the Yankees will go about filling the holes they will have in the 2015 infield. Follow on Twitter: @Sport_Hippeaux
How did the "pine tar" affect Pineda's performance? Michael Eder takes a look at what affects, if any, that mysterious blob of goo on Michael Pineda's hand had during his start against Boston. Follow on Twitter: @edermik
Philadelphia Phillies: Crashburn Alley
Phillies showing tremendous plate discipline: The Phillies are drawing plenty of walks, something they haven't done in a few years.
Some fun trivia on Cliff Lee's start against the Braves: Cliff Lee got the tough-luck loss on Wednesday but it made for some interesting trivia. Follow on Twitter: @CrashburnAlley
Tampa Bay Rays: The Process Report
Offense, Myers struggling: Jason Collette shows how 2014 looks a lot like 2011 in the early going for the Tampa Bay offense and why Wil Myers is struggling at the plate. Follow on Twitter: @processreport
Jason Rosenberg is the founder of It's About the Money, a proud charter member of the SweetSpot Network. IIATMS can be found on Twitter here and here as well as on Facebook.
CHICAGO -- Here's a quick look at the Chicago Cubs' 4-1 loss to the Cincinnati Reds:
How it happened: Cincinnati scratched across a run in the fifth to jump out to a 1-0 lead. Catcher Devin Mesoraco led off the inning with a single, stole second, advanced to third on Alfredo Simon's swinging bunt and scored when speedster Billy Hamilton blooped a double in between Junior Lake and Ryan Sweeney in shallow left-center field. The Reds added two unearned runs in the sixth when Jay Bruce and Ryan Ludwick scored when Emilio Bonifacio failed to turn a double play and his throw got past Anthony Rizzo. The Cubs ended 24-inning scoreless streak when Starlin Castro came around to score on Luis Valbuena's seventh-inning single. However, that was all the offense could muster, as another solid outing from Jeff Samardzija (seven innings, six hits, one earned run, seven strikeouts) was wasted.
What it means: Rizzo continues to hit (2-for-4) and Castro delivered a single, but not much else positive came from the offense. The outfield has been the biggest sore spot on the offense and that trend continued on Friday with Nate Schierholtz, Lake and Sweeney combining to go 0-for-12 with Lake striking out three times.
Outside the box: Jake Arrieta is expected to make his fourth rehab start of the year, this one at Triple-A Iowa on Monday. If all goes well, the hope is that Arrieta will rejoin the Cubs staff the next time through the rotation.
Up next: Edwin Jackson tries to get back on track after posting a 6.19 ERA in his first three starts of the season. He takes on the Reds and the fastball-heavy Tony Cingrani at 1:20 p.m. CT Saturday.
Phillips appeared to get hurt swinging and missing during in the first inning. After a visit from manager Bryan Price and a trainer, Phillips singled.
Phillips struck out in the third, and the Reds said they replaced him with Ramon Santiago in the bottom half as a precaution.
Arrieta had made his previous three rehab starts with Double-A Tennessee, slowly building up his pitch count along the way, getting up to 82 pitches in his last outing on Wednesday. If all goes well, the hope is that Monday will be Arrieta's last rehab start and he'll re-join the big-league club the next time through the rotation.
When focusing in on the outfield, the Cubs' offensive struggles become all the more glaring. So far, manager Rick Renteria has tried to play the matchups, attempting to give his team the platoon advantage. However, the early results haven't been too favorable.
Despite those weak numbers, Renteria has no plans to change things up.
"We're still trying to do the best we can with trying to match up guys and move them forward," Renteria said. "(We're) taking it slow with other guys, kind of helping them ingress into the big-league market here, so to speak. To me it's really early to make a determination if someone is ready to be changed out for another. These guys are all preparing the same way. I will be the last one to panic. I believe in all of these guys."
One guy Renteria has to be pleased with thus far is Junior Lake. The only regular outfielder (not counting Emilio Bonifacio, who also sees significant time in the infield) to see any success through two weeks, Lake is posting a respectable .826 OPS with two home runs, two doubles and a triple.
However, a deeper look at his numbers, particularly his .381 BABIP and eye-popping 36.6 percent strikeout rate, reveal his solid start may not be sustainable. If his numbers start to slip and the other continue to flounder, the production from the outfield would be next to nothing.
Renteria reiterated that it's too early to start thinking about changes or calling guys up from the minors just to shake things up. Overall, he believes his team has played well, they just haven't delivered in big situations often enough.
"Situationally the last couple days we've had some opportunities to be able to push some runs across," Renteria said. "Maybe we've become a little anxious with our approaches at the plate. Not putting ourselves in a position or the frame of mind that the pitcher is on the ropes in a particular situation. Maybe we get outside of ourselves a little bit wanting to do too much and I want these guys to stay relaxed.
"When they come into the ballpark, I want them to feel comfortable in their element. There's no reason for us as coaches to put them in a state of panic. They're frustrated just as much as anybody else is and I think the most important thing is to help them step away from that frustration."
After bouncing back from a horrible start with runners in scoring position, the Cubs went back to their struggling ways on Wednesday, going 0-for-13 in those situations on their way to getting shutout in a double header. Overall on the season, the team is batting .195/.271/.292 with runners in scoring position.
"We're a club that has to continue to learn to tack on runs or put teams away offensively," Renteria said. "I think you learn those experiences sometimes through failure. You kind of take a step back, 'What was it that was going on? I got a little accelerated or wanted to do too much.' Next time you take a step back, we've seen it, we've experienced it, let's see if we can get you in a better frame of mind the next time you get out there in that particular situation and see if you can come through."
Of course, as Renteria pointed out, even the proper process can end in a poor result.
"There are no guarantees, you can have the best approach in the world," Renteria said. "You can square up a ball and have someone make a play. The reality is that the calmer they become in the box in key situations, the better off they'll be. It's incumbent on (the coaching staff) that they see the calm in us, because if they see the panic in us, then you have a bigger problem."
Staying calm, getting some consistent offensive production, particularly from the outfield, and just getting some balls to bounce their way would all help the Cubs turn things around with the bats. But the fact is, it's not just with runners on that the Cubs are struggling, they're hitting .230/.292/339 on the season and that's with Starlin Castro and Anthony Rizzo having strong starts. This was an offense that many predicted to struggle and so far, they've lived down to expectations.
Friday, 1:20 p.m. CT: Jeff Samardzija vs. Reds' Alfredo Simon
Saturday, 1:20 p.m. CT: Edwin Jackson vs. Reds' Tony Cingrani
Sunday, 1:20 p.m. CT: Carlos Villanueva vs. Reds' Homer Bailey
Samardzija winless: Despite a 1.29 ERA, Friday’s starter hasn’t won a game. The Cubs finally scored some runs for Samardzija during his last start, but the bullpen blew the game before the Cubs pulled it out in the 11th inning. There is no pitcher in baseball going into the weekend with a lower ERA who doesn’t have at least one win this year.
Offensive drought: Between a rainout, off days and a doubleheader shutout sweep, the Cubs haven’t scored a run since last Sunday’s ninth inning in St. Louis. After starting the season on fire, Emilio Bonifacio has slowed down. Since getting the day off last Saturday he’s hitless in his past 13 at-bats over the course of the past three games. His batting average has dropped to .339.
Cellar fight: The Reds are just 1 1/2 games ahead of the Cubs in the standings but have won two in a row after starting the season 4-9. Joey Votto has been hot since moving to the No. 2 hole in their lineup.
The Cubs? Not so much.
"Can I imagine it? No," Jeter half-smirked. "I hear about it, but it's kind of hard to relate to it. But I've definitely heard about it. The Cubs have had some good teams there. It just goes to show you it's difficult to win a championship. They've had some great teams that have gotten close, but it's difficult to do."
Some might dispute how many great teams the Cubs have had but a Cubs/Yankees World Series almost happened in 2003. The Cubs famously lost to the Florida Marlins after leading three games to one. Jeter's Yankees were locked in a battle with the Boston Red Sox and the Cubs/Marlins series ended first.
"I'm well aware of the history and the tradition of the Cubs," he said. "I grew up in Michigan and was able to watch a lot of games on television. At the professional level, I've only been there once."
Jeter will get one more look at Wrigley Field before he retires. The Cubs host the Yankees in a two-game series in May. Just don't call it part of a farewell tour for him.
"I don't like the phrase farewell tour," Jeter said. "This is my last season, but I'm not going around shaking hands and kissing babies. We're trying to win."
Several Cubs have said they look up to Jeter and patterned their games and demeanor after him. Starlin Castro, Mike Olt and even minor leaguers Javier Baez and Albert Almora all described him as a favorite player.
"It makes you feel good anytime someone looks up to you and has nice things to say about you," Jeter said. "I remember when I met Cal Ripken Jr. I was a little timid to speak to him or approach him because you never view yourself that way."
Castro says he met Jeter once, at an All-Star Game. Jeter couldn't remember when it was and only knows him by his reputation.
"I haven't seen him play much," Jeter said. "I've heard a lot of good things about him. He's going to have a bright future. Hopefully when we go to Chicago I'll get a chance to talk to him more."