ST. LOUIS -- Manager Dale Sveum was talking before Saturday night’s game about one of the biggest differences between his Chicago Cubs and the St. Louis Cardinals -- the ability to hit successfully with runners in scoring position.
“The thing [the Cardinals] do is they get their singles and they keep the line moving,” Sveum said. “They don’t try to hit three-run homers, and that’s the key to [hitting with] men in scoring position, driving the ball up the middle.
“The biggest thing, especially with young hitters, is when people get on base in scoring position, the lights start flashing about two-run homers and three-run homers instead of just keeping the line moving so it turns into a big inning with singles and balls in the gap or doubles down the opposite line.”
About four hours later, the Cubs kept the line moving -- and scored three runs to rally from a 4-2 deficit in the eighth inning and go on to a 6-5 win over the Cardinals.
For the first seven innings, it was another frustrating night for the Cubs, who are last in the major leagues with a .224 average with runners in scoring position, as they went 0-for-5 in those situations with one sacrifice fly and stranded three runners at either second or third.
All of that changed in the eighth, when reliever Trevor Rosenthal walked Welington Castillo and Nate Schierholtz to open the inning. After he rebounded to strike out Starlin Castro and Cody Ransom -- making the Cubs hitless in seven at-bats with runners in scoring position in the game -- Darwin Barney came to the plate.
Barney, hitting just .213 in those spots this season, had watched as Castro and Ransom both struck out on 100 mph fastballs. Barney saw nothing but fastballs, too, and on the 29th consecutive fastball Rosenthal threw in the inning -- and the 10th clocked at 100 mph on the radar gun -- he was able to redirect the 2-2 pitch into right-center for a game-tying double.
“[Rosenthal] had been elevated that whole inning,” Barney said. “The mistakes he was making were up in the zone. The guys that laid off that pitch found a way to get on base. Luckily I got a pitch out over the plate I could handle.”
After Barney’s hit tied the game, Dioner Navarro came off the bench and, with his first swing at a live pitch since being carted off the field Wednesday in Philadelphia, delivered another double, which scored Barney and gave the Cubs the lead.
“I knew he was going to throw me a fastball because he didn’t want to go to 3-1,” Navarro said. “I put a good swing on it and was fortunate enough to hit it in the gap.”
An RBI single by Schierholtz -- another hit with a runner in scoring position -- drove in the sixth Chicago run in the ninth and allowed the Cubs to withstand Matt Holliday’s second homer of the game in the bottom of the inning.
Barney knows getting more hits with runners in scoring position needs to be a priority for the Cubs the rest of this season. Their team average is more than 100 percentage points behind the Cardinals, who lead all of baseball with a .335 average.
“You just want to swing at a good pitch,” Barney said. “You watch someone like the Cardinals who hit so well with runners in scoring position, and they are very aggressive. ... That’s obviously been one of the focuses all year. If I can get better, the team will be better. It definitely hurt us early, and you lose ballgames by stranding runners.”
It might be that just playing the Cardinals the past two nights has made the Cubs better.
“There’s something about playing the Cardinals,” Barney said. “It’s not good to say but you get up more for games like this I think. It’s just one of those things; they are in the hunt and need to win some ballgames, and we’re playing spoilers once again. Hopefully we can keep doing it. That’s a good club whose offense is on the verge of breaking out again. We need to take them when we can.”