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CHICAGO -- With the joyful third period of the Chicago Blackhawks game blaring above him, Chicago Cubs hitting coach James Rowson walked out of the visiting clubhouse a happy man.
It wasn't because of an impending Game 7 in Chicago.
No, the Cubs practiced what he's been preaching. Finally.
"No doubt about it," Rowson said with a wide smile. "It's nice to see it come together on a night like this. That's exactly what we're trying to get at."
In their 7-0 victory over the Chicago White Sox Monday night in the opener of the Crosstown Cup series, the TheoBall Cubs were patient when they were supposed to be patient and aggressive when the moment called for it. They drew walks, hit with runners in scoring position and scored a rare victory against a left-handed starter.
Want a wild stat? Starlin Castro walked.
It was his ninth of the season. And what do you know, that turned into a run after he stole second on a botched hit and run thanks to a lazy Alexei Ramirez and scored on Alfonso Soriano's long single.
|The Cubs' Julio Borbon connected for his first home run of the season on Monday.|
"That was outstanding," Rowson said. "He took some borderline pitches in that at-bat, pitches that were close. It wasn't what he was looking for and he laid off them and good things happen."
Want another crazy stat? Julio Borbon hit a two-run homer, his first of the season, scoring Ryan Sweeney, who ... wait for it, also walked. Here's another one, the next-to-worst RISP team went 4-for-8 in that situation.
These Cubs are starting to look like the Boston Red Sox or something.
"Everybody in the lineup today had quality at-bats, they stuck to their approach," Rowson said. "That's what it should look like when we put it all together."
I'm burying the lead a bit, because Cubs pitcher Jeff Samardzija pitched a two-out shutout and absolutely dominated the White Sox hitters, who came in with similar results as the Cubs, and looked much, much worse.
Samardzija, a northwest Indiana native pitching "30 minutes from my backyard," struck out eight, thanks to a nasty split-finger fastball and a two-seam fastball that still touched 97 in the ninth. Through eight innings, he walked one and gave up one single. He gave up one of each in the ninth, but it didn't hurt him.
"I knew coming into the game they were going to be aggressive early in the count; they're an aggressive fastball-hitting team," Samardzija said. "I knew it was going to come down to location on that pitch and I had some good location early in the count and got some quick outs. It really allowed me to kind of hold off my off-speed stuff until later in the game."
On-base percentage and the dearth of smart at-bats was a pregame talking point for both clubs, and for good reason.
They came in with great starting pitching statistics, uneven defense and most noticeably, low on-base percentages and little success with runners in scoring position.
The Cubs came into Monday's opener hitting .216 with runners in scoring position with an OBP of .301, both bad enough for 29th in baseball, ahead of only Seattle.
Of the Cubs' 51 home runs, only 27 came with runners on base.
That helps to explain why, coming into the game, the Cubs had the most extra-base hits in the National League and were only 10th in runs and 12th in on-base percentage. And, partially, why they were dead last in the NL Central.
"We just don't get on base enough, we don't walk enough," Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer said before the game. "Our OPS looks good, our slugging percentage looks good, but the most important part of OPS is on-base percentage. That part of equation is something we're not doing. You don't see a lot of multi-run homers we're hitting. We struggle to string a long inning together, and a part of that is walks."
The Cubs and Sox have different philosophies now, with Theo Epstein and his staff trying their best to change the hitting philosophy from swing-happy to pitch-savvy.
Meanwhile, the big boppin' Sox continued to struggle. This didn't look like a .500 team.
The White Sox came into the game with 52 home runs, but only hitting .242 with a woeful .296 on-base percentage. Samardzija knew how to attack them and the Sox couldn't adjust.
"You look at the at-bats, a lot of swing and miss," Sox manager Robin Ventura said. "Even when we hit some it wasn't really hit hard. There might have been a couple in there. You just tip your hat. I don't want to go too far into everything else. He was good. He was as good as anyone we've seen."
Before the game, Adam Dunn talked deeply about the team's struggles. By the way, he went 0-for-3 to drop his average to .156.
"Our offense has not been very good," he said. "It's no one's fault. Everything kind of snowballs, and I'm the world's worst at it. I think I'm going to hit a five-run homer to solve everything. That's a bad way to look at it."
When Dunn has to deal with an array of annoying shifts, which makes it much more difficult to pick up base hits, his mindset suffers.
His problems are unique in some sense, but indicative of the Sox's struggles in a more universal sense.
"My thing is I get out of my game plan as far as sometimes I'll swing at pitches early in the count that I probably wouldn't normally do, because I don't want to get too deep into counts," he said. "But that gets me deep into counts because I swing at pitches that I normally wouldn't. You just got to stay the course and stay with my approach, quit changing it every at-bat it seems like."
While Rowson teaches patience on the North Side, Jeff Manto is just trying to keep his charges thinking positive and hitting with peace of mind. He's wary of guys changing their approaches so much. Like Greg Walker before him, Manto has his hands full.
"You have to make sure they're in a good frame of mind," he said. "We have the positive news all the time. Hitting is so negative and everyone judges you immediately. We have to make sure our hitters know what the long-term vision is."
While no one is quite sure what the long-term vision is for this White Sox team, the Cubs got a glimpse of how good they can be when everything falls into place.