If the Cubs truly want to make a run at a winnable NL Central, the Cubs will have to learn to walk first. The Cubs have walked just 49 times this season, ranking 13th in the NL. Traditionally, they've been an aggressive team at the plate. This is a team that goes up there swinging. The plus is that they are a good hitting team, ranking 2nd in the league in team batting average at .277. The downside is that their reluctance to walk knocks them down to 5th in the league in OBP.
On the pitching side, the Cubs are all too generous when it comes to giving away free passes. They have given away 71 of them, including 9 in Game 1 of yesterday's doubleheader. That's a disparity of -22. The Cubs can't continue to contend if they're going to give away more free passes than they take back. At some point that walk disparity is going to hurt them. You can't just keep giving the other team extra baserunners while also refusing to accept them when it's their turn at the plate.
The Cubs take pride in playing aggressively but baseball is also a game of patience and control. Thus far, the Cubs have exhibited neither. We saw what Matt Garza and Carlos Zambrano can do when they find the plate. They were flat-out dominant in their two most recent starts. Carlos Marmol is unhittable when he throws strikes, but when he's off the team doesn't need to get hits. The Padres tied the game yesterday with only the benefit of a fluky swinging bunt single. Had Marmol not walked the first batter, that one hit wouldn't have mattered at all.
At the plate, patience is important in several ways:
1) You occasionally can draw that free pass. More baserunners typicall means more runs. This isn't rocket science so you'd think the Cubs would figure this out.
2) You swing at better pitches. You are more likely to make solid contact if you're swinging at hitter's pitches instead of pitcher's pitches. Additionally, hitters typically fare better when they are ahead in the count.
3) You make the pitchers work. The more pitches they throw, the sooner they leave the game and have to rely on their bullpen -- especially middle relief, where most teams try and hide their worst pitchers.
The Cubs have shown that they can hit a little bit and their pitchers are talented enough to make opponents swing and miss -- but that's just part of the game. The Cubs are running a net loss when it comes to allowing baserunners. Opponents have a .353 OBP against the Cubs (only the Mets are worse), while the Cubs have gotten on base at a .331 clip. The Cubs need to reverse this trend. They'll need to learn the value of the walk before they can make a serious run.
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