The Cubs don't have a lineup that's going to generate runs easily. Forget having a 30/30 player. It's likely the Cubs won't have a player who hits 30 HRs or steal 30 bases, much less both.
It's early in the spring, but for anyone who's watching (or listening) closely, the Cubs have a plan to score runs. Get on base however you can and take an extra base whenever possible.
Yesterday the Cubs had 9 hits and 7 walks and while it' s still early in the spring, they already seem more willing to grind out at-bats. It isn't always going to be successful, as on Sunday when the Cubs worked counts and walked 5 times but failed to score, but if they do it enough it does pay off eventually. Good things will happen when you take as many pitches as possible. You get ahead on counts and see better pitches to hit. You see more of the pitchers repertoire and approach. You get to their pitch limits earlier and get the team's middle relievers in the game.
And, of course, you walk and get more people on base.
But it doesn't stop there.
The Cubs have been far more aggressive on the bases this spring. We've been used to seeing a team that moves from station to station. When you have a team that doesn't draw walks (like most Cubs teams in recent history), it puts pressure on the lineup to string multiple hits together in order to score.
So far this spring, the Cubs have been looking for opportunities to take extra bases -- or get thrown out trying. Instead of putting pressure on their own hitters, they're trying to force the opponents defense into making mistakes.
We've seen the Cubs try and get better reads on pitches that get away from the catchers, although that seems like a work in progress right now. On at least two occasions, we've seen base runners aggressively break up double plays, once by David DeJesus and the second time it was Brett Jackson, who did it with such zeal that he got the Cubs players and manager Dale Sveum off of their seats in the dugout. The next game we saw Jackson take an opportunity to stretch a single into a double. He got thrown out, but it took a hustling play by the outfielder followed by a perfect throw. He forced the defense to execute a good play. He lost this time, but I'm willing to bet he wins that gamble more often than he loses over the course of a season.
Under the instruction of ex-Cardinals coach Dave McKay, the Cubs have gone so far as to try and perfect the little things, such as cutting corners on bases. They have estimated that cutting the corner at 2B instead of stepping directly on top of the base saves about 15 feet. That can easily mean the difference between an out (or a runner being held at 3B) and a run. Without heavy hitters, the Cubs are trying to win at the margins. Extra feet lead to extra bases which lead to extra runs.
Then, of course, there's the stolen base. The Cubs don't have Lou Brock on their team but it doesn't mean you can't pick and choose spots. The number of stolen bases is not as important as your success rate. If you're stealing bases at a 75% clip or better, you're increasing the odds that you're going to score runs. As of this weekend, the Cubs were leading the Cactus League in stolen bases despite not having a single player that projects to steal 30 bases this season. As of Sunday, they had stolen 13 bases in 17 attempts, a 76% success rate.
The Cubs no longer have an Aramis Ramirez, Derrek Lee, or a Carlos Pena to provide instant runs with the long ball, so they can't afford to stand around and wait for something to happen. They have used that opportunity to acquire faster, more athletic players who can keep things moving on the bases. What's more, the Cubs will get faster as they continue to get younger. It's not just guys like Jackson who will add speed. The hope is that the Cubs will continue to bring in more athletic, speedy players from within their organization. Speedster Matt Szczur, for example, has already scored from 2B on a flyball to RF this spring.
Eventually, the team would undoubtedly like to have more hitters who can hit for power to go along with the smarter, more aggressive baserunning, but for right now it seems the Cubs will keep trying to take those extra bases.