Now that the Cubs have squelched the sell-off and added an important piece for the stretch run, it’s time to stop being nice with the lineup, right?
There were signs that things are changing Wednesday. With the Reds starting a left-handed pitcher, manager David Ross put Seiya Suzuki in the No. 7 slot and Ian Happ hit fifth, while Christopher Morel and Cody Bellinger moved up to 2-3.
Everything worked in this game. The Cubs fell behind 5-2 in the top of the fourth inning, then went on an NBA-style run to win going away 16-6 at Wrigley Field.
After scoring 20 runs the previous night, the Cubs totaled 36 runs in consecutive games, the most since June 29-30, 1897, according to team historian Ed Hartig.
They couldn’t match the 7 home runs hit Tuesday, but did send five out of the park, setting a record for the most homers in consecutive games in team history.
Happ answered the call with 2 homers, giving him 12 on the season.
“I think the more impressive part is getting down early and fighting back,” Happ said. “It’s not just the homers, it’s guys going out there, getting on base, getting pitchers deep in counts. I think that part of it is the more impressive part.”
Suzuki hit his ninth of the year, while Dansby Swanson and Morel also went deep. Newcomer Jeimer Candelario extended his scorching streak, going 4-for-4 with a walk, 2 doubles and 4 runs scored. That makes him 8-for-9 at the plate since rejoining the Cubs from Washington at the trade deadline.
“It’s a good problem to have right now, a lot of guys swinging the bat really well,” Ross said. “Trying to get everybody going and giving guys breaks here and there who have played a lot in this 16-game (with no days off) stretch. It’s a nice luxury to have.”
Milwaukee lost to the Nationals in walk-off fashion Wednesday, so this victory moved the Cubs (55-53) within 3 games of both the Reds and Brewers for first place in the NL Central. The Cubs and Reds finish their four-game series Thursday.
Getting back to the lineup, Ross has tried to show belief in the slump-ridden Suzuki and sympathy for Happ’s limited run production. But that probably needs to end now that the calendar has flipped to August and the Cubs are within reach of the playoffs.
If things don’t turn around for Suzuki, Ross should send Mike Tauchman to right field more often. The Palatine native didn’t even start Wednesday’s game, but came in as a pinch-hitter and doubled twice.
Happ has provided plenty of walks and great defense in left field, but the No. 3 hitter shouldn’t rank fifth on the team in RBI. Look at it this way: Happ has played in roughly twice as many games as Tauchman, but holds a slim lead in RBI 49-40.
Ross also talked about the need to get the red-hot Bellinger more at-bats by hitting him higher in the lineup. Before this game, Bellinger had hit in the top three spots just three times this season. He’s hit fourth most often.
“I put Kris Bryant in the 2 for a while,” Ross said. “You want your best hitter getting the most at-bats. Is that always the optimal lineup? I’m kind of learning in my job — no, not always.”
Lineup construction was arguably a factor in Monday’s 6-5 loss to the Reds. Suzuki and Happ batted second and third, going a combined 0-for-8 at the plate. The game ended with Bellinger in the on-deck circle.
“Going into that game, you’re expecting Stro (Marcus Stroman) to be a little bit better,” Ross said. “I definitely think that night was less about the offense and lineup construction.”
Cubs starter Drew Smyly wasn’t at his best Wednesday, allowing 2 home runs to Joey Votto and one to Spencer Steer as the Reds went ahead 5-2. Smyly left after 4⅔ innings, so Michael Fulmer got the win in relief.
But the Cubs answered quickly. Swanson homered in the fourth, a Morel double helped tie the score in the fifth, then the Cubs took the lead with 5 runs in the sixth.
New addition Jose Cuas made his Cubs debut by pitching the ninth, allowing a harmless single and walk.
Fans at Wrigley Field have responded to the Cubs surge.
“Me and Jamo (Taillon) were talking walking up the tunnel — it got loud tonight,” Ross said. “That was fun. Sometimes you don’t hear the crowd from the managing standpoint. It was really noticeable tonight.”