Good performances from a team’s role players are often the difference between getting above .500 and staying there.
That’s been a struggle for the Cubs all season, but Saturday’s 3-2 win over the Pirates gave them a winning record for the first time since they were 10-9 on April 23. The Cubs were lifted by two such role players as they extended their winning streak to five games.
Eric Sogard, filling in at second base with Nico Hoerner on the injured list, hit a game-tying sacrifice fly in the fourth inning. In the seventh inning, pinch-hitter Matt Duffy singled in the game-winning run.
“Championship baseball teams, it’s going to take 26 to 30 guys, plus, throughout a season to contribute, and I think that’s a sign of a well-rounded baseball team. We’re deep on the bench,” manager David Ross said.
Duffy has been hot lately; he drove in a run in Friday’s win over the Pirates, and he has at least one hit in four of the seven games he’s played this month. On the season, he’s hitting .309, mostly coming off of the bench.
“He’s been huge,” Ross said. “I guess that’s an understatement. I don’t know what else to say, I mean just the consistent at-bat, whether he starts, whether he comes off the bench, righty or lefty. When he’s been on the field and healthy, he’s been a pretty productive player.”
Offensively, the Cubs have shifted to small ball of late. Going back to the sixth inning of Wednesday’s game against the Dodgers, their last 16 hits as a team have all been singles. Their first run on Saturday came via Willson Contreras getting hit by a pitch with the bases loaded after filling the bags with two singles and a walk.
“It feels like a little bit of old-school baseball,” Ross said. “Guys are getting on, taking the extra base, getting a single.
“It’s kind of one of those signature good baseball team things, when you’re able to create some runs without hitting a lot of homers.”
In the early weeks of the season when the wind at Wrigley blows in and gametime temperatures stay low, manufactured runs are at a premium.
The Cubs scored their winning run on Jason Heyward’s heads-up baserunning. Leading off the seventh inning, he drew a walk and stole second, putting him in scoring position when Duffy came up to bat.
“He won the game with his at-bat and his baserunning,” Duffy said of Heyward.
Late in a tie game at home, Heyward said he was committed to trying to score from second if Duffy was able to put the ball in play.
Duffy’s single dropped in front of center fielder Wilmer Difo, who has spent much of his career playing in the infield, and he hesitated on the throw to home. This gave Heyward the extra inch he needed to slide safely for the game-winning run.
“I think we do and all of us appreciate and understand that it’s huge when you can take what the game gives you,” Heyward said. “Take those little knocks, fight out at-bats, get the next guy up, come up in a big spot.”
The Cubs were helped by role-players on the pitching staff as well. Keegan Thompson earned his first career win, pitching three scoreless innings in relief of starter Trevor Williams.
An elevated pitch count wrought by five hits, two walks, and a lot of deep counts limited Williams to four innings.
Williams’ short outing marked the 14th time this season a Cubs starter has pitched four or fewer innings. That leads the National League, and they are tied with the Blue Jays for the MLB lead.