Cubs looking for balance between aggressive and smart base running

TORONTO – A conversation about aggressive base running with Cubs third base coach Willie Harris doesn’t just cover a general mindset.

He’ll delve into the opposing pitcher and how likely he is to give up another hit. He’ll pick apart the fielder, his arm, where and how he’s picking up the ball. He’ll analyze his own baserunner’s speed and jump.

“It’s a fine line between being smart and aggressive,” he said earlier this season.

Too often in their series against the Blue Jays this week the Cubs leaned too far to the side of “aggressive” and left “smart” behind.

Overall, August has been a good month for the Cubs. Their 15-15 record has been their best in any month since May of last year. And they closed out this August – and a stretch of 20 games in 19 days – with a win, beating the Blue Jays 7-5 on Wednesday.

“We’ve still got to get better in a lot of areas,” manager David Ross said. “There’s still some base running stuff we can clean up. There’s still, defensively, some things we can clean up. But this club is so fun to manage because of the way they go about their business on a daily basis, how they want to get better, where they’re willing to learn, the conversations they’re willing to have.”

As far as base running goes, they’re already having those conversations.

Pushing the envelope on the base paths has been a focus for the Cubs all season. Though the Cubs added power to their lineup by claiming Franmil Reyes off waivers earlier this month, they entered Thursday ranked No. 23 in the league in RBI (506) this season.

Sometimes they have to come up with more creative ways to manufacture scoring opportunities. Against poor defensive teams, they’ve been able to prompt unnecessary or wild throws and capitalize.

Against the Blue Jays, they more often ran themselves out of innings. And the issue was widespread.

“We have to be always aggressive,” Reyes said, “but you have to be very smart about when to use it.”

Reyes is sneakily speedy for a 6-foot-5 power hitter. But in the Cubs’ 5-4 loss Monday, he wasn’t quite fast enough to go from first to third on Nico Hoerner’s ground-ball single through the right side of the field in the fourth inning, or to leg out a double on a fly ball to shallow right-center field in the 11th.

“I have to recognize who I am as a runner,” he said. “I cannot make it to every base.”

In the same game, Nick Madrigal tested Blue Jays first baseman Vladimir Guerrero Jr.’s arm on a dropped third strike and was thrown out trying to steal home.

“You don’t want to take away the aggressiveness,” Ross said, “… But your baseball instincts also have to know Vladimir Guerrero’s a third baseman converted to a first baseman, having a really good year at first and a really good arm.”

Even the Cubs’ highest-scoring inning in their win Wednesday included outs on the base paths. Zach McKinstry was thrown out at home trying to score on a ground ball to Blue Jays second baseman Whit Merrifield, who was playing inside the base path. McKinstry was going on contact.

“I kind of got a bad jump on it,” McKinstry said. “I’ll Keep working on those.”

To end the frame, Rafael Ortega hit an RBI single but was thrown out trying to advance to second.

“We’ve got some work to do,” Ross said, “but these guys fight hard every night.”

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