Cubs outfielder Seiya Suzuki is off to a hot start — hitting home runs, reaching base in his first 12 games, winning NL Player of the Week Award in his first week in the major leagues and creating a much-needed buzz at Wrigley Field.
He entered Thursday night’s game against the Pirates at Wrigley Field with a .387 batting average, a .438 on-base percentage and gaudy 1.404 OPS. Suzuki isn’t expected to sustain that kind of production for the long haul. The league is just learning about him and figures to adjust as the book on Suzuki — who hit .315 with a .987 OPS in nine seasons in Japan — is written.
The question is how well will the 27-year-old Suzuki adjust back? It’s a chess game that is as old as the game itself.
“The first thing you want to do –you want the player to have success — he’s doing that,” Cubs manager David Ross said. “And teams will try to figure out what they think his holes are. And then he’ll have to adjust. That’s kind of the evolution of a major-league player.
“We have the information. You have things you tried. You find out where hitters have the most success and over time you find out where they do or don’t have weaknesses and try to exploit those. That’s what creates a big, long career.”
The challenge is to stay a step ahead of the scouting report. But Ross said the only solution is to wait for the adjustment and respond. And he’s confident Suzuki will do that.
“You never know until you get to this level,” Ross said. “But I think his profile coming over here [from Japan] and why we gave him the money and the contract [five years, $85 million], we believe strongly that he’s a really good major-league caliber player.”
Suzuki might be edging closer to that moment. Batting second as the designated hitter, he went 0-for-4 with three strikeouts in a 4-3 loss to the Piratesbefore 32,341 fans at spring-like Wrigley Field. It snapped Suzuki’s streak of reaching base in his first 12 games with a plate appearance. Only Wilson Contreras (13 games in 2016) has had a longer streak to begin a Cubs career since 1901.
It was only one tough night, but Suzuki now is 0-for-7 in his last three games, dropping his average from .429 to .343. After getting 10 RBIs in his first 22 plate appearances –a franchise record — Suzuki has one RBI in his lsat 28 plate appearances. The Cubs (6-7) lost their third consecutive game to fall below .500 for the first time this season.
Suzuki truck out in the first, had an RBI ground out to third in the second and struck out in the fifth. And in his biggest moment of the game in the seventh inning — with Nico Hoerner on third, two outs and the Cubs down 4-3, Suzuki struck out on three pitches against Pirates reliever David Bednar.
Suzuki’s second-inning RBI gave the Cubs a 3-0 lead that would not last. Starter Mark Leiter, Jr., while much better than his first start for the Cubs, when he allowed seven runs in 3 1/3 innings against the Rockies at Coors Field, allowed a two-run homer to former Cubs prospect Dan Vogelbach in the third inning to cut the lead to 3-2.
That was the only blemish in Leiter’s four innings. But Ethan Roberts relieved him in the fifth and ran into immediate trouble — allowing two runs that gave the Pirates a 4-3 lead.
Roberts nearly was out of his jam, but with two outs and the bases loaded, Yoshi Tsutsugo hit a two-run double to left to give the Pirates the lead.
Pirates outfielder Bryan Reynolds made the play of the game in the seventh inning when he not only beat the shift with an apparent double to left field off Rowan Wick, but — with no one covering third base –alertly kept on going when the throw came into second and ended up with a triple on a hit with an exit velocity of 49.4 mph.
But after Wick walked Ke’Bryan Hayes, he induced Tsutsugo to hit into a 4-6-3 double play to keep the Cubs within a run.