This week's series at Wrigley Field matches the two teams who have seen more pitches per plate appearance this year than any others in MLB. The Cubs are even more of a patient, grind-it-out offense than the Brewers, though. Whereas Milwaukee's tendency toward running deep counts stems partially from their vulnerability to swings and misses, the Cubs whiff at a below-average rate as a team.
No, in the place of the power they're missing, this team has done its best work when it has battled opposing pitchers to a stalemate, forcing opponents to use up their bullpen or getting great looks at a starter the third time through the lineup. This group of position players accomplishes the indispensable but difficult task of gathering, transmitting, and utilizing information gleaned from long early plate appearances admirably, and it pays off.
Lately, though, that's not happening as much.
See that cluster on the far right of the graph? That's the Cubs' last eight games, coming into Monday night's contest. It was a stretch in which the team didn't swing at fewer than 49 percent of the pitches they saw in any contest, easily the longest such streak of their season. All eight of those games are among the 37 in which the team has swung the most this year.
As we well know, swing rate is a highly imperfect measurement of approach at the plate. Seiya Suzuki is having the best month of his career partially because he's swinging more often. He's more decisive up there. Still, it's hard not to read this as the accumulating impact of some hitters trying to make things happen in the stultification of the late summer. A decade-old study did demonstrate that plate discipline frays as the season wears on, and the Cubs aren't in any position to be the exception to that rule. They've been on edge and trying to survive, then surge, ever since the All-Star break. They're in the middle of a long stretch without an off day, and the cluster of games discussed above were mostly a long road trip through losing towns.
Nonetheless, the Cubs have to get back to their consistent, sound team approach. They cut down their swing rate on Monday night, but it availed nothing, because they still looked tired, anxious, and overeager. They hit far too many Brewers pitches right into the ground, trying to get back what was lost when Jameson Taillon gave up four first-inning runs. It was irrational, but you could see the team trying to hack their way out of that hole. They weren't taking enough pitches to get into good counts, and thus, their swings weren't sufficiently aggressive. By the time they smoothed out that approach, they were too far behind even to make a game of it and put serious pressure on Craig Counsell's bullpen.
Despite the atrocious numbers lefties have put up against Corbin Burnes this year, Mike Tauchman needs to be atop the batting order Tuesday night. Hopefully, he can set the tone, the way he has for much of the time since he claimed the leadoff spot. Jeimer Candelario probably also needs to be elevated, belatedly, to the second spot in the batting order, where his patience can further force the Brewers' hand, while Nico Hoerner's more aggressive approach needs to be reserved for when there's traffic on the bases near the bottom of the order. It's not a magical salve, but to generate offense the way they will need to against the better competition ahead, the Cubs have to recover their patience at bat.
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