Power’s out, so Cubs try small ball
BY GORDON WITTENMYER email@example.com February 25, 2012 11:30PM
Left fielder Alfonso Soriano is one of the few Cubs left with some power. The team is moving away from its big-swinging offensive model. | John Grieshop~Getty Images
Updated: March 27, 2012 8:29AM
MESA, Ariz. — Blue-painted corners on the bases, an emphasis on baserunning drills, mini-seminars at the dry-erase board in the manager’s office and a bunt tournament?
What in the name of Sammy Sosa is going on with the Cubs this spring?
Specifically, what do these early signs say about where the Cubs plan to find runs this season without Derrek Lee, Aramis Ramirez or Carlos Pena occupying the local on-deck circle?
‘‘With this team, you never know,’’ Alfonso Soriano said. ‘‘Maybe I can be batting fourth and drop some bunts.’’
That might not be as big of a reach as it sounds, considering the lack of proven run producers.
Soriano is the only player in camp with so much as a 25-homer or 90-RBI season in his career and the only one with more than 17 homers last year. And he’s 36 with almost as many strikeouts (354) as hits (359) the last three seasons.
For all the starting pitching depth and improvements to some defensive positions, there’s no middle-of-the-order slugger(s) anchoring things.
Maybe Bryan LaHair can be a guy like that, but the Class AAA MVP hasn’t done it at the big-league level. Maybe Ian Stewart can help out, but his lone 20-homer season was two years ago. Injuries and struggles left him homerless last year.
Maybe that’s OK in April and early May, when power doesn’t matter at Wrigley Field anyway. But what about the breezy summer days after that?
‘‘We’re not going to be a powerhouse,’’ outfielder Reed Johnson said. ‘‘We’re not going to have a Chase Utley and a Ryan Howard and all those type of guys in our offense. But at the same time, I think we can make up for that by running the bases the right way. That’s going to be a huge part of being able to score runs with the offense that we have: just paying attention to detail on the bases.’’
Hence the blue inside corners on the bases in camp to emphasize tight, hard cuts and the first-to-third coaching mentality -- and the hip-to-be-squared-around buzz as guys take this match-play bunting tournament serious.
‘‘Every team’s going to win 60 games and lose 60 games,’’ manager Dale Sveum said. ‘‘Whatever happens those other 42 games depends on how you run the bases, how you play fundamentally, how you catch the ball, how you throw strikes.’’
Whether it leads to anything big for this team this year, the aggressive-minded emphasis on getting away from the slow-moving, big-swinging offensive model the Cubs have employed for years is at least setting a tone in camp.
‘‘The big thing that this coaching staff has really stressed is baserunning and how you can send a message to teams early in a game — and not only early in a game but early in the season,’’ Johnson said. ‘‘That, hey, this is going to be a different team; we’re going to come to play every day.’’
NOTES: Speaking of bunting, catcher Steve Clevenger knocked off trash-talking Tony Campana in the first-round upset of the spring bunting tournament, outscoring one of the tourney favorites by a 2-to-1 margin.
‘‘It separates the good bunters from the guys that are fast who think they can bunt,’’ said Clevenger, whose margin of support from teammates was even bigger.
Retorted Campana: ‘‘Sori [Alfonso Soriano] always told me, they don’t boo nobodies.’’
◆ Catcher Geovany Soto left practice early because of a groin strain Dale Sveum said was not serious.