Cubs have done better job of drawing walks since All-Star break
BY TONI GINNETTI Staff Reporter
The changing of the guard for the Cubs is as much about changing approaches as personnel.
The approach talked about most is at the plate, where the philosophy is that the higher the OPS — on-base percentage plus slugging percentage — the higher the chances of scoring runs and, in turn, winning games.
It’s a formula that values walks, and drawing more walks has been a challenge for many of the Cubs, not just shortstop Starlin Castro.
But the tide might be turning. Since the All-Star break, the Cubs rank second in the National League and fourth in the majors in drawing walks. They entered their game Monday against the Cincinnati Reds averaging 3.5 walks per game since the break, compared with 2.6 before it.
‘‘It’s been a combination of everything,’’ manager Dale Sveum said of the improvement. ‘‘Obviously, we were coming across some pitchers who were struggling, too, but give [the players] credit.
‘‘I think Welington [Castillo] has had some great at-bats since the All-Star break and is taking his walks, getting to 3-2 counts and not swinging at pitches out of the zone. That was the biggest problem.’’
Castillo has drawn 18 walks in his last 25 games. He walked only 10 times in his first 64 games.
‘‘We’ve seen plenty of pitches this year; it’s what we’ve done when we’ve gotten to those 3-1 and 3-2 counts,’’ Sveum said.
Chasing pitches out of the strike zone has cost the Cubs big innings and led to a fair share of rally-killing double plays, he said.
‘‘Lately, we’ve been pretty good at just laying off the bad pitches in those counts,’’ Sveum said. ‘‘It’s not a mystery that walks and everything else come with experience and at-bats in the big leagues for guys who want to take that extra step in their games. Some guys don’t take that extra step.
‘‘Guys feed off it, and everyone starts talking about it when it starts turning: ‘Let your neighbor do it. If he can’t do it, let his neighbor do it.’ That’s how offenses start rolling — when you start trusting each other.’’
Sveum, who was the Milwaukee Brewers’ hitting coach before joining the Cubs, said patience at the plate also helps a hitter ‘‘start losing the anxiety factor.’’
‘‘People don’t realize it, but the more strikes you get on you, the more the anxiety. Bad two-strike hitters or people who don’t walk, their anxiety level is a heck of a lot more than a [Joey] Votto,’’ he said, referring to the Reds’ top hitter. ‘‘Those guys don’t change with the count, and that’s what you have to start getting younger hitters — and even some older hitters — [to understand].’’