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Meet and beat: Cubs’ bats come alive

Chicago Cubs' StarlCastro stretches during first inning baseball game against Cincinnati Reds Chicago Saturday April 19 2014. (AP Photo/Nam Y.

Chicago Cubs' Starlin Castro stretches during the first inning of a baseball game against the Cincinnati Reds in Chicago, Saturday, April 19, 2014. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)

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Updated: April 19, 2014 10:10PM



Asked whether he had a meeting with his team after an uninspired loss to the Reds on Friday, Cubs manager Rick Renteria half-denied, half-sidestepped the question.

By players’ accounts Saturday, it was more of a one-way conversation. Meetings generally are participatory. This one was a lesson on intensity, focus and approach.

“When Ricky talks and shows emotion, it means something,” Cubs second baseman Darwin Barney said after the Cubs’ 8-4 victory over the Reds on Saturday at Wrigley Field. “He doesn’t do it very often and we know he’s got our back and is on our side, so when he shows a little fire, it usually works.”

Renteria hopes the Cubs’ 11-hit outburst wasn’t a result of him stepping out of character to prove a point. But don’t expect this to be the last pep talk. A young team can lose its focus more easily than it can regain it.

“I would hate to say that it was because of that that today we garnered the result,” Renteria said. “I would just simply say that they all understood and they understand that there’s some intensity that’s involved and some focus that’s involved in playing the game.”

If it’s that simple, then figuring out how a team can lose focus in the first place wouldn’t be so mysterious. But it appeared the Cubs found it Saturday.

Hitters at the top of the lineup cleaned up their approach and took more pitches. And seeing how Reds pitchers attacked hitters had a residual effect on the bottom of the lineup. It also helped the Cubs get into the Reds’ bullpen quicker.

“It paid dividends today for us,” Barney said. “I think we want to work the pitcher. We want to get to their bullpen.”

Mike Olt, Welington Castillo and Barney — the 6-8 hitters in the lineup — each homered.

“What I’ve taken from the last couple years is learn how to evaluate how other hitters are being approached by the pitcher and picking up certain tendencies,” Olt said.

Even if the Cubs are able to live up to the work-ethic themed clichés that have been thrown around the clubhouse, there’s still a ceiling. Focus, approach and intensity are things other teams display on a more consistent basis.

If the Cubs run into one of those teams, they won’t be able to do much more to win. The crux of Renteria’s talk should have been that the Cubs can’t afford to limit themselves in other ways.

“The reality is all the players we have have the ability to perform,” Renteria said Saturday. “They can play the game. We should have expectations of themselves as we have expectations of ourselves.

“Skill set is relative to production, things of that nature. I think players need to prepare and continue to expect of themselves great things.

“We’re just going to try to maximize everything we do and put it together as a team because the reality is you win as a team.”

Email: sgruen@suntimes.com

Twitter: @SethGruen



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