The Chicago Cubs‘ offense has been something of a mixed bag in the early part of the 2014 MLB season, with reasonable production coming from a number of sources. However, in regard to the bench in pinch-hitting situations, it was been rather bleak so far.
Going into Friday night’s game against the St. Louis Cardinals, the Cubs had combined for an abysmal 1-for-18 in pinch-hitting spots, a mark that does not exactly represent a formula for success. You could argue that the Cubs were due for a couple of hits in such situations, and they came through in a big way in the eighth inning in St. Louis.
With the game knotted up at one apiece, the Cubs got two clutch pinch-hits from Justin Ruggiano, who was batting for starter Jeff Samardzija, and Mike Olt, who replaced Luis Valbuena.
The value of this type of production is fairly obvious, particularly in a close game in the late innings. The Cubs scored twice in the eighth inning to take a 3-1 lead, with the runs scored by Ruggiano and Olt. Of course, closer Jose Veras proceeded to cough up the lead in the ninth, but the Cubs did manage to win the game in extra innings.
In the NL, where the abomination of the designated hitter rule is not present, pinch hitting is an important component for a successful team. When pitchers are lifted on offense in the late innings of a tight game, it frequently occurs in high-leverage situations with runners on base. Pinch-hits in these scenarios are typically the difference between winning and losing. Such was the case on Friday night in St. Louis.
The presence of a deep bench filled with reliable bats is a valuable commodity for any team. The Cubs are somewhat unique in that they are currently platooning at five different positions, which means the at-bats are spread around a bit more. On most teams, players who are called upon to pinch-hit may only receive the occasional start because the majority of positions are locked down by everyday players.
In addition, there are simply some players who are better suited to come to the plate cold off the bench and produce, while others may not be as comfortable.
In regard to the Cubs, it was encouraging to see Ruggiano and Olt come through in the clutch. Hopefully, certain players will reveal an aptitude for this particular skill as the season progresses. This type of consistent bench production in pinch-hitting situations will serve the Cubs well in the future, perhaps resulting in a few more wins.