MLB.com Columnist

Phil Rogers

Deep lineup has Cubs poised for October run

Deep lineup has Cubs poised for October run

CHICAGO -- They're on pace to win 89 games, not the 103 they finished their dream season with a year ago. They've had injuries to key players and a downturn in production from some others. But here's the thing about the 2017 Cubs.

They not only have a chance to win another championship, but they just might bludgeon an opponent or two along the way.

Consider how they've scored a Major League-best 5.9 runs per game since the All-Star break. They've scored 10 or more runs eight times in the second half, with 17-2, 17-3 and 14-12 victories in the last two weeks.

There's no secret to this success.

"There's a lot of good players on this team,'' Ben Zobrist said. "We have a lot of good players sitting on the bench, as a matter of fact. … Just a lot of good players on the offense that are capable of coming at teams offensively from a lot of directions. I don't think there's a real breather in our lineup.''

Javier Baez is hitting .270 and has hit 21 home runs, including one every 15.4 at-bats in the second half. Joe Maddon wrote him into the eighth spot in the lineup against Brewers right-hander Jimmy Nelson on Friday.

"If he's hitting eighth for you, that's pretty good,'' Maddon said. "That's kind of a nice thing. You like to have the scariness all the way down through No. 9.''

Baez's solo home run

While the Cubs were favored in all three postseason series last season, they may not be favored in any this October. But the way their lineup is scoring runs in bunches, they're capable of scoring the timely runs they need to beat guys like Max Scherzer, Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke, and they could erupt to do serious damage.

While scoring is up by about 4 percent in the Major Leagues over last season, the broader trend barely scratches the surface in explaining the Cubs. They have had a crazy spike since the All-Star break, not just compared to the first half of the season but also the second half last season. They are scoring 21 percent more runs than after the break in 2016, while hitting 45 percent more home runs (a National League-best 81).

They were averaging 4.5 runs at the All-Star break, a shockingly low 11th in the NL.

Cubs' four homers vs. Pirates

"I feel like it's more about the offense in the first half just wasn't what we're capable of doing,'' Zobrist said. "This is more of who we are as a team. It's more of our identity as an offense, what you've seen in the second half. The first half I think there were a lot of guys still tired and trying to catch their breath from a long season last year. We feel like we've put all that behind us.''

They've done this even with Addison Russell and Willson Contreras sidelined for long stretches and Kyle Schwarber hitting .199.

Credit the addition of switch hitter Ian Happ and catcher Alex Avila (acquired July 31), along with contributions from role players like Jon Jay and Albert Almora Jr., for keeping the Cubs from leaning too heavily on Anthony Rizzo and Kris Bryant.

Happ seemed likely to spend this season with Triple-A Iowa but opened eyes in Spring Training, was promoted in mid-May and is hitting .259 with 21 home runs. He has started at four positions, giving Maddon a second super utility man to go along with Zobrist.

"We didn't expect that at the beginning of the season,'' Maddon said. "We did not anticipate that at all.''

Happ's solo home run

He'll take all the nice surprises he can get, of course, as the Cubs work to protect the lead they've built over the Cardinals and Brewers.

Maddon cautions that the Cubs have scored their runs in streaky fashion. He doesn't feel like he's managing the '27 Yankees.

"It's awkward,'' he said. "We've had some really big-run games. That skews the averages a little bit. I feel good, but I think [the high-scoring games] put us over the top. It doesn't feel like that all the time.''

No, it wouldn't. But it's always nice to have firepower in the dugout, especially in October.

Phil Rogers is a columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.