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Offenses struggling early in NLDS
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10/02/2003  7:22 PM ET 
Offenses struggling early in NLDS
Cubs, Braves bats cold heading into pivotal Game 3
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Sammy Sosa knows that runs will be hard to come by in this series and making adjustments is the key to setting the table to score. (Chris O'Meara/AP)
CHICAGO -- The Atlanta Braves may have been the top offensive team in the National League this year but the Chicago Cubs have actually hit better than their NL Division Series opponent so far.

It's a slight edge -- the Cubs are batting .250 in the two games to Atlanta's .242 average. Still, Chicago has stranded 17 baserunners in the series and missed opportunities in Game 2 hurt in the 5-3 loss to Atlanta.

Cubs manager Dusty Baker wasn't panicking about his offense Thursday on the eve of Game 3 of this best-of-five series, which is knotted at one win apiece.

"The first thing is, you have to take what they give you," Baker said. "Secondly, you have to be patient. In a lot of situations, we haven't been patient.

"You know, patience is something that just doesn't come overnight," he said. "You have to make a conscious effort to be patient without losing your aggressiveness. In my mind, it doesn't matter. Sure, we make mistakes. The other team makes mistakes.

"We've got some guys that have come through and if they hadn't, we wouldn't be here at this point right now," Baker said.

The Cubs had a tough time coming through in the clutch this season in winning the NL Central. Chicago batted .219 with runners in scoring position. The Braves hit .263 in those situations.

Sometimes guys can hit the ball hard but -- as the cliche goes -- it's right at somebody. Take Game 1. Atlanta loaded the bases with two out in the eighth and Javy Lopez hit the ball at shortstop Ramon Martinez, who forced the runner at second.

In Game 2, Marcus Giles came up with runners at first and second and two outs in the Atlanta sixth and blooped a single for the tie-breaking RBI.

"Sometimes the ball's got to bounce your way a little bit," Atlanta manager Bobby Cox said.

The Cubs couldn't get any bounces in the first in Game 2 once starter Mike Hampton settled down. The first five Chicago batters reached, resulting in a 2-0 lead. But Hampton then struck out the next three -- and the next three after that.

"You can look at those sort of things," Cubs first baseman Eric Karros said about hit location, "but we had a 2-0 lead before the Braves came up to the plate. Would you take that? Of course.

"We could've had a bigger inning but you also have to give credit to the Braves," Karros said. "There's a reason they won the most games in the National League. Sure you'd like to get a hit every time there's a guy on base but you have to remember there's somebody out there trying to get you out."

Or, as Cubs slugger Sammy Sosa likes to say, "good pitching is going to stop good hitting."

"What you've got to remember," Chicago's Randall Simon said, "is the guy on the mound is a good pitcher."

Chicago has good pitching, too, relying on its starters to reach the postseason. Baker says the Cubs' success won't depend on one factor but the whole team.

"First of all, let's quit separating the offense and the defense," he said. "We're all on the same team. The objective is to get it all done. What we try not to do around here is put the blame on offense, defense, pitching, whatever it is and try to separate one from the other.

"One thing I require is that we refuse to place any blame on any particular facet of the game," Baker said. "We give the whole team credit when we do well."

"We've got the hitters who will make the adjustments," Sosa said. "You don't need to score 20 runs. Every swing, every pitch counts. You just have to be ready."

Which is what this short series could come down to: Who makes the adjustments. Friday's matchup is not hitter friendly, no matter which way the wind is blowing at Wrigley Field. Mark Prior ranked third in the NL with a 2.43 ERA and opponents hit .231 against him. Atlanta's Greg Maddux is right at home at Wrigley, which used to be his home field, and will take advantage of the thick grass.

"This series is about trying to figure out what the opposition's game is against you," Baker said. "These guys over there are veteran hitters. They've been around a long time."

"All you can do is keep putting pressure on them and keep knocking on the door," Karros said.

Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to approval by Major League Baseball or its clubs.



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