PITTSBURGH -- Is there anything the Chicago Cubs' starting staff can’t do? Along with compiling a sparkling 3.42 ERA through nearly two months of the season, they’re getting it done at the plate.
Cubs pitchers are No. 1 in the National League in slugging (.307) and OPS (.496) and rank fourth in batting (.177) and third in on-base percentage (.189). And they’re doing things in May that haven’t happened in a long time.
According to the Elias Sports Bureau, their eight extra-base hits and 13 runs batted in through Wednesday are the most in any one month since, get this, the Cubs in September 1971, when they knocked in 14 and had 10 extra-base hits. There’s a good chance that record will be broken before June comes around.
“You’re always surprised when these guys are able to hit, but you forget they work hard at it and they’re good athletes along with it,” closer Kevin Gregg said Wednesday about his pitching teammates.
Second baseman Darwin Barney agreed.
“It’s fun to watch them help their cause,” he said. “They get excited about it. It’s everyone’s dream to be a pitcher and hit. [Pitchers are] expected to get out, so you can go up there hacking.”
To put their month at the plate in further perspective, 19 pitchers in the National League have at least two runs batted in, and the Cubs employ five of them, according to data compiled by ESPN Stats & Information. Their OPS for May is a whopping .947; next are the Los Angeles Dodgers hurlers at .500. Cubs pitchers have nine more RBIs than the San Francisco Giants pitchers, who rank second this month.
“I was joking around the other day: We should just let them hit the whole game for themselves,” outfielder Ryan Sweeney said.
Players were shaking their heads in the clubhouse Wednesday after seeing Matt Garza hit a two-run double the night before -- in his first at-bat in 10 months.
“I couldn’t fall behind,” Garza joked. “These other five guys, man ... it was a lot of time in the cage. Just want to be a complete player.”
So the question arose, who’s the best hitting pitcher on the team?
“[Jeff] Samardzija is fun to watch, because he’s got power and what kind of athlete he is,” Gregg said. “I expect a lot out of him. He actually is thinking about it as he goes up there and how he’s going to approach it.”
Several players concurred about Samardzija, but not all.
For the record, after Garza’s 1-for-2 night, it is Wood whose batting average (.263) is the most respectable. But Feldman’s four RBIs lead all pitchers.
Still, it’s Wood who got the most votes.
“He’s the best hitting pitcher,” manager Dale Sveum said. “He’s the most consistent, always has been.”
What do the pitchers say? Not much. They don’t want to jinx it. Even when pushed, they were noncommittal.
“I would say either Samardzija, Edwin Jackson or Woody,” Feldman said.
“I don’t know. It might be a coin toss,” Jackson added.
Maybe the best authority on the subject is hitting coach James Rowson. He’s had a front-row seat for all the raking.
“Right now, take your pick,” Rowson said, laughing. “They’re fun to watch right now.
“In all honesty, probably Travis Wood. He’s a hitter that pitches.”
It might not be straight jealousy, but the position players are starting to envy the pitchers, who don’t mind hearing it from their teammates. It means they’re impressing guys who hit for a living.
“They’re yelling at us, saying, ‘It’s that easy, huh?’” Jackson said. “It’s not like we’re getting pointless hits, either. We’re getting big hits.”
Maybe Barney summed it up best. You don’t want to be shown up by a pitcher at the plate. He should know; they hit right behind him in the order.
“It’s kind of funny when you’re hitting eighth and they’re hitting behind you and you’re struggling,” Barney said, laughing. “Sometimes it’s like, maybe I should bunt guys over for them.”