Cubs' Young Offense Upstages Jake Arrieta with Star-Making Slugfest in G3 Win

Zachary D. Rymer@zachrymerMLB Lead WriterOctober 13, 2015

Kris Bryant hit one of a record six home runs for the Cubs in their win over the Cardinals in Game 3 of the NLDS.
Kris Bryant hit one of a record six home runs for the Cubs in their win over the Cardinals in Game 3 of the NLDS.Jerry Lai-USA TODAY Sports

Based on recent headlines, you'd think the Chicago Cubs' rise to power has had everything to do with Jake Arrieta and little to do with, well, anything else.

In reality, however, the bats have also had a lot to do with that. And on Monday evening at Wrigley Field, they made that clear by upstaging none other than Arrieta himself.

After throwing a shutout to lead the Cubs to victory over the Pittsburgh Pirates in the National League Wild Card Game, Arrieta was considerably less effective in Game 3 of the NLDS. The St. Louis Cardinals limited his outing to 5.2 innings and got to him for four earned runs, matching the number of he'd given up in his last 97.1 innings coming into the game.

And yet, the Cubs still pulled out an 8-6 win. The reason why, in a word: dingers.

The Cubs scored all eight of their runs via the home run, in a process that looked like this:

  • Second inning: Kyle Schwarber solo homer
  • Fourth inning: Starlin Castro solo homer
  • Fifth inning: Kris Bryant two-run homer
  • Fifth inning: Anthony Rizzo solo homer
  • Sixth inning: Jorge Soler two-run homer
  • Eighth inning: Dexter Fowler solo homer
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That, friends, is a lot of dingers. In fact, ESPN Stats & Information noted it was a record number of dingers for a postseason game:

ESPN Stats & Info @ESPNStatsInfo

With Dexter Fowler's HR off Jonathan Broxton, the Cubs have become the first team in MLB Postseason History to hit 6 HRs in a single game.

"Pretty impressive," said Cubs skipper Joe Maddon after the game, via 670 The Score. Hard to argue, that.

As a result of this collection of homers, the Cubs easily made up for Arrieta having neither his best stuff nor his best command. More importantly, the home runs gave the Cubs a 2-1 series lead. In Game 4 on Tuesday, Chicago will have a chance to clinch a postseason series at Wrigley Field for the first time in, well, ever.

With Jason Hammel due to toe the rubber for the Cubs, odds are it's going to take more offense to get the job done. But if it weren't already before, it should be clear now that that's not really a problem for this Cubs lineup.

Maybe the two most oft-referenced talking points regarding the Cubs offense is that it's defined by two things: strikeouts and youth. The Cubs lineup led MLB in strikeouts in 2015, and it was also the National League's second-youngest lineup by average age.

Thing is, both of these talking points can easily be viewed as flaws. They're not so much in reality, and haven't been for some time.

The Cubs kept on being young and kept on swinging and missing in the second half of 2015. But unlike in the first half of the season, neither of these things got in their way. The Cubs offense went from a .690 OPS and 77 homers in the first half to a .754 OPS and 94 homers in the second half.

The reasons for this are plentiful, but some loom larger than others.

While Rizzo kept on being productive, it was Bryant who emerged as the team's best hitter. Elsewhere, Schwarber arrived for good and provided a significant power boost. Castro responded well to a move from shortstop to second base, going on a tear over his last 51 games. Addison Russell didn't get hot, but he at least became something like a league-average hitter.

Or, in a nutshell: The second half is when the Cubs' best-laid plans came true.

Matt York/Associated Press

It took a few years for things to come together, but by the end of 2014, it was abundantly clear what Cubs boss Theo Epstein was trying to do with his big rebuilding plan. As Grantland's Rany Jazayerli noted, Epstein was going against the notion that pitching is the foundation of a winning team by stockpiling bats. And with the stockpile getting big, it paying off in the near future was a real possibility.

As Epstein warned last September, via MLB.com's Carrie Muskat: "There's a day coming when all of our young talent will be here, and it will have all matured."

If the second half of the Cubs' season was the realization of that warning, then what happened on Monday night was unquestionably the exclamation point.

It's not just that the Cubs hit six home runs. What's equally astounding is that five of them came from assorted Cubs youngsters, as Katie Sharp of River Ave. Blues noted:

Katie Sharp @ktsharp

Cubs are 1st team in MLB history to have 5 different players age 26 or younger hit a HR in a postseason game.

That's remarkable, and it shines light on the reality that there's likely to be a lot of this going around in the coming years.

In the 23-year-old Bryant and 26-year-old Rizzo, the Cubs have a heart-of-the-lineup duo consisting of a potentially elite power-hitting third baseman and one of the best offensive first basemen in the game. In Schwarber, they have a 22-year-old lefty slugger who could become the best power-hitting catcher in baseball if he sticks behind the plate. In Castro, they have a a 25-year-old who will be among the game's best offensive second basemen if he can maintain what worked for him down the stretch.

Oct 12, 2015; Chicago, IL, USA; Chicago Cubs right fielder Jorge Soler (68) hits a single during the fifth inning against the St. Louis Cardinals in game three of the NLDS at Wrigley Field. Mandatory Credit: Jerry Lai-USA TODAY Sports
Jerry Lai-USA TODAY Sports

Then there's Soler. The 23-year-old right fielder had become the forgotten man among Chicago's young guns, but he's definitely put himself back on the radar after reaching base in each of his first nine postseason plate appearances, a new MLB record.

And though all this was preceded by a disappointing season, it wasn't a total loss. After all, check out where Soler finished on the Cubs' hard-hit leaderboard:

  1. Schwarber: 39.7 Hard%
  2. Bryant: 37.5 Hard%
  3. Soler: 35.9 Hard%

While we're discussing hard-hit balls, we should also mention that Russell just missed ending up in this conversation when his fourth-inning triple hit the base of the left field wall. He had to leave the game with a hamstring injury after that, but ESPNChicago.com's Jesse Rogers reported that Russell hopes to play in Game 4. Knocks like that one are reminders that he has plenty of offensive potential in his own right.

Although the Cubs lineup has been been mashing for a few months now, fans who tuned in to Game 3 were essentially treated to its first big coming-out party. Chicago's destruction of the Cardinals made it clear that not only is the Cubs' young talent here, but that it is very much fully armed and operational.

And remember: This is just the beginning. Over the next five or 10 years, we're likely to look back on the 2015 Cubs lineup as the worst of the bunch.

But as you might have noticed, that doesn't mean it can't be enjoyed for the time being.

Stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com and FanGraphs unless otherwise noted/linked.

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