The Cubs’ potent offense has garnered notice, especially after scoring at least 10 runs six times this season.
And opponents will take a closer look at their tendencies, as the Dodgers did Saturday in pulling away to a 9-4 victory at chilly Wrigley Field.
Hard-throwing Dustin May, less than two years removed from Tommy John surgery, mixed in timely secondary pitches for strikes that set up many of his six strikeouts while limiting the Cubs to two hits in 5 2/3 innings.
“These guys are on the fastball,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said before the game. “And so to be able to sequence, mix in the breaking ball to get back into counts is very important.”
Cody Bellinger, who has hit three of his five home runs against the Dodgers, took a called third strike on an 85 mph curve with the bases loaded for the second out in the first.
Eric Hosmer and Trey Mancini struck out on fastballs clocked at 97 mph or faster in the second. And Patrick Wisdom, who has hit four of his team-leading nine home runs against the Dodgers, swung and missed on two consecutive curves to strike out in the fourth.
The fact that the Cubs (12-8) stayed close until the ninth was a mild achievement. They couldn’t match the production of rookie James Outman and Max Muncy, who each hit two home runs.
“Offensively, we couldn’t get that big blow we’ve kind of gotten in the past,” Cubs manager David Ross said.
The Cubs loaded the bases with no outs in the first but scored only once as May, who struck out only one in 5 2/3 innings against the Mets in his last start Monday, retired the next nine batters.
The Dodgers held Bellinger hitless in three at-bats after he went 6-for-17 with three homers in five games against his former team that didn’t tender him a contract last fall.
“He’s swinging very well,” Roberts said of Bellinger. “One thing is he’s more physical. I think he’s getting his strength, and his weight is where it should be. And I think mechanically he’s in a good spot.
“I know there’s a little extra incentive to playing against us.”
The Cubs remained within striking distance thanks to Nico Hoerner, who seamlessly has taken over the leadoff duties. Hoerner extended his on-base streak with a single off May in the first, and hit a two-run home run in the seventh that cut the Cubs’ deficit to two.
“I’ve really tried to treat (batting leadoff) the same way I’ve always hit,” said Hoerner, who said he rarely batted leadoff in his baseball career prior to this season.
Nor has Hoerner received instructions from Ross to change his approach.
“It’s allowed me to be myself,” Hoerner said. “It does feel different at times. You want to be on base for Dansby (Swanson) and Ian (Happ). I’ve still had plenty of chances to drive in runs.”
Hoerner believes he can hit for more power. “I just got to try to figure how that can happen organically.’
Hoerner’s streak of not striking out ended at 42 plate appearance when he took a called third strike in the ninth against Shelby Miller.