The ability to grind out at-bats.
The Cubs are seeing an average of 4.2 pitches per plate appearance, the best mark in MLB. That's a characteristic that team executives often praised in their World Series-winning 2016 season, when the Cubs were fourth in MLB in that category. It's also something the Cubs didn't do well enough in a disappointing 2019, when they ranked 20th in the big leagues in that department.
The ability to wear down pitchers is paying off, as the Cubs are averaging just shy of 5.3 runs per game, which ranks second in MLB. Outfielder Ian Happ credits the entire lineup's mindset.
"It's really the mentality of grinding out at-bats, of fighting off pitches until you get something you want to hit, of understanding what that guy might throw you in different situations, of not being afraid to take a walk and pass it to the next guy," Happ said in an interview with Matt Spiegel on 670 The Score on Thursday morning. "And that's a really special part of our lineup -- one through nine, anyone in that lineup can hit a ball out of the ballpark, can hit a double and score you from first."
Happ has hit ninth in the Cubs' lineup in seven of their 15 games. His goal is simple there -- just serve as another leadoff man, because Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo and Javier Baez usually follow him atop the order.
Happ is off to a hot start, hitting .302 with three homers and a .434 on-base percentage while playing all 15 games.
"So for me, especially hitting in the nine hole, when KB, Riz and Javy are coming up, it's just all about getting on base," Happ said. "So if you get in a situation where you can grind out a pitcher and see six, seven, eight, nine pitches and kind of wear him down a little bit for the guys behind you, that's huge."
Happ has noticed opposing pitchers wearing down or mentally letting their guard down after facing the top of the Cubs' lineup that features several stars and plenty of power. That's when it's the responsibility of those like him to step up.
"One through five, one through six, it's such tough at-bats and such big names too that once the pitcher gets through that, he takes a little small breath," Happ said. "He takes the foot off the accelerator for a second. It kind of gives the seven through nine guys a chance to put some runs on the board, just get some pitches to hit.
"Having to respect nine guys in the order, it's just exhausting for a pitcher. And you can kind of see that when we're all having good ABs."