Coming into Tuesday’s tilt with the Reds, Addison Russell was slashing a paltry .137/.292/.274 with 3 home runs in 89 plate appearances against left-handed pitchers. So it figured to be a sure thing that Joe Maddon would sit his 22-year-old shortstop on a day the Cubs were facing southpaw Brandon Finnegan. Still a nascent hitter, it would have made sense for Russell to get a breather in order to keep his confidence up.
Maddon, however, had other plans. Of course, he’d have to watch them come to fruition from the clubhouse. That’s because two batters after Russell struck out on three pitches — the last two swinging — in his first trip to the plate, Maddon got himself tossed for eating home plate umpire Jerry Meals’ lunch over a few really awful calls.
Finnegan had gotten Russell on a pair of sliders in that first at-bat, but he stuck with his bread-and-butter sinker when the two squared off again in the 3rd inning. Russell swung and missed at the first, telling the pitcher all he needed to know.
“I’ll just go back to that well again here and…”
Russell laced the second sinker 381 feet to left-center and trotted around the bases for his first home run.
Wary of his prey by now, Finnegan went back to the slider when he saw Russell again in the 5th. After the first two offerings were taken for balls, the lefty — on the ropes after allowing home runs to Javy Baez and Kris Bryant prior to Russell’s — changed tack and went with the fastball. Probably not the best idea.
Russell laced the fastball 388 feet to left-center and trotted around the bases for his second home run.
This was the young shortstop’s second multi-homer game, with the first coming back on September 4, 2015 at Wrigley off of Arizona righty Zack Godley. You can’t take a big game and say that it means anything really significant in terms of the season as a whole, but I don’t think you can dismiss it either. Russell is still developing as a hitter and something like this, against a lefty no less, could really boost his confidence.
He’d already been showing signs of turning things around at the plate. Since June 15 — you like how I’m going with the arbitrary dates to show what I want you to see? — Russell is slashing .258/.383/.484 with 4 home runs, a .369 wOBA, and a wRC+ of 131. Not knocking your socks off, just very solid numbers. Tuesday’s power surge pulled his overall numbers up to .242/.338/.46 with a .323 wOBA and a wRC+ of 100.
Those latter two are catch-all metrics and both are decidedly average when viewed in a vacuum. And while Russell has long been known for sucking up everything hit in his direction, it’s important to put things in proper perspective. The average MLB shortstop is posting just a .313 wOBA and a 93 wRC+, both a bit lower than what we’re seeing from Russell. And that’s with him hitting well below his potential thus far.
I could well be very wrong, but I think this bodes very well for Russell and the Cubs in the second half. If, that is, the pitching staff can hold their opponents to fewer than 9 runs.