Heading into the series finale of the Crosstown Classic on Wednesday, the Cubs’ objective was simple — win. Even then, doing so wasn’t going to change the status quo. They need to keep stacking wins with less than a week until the trade deadline, and beating the White Sox wasn’t necessarily going to feel any bigger than any of the other wins they hope to record before Tuesday.
But coming away from the 10-7 win to complete the two-game series sweep of the South Siders, it felt monumental. It felt like the kind of win that might help catapult the Cubs to buyer status after seemingly being on the brink of a selloff less than a week ago.
If the Cubs can keep this hot streak rolling through their four-game set in St. Louis, Wednesday night’s ‘W’ — which featured a deciding six-run fifth inning — might go down as the defining win for the club’s trade deadline decision.
“I do think that the resiliency and the camaraderie has just been at a really high level,” Nico Hoerner said. “I think those are the kinds of things that really propel groups, make groups closer, build momentum. You never know the result at the end of it, but I definitely enjoy playing those kinds of games with this group. I think that bodes really well for our future.”
Marcus Stroman wasn’t shy in his assessment of his start Wednesday, saying it was “not great at all.”
For just the fourth time in his 22 starts this season, Stroman failed to make it through four innings. In 3 1/3 frames, Stroman allowed seven earned runs, the most he’s given up in a single outing in 2023.
He’d been so reliable at the top of the Cubs’ rotation — you can tell by the fact that, even after this start, his 3.51 ERA still ranks No. 11 in the National League — but the All-Star has had a rough stretch ever since his outing in London on June 25. While his 2.28 ERA led the NL prior to that start, he’s posted an 8.00 ERA in the six starts since.
“I feel like, ever since London, I’ve been off slightly mechanically,” Stroman said. “More so with my slider. The rhythm and the consistency of my slider just has been a little off. I feel like my sinker is good, but when I go to get to my slider, I feel like it’s very different mechanically. I’m just looking to find some unity, some uniform, and I think I’ll get there as I continue to build over the next few weeks working in between.”
When Stroman left the mound with one out in the bottom of the fourth, things looked bleak. The White Sox had runners on second and third, and the Cubs were trailing by five. They had responded to a South Siders’ rally earlier in the game, but this was easily the largest deficit they’d faced in this quick two-game series.
Winning this game didn’t necessarily mean more than winning any other game coming up. To ensure they enter Tuesday with no less than a .500 record, the Cubs needed to go 4-1 over the last five games leading into the series against the Reds. Those hopes wouldn’t have been dashed with a loss to the White Sox — but it would’ve eliminated any margin for error they could have versus the Cardinals.
Instead, the Cubs made sure they’ll head to St. Louis with that slight margin for error intact.
Javier Assad came on in relief of Stroman and got two quick outs to end the threat. The very next frame, the Cubs sent 12 batters to the plate, swinging the game from a five-run deficit to a one-run lead. They needed just three total hits in the inning (none for extra bases) as they took advantage of three walks (the last two bringing in the game-tying and game-winning runs, respectively), two hit-by-pitches and a wild pitch to do their damage.
Ian Happ and Cody Bellinger tacked on two more runs with back-to-back solo shots in the eighth, and rather than heading to St. Louis with even more pressure, the Cubs will arrive at Busch Stadium with added momentum.
“Not every game is going to go as planned, obviously,” Bellinger said. “It’s the crazy part about this game, but whether you’re up or down, you’ve got to continue to play the game, put together innings, put together at-bats. That’s what good teams do.”
Are the Cubs a good team? Beating up on the Nationals, Cardinals and White Sox doesn’t exactly confirm that. But at the same time, their .615 winning percentage (24-15) is tied for fourth-best in Major League Baseball since June 9.
That’s obviously a long stretch of time to be playing at nearly a 100-win pace. And now they’ve taken care of business over the last two weeks (8-4 since the All-Star break) and added a monumental comeback to continue the hot stretch.
After Wednesday’s action, the Cubs are 50-51, they sit six games behind the Brewers in the NL Central and they’re 4 1/2 games out of the NL Wild Card. If they can go and take the series in St. Louis, would that be enough to convince the front office to give the group a shot at competing after the deadline?
“As players, you want to do everything on your end that you can,” Hoerner said. “The wins count the same now as they did in May and all that, but these games do feel different. There’s no doubt. I think that it’s an opportunity to just embrace the situation where you’re playing meaningful baseball, and that’s really what we all want.
“You have the opportunity to win, you have the opportunity to have a team that’s pushing towards the end of the season. I mean, [the trade deadline] is a real factor and it’s something we’re all aware of, and I think we’ve handled it in a pretty mature way of controlling our end of it day by day.
“We’re giving it absolutely our all, and I would love, love to play with this group for an extended period and see what that looks like.”