© 2023 BSN LIVE, INC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.
Starting your major league career is never easy, even if early results make it seem that way. That’s especially true when it comes with being thrust into the rotation of a team in the heat of a playoff push. But if you ask Jordan Wicks, coming up in this situation might actually be more helpful for him than the alternative.
“For me, it’s almost more calming, just because the only thing I’m focused on is winning the game,” Wicks said after tossing 6 2/3 innings of two-run ball in the Cubs’ 8-2 win over the Giants on Wednesday. “I could care less what my stats are. My whole goal when I take the mound is, when I come out of the game, I want us to be in the best position possible to win the game. That’s my whole entire mantra, that’s what I stand by and that’s what I’m going to continue to try and do.”
Wicks has impressed everyone watching since debuting on Aug. 26. Through three big league starts, Wicks owns a 2.16 ERA and has lasted at least five innings each time out. He improved to 3-0 on the season Wednesday, becoming the first Cubs starting pitcher since 1901 to record three consecutive wins to begin his career.
And again, “easy” isn’t the right word to describe Wicks’ run in the big leagues.
His debut came against the Pirates, who no matter how far down in the standings they are will still get up for a chance to knock down a division opponent. His second start came against the Reds, another division rival who’s still in the mix for a National League Wild Card spot. And Wednesday came against Giants, who came into the series in a three-way tie for the last Wild Card and were looking to avoid a sweep at the hands of the Cubs.
In each of the first six innings, San Francisco got a man on. Three of those were the leadoff man in the frame, and the other three came with just one out. Those situations could change how a pitcher attacks hitters in order to keep that runner from scoring. But it was clear that Wicks was going to continue to attack the Giants’ lineup with what he does best.
“You don’t get away from pitching your game, right?” Cubs manager David Ross said. “Being able to have the two-seam, the changeup, the cutter, the breaking ball. He’s got a good mix, he fills up the strike zone, he’s not worried about a base runner. There’s some deception there. He’s quick to the plate. And then getting the ground balls. He knows he’s a ground ball away. He’s that type of pitcher. Doesn’t rely on a ton of punch, so he’s used to contact, used to being able to field the position.
“There’s no panic. I think he’s just used to that.”
Wicks remained poised no matter what situation he found himself in. He didn’t panic when runners got into scoring position in the second, third, fourth and fifth innings. He didn’t panic when Paul DeJong doubled to lead off the third.
And he certainly didn’t panic later in that frame when a comebacker hit him right in the leg and DeJong raced home from third. Instead, he just picked up the ball and fired to Miguel Amaya to nail the runner at the plate.
“I think a lot of it is just pitching through a lot of situations,” Wicks said. “I like to simplify and downplay situations. Like, if they have a guy on second, one out, I just think about all the times I’ve been in that situation and all the ways you can get out of it. I don’t like to really hype things up more than it is. I just keep it simple and know, if I execute my pitches, we’ll be able to get out of it, especially with the guys we have behind me.”
The Giants finally put a couple runs on the board off Wicks in the seventh. But by then, the Cubs had built up a comfortable lead and cruised to a series sweep, their first in a series of at least three games since mid-June in Pittsburgh.
If Wicks’ main goal is solely to put the Cubs in a position to win when he’s on the mound, it’s been mission accomplished thus far.
“We have so much fun watching him and just seeing the beginning of what’s going to be a long career, for sure, for him,” Kyle Hendricks said. “He’s been huge for us. Just going about the winning ways, keeping the train rolling.”
The rotation needed a boost when it came time for Wicks’ call-up:
- In the first 25 days of August, the starters’ collective 5.52 ERA ranked 24nd in baseball
- Marcus Stroman was diagnosed with a right rib cartilage fracture while he was already on the 15-day IL, and there’s still no return timeline
- Drew Smyly’s return to the rotation lasted only one start — when he allowed seven earned in 3 2/3 innings in Detroit on Aug. 22 — and he’s since pitched exclusively out of the bullpen
- Jameson Taillon seemed to turn his season around with a run of six starts from July 7 to Aug. 8 in which he went 5-0 with a 2.17 ERA, but he has gone 0-3 with a 7.86 ERA in his last five starts and is again looking for consistency
Hendricks, Justin Steele and Javier Assad continued to be effective on their start days, but the Cubs needed another arm to help anchor the rotation in the midst of the playoff race. So far, Wicks has answered the call.
If the season ended today, the Cubs would firmly be in the playoffs. They hold sole possession of the second NL Wild Card spot, and they’re only 1 1/2 games back of both the Phillies and Brewers for first in the Wild Card and first in the NL Central, respectively. Of course, there are still 22 games left to play, and if the rotation stays in this order, Wicks will start four of them.
A start to a career similar to Wicks’ would be huge for any rookie hoping to make an impact. But if he doesn’t continue doing his job to help get the Cubs to the postseason, that early success won’t be enough for him.
“I don’t really think about the personal success,” he said. “I’m not satisfied until we’re in the playoffs. That’s the ultimate goal. That’s my goal.
“I go from outing from outing where, like tonight, I’ll enjoy this one. My family is here. I’ll spend time with them. But once I wake up in the morning, it’s on to the next one. It’s flush and it’s on to the next one.
“I can’t just soak in this one and forget about the next couple. All these games are big for us.”
Get Chicago's Best Sports Content In Your Inbox!
Become a smarter Chicago sports fan with the latest game recaps, analysis and exclusive content from CHGO’s writers and podcasters!
Just drop your email below!