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Good morning and happy fifth of July, everyone.
Because of the holiday, my Monday morning thoughts were postponed a bit, but I wanted to make sure I still gave all of you something to read to kick off the week. This is only for this week, and I’ll be right back with my Monday morning post six days from now.
The Cubs had an exciting week themselves, winning series against the Reds and the Red Sox and nearly taking one from the Brewers in a 10-inning loss on Monday. We can talk all we want about how the wins ultimately don’t matter and that it’s the development that does, but developing is always going to be sweeter when it comes alongside a win. The Cubs haven’t lost a series since the four-game clunker in Pittsburgh, and a lot of that has to do with the performances of some of the guys who might have really exciting futures in Chicago.
And of course, an electric moment from their big offseason signing didn’t hurt, either. Despite the loss in the series opener in Milwaukee, what Seiya Suzuki did in the top of the ninth was probably the biggest shot of adrenaline the Cubs fanbase has had in a little bit.
With that said, might as well just get right into it now. Here you go folks, the post-Fourth of July, Tuesday edition of my morning Cubs thoughts.
When Seiya Suzuki’s line drive hit just a few inches below the top of the wall in the top of the ninth yesterday, I remember thinking, “Oh man, he just missed out on a homer in his return game.”
And then the ball caromed off the wall, past Brewers center fielder Jonathan Davis, and just kept rolling down the warning track. And then Suzuki looked like he was picking up steam as he rounded second and headed to third. And then third-base coach Willie Harris waved him home. And then Suzuki avoided the tag, touched the plate with his left hand and let out a roar in celebration. It was an electric moment, indeed, and one that nearly catapulted the Cubs to a victory in Milwaukee.
Here are some of the cool factoids I saw on social media:
But the moment goes beyond just the excitement for the play, and more for the excitement of what Suzuki represents. He was the offseason prize, the player the Cubs paid nearly $100 million to bring to Chicago. He wasn’t the last piece of a championship team, but he could be one of the first pieces for the “Next” one. And if he’s out there doing things like that, 39 days after he last played a game due to a left ring finger sprain, it signals that the Cubs might have at least one spot on the field that they don’t have to worry about.
The same thing could be said for the other high-profile free agent to sign with the Cubs. Marcus Stroman made his first rehab start on Sunday, and though the line (2.2 IP, 7 H, 5 R/ER, 1 BB, 2 K) doesn’t look very great, manager David Ross told reporters in Milwaukee that the reports he was given said Stroman looked better than his line. And when you look at it, the main thing for Stroman in what he hopes will be a one-and-done rehab assignment was to feel healthy, and there don’t appear to be any sort of setbacks that come out of that outing. Stroman said that he never really recovered from his start on May 19 after missing the previous 18 days while on the COVID IL, and that’s where his shoulder inflammation came from. This time around, he said he’s had the proper build-up to where he feels fully healthy and ready to go. That should be music to Cubs fans ears, because he should provide more stability for a rotation that has already seen 13 different pitchers start games this season.
Whether or not you care about the outcomes of games this year is one thing, but it’s always better when players — especially the ones teams spend lots of money to bring in — are healthy and able to go out there and perform. Suzuki’s inside-the-park homer was just the first moment brought by the return of one of those big-contract players. If all goes to plan, he and Stroman will both be providing more of them to help bring some positivity to the 2022 Cubs season.
Patrick Wisdom didn’t make the cut for Phase 2 of All-Star voting, but could he still find his way to Los Angeles for the festivities?
Honestly, I think there’s a shot Wisdom gets asked to participate in the Home Run Derby on July 18. Since his Cubs debut on May 25, 2021, only eight hitters have more home runs than Wisdom’s 45: Aaron Judge, Pete Alonso, Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Shohei Ohtani, Salvador Perez, Yordan Alvarez, Kyle Schwarber and Giancarlo Stanton. Three of them were in the event last year, including Alonso, the now two-time defending champion. Everyone else but Alvarez has done it in the past. You don’t see many players do the Derby multiple times in a row, so that’s a whole chunk of sluggers that may not want to do it again, which opens the door even more for Wisdom to get invited.
But does he actually deserve the call? There’s a good argument to be made that he does about as much as anyone.
There’s the aforementioned stat about his homer total since last May, but there’s even more from this season, specifically. Going into Tuesday, Wisdom was hitting a home run every 16.1 at-bats. That was the 18th lowest amount of at-bats among qualified major league hitters, and it was less than a full at-bat behind Cincinnati’s Brandon Drury for 12th. Then you add in his 18.9 percent home run to fly ball ratio, which Baseball Reference had at No. 9 in the majors this season heading into Tuesday. Move on over to Statcast, and you find that (going into Tuesday), Wisdom’s average exit velocity (92.6 mph) was in the top 6 percent of the league, his hard-hit percentage (52.1%) was also in the top 6 percent and his average launch angle (20.2 degrees) was the 12th highest among qualified batters.
So he’s definitely right up there with the rest of the sluggers who could get the invite. You add in the fact that he also plays in one of the biggest markets in the country, and the thought of extra dollars probably adds even more reason for Major League Baseball to want him in. I think he’s a good candidate. The question becomes if he would even want to do it.
“If they called,” Wisdom said after belting two homers on Thursday, “I would definitely answer the phone.”
Well that settles that.
Adrian Sampson is set to start the series finale on Wednesday, but he might not have even gotten the chance to if he was playing under a different manager.
Sampson had a stellar relief outing on June 19 in which he threw 4 2/3 innings, allowed just one hit and held the Braves scoreless. But after that game, with teams becoming limited to a maximum of 13 pitchers on the roster and with Sampson likely down for at least a few days, it made sense that Sampson was going to be the odd man out and he was optioned to Triple-A Iowa the next day.
“I was a little upset, from my end,” Sampson said on June 25 in St. Louis. “I think I handled it not the best, but I thought I told (Ross) what I wanted to tell him. You got to be careful when things like that happen, because you say the wrong thing, and it deters people from wanting to keep you around. I tried to be precise with my words and let them know that I was not happy with their decision.”
Maybe a different manager takes Sampson’s words differently, and then when the Cubs needs to call someone up to replace an injured Daniel Norris, the manager looks in a different direction. But that’s clearly not how Ross operates, as just six days after he was optioned, Sampson was back on the big league club and starting on the road against the rival Cardinals. Sampson rewarded Ross with a strong five innings of work, and then he followed it up Friday against the Red Sox with an outing that saw him give up most of his damage in the first two innings and then gut out another 3 2/3.
“I don’t think it’s shocking to us or him that, when he goes out and pitches well, he believes in his stuff and knows how to work through trouble,” Ross said. “He’s kind of that young veteran that comes along every once in a while that’s had a tough road to get here. He knows that focus is on every pitch, because he knows the potential of when things go wrong.”
So what exactly was it that got Ross’ attention enough that, when he needed to go down to the minors to bring up an arm, it was Sampson who got the call?
“I absolutely love it when guys are pissed off and believe in themselves. It shows,” Ross said. “The last thing you want is a guy to put his head down and be a guy that’s disappointed or like, ‘I know I stink right now.’ I don’t want that. I walk out to the mound and the guy is rushing to give me the ball, that’s not a good feeling either. You want them to be pissed off that you’re taking the ball from them. You want them to be pissed off when they’re getting sent down. That’s a good thing in my mind.”
If I one day end up being a manger, I think I’d have that same mindset. I’d want players who accept a situation but aren’t OK with it, because those are the ones who’ll be hellbent on proving me wrong. They’ll be out there working their butts off to get back to this level just to remind me that they told me so. Like Ross said, those are the guys you want, because if everyone in the clubhouse is like that, then you’ll just have a big group of players who are never truly satisfied. And that’s the culture all coaches want.
Who would’ve thought that a security guard at Wrigley Field would be the one going viral this past week.
Last Wednesday, Marquee Sports Network’s Taylor McGregor told a story on the broadcast about a conversation she had with Rafael Ortega about Fabian De Hoyos. Us media members all know Fabian. He’s more often than not the gatekeeper that either does or doesn’t let us onto the field pregame. I don’t have the longest conversations with him but we always greet each other and he knows me enough after checking my credential every game.
But not many people prior to Wednesday knew Fabian was also something of an All-Star-level ball boy, as the broadcast that game and the game after captured.
I thought it was really cool to see Fabian getting all the love from social media. Here’s someone who is just there doing his job, who makes plays look easy and then does the right thing and looks for kids to give foul balls to. And then I saw someone wearing a very interesting shirt near the gate to the field Thursday, and I just had to snap a picture.
Well, hey, the Cubs are almost certainly sending Willson Contreras to the All-Star Game in two weeks. Ian Happ could join him, too. At this point, why not just get Fabian to be the ball boy down the left-field line at Dodger Stadium and make sure the Cubs have at least two All-Stars in LA.
Narciso Crook has a really fun and different view on what he can do as an athlete to help the world be a better place, and it all starts with signing autographs.
“All I ask when I give autographs, especially when it’s a big group of people, is that if I sign your autograph, you got to do something for me,” Crook said when he was called up last week. “All I ask in return is you got to do one good deed for someone in the next two weeks. I give them a two-week timespan so they’re in a rush to do it, because then if I see them again, they got to do it again. For every autograph, it’s a good deed.”
Crook said he started this during spring training, when he thought to himself, “What can I do to maybe help a little bit in our society and just make this world a better place?”
I love this and think more athletes should do something like it. Maybe not doing it this way, specifically, but athletes have incredibly big platforms that they could always use to help. Crook has only played four games at the major league level, and yet he still gets people who not only want his autograph but then will go out, do their good deed and then message him to let him know they held up their end of the deal. Imagine if every major leaguer did the same thing to the people lined up asking them to sign their hats or baseballs or whatever? I know there are plenty of ballplayers who give back to the community, but to me, this seems like another easy way to help things get better.
“I feel like we have a great platform here as athletes,” Crook said. “To me, I feel like we need more people to make this world a better place. So whatever I can do to help.”
I’d like to turn your attention to what might just be the play of the year from anyone in the Cubs organization.
This was seriously an incredible play. Just look at where Pete Crow-Armstrong, the No. 3-ranked Cubs prospect according to MLB Pipeline, is positioned to start, then see how much ground he had to cover in not a whole lot of time. It looked like Beloit’s Nasim Nunez was in pure shock that Crow-Armstrong made the play, and I’ve got to admit, so was I when I first saw it.
There’s a reason PCA is just 20 years old but shooting up prospect ranking lists. His bat has a lot of potential, which certainly helps, but it’s the defense that has everyone excited. Here’s just a snippet of MLB Pipeline’s profile of Crow-Armstrong coming into this season: “The top outfield defender in the 2020 Draft, Crow-Armstrong is a no-doubt center fielder with Gold Glove potential. He covers tremendous ground with his quickness and instincts, and he also possesses solid arm strength.”
This guy could no doubt be the center fielder of the future for The Next Great Cubs Team, but it’ll probably be until 2024 at the earliest before Cubs fans get to see him roam the outfield at Wrigley. For now, they’ll have to settle for impressive highlights like this one.
It was hard to be celebratory on the Fourth this year after the events that transpired in Highland Park in the morning.
I’m not going to get political because that’s not what I want to do with this column, but I think most people would agree that something needs to be done. I’ve felt that way regardless, but the impact feels a little stronger when it happens so close to home. Highland Park is a little over 25 miles from where I live. I know people who are from there and/or have family and friends who live there. I used to go there a lot working with my dad during summers growing up. It’s a great community, and I was sick to my stomach to see lives lost and people traumatized because of another senseless act of violence.
I don’t know where I wanted to go with this, just felt like I needed to acknowledge it. If you’re looking for a connection between this thought and the Cubs, here’s what David Ross had to say to reporters in Milwaukee last night about the tragic event:
In case you missed them, here are some Cubs articles from the past week:
- Old dogs can’t learn new tricks? Cubs’ Kyle Hendricks could do just that
- Cubs enjoying recent success, but bigger questions loom
- Making the case: Does Ian Happ deserve an All-Star nod?
- Checking in on Cubs trade candidates as deadline approaches
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