Good luck finding a Cubs player, fan or team official who will consider the 2019 season a success if it falls short of the playoffs.
But at least one significant consolation prize might be found in some of the unlikely 2020 pieces discovered through some of the failures last winter to adequately address bullpen needs and through some of the late-season injuries.
“If the season ends today, I think you look towards next year with some names that probably weren’t going to be there,” team elder Jon Lester pointed out a few days ago. “You’ve got Rowan Wick stepping up this year, pitching a lot of high-leverage innings for us. And obviously Nico [Hoerner], being drafted last year, who would have thought he’d have been here right now contributing and having solid at-bats.”
Hoerner, the 24th overall pick and first player from the 2018 draft to debut, has started at shortstop since back-to-back injuries to Javy Baez and Addison Russell forced the emergency move Sept. 9.
Since then, he has played his way into the mix next spring for a job on the Opening Day roster.
Relievers Wick, a right-hander, and Kyle Ryan, a lefty, have been critical, sub-3.00 ERA linchpins for a shaky bullpen most of the season after opening in the minors as depth arms. Wick, in particular, has been an increasingly trusted late-inning arm.
And recently acquired left-handed prospect Brad Wieck has proved to be an effective September weapon for weeks, even if he’s best-known for a gone-viral curveball in his second Cubs appearance that made Seattle’s Kyle Seager duck before tumbling across the strike zone for a strikeout.
Is Wick a future closer? Is Hoerner the Cubs’ starting second baseman next year? Are Ryan and Wieck reliable enough setup men that the Cubs won’t feel a need to acquire another lefty?
Maybe they’ll be part of some epic, feel-good story in October first?
Either way, they might at least assure the Cubs don’t wind up completely empty-handed in 2019.
“Hopefully, it’s a step in the right direction for us in the future for these guys to be helping out,” Lester said.
4 — Doubles needed by Nick Castellanos to become the first to hit 60 in a season since 1936 (Joe Medwick and Charlie Gehringer).
5 — Players on the Cubs’ roster who have never missed the playoffs in their careers (minimum three previous seasons): Kris Bryant, Addison Russell, Kyle Schwarber, Albert Almora and Willson Contreras.
47 — Runs scored in three games against the Pirates last weekend, most in a three-game series for the Cubs since 1894, when they scored 48 as the “Colts” against the Pirates.
DID YOU KNOW?
• Anthony Rizzo, who has repeatedly called himself “the greatest leadoff hitter of all-time,” might actually be right. When he made his startling return to the lineup Thursday, he was the career leader in OPS (1.028) and slugging percentage (.602) as a leadoff hitter (minimum 200 plate appearances). And his .426 OBP ranks fourth all-time behind two Hall of Famers (Eddie Collins, Arky Vaughan) and a former Seattle Pilot (Steve Hovley).
• Since the Cubs’ last walk-off victory July 16, they have six walk-off losses. Their 10 total walk-off losses match their total for 2018 with a final six-game road trip left. They lost a total of 12 such games from 2015-17.
THAT’S WHAT HE SAID
“Right now we’re all upset we don’t win every game. You know that’s probably not going to happen, but at the same time, you’ve got to believe that it is.”
Ben Zobrist, 2016 World Series MVP
“It’s not ever easy.”
Kyle Schwarber, on making the playoffs
“Honestly, it’s more fun this way. To be in this position at this time of the year with something on the line is what we all strive for.”
Joe Maddon, before the Cardinals series