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Sports Saturday

Finding 2020 vision through 2019 disappointment

Failures to adequately address frontline roster needs last winter, along with several late-season injuries, have led to discovering important — if unexpected — keys for the Cubs’ roster plans for next year.

San Francisco Giants v Chicago Cubs
Canadian bakin’ and shakin’: British Columbia native Rowan Wick has become perhaps Joe Maddon’s most trusted setup man this season with a fastball-curveball repertoire and 2.45 ERA.
Photo by Quinn Harris/Getty Images

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 24thoverall 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, both have been critical, sub-2.80-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 proven an effective September weapon for weeks, even if he’s best known for a gone-viral curve ball that made Seattle’s Kyle Seager duck before tumbling across the strike zone for a strikeout in his second Cubs appearance.

Is Wick a future closer? Hoerner the Cubs’ starting second baseman next year? Ryan and Wieck reliable enough setup men the Cubs won’t feel dire need to acquire another lefty?

Maybe they’ll be part of some epic, feel-good story in October first?

Either way, they may 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.

DID YOU KNOW

  • Anthony Rizzo, who has repeatedly called himself “the greatest leadoff hitter of all-time,” might actually be right. He is the career leader in OPS (1.041) and slugging percentage (.613) as a leadoff hitter (minimum 200 plate appearances). And his .428 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 on 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.” – Former World Series MVP Ben Zobrist.

“It’s not ever easy.” – Left fielder 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.” – Manager Joe Maddon ahead of the Cardinals series.

HIDDEN FIGURES

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” – also against the Pirates.

5 – Players on the Cubs roster who have never missed the playoffs in their careers (min. three previous seasons): Kris Bryant, Addison Russell, Kyle Schwarber, Albert Almora Jr., Willson Contreras.

3 – Doubles needed by Nick Castellanos to become the first to hit 60 in a season since 1936 (Joe Medwick and Charlie Gehringer).