Willson Contreras plays hero in 11th, but Nico Hoerner ‘special’ for Cubs

The Cubs beat the Brewers 6-5 for their fifth consecutive victory.

SHARE Willson Contreras plays hero in 11th, but Nico Hoerner ‘special’ for Cubs
Shortstop Nico Hoerner made three stellar defensive plays and earned praise from Cubs starter Marcus Stroman.

Shortstop Nico Hoerner made three stellar defensive plays and earned praise from Cubs starter Marcus Stroman.

Jamie Sabau/Getty Images

Willson Contreras enhanced his credentials as one of the top free agents-to-be Saturday.

He became the first catcher in Cubs history to hit at least 20 home runs in a season four times and capped his performance with an RBI single with two outs in the 11th inning to give the team a wild 6-5 victory against the Brewers. It was the Cubs’ fifth victory in a row.

But Contreras’ heroics might not have been possible without the all-around performance of Nico Hoerner, who seems to be immune to the speculation the Cubs will seek one of many free-agent shortstops this winter.

Hoerner, with some help from resurgent second baseman Nick Madrigal, made three dazzling defensive plays that raise the question of whether the Cubs might be better-served by earmarking their offseason spending to other positions.

‘‘I don’t think Nico Hoerner gets enough credit in the [National] League and Major League Baseball,’’ said right-hander Marcus Stroman, whose 7‰ innings of two-hit ball immediately went for naught when reliever Rowan Wick yielded a two-run homer to Willy Adames, the first batter he faced.

‘‘What he’s been doing is pretty incredible. He’s playing every day, doesn’t give away a single at-bat, [is] incredible defensively. He’s making plays to shift momentum and getting me out of big-time jams.’’

Hoerner, stationed in shallow right, ranged toward the foul line and made a strong throw to nail Christian Yelich in the third. He turned a potential hit by Jonathan Davis into a double play in the fourth by ranging quickly to his right and throwing off his back foot to second, where Madrigal made a strong throw to first. Hoerner then leaped to catch a line drive by Luis Urias to end the sixth.

‘‘He’s truly special,’’ Stroman said. ‘‘He’s definitely someone you want to build around.’’

Hoerner, 25, is simply living up to his billing as the Cubs’ first pick in the 2018 draft. Even after an 0-for-4 performance, Hoerner is batting .296 with 14 stolen bases. He also was a plus-12 in defensive runs saved entering play Saturday, according to Fangraphs.

Yet the Cubs might look to add more experience from a pool of free-agent shortstops that includes Carlos Correa (if he opts out of his current contract), Dansby Swanson, Trea Turner and Xander Bogaerts.

Such a signing could move Hoerner to second base, but Madrigal has received rave reviews from his teammates, especially after his second consecutive three-hit game. He also has a 44-game errorless streak.

‘‘Nick turns [the double play] as well as anyone I’ve played with,’’ Hoerner said.

Madrigal is hitting .348 in 13 games since returning from a groin injury.

‘‘We’re both players establishing ourselves at this level,’’ Hoerner said. ‘‘The only thing we can continue to do is play well. What the Cubs do in free agency this offseason, if they make moves that are going to help us win games, that’s not going to be a huge issue around here.

‘‘Obviously, I believe in myself as a shortstop. I’ve said that for a while, and people believe that now. If we have the issue of having too many good players, I like that problem.’’

Outfielder Ian Happ caused some havoc by breaking from third immediately after Yelich made a catch in shallow left in the 10th. When he dropped the ball while transferring it from his glove to his hand, Happ scored to tie the game 4-4.

‘‘I took off to at least draw a throw, and when the ball hit the ground, I was gone,’’ Happ said.

The Latest
Mike Mikolajczyk had quite the November with big bucks in Will County in his vehicle, during firearm season and while bowhunting; he earns unusual Buck of the Week honors.
The veteran advertising executive is expected to remain in his post through at least February to ensure a transition to his successor.
Beginning this week, Jones and the other 31 nominees will wear a helmet sticker to recognize their achievement. The winner will be announced during NFL Honors on Feb. 8 as part of the lead up to the Super Bowl in Las Vegas.
A week-by-week update of where the Bears will pick in the upcoming draft.
The first crash happened around 2:25 a.m. near 18th Street and when the driver got of her car, another vehicle hit her, state police said.