Each departure from Marcus Stroman further complicates a tough decision that awaits the Chicago Cubs next month.
The Cubs ended their four-game losing streak on Friday night against the San Francisco Giants with a 3-2 victory behind Stroman’s best 12th quality start in the major leagues and Nico Hoerner’s two-run single on the bench in the seventh.
“He knows what he wants to do, doesn’t back down, stubborn at what he does well,” manager David Ross said of Stroman. “Every time he takes the bump, and even in the big moments when he knows we need a ‘W’, he’s really calm and continues to perform.”
Stroman’s consistency dates back to last season. In his last 21 starts dating to Aug. 30, the right-hander has allowed two runs or less in 17 of his outings, owning a 2.33 ERA for the lowest in the majors this span (minimum 20 starts).
He went 22 straight innings without allowing an earned run, which ended in the third inning on Friday — the longest such streak by a Cubs starting pitcher since Cole Hamels (28 innings, May 27 -June 18, 2019).
The Cubs (27-36) have won five straight games by Stroman, four of which were preceded by a team loss. Knowing the consistency they’ll get almost every time he’s on the mound this year has been hugely important for a team trying to get on the right track. His performance also brought relief to the Cubs’ roster, knowing that three runs will often win them the game on Stroman’s departure days.
“I’m just the product of my preparation and my work,” Stroman said. “So I wouldn’t consider myself a ‘stopper’, but if it’s labeled, I guess it’s something good to label.”
Hoerner had a rare chance to witness Stroman’s departure and see how the pitcher operates from a different perspective.
“A lot of the highlights show that he comes through in the big moments, which I love too, but I’m so impressed with his step-by-step stability and the way he presents himself every day,” Hoerner said. “Things are going well, things are not going well, he shows up and he controls everything he can, and he gave us a chance to win practically every time he takes the ball, that’s all. whatever you may ask.”
With each week the Cubs inch closer to the August 1 trade deadline, time continues to tick on what decision the front office must make on Stroman’s future. His player opt-out at the end of the season cannot be ignored. The Cubs need to get hot as a team, and it’s hard to imagine if the offense doesn’t pick it up soon.
Stroman is positioning himself to be one of the most valuable players, if not the most valuable, a contending team could acquire in the coming weeks. He could bring valuable coins to the organization for 2024. But the Cubs choosing to lose that type of starting pitcher — even with the control Stroman has over his post-season future — would be the worst case scenario for the direction of their season. .
Stroman has the second-best ERA (2.42) in the National League, and his 85⅔ innings are tied with New York Yankees ace Gerrit Cole for most majors.
“He’s among the best pitchers in the game right now and that’s an incredibly valuable thing to have on your side,” Hoerner said. “I’m grateful he’s with us.”
The Cubs need more of their offense if they are to begin to reduce their divisional deficit – currently 6½ games behind the Pittsburgh Pirates and Milwaukee Brewers. Getting closer to .500 would be a good start.
They recalled infielder Nick Madrigal before Friday’s series opener and moved infielder Miles Mastrobuoni to Triple-A Iowa.
Madrigal has hit hard at Iowa, posting a .488 ERA and .580 on-base percentage in 11 games since being ejected. He showed pop and line-driving abilities with six doubles, three triples and a homer in 41 at-bats. Ross indicated that Madrigal has an opportunity to be at bat consistently in the majors right now. Patrick Wisdom’s recent struggles have been particularly pronounced: he’s hitting .149 and has struck out 43 in 87 at bats since May 1.
Madrigal said he hasn’t felt this good at home plate since he was with the White Sox.
“At the end of the day, it was just about getting back to basics and playing,” Madrigal said. “I had confidence in myself. I didn’t doubt my abilities at all, but at that time, a lot of emotions, but I just kept it simple and went out and played.
“I saw it as a whiffle ball there, and that’s where you know things are going well.”
Madrigal started second and took the lead on Friday, going 0-for-3 with one walk and one strikeout. It was part of a revised order that saw Mike Tauchman beat second, Seiya Suzuki, who recorded a three-hitter game, in third and Ian Happ and Dansby Swanson batting behind him.
The changed look still didn’t provide the type of breakout game Ross had hoped for offensively.
“Just shake something up,” Ross said. “Sometimes a little something different, a new lineup, something new, hopefully we can create a spark.”