Contreras Plays Hero, Future Role Flexibility, Steele is Nasty, Madrigal Hits, and Other Cubs Bullets

Contreras Plays Hero, Future Role Flexibility, Steele is Nasty, Madrigal Hits, and Other Cubs Bullets

I’m not sure how I avoided it all summer until now – I don’t think I was doing anything better or smarter – but I finally got bit up by mosquitos last night. The itches sure are satisfying when you scratch, but I don’t particularly want to be doing it all day for several days.

  • Willson Contreras played hero yesterday with the game-winning homer in his “return” to Wrigley Field, which was just perfectly scripted. You could tell how happy he was to be back:
  • I said it earlier in the week, but let me say it even more explicitly: if the Cubs truly love everything about Contreras and what he brings *EXCEPT* his catching ability (and the idea of committing to a catcher long-term in his 30s), then there is still a sensible arrangement for bringing him back. Basically, you get the two catchers you want – the guys you’ve decided are the best at the receiving, the game-calling, the adjustments, whatever (the things that are apparently concerns around the league about Contreras behind the plate), and they are your main catchers. Contreras becomes that old imagined version of what we thought Kyle Schwarber might be for a minute: a guy who catches about once a week (which has extra value!), and otherwise splits his time among first base, DH, and maybe left field on a very rare occasion.
  • The Cubs don’t have first base locked down as it is, and with Patrick Wisdom playing there this week, it’s clear the Cubs are thinking ahead about internal options. In turn, I’m just thinking out loud.
  • Couple more bits of Willson love:
  • Obviously the efficiency was not quite there, but Justin Steele was just nasty yesterday. Tied his career high with 10 strikeouts, this time in just 4.2 innings:

  • Not sure what, if anything, drove it, but Steele was throwing his pitches (1) much faster than usual, and (2) with much more spin than usual. The two are correlated, so it’s possible he figured out a little something with his mechanics to get a velo boost (which helped boost the spin), or it’s possible it was just one of those days where he was really feeling his body. But it’s cool when you can see a performance like that, see how poorly the batters were faring, and then check the data and see a 1.7(!) mph bump on the slider, and a 200+ RPM bump on the spin rate. That was just a nasty, nasty, nasty slider yesterday.
  • It wasn’t a save situation when he came into the game, so we still don’t know for sure that he’s the guy who’ll get the call, but Rowan Wick pitched the 9th to finish out the game. He was my guess on the guy the Cubs would prefer to take over the closer’s role for the rest of the season, and I do think that’s who we’ll see if everyone has rested. He has obviously had his rough patches, but my sense is that the Cubs believe the *best* version of Wick is their best guy for the 9th inning. Whether he can be that best version of himself consistently enough to hold down the role, say, into next season, is a very open question. (Any chance the Cubs try to fix free agent Craig Kimbrel again … ?)
  • Meanwhile, Brandon Hughes is really turning it on. If you remember, he looked fantastic out of the gate, but then actually kinda struggled through his first 18.0 big league innings (4.50 ERA). Over his last 13.0 innings, since the start of July, his ERA has been just 0.69.
  • Nick Madrigal had a couple hits yesterday, and it capped off his best ten-game stretch of the season. A couple big “howevers” there: (1) the ten-game stretch goes back to May 31, since he’s missed so much time, and (2) even in this “good” stretch, he’s hit just .294/.333/.294/79 wRC+. I’m fine with him getting a decent amount of playing time the rest of the way so that the Cubs can have more information heading into the offseason. But there is no realistic final two months that make it so the Cubs feel like they have second base locked down by Madrigal.
  • The Rocket City Trash Pandas, like every other minor league team, cannot get Cubs outfield prospect Yonathan Perlaza out. But unlike the others, the Pandas are, well, it’s in their name, and did this:
  • The Rockies claimed Dinelson Lamet off of waivers from the Brewers, and since the Cubs would’ve had priority over the Rockies, that means the Cubs passed.

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