The Rundown: Younger Players Driving Cubs’ Recent Success, Minor League Affiliates Rolling, MLB Trade Market Heating Up

“Oh when I close my eyes, I start to realize what once was mine. And when you close that door, like so many times before you make me cry.” – The Quick & Easy Boys, Take Your Medicine

The Cubs have no one to blame but themselves for their poor prior record against the Pirates but to the glee of the team’s fans near and far, they’ve exacted a little revenge on the swashbucklers with two consecutive shutouts. Last night’s 7-0 win at Wrigley Field represents, at least to my recollection, the first time the North Siders played in a way befitting this year’s marketing slogan.

It’s different here.

I still don’t know what the Cubs are trying to achieve with what appears to be a very ambiguous PR campaign, but last night’s game actually felt different. Starter Keegan Thompson took center stage and the sophomore pitcher managed his outing in a way that would have made Kyle Hendricks stand at attention. Thompson made easy work of Pittsburgh’s hitters through five innings of work, notching five strikeouts without a walk while throwing 42 of 65 pitches for strikes.

David Ross called on rookie Brandon Hughes with a six-run lead when Daniel Norris was forced to leave with one out in the 6th inning because of right Achilles soreness. As an emergency replacement, Hughes was forced to warm up on the mound for his first big league appearance. No pressure, right? He walked the first batter he faced (charged to Norris because he inherited a 2-0 count), then retired five of the next six batters, all by strikeout, the only blemish being a walk to Michael Chavis.

Of course, the 8th-inning pinch-hit home run by Christopher Morel was the talk of social media all night and this morning, and rightfully so. The Cubs have now won six of eight and last night’s victory clinched their third straight series win. What makes things refreshingly different is that Chicago’s first and second-year players have been the driving forces behind much of that success.

Hopefully, Nick Madrigal will find his stroke when he returns, and Caleb Kilian getting closer to his debut has the light at the end of the tunnel looking just a bit more visible these days.

Cubs News & Notes

  • Chicago’s rotation and the hot-hitting Willson Contreras have been the keys to the Cubs’ recent surge, and our own Ryan Thomure has it all covered in this week’s edition of Tuesday Trends.
  • Morel’s debut was a dream come true, and something the versatile player told Ross was inevitable back in March. “He told me in spring training on the half field,” Ross recalled, “he’s like ‘You’re gonna see me this year.’”
  • Hughes made history when he became the first pitcher in modern baseball history to record at least five outs and to have them all come via strikeout in his MLB debut.
  • Hughes was a converted outfielder and his journey to the bigs is one we all should appreciate.
  • A brief skirmish at home plate between Contreras and Daniel Vogelbach surprised the catcher and both benches emptied, though no extracurriculars took place.
  • Ian Happ is off to one of the best starts of his career, and his right-side numbers have really boosted his overall production.
  • Chicago’s four minor league affiliates produced 20 wins last week and excitement regarding the team’s future is starting to reach near-deafening levels. It’s a fun time to be following the farm system.

Odds & Sods

15-game winners may soon become as rare as the 20-game winners.

Climbing the Ladder

“Oh, I didn’t see that big black cloud hanging over me. And when the rain came down, I was nearly drowned, I didn’t know the mess that I was in.” – Traveling Wilburys, Heading for the Light

Frank Schwindel stayed hot at the plate with two knocks and has seven hits in his last 20 at-bats, boosting his batting average from .200 to .227. Seiya Suzuki had a two-run double last night but also struck out three times. His 30.23% K-rate is alarming, and accumulating 129 plate appearances means he’s beyond the small sample size benchmark.

  • Games Played: 35
  • Total Plate Appearances: 1,286
  • Total Strikeouts: 315
  • Strikeout Rate: 24.49%
  • Team Batting Average: .235

How About That!

The pitcher who co-leads the AL in WAR with Justin Verlander is A’s starter Paul Blackburn, a name many of our readers may be familiar with.

You’ll need a subscription to ESPN+ to access the content, but the MLB trade market is already heating up and includes some names you may not have expected, such as Juan Soto and Carlos Correa. The Cubs are expected to be big sellers and the article mentions that Contreras, Hendricks, Wade Miley, Drew SmylyDavid Robertson, and Mychal Givens are all likely available to the highest bidders.

MLB has suspended Orioles pitcher Matt Harvey for 60 games for the distribution of a banned substance. Earlier this year, Harvey testified in the trial concerning former Angels employee Eric Kay’s role in the death of pitcher Tyler Skaggs, and this suspension stems from Harvey’s admissions in court about his time with the Angels.

The Astros hit five home runs in the 2nd inning yesterday, tying a major league record for most in one inning.

One fan at Fenway Park caught two of those five taters.

Mets shortstop Francisco Lindor is struggling at the plate again this year.

Though attendance and television ratings continue to trend downward, the league’s regional sports networks are still thriving due to record advertising rates

Tuesday’s Three Stars

  1. Kyle Tucker – The Astros outfielder was an offensive force last night, belting two home runs with six RBI as the Astros pounded the Red Sox 13-4.
  2. Hughes – In what had to be the most awkward introduction to big-league baseball, the rookie reliever shined across 1.2 innings.
  3. Aaron Judge – The Yankees are a baseball-best 27-9 and Judge is one of the reasons why; He had two taters and three RBI on a 4-for-5 night in a 5-4 win over the Orioles. The slugging outfielder now has 14 home runs and 30 RBI, a 64/136 pace.

Extra Innings

I like when Cubs rookies hit home runs in their first big league at-bats because it usually portends successful careers. Morel is off to an exciting start, he’s always played at a level that exceeds projections, and I expect nothing different now that he’s in The Show.

Morel called his shot Tuesday night, telling Contreras that he would hit a home run in his first major-league at-bat, the same way Contreras did against the Pirates on June 19, 2016, at Wrigley Field.

Wednesday Morning Six-Pack

  1. After reading my gripping op-ed on Facebook regarding baby formula (that nobody asked for), the FDA has finally eased import requirements.
  2. The NHL Playoffs are usually considered the place where goals go to die, but not this year. Scoring is up this year for the first time since 2014.
  3. Former Bears running back Tarik Cohen tore his Achilles tendon during a live-streamed workout on Instagram yesterday.
  4. If you haven’t read Cohen’s heartbreaking, self-penned “A Letter to My Younger Self,” we published the broad strokes over at Bears Insider.
  5. The NBA held its draft lottery drawing last night and the Magic will have this year’s first pick. It’s the fourth time that Orlando has won the lottery, with past picks including Dwight Howard, Chris Webber, and Shaquille O’Neal.
  6. Even after a recent blowup, cryptobros are still trying to lobby legislators in DC, taking aim at Joe Biden’s agenda, including his infrastructure bill.

They Said It

  • “[At] this moment, I don’t think too much. I just say, ‘Oh my God.’” – Morel
  • “It was everything all at once. The nerves were there. The excitement was there. The butterflies — you name it — it was all there.” – Hughes

Wednesday Walk-Up Song

One Headlight by The Wallflowers

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