Marcus Stroman wasn’t particularly sharp at the outset of Sunday’s game in San Diego, but he didn’t really need to be when his offense spotted him seven runs in the first three innings. That gave the demonstrative righty plenty of time to work through some adjustments on the mound, which he was able to do by the 5th inning.
He retired six consecutive batters to end his outing and notched three of his six strikeouts, including a big one against Juan Soto leading off Stroman’s penultimate frame. Soto had walked and driven in the Padres’ only run in two previous plate appearances, and he was engaged in another of his patented patient PAs the third time up. After falling behind 0-2, Soto took a four-seam and splitter to even the count before being frozen on a perfect two-seamer at the knees.
As the slugger looked on with an incredulous smirk, Stroman imitated Soto’s little shuffle move as a fun bit of what he later said was “just some gamesmanship.” Soto seemed to be taking it in with equal parts good humor and respect, though he was certainly making a mental note for the next time these two face each other.
The Stroman Shuffle. pic.twitter.com/RX6rSaY9xS
— Marquee Sports Network (@WatchMarquee) June 4, 2023
“Just having fun,” Stroman tweeted after the game. “Soto will go down as one of the best to ever play this game. I enjoy competing against the GOATS. There’ll be another day when he hits a homerun [sic] off me and I’ll tip my cap. He’s a true legend!”
Depending on what happens with the Cubs over the next few weeks, that next matchup could come with Stroman in a different uniform. He’s said he wants to stay in Chicago well into the future, however, and his performance is making a strong case for him to be well worth an extension. Stroman is 4-0 with a 0.93 ERA over his last four games, all against strong teams, and now finds himself in the NL Cy Young conversation.
Zac Gallen is the frontrunner at this point and one could argue that Stroman isn’t even the best candidate on his own team, but Stro’s 2.39 ERA is second in the NL and he looks to be hitting his stride. He’s been nails since an awful outing in Minnesota that saw him struggle to make adjustments mid-game, and it’s worth noting that the Cubs have long emphasized the importance of seeing how players respond to adversity.
Whether he ends up with some hardware or not, Stroman is showing that he can be more valuable to the Cubs as a long-term member of the organization rather than as a trade chip. Assuming, that is, the front office is indeed serious about trying to be competitive in the immediate future. It’s not like anyone in the Central is trying to run away with the division, so we’re not talking about much of an overhaul here.
Stroman’s pitching his way into a lot more money than just the $21 million on his player option for next season, but continuing to perform like this through July might see him getting that payday from the Cubs.