Every start Marcus Stroman makes further complicates a tough decision that awaits the Chicago Cubs next month.
The Cubs ended their four-game losing streak Friday night against the San Francisco Giants with a 3-2 victory behind Stroman’s major-league best 12th quality start and Nico Hoerner’s clutch two-run single off the bench in the seventh.
“He knows what he wants to do, doesn’t give in, stubborn to 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 out there and continues to perform.”
Stroman’s consistency goes back to last season. In his last 21 starts, dating to Aug. 30, the right-hander has allowed two runs or fewer in 17 of his those outings, owning a 2.33 ERA for the lowest ERA in the majors in that span (min. 20 starts).
He went 22 consecutive innings without allowing an earned run, which ended in the third inning Friday — it was 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 had been preceded by a team loss. Knowing the consistency they will get nearly every time he’s on the mound this year has been hugely important for a team trying to get on track. His performance has taken some pressure off the Cubs lineup, too, knowing three runs will often win them the game on Stroman’s start days.
“I’m just a product of my preparation and my work,” Stroman said. “So I wouldn’t consider myself a ‘stopper,’ but if that’s labeled, I guess that’s something good to be labeled as.”
Hoerner had a rare chance to take in Stroman’s start the dugout and see how the pitcher operates from a different angle.
“So much of the highlights show of him expressing himself in the big moments, which I love too, but I’m so impressed by just how steady he is pitch-to-pitch and how he shows up every day,” Hoerner said. “Things going well, things not going well, he shows up and he controls everything that he can, and he’s given us a chance to win basically every single time he’s taking the ball, which is all you can ask for.”
Every week the Cubs move closer to the Aug. 1 trade deadline time continues to tick down on the decision the front office must make on Stroman’s future. His player opt out at the end of the season can not be ignored. The Cubs need to get hot as a team, and that is hard to envision if the offensive doesn’t pick it up soon.
Stroman is positioning himself to be one of, if not the most, valuable player a contending team could acquire in the coming weeks. He could net the organization valuable pieces for 2024. But the Cubs choosing to lose that type of starting pitcher — even with the control Stroman possesses on his future after the season — would be a worst-case outcome for the direction of their season.
Stroman currently owns 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 in the majors.
“He’s right up there with the best pitchers in the game right now and that’s an incredibly valuable thing to have on your side,” Hoerner said. “Grateful he’s with us.”
The Cubs need more from their offense if they’re going to start chipping away at their division deficit — currently 6½ games back of Pittsburgh and Milwaukee. Getting closer to .500 would be a good start.
They recalled infielder Nick Madrigal before Friday’s series opener and optioned infielder Miles Mastrobuoni to Triple-A Iowa.
Madrigal hit well at Iowa, posting a .488 average and .580 on-base percentage in 11 games since he was sent down. He showed some pop and line-drive capabilities, tallying six doubles, three triples and one home run in 41 at-bats. Ross indicated Madrigal has an opportunity at consistent at-bats in majors right now. Patrick Wisdom’s recent struggles have been especially pronounced: he’s hitting .149 and struck out 43 times in 87 at-bats dating to May 1.
Madrigal said he hasn’t felt this good at the plate since he was with the White Sox.
“At the end of the day, it was just getting back to the basics and just playing,” Madrigal said. “I had faith in myself. I didn’t doubt my abilities one bit, but in those times, a lot of emotions, but just kept it simple and went out there and played.
“I was seeing it like whiffle ball out there and that’s when you know things are going great.”
Madrigal got the start at second and hit leadoff Friday, going 0-for-3 with a walk and strikeout. It was part of an overhauled order that saw Mike Tauchman bat second, Seiya Suzuki, who recorded a three-hit game, in the three-spot with Ian Happ and Dansby Swanson hitting behind him.
The switched-up look still didn’t provide the type of breakout game offensively Ross had hoped for.
“Just shake something up,” Ross said. “Sometimes a little something different, fresh lineup, something new, hope we can create a spark.”