A new legacy: Journeymen writing their own story with Cubs
The story of the Chicago Cubs changes with each passing season.
The team went from a “Lovable Losers” label to accomplishing the greatest championship in American sports history in 2016. Talk of a potential dynasty followed before a trio of seasons (2018-20) ended earlier than the Cubs had hoped.
That culminated in an unprecedented trade deadline this summer with a bunch of core members from that World Series-winning team boarding a plane to join new teams.
Now it’s time for a new chapter in Chicago, with a group led by baseball journeymen with something to prove.
Each player carries a chip on his shoulder, which serves as a powerful weapon. They showed what kind of asset it can be during the recent 7-game winning streak.
Frank Schwindel refused to let his team lose over Labor Day weekend and earned National League Player of the Week honors for his efforts.
Adrian Sampson notched his second start with the Cubs Tuesday night against the Reds and battled back to give his team 5 strong innings after surrendering a pair of solo homers in the opening frame.
Rafael Ortega didn’t start Tuesday’s game but came off the bench and tried to singlehandedly start a rally with a pinch-hit homer in the bottom of the 8th inning.
Patrick Wisdom finds his name firmly in the National League Rookie of the Year conversation despite a recent slump.
Matt Duffy deviated from his high-contact, low-slug approach Sunday for a 2-homer game and has played all over the field for the Cubs this season while helping to transform the offense at points.
All these players have bounced around the baseball world, including a stint from Sampson in Korea last year.
They’ve found a home with the Cubs amid a unique situation on Chicago’s North Side in 2021. Who knows what the future holds for each individual but the Cubs coaching staff is urging these 29- and 30-year-old players to keep forcing the issue.
“As long as you’re hungry for more and pushing for more, you’re more concerned about your trajectory than you are your legacy,” bench coach Andy Green said. “For these guys, there is no legacy here so they’ve got a long way to go.
“There was a legacy for the group that came before for Willson [Contreras] and Kyle [Hendricks], but other than those few guys, these guys need to establish something. So they’re just pushing forward.”
The Cubs won’t put any of these late bloomers into a box and make any sweeping claims about what they can and cannot be as big-league players. Sure, they’re not 23-year-old rookies but each member of the journeymen group has demonstrated staying power in their own way.
And there’s no substitute for the motivation to prove doubters wrong.
“There’s a beauty in being cast aside and people start to doubt you that it really triggers inside some guys this really competitive nature,” Green said. “It really helps them become what people thought they could become. I think you look across our roster, it’s littered with guys in that category.”
Sampson definitely fits into that category, delivering an epic line after his Cubs debut on Aug. 18. It was his first outing against the Reds and he hopped on Zoom after the game, comparing the situation with the Cubs to HBO’s megahit TV show.
“Right now, it’s almost Game of Thrones-esque,” Sampson said then. “We’re being asked what kind of role we want to play in this organization going forward. It’s ours for the taking. If you want it, you gotta go get it. That’s my thought process.
“I really want this job and I’m gonna do everything I can to be successful.”
Green has seen that same fire from Sampson every time he’s taken the ball for the Cubs in his first three weeks with the team.
“He knows he’s in an ‘eat what you kill’ situation,” Green said. “You don’t get to continue to pitch at the big-league level unless you pitch really well. And that hunger, that drive I think is showing when he steps on the mound.”
After battling to keep his team in the game Tuesday night against the Reds, Sampson now has a 2.20 ERA and 1.16 WHIP in 16.1 innings with the Cubs.
The 29-year-old right-hander has loved the vibe in Chicago since his promotion from Triple-A Iowa last month.
“It’s a great group. It’s a group you want to show up every day and play for,” Sampson said. “It starts with the staff and they gave you all the right info you need to get these guys out. It’s almost like you’re playing with your friends out there. Everyone’s cheering each other along and it doesn’t seem like we’re ever out of the game.
“We were down most of the game today but it never felt like we were truly out of the game. It just shows the camaraderie between the guys and the trust they have between the guys. I love playing with these guys. They’re great people.”
Sampson isn’t the only player who has recognized the chemistry and camaraderie of this Cubs group. It took them a bit to find their groove after a wild trade deadline but the energy, passion and production has been enough to impress Contreras.
Especially from those who have been cast aside by multiple teams before landing with the Cubs.
“They should take it personally,” Contreras said. “I know that a few guys have been in different organizations and right now they have the opportunity to be an everyday player with the Cubs and they’re doing amazing. No one expects them to be as good as they are right now. We have really good talent. I see that.
“The way they’re playing right now is nothing but amazing. The way they make adjustments in the game and the energy is there. I haven’t felt this way in a really long time and I like what I see. When I came back from my IL stint, I really loved the energy that we have right now and the chemistry is getting a lot better. I think the future’s bright and they’re gonna be really good.”