Hello, September: What the Cubs are looking for over final weeks
As the calendar flips to September, there’s still plenty for David Ross and his staff to assess as they play out the final 29 games of the season.
That applies to both veterans and the younger players on the Cubs’ roster.
“I think it’s important for everybody,” Ross told Marquee Sports Network’s Taylor McGregor prior to Tuesday night’s 3-1 win over the Twins in Minnesota.
In the case of someone like Kyle Hendricks, it provides him the opportunity to end the season on a high note. His current 4.43 ERA would be the highest of his big-league career, but it’s not entirely indicative of how he’s pitched. He’s proven to be the stopper for the Cubs this season and filled the role of ace for the team.
Aside from four starts — 2 against the Braves in April and 1 each against the Brewers and White Sox this month — Hendricks has a 2.96 ERA. He’s tied for fourth in baseball with 18 quality starts. That aligns more with his career numbers.
“I think you gotta turn on a little bit of that selfish mentality to try and go out there and continue to pitch your game and try to finish the season strong,” Ross said. “He’s been as consistent as anybody for us.”
For younger players, like Keegan Thompson and Justin Steele, September means more starts and more chances to prove they can be part of the starting rotation in 2022 and beyond.
“I think those guys need to take advantage of that,” Ross said. “You get a chance to start and try to go through a lineup a couple of times.
“That’s another task and something we’re putting on them that’s not easy and it’s not easy to transition in the middle of the season, but they’re doing a nice job of working and preparing and being able to take that mound and prove themselves.”
Still, for others, September provides an opportunity to play again and have some final at-bats and pitch some innings after some injury.
Adbert Alzolay, who was placed on the injured list on August 14 with a left hamstring strain, could be added on Wednesday, when rosters are expanded from 26 to 28. He’ll pitch out of the bullpen when he does return.
“Try to control his innings out of the pen, unless something changes in our rotation,” Ross said.
Willson Contreras, who’s on the IL with a knee sprain, and Nico Hoerner, who’s on the IL with an oblique strain since late July, are both inching their way back. Contreras played in Iowa on Tuesday and went 1-for-3 with a home run while playing 5 innings behind the plate. Hoerner has ramped up baseball activities and Ross is bullish on his return before the end of the season.
“Hopefully within a week or so we can send him out, but again, listen to his body and make sure we’re doing the right thing,” Ross said.
The addition of those two will boost an offense that has shown some encouraging signs to Ross.
“I’ve been extremely happy with the offense,” Ross said. “Just making more contact, using the whole field.”
And that’s the overall theme of what Ross is hoping to see over the final few weeks of the 2021 season: improvement.
“I think it’s important for everybody to continue to work to try and get better,” Ross said.