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Cubs see Seiya Suzuki coming into his own at just the right time

10 months agoAndy Martinez and Tony Andracki

The Cubs were looking to put themselves back on the right path after a tough past two days.

Their hottest hitter — and one of their big free agent signings this past offseason — helped secure that.

Seiya Suzuki had 3 hits (including a 2-run homer) and 3 RBI and Jameson Taillon pitched 6 shutout innings, leading the Cubs to a 6-0 win over the Rockies on Friday afternoon at Wrigley Field. The win moves the Cubs a half game up on Miami for the final Wild Card spot, although the Marlins play Milwaukee later Friday night.

Suzuki has been on a torrid stretch this month, slashing .370/.429/.741 with 7 home runs and 22 RBI in September. He was 3-for-4 Friday and drove in the Cubs’ first 3 runs of the game.

This comes after he hit .321 with a 1.006 OPS in August.

“Confidence is a powerful thing,” David Ross said. “I think you’re just seeing Seiya come into his own and get really comfortable and confident within his play, being in the league a little bit, getting a lot of innings under your belt.

“Just going out there and playing free, not putting so much pressure on himself, being on a winning team where he doesn’t feel like he has to carry the load. There’s a lot of guys in there that have stepped up in different moments. Really nice game for him, big home run to stretch it out a little bit. He’s swung the bat really well.”

When the Cubs first acquired Jeimer Candelario before the trade deadline, it was Suzuki who was initially the odd man out of the lineup. He found himself on the bench often in the first 10 days of August, drawing starts only against left-handed pitchers.

Since then, he has been on an absolute tear.

Suzuki admitted if it was up to him, he would not have gone through that reset where he was not in the starting lineup. But he made the most of his time off.

“I think Rossy and Jed [Hoyer] made the best decision for me,” Suzuki said through translator Toy Matsushita. “I personally didn’t want to waste their time so it was about using time efficiently [during that reset]. I think I was able to do that, which is why I’m performing really well right now.”

In June and July, Suzuki slashed .212/.282/.296 (.578 OPS) with only 2 homers and 16 RBI in 46 games.

Suzuki acknowledged his turnaround hasn’t come from a mechanical or physical adjustment, but more mental and changing his approach at the plate.

“I wasn’t really able to contribute to the team in the first half of the season so I’m doing whatever I can for the team,” Suzuki said. “We only have so many games left and obviously all these games are really meaningful. I’m really happy that I’m getting my confidence back at the right time.”

Before the 2022 season, the Cubs gave Suzuki a 5-year, $85 million deal, paying him like a star. He has battled injuries and inconsistency in the two years since but right now, the Cubs see a different player.

“He’s been a good player for a long time in a different league,” Ross said. “He’s shown some signs and months here that he’s really, really talented. I think being able to handle the downs as well as the ups is something that just may have taken a minute over here.

“Putting pressure on yourself sometimes could be a big thing and you get a lot of money and you’re trying to carry a whole franchise on your back sometimes. I’ve been around players that try to do that. I don’t know if that’s his mindset but I know he wanted to perform better than he was at times.

“And just the ‘try harder’ sometimes we talk about can get in the way. I think a nice mental reset and some confidence coming out of that has been really good for him.”

And good for the Cubs, who have needed every bit of Suzuki’s contributions over the last two months in a tense playoff race.

The same can be said for Taillon, who gutted out a performance that his team desperately needed after dropping 4 straight series. The veteran starter has not had the year he hoped for but he was able to pick up his team Friday.

“The goal is to always not give up runs but today especially, I was just in the mindset of can’t let these guys score,” Taillon said. “I know I’m at a place where numbers don’t even matter anymore. It’s about just helping this team get wins down the stretch.

“I kinda told myself that coming to the park today: ‘This team went out and got me for a reason. I have an opportunity to go out and prove them right and have a good game on a day like today when we really needed it.’ Yeah, it felt good.”

The Cubs starting rotation has struggled of late and been bit by the injury bug, so Taillon’s outing can’t be understated. If they hope to make the playoffs, they’ll need him at this sort of level the rest of the way.

Marcus Stroman will take the mound for the Cubs on Saturday against Chris Flexen (1-8, 7.19 ERA). It will be Stroman’s first start since July 31. He returned from the IL last Friday and appeared in back-to-back games out of the bullpen for the Cubs last weekend in Arizona.

“We can’t forget he was one of the best starters in baseball for the first three months,” Taillon said of Stroman. “Any version we get back of him is gonna be great. He’s a competitor. He’s been around a long time, he’s pitched in big games. I’m excited to see him out there. He always brings energy. He loves pitching in front of Wrigley Field fans and stuff like that, so it should be fun.”

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