Why veterans believe the Cubs are on the right track
Many injured players choose to spend a lot of time at home during their recovery when there’s nothing to do but rest.
And when it comes time to build back up and get some work in, most Cubs players head to the team’s complex in Arizona.
Not Wade Miley.
The veteran southpaw has been on the IL for much of this season with elbow and shoulder injuries but he’s been with the big league team just about every step of the way (save for a few minor league rehab outings). He is at Wrigley Field for every homestand and is a regular on the road trips.
Through it all, he’s been a big clubhouse presence even if he hasn’t been able to contribute much on the field.
“It’s 120 degrees in Arizona,” Miley deadpanned last weekend in Milwaukee. “I really didn’t want to go to Arizona. Very thankful that I was able to stay here and work with [head trainer P.J. Mainville] and the guys here. I just love being around the team.
“Like, I love this. It’s fun with the young guys and maybe helping them out a little bit. And they’re helping me out — learning new things. The game’s changing a little bit. I just like the environment we have and being around it.”
Miley is 35 and in his 12th MLB season. He has exactly 1,600 big league innings under his belt and has played in the postseason with the 2018 Brewers and 2019 Astros. He was an All-Star in 2012.
Yet he’s still learning from players like Justin Steele and Keegan Thompson and he sees winning in this team’s future.
“There’s talent here, no doubt,” Miley said. “We’re in a weird part of the year where it’s like, we’re not out of it but we’re out of it. It’s really hard but things can get really selfish this time of the year. Guys start going after their numbers. We need to be stubborn and understand it’s very important to play together and win games right now.
“I know Nico [Hoerner] said something maybe a couple weeks ago that I read how it’s like a tryout for other guys, other pieces, other free agents to come here to prove that we are close, that we’re not 2 or 3 years away from being a winning franchise again.
“Just making sure all these guys are pulling from the same side of the rope and trying to go out and hurt some people’s feelings. Go out here and knock the Brewers out of it, knock the Cardinals out of it. Do what we can to be spoilers. I know that sucks or maybe a miracle happens. Who knows?”
As Miley alluded to, Hoerner has been vocal about how important the final couple months of the 2022 season are for the offseason. He has also understands “winning is not something that you can just turn the switch on one day.”
Cubs president of baseball operations Jed Hoyer confirmed a similar sentiment — that a strong finish can help give the front office confidence the team is on the right track and it could lead to an aggressive offseason.
As it stands, Hoerner is a major reason why the Cubs feel confident about the future. Not only is he emerging as a leader, but he is enjoying a breakout season on the field. After a spectacular game Sunday, Hoerner now has 4.2 WAR (Baseball Reference) this season.
Steele has been baseball’s best pitcher over the last two months and carries a 3.18 ERA and 2.2 WAR. He joins Thompson, Patrick Wisdom, Seiya Suzuki, Christopher Morel, Brandon Hughes, Nelson Velázquez and others going through their first full MLB seasons.
“We have a lot of young guys in here that are hungry and they want to grow and they’re just trying to get better every day,” Drew Smyly said. “When you start to have some success, you gain confidence and you start to build on it.
“Once your confidence is up, this game is very streaky. If you’re feeling good, you really get on a roll. If you’re feeling bad, it can spiral on you pretty quickly. Right now, I just feel like we got one more month left and everybody wants to finish on a high note and show what they’re capable of.”
Smyly is a 33-year-old veteran in his 9th MLB season who helped the Atlanta Braves win the World Series last season. The prevailing thought was he might be traded at the deadline earlier this month but instead he stayed put and has posted a 0.90 ERA in 5 August starts for the Cubs.
Hoyer’s front office made a big splash just before the lockout by inking Marcus Stroman to a 2-year deal with a player option for 2024.
Stroman is another former All-Star who has pitched in the postseason with the Blue Jays (2015-16) and has routinely doled out rave reviews for the environment at Wrigley Field and the positive vibes in the clubhouse and dugout.
“We’ve always got great energy,” Stroman said after a start earlier this month. “We truly never feel like we’re down and out of a game. As far as personality-wise, everybody’s always upbeat and in tune and hoping that we do our best to come back despite any deficit.
“We have a great group of guys as far as energy. A bunch of young guys who love playing this game and we have a great balance.”
David Ross has been a part of a lot of winning — making the postseason seven times as a player and once as a manager. He has a pair of World Series rings and knows the euphoria that winning in Chicago can provide.
From the players to coaches, trainers and support staff, Ross feels the Cubs are doing everything they can to get back to that point.
“Everybody is coming in with a daily attitude of how can we get better today and help win baseball games?” Ross said. “I feel like we do a really good job of that as a whole in the locker room.”
Stroman is signed through at least next season but Smyly and Miley could become free agents after this season.
Yet both veteran southpaws have been very outspoken about their desire to return.
“I love it here,” Miley said. “It’s been great. I love the staff; I love the guys. The team’s great. We have some very talented players out here. There’s some pieces probably out there that they want to go find but it’s been a great clubhouse and a great experience.”
Smyly — who has a mutual option for 2023 — echoed those thoughts.
“I love pitching here,” he said. “I love being at Wrigley, I love being a Cub. They know that. I would love to stay here. I’ve made it clear that I love being on this team. But like I said, nothing I can do. They would have to come to me.”