The Rundown: Morel-Contreras Pairing Strikes Again, Estrada Electric in MLB Debut, La Russa Down, Ohtani-Judge MVP Debate Rages
“You just call on me brother, when you need a hand…” – Bill Withers, Lean on Me
One of the reasons I want the Cubs to retain Willson Contreras is because he’s such a positive influence on Christopher Morel and other young players. The All-Star catcher has been a mentor to Morel this season and the rookie has flourished. Though the Cubs lost 5-3 to the Blue Jays last night, Morel was 2-for-4 with a home run and a double. Contreras also blasted a home run before leaving with a bum ankle.
When the 2021 season ended, Morel was ranked No. 20 in Chicago’s system by MLB Pipeline despite possessing elite bat speed and exit velocities that were among the best in the system. He has legitimate opposite-field pop, too. The Cubs promoted him on May 17 and he hit a home run in his first big league at-bat, an epic blast that provided a great example of that bat speed. Nobody was more excited for Morel than Contreras.
To say Contreras has played a huge part in the rookie’s development is an understatement. The two have been part of several viral moments this season demonstrating their tight relationship, just like that first home run.
After Morel got down 0-2 in the final AB, he looked back at Contreras, who reminded him to take a deep breath.
Morel said that helped him refocus and ultimately led to the walk-off sac fly. pic.twitter.com/oPCoHlGnxr
— Tony Andracki (@TonyAndracki23) June 2, 2022
“That’s why I’m here,” Contreras said when asked about his relationship with Morel. “I’m here to pick everybody up, to pick up on every detail as much as I can. I’m not going to be able to pick up every detail, every game, but those little things matter to me.”
Morel is going to be an integral part of Chicago’s future because he’s versatile and has had success as a leadoff hitter and a No. 9 batter. The 23-year-old looks like a guy who’s happy to play or hit anywhere as long as he’s helping the team try to win ballgames. In fact, if you go back to Contreras’ rookie season, you’ll see a lot of similarities between the two. The backstop also homered in his first MLB at-bat (video here), but I’m talking more about general enthusiasm and the desire to continually improve.
“He’s always there for me,” Morel said of Contreras through his interpreter just ahead of this year’s trade deadline. “Outside of the cameras, and outside of the game, he does so much inside of the ballpark, outside of the ballpark. He treats me like a friend. He treats me like family. I’m really grateful to him for everything he’s doing that doesn’t show up on the cameras to help me out.”
I still think the correct course of action this winter is to sign Contreras, trade Yan Gomes, and let P.J. Higgins serve as the team’s backup. The Cubs have a lot of young players who will get their first taste of major league action in the next three seasons. I’d love to see the veteran backstop provide the same type of guidance to Brennen Davis and Pete Crow-Armstrong. That type of leadership wins championships, and Jon Lester is proof. Contreras can be that Lester-like influence.
Cubs News & Notes
- Marcus Stroman made an emotional return to Toronto and pitched well last night. The Blue Jays drafted Stro No. 22 overall in 2012.
- The Cubs’ top seven draft picks from 2017 have all reached the bigs after last night’s major league debuts of relievers Jeremiah Estrada and Brendon Little. Estrada was electric in one inning of work and looks like a potential closer. Little had a much rougher debut.
- Little has committed to a sinker/breaking ball mix that has made him more effective as a reliever. He was drafted as a starter and he’s Rule 5-eligible this winter.
- The Cubs have used 60 players so far this season, nine short of the MLB record they set in 2021.
- Contreras will get treatment on his ankle today along with some rest. He’ll probably sit out today and the Cubs are off tomorrow. The catcher rolled his ankle during the Field of Dreams game earlier this month and missed four games last week after it swelled up.
- If you are truly interested in looking at potential trade packages for Shohei Ohtani, have at it. I find the whole ordeal farcical. The juice just ain’t worth the squeeze, especially when signing him as a free agent will only cost (wheelbarrows of) money and a draft pick.
- Davis returned to Iowa last night and hit a solo home run.
- I can’t help but think that tater was a little vindication aimed at the analysts who have mislabeled the minor league centerfielder as injury-prone.
- The 22-year-old outfielder appeared in five Rookie Ball games in Arizona and five High-A games with South Bend as part of his rehab assignment. Davis combined to go 8-for-23 with a home run between the two stops.
- Matt Mervis has turned into one of the best hitters in Chicago’s organization.
- Alderman Tom Tunney, who has been a thorn in the side of Cubs’ chairman Tom Ricketts, announced he will retire at the end of his term next year.
Odds & Sods
Prepare to spend the rest of the season debating the merits of choosing Ohtani over Aaron Judge for AL MVP, and vice versa.
I understand that Michael Kay's job is to be a Yankees homer, but, no, "Judge has a higher WAR than Ohtani" isn't the "final argument."
Ohtani breaks WAR. It's not at all a difficult concept to understand. Yankees fans are just choosing to ignore that because it's convenient https://t.co/rSRtNRxzHt
— Frank Piscani 🤌 (@frankpiscani) August 31, 2022
Climbing the Ladder
“There is a blue one who can’t accept the green one for living with a fat one tryin’ to be a skinny one…” – Sly & The Family Stone, Everyday People
Nick Madrigal had another hit last night and his OBP continues to climb. It’s .314 this season but .341 for his career. If Nicky Two Strikes can continue to get on base that frequently, the Cubs will have a bona fide leadoff hitter. Seiya Suzuki had two hits last night, his fourth multi-hit outing in six games. Morel is still a much better hitter at home than away, as evidenced by his home road OPS splits (.852/.662).
- Games Played: 130
- Total Plate Appearances: 4,911
- Total Strikeouts: 1,145
- Strikeout Rate: 23.32%
- Team Batting Average: .241
- Runs Scored: 536
- Runs Allowed: 625
How About That!
White Sox manager Tony La Russa missed last night’s game because of an unspecified medical issue. The team said the 77-year-old Hall of Famer was out on the recommendation of his doctors and would undergo further testing Wednesday. FWIW, the ChiSox still lost.
La Russa’s absence was announced about one hour before the first pitch. He showed no signs of health trouble during his pregame session with reporters. Bench coach Miguel Cairo will manage in La Russa’s absence.
If there’s one playoff match I’m actually rooting for, it’s the Guardians vs. the Orioles. Cal Quantrill and a couple of Cleveland relievers one-hit Baltimore last night. The Guardians lead the AL West and the Orioles are three games out of the final Wild Card berth. Reminds me of the heady days of Brooks Robinson and Frank Robinson.
The Dodgers have 90 wins with 34 games left in their season and they are on pace to win 114 games. The 2001 Mariners won 116 games under Lou Piniella and I’m going to predict that Los Angeles tops that. They’ve got a tough schedule, not that that matters.
Former MLB All-Star Tom Browning was arrested after reportedly crashing his car into a house.
There’s nothing like getting publicly friend-zoned at a Brewers game.
Tuesday’s Three Stars
- Nick Gordon – FlashG3 was 2-for-4 with a grand slam in Minnesota’s 10-6 win over the Red Sox. The Twins second baseman plated six runners, and (damn) he’d look good in Cubbie pinstripes. He’d be a star with regular at-bats.
- Nick Pratto – The Kansas City first baseman was 4-for 5 with a pair of dongs, a double, and three RBI in leading the Royals to a 9-7 win over the Pale Hose.
- Jose Siri – The Rays always have that one underachieving player that comes out of nowhere to have a big game, and that was Siri last night. The center fielder was 3-for-4 with a homer, a double, three runs scored, and two RBI. He’ll get the first pick of the donuts at today’s breakfast buffet.
Apropos of Nothing
What brought you to Cubs Insider and what keeps you following us? I started following Evan Altman because of his Bears articles at ChicagoNow. I almost abandoned CI because at its onset I wasn’t a fan of some of the site’s other contributors. Evan’s articles were great, and I also liked “A Tip of the Recap.” That said, I think Sean Holland provides CI’s best game recaps.
You’ll get bonus points for honesty if you tell me which Cubs blog you like better.
Brothers for life!
Christopher Morel connects on a go-ahead blast! pic.twitter.com/obllrXPbxa
— Chicago Cubs (@Cubs) August 31, 2022
Wednesday Morning Six-Pack
- Yesterday was cut-down day in the NFL, and the Bears submitted their regular season roster to the league with little fanfare and few surprises. Cornerback Thomas Graham Jr. and offensive lineman Michael Schofield were the team’s biggest names to hit waivers.
- There were certainly no surprises at quarterback. Justin Fields is the starter, Trevor Siemian will back him up, and though Nathan Peterman was released, he is expected to be part of Chicago’s practice squad.
- The nation’s richest individuals are clutching those pearls a lot tighter, and that’s bad news for the middle and lower class. But hey, we’re not in a recession.
- Why it matters: Spending from the top 20% of earners made up nearly 40% of total consumer spending in the United States in 2020, according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. And consumer spending is the most important driver of US economic growth.
- Where are all the hurricanes? Today is the last day of August and we haven’t had a named storm all month. That’s the first time it’s happened since 1997. It looks like September will be a much more volatile month in the Atlantic Basin.
- NASA said it’s going to reattempt a moon launch of its Space Launch System rocket on Saturday after the first one had to be scrubbed on Monday.
They Said It
- “The thing about Morel is just the way he gets on base, the way he looks in the dugout, the way he claps, the energy he brings. His love for the game is contagious, and I think a lot of guys just feed off that, for sure. He’s a real baseball player. You tell him something, he’s able to put it into action really fast, whether it’s defensively or on the bases. He’s learning really fast.” – David Ross
- “We’re always thinking about how to make our club better, current and in the future. Part of that is getting opportunities for players who report [at the end of the season]. I think we’re excited about getting the young guys in, getting them consistent at-bats and leveraged innings. From our front office standpoint and from Rossy’s standpoint as well, (our focus also) is learning as much as we can about the people that are going to be a part of our next teams going forward.” – Carter Hawkins
- “Just seeing the pitches better and swinging at better pitches in the zone. It wasn’t anything crazy, it’s part of the game. You’re going to go through tough stretches and other stretches where you feel really good. It’s just part of getting back out there and getting some more at-bats under my belt.” – Madrigal
Wednesday Walk-Up Song
Imagine if all of our space launches were astronaut-less. We might have never heard this great song by David Bowie.