The Matt Mervis hype train pulled into the station at 1060 West Addison last Friday morning with as much steam as any prospect debut in recent memory, relatively speaking. While Kris Bryant was the No. 2 overall pick — Thanks again, Astros! — and had a billboard overlooking Wrigley Field well before his actual arrival, Mervis came out of nowhere last season as far as a vast majority of fans were concerned. Not that CI readers were caught by surprise, mind you.
It didn’t help that the front office downplayed the very idea of a promotion to the point where some believed the call wouldn’t come until at least June. By the time news broke that Mervis would indeed be coming up to face the Marlins, the buildup had grown to the point that there was legitimate concern among at least a few fans that anything less than immediate success would lead to Cubs faithful souring on the rookie right out of the gate.
Amazingly enough, that actually happened in some corners, with a commenter bombing several posts on our Facebook page after Mervis opened 0-for-3 with a pair of strikeouts. It’s not worth going all Andy Dufresne to wade back through the comments, but those takes got real cold real fast.
Mervis came through with a rocket RBI single that left his bat at over 111 mph, then followed it up with another on Saturday to put the Cubs on the board. He started out 2-for-2 against Marlins ace Sandy Alcántara on Sunday, which was all the more impressive given how hard the reigning Cy Young winner has been on left-handed batters this season, and even made some really nice plays over at first base.
That last little tidbit is notable for a couple of reasons, the first of which is that Mervis was supposed to have been something of a project over at first. Some of those concerns may have been overblown, kind of like with KB several years ago, though it was interesting to see Mervis at first with Eric Hosmer in the lineup as the DH. That’s something we’ve seen with Trey Mancini more than once and it speaks to the diminution, or perhaps “shift” is a more appropriate euphemism, of Hosmer’s role.
The 33-year-old knew this day was coming and he vowed back before the Cubs headed to Miami that he would embrace the rookie and “pay it forward” just like former Royals teammates did for him. It sure seemed then as though the Cubs were going to promote Mervis for what ended up being a disastrous road trip, but now it looks like the front office used those games as a litmus test.
After going 1-6 with a handful of one-run losses, the brass knew it was time to spark the offense. So Mervis came up and Hosmer will assume a role more similar to the one Edwin Ríos had occupied as an occasional bench bat, albeit with more leadership responsibilities.
“He’s been supportive the whole way,” Mervis said of Hosmer. “He worked with me defensively in spring training. He mentioned getting to work on defense here. It means a lot to me. He’s a guy that has accomplished so much in his career and won and done an incredible job in his time in the big leagues.
“To have somebody like that in my corner, it means a lot to me and makes me excited to get to work with him.”
Though some of you might not really care for the idea, Hosmer is likely to stick around for a while longer at this point. Assuming he’s truly willing to accept the role of mentor, the nominal paycheck he’s drawing makes his reduced role easy for the Cubs to accept. And hey, he was even able to come through in a big way on Sunday afternoon to tie the game late.
Like the veteran backup QB holding a clipboard and reviewing video with the young hotshot signal-caller, Hosmer may actually find himself being viewed in a better light by fans who questioned his acquisition in the first place and wanted him DFA’d for Mervis. It’s actually a little bit like how David Ross functioned on that 2016 team, especially after Willson Contreras came up.
It makes sense that the manager would see the value in having someone else like that on his roster.
“Hos has been as pro as it gets,” Ross told reporters. “He understands that it’s all about winning and trying to help the next guy and giving back. When you have veterans that feel like they want to give back to our game and the players that are coming, I think it’s very important.”
Of course, the most important aspect of all this is that it makes the Cubs better. They’ve got a .500 record and they’re just 2.5 games behind the division-leading Pirates after Sunday’s loss, yet their +46 run differential is the second-highest in the NL (Braves +56). The bugaboo has been those close losses, as the Cubs’ 2-8 record in one-run games is what’s keeping them well below their 22-12 expected record.
There’s a fair bit of luck in those tight games and the results should even out a bit over time, but it never hurts to stack the odds just a bit. So even though it was Hosmer coming through to tie the game while Mervis was unable to author a walk-off win in three extra-inning attempts, having the combination of experience and potential should spur the Cubs to pull more of that good fortune to their side over the rest of the season.
Maybe that pairing will even be enough to have us talking about Hosmervis before long.