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So, not only do the Cubs have heretofore unreported-upon young arm talent in their organization, but they might just have something approaching unlimited pitching depth there? And this happened how?
The first-place North Siders (30-23 heading into Tuesday) put a fearsome 12th player from their early-season roster on the injured list Monday, announcing that starting pitcher Trevor Williams had undergone an appendectomy. But that just meant yet another promising prospect would make the trip to The Show.
This time it was Kohl Stewart, who hustled back to the big leagues (he was there with the Twins a few times late last decade) in time to toss five innings of one-run (unearned) ball and spark the Cubs to a delightful (five homers) 7-2 home victory over the powerhouse Padres. I will never get used to writing those last two words, but the 34-and-21 team from San Diego has absolutely deserved it so far this season.
Stewart has been in professional baseball for a long time (he was drafted fourth overall in 2013, a few picks after Kris Bryant) after signing his first contract right out of high school. But he is all of 26-years-old at this point, so he still qualifies as a prospect in my book. He doesn't have the nasty velocity that so many young hurlers seem to possess these days, but his primary breaking ball featured consistent, late sink on Monday as he posted ground-ball out after ground-ball out.
Speaking of nasty velocity, recent call-up Tommy Nance ended up finishing the game with a one-two-three ninth. Nance took the long road to the majors, toiling in minor-league obscurity for a decade. But (as was pointed out by Jim Deshaies on the broadcast) he definitely doesn't fit the mold of most of the pitchers like that, guys who have hung on with guile and clever breaking stuff. Nance entered the ninth firing 96-mile-per-hour tailing fastballs that were flat-out filthy.
In between, reliever Keegan Thompson tossed a couple critical bridge innings. Yet another relatively recent call-up, Thompson did give up his first run of the season on MVP-candidate Fernando Tatis Jr.'s solo home run, but on a day when batted balls were carrying a long way Thompson avoided the pre-homerun walks that often make the difference.
At the plate, Javy (it is time to just refer to El Mago by one name) launched a glorious, 455-foot, two-run home run to center field to start the scoring and Kris Bryant enjoyed a particularly lucky day. He watched centerfielder Jurickson Profar play what should have been the first-ever, MVP-worthy utility player's line-drive single into a triple early on. And then he benefited from much kinder-than-usual, early-season atmospheric conditions (light wind mostly blowing out) to notch a two-run home run later on. Recent call-up third baseman Patrick Wisdom had two solo home runs and Javy added another solo shot later on.
Going into this season the vast majority of professional prognosticators believed the Cubs' pitching staff - especially their bullpen - would prove wanting. And based on prospect rankings it sure didn't seem as though there would be much help in the minors.
It didn't help of course that the Cubs all but gave away ace Yu Darvish (and switch-hitting Victor Caratini - perhaps the best back-up catcher in the majors) in a monstrously bad trade in the offseason that only made even a little bit of sense when viewed as a desperate move to reduce payroll. I realize the Rickettses lost plenty of money during the pandemic but they have more than enough in reserve. Oh, and if things get really bad they could always sell at least part of the team, valued most recently by Forbes at about $3.5 BILLION.
The Darvish trade lives in infamy. Nothing that happens this season will change that. Oh, and Darvish has continued to pitch like an ace for the Padres. He struggled his last outing but his ERA is still 2.16.
Overall, there is obviously still a long way to go this season. But the team that leads the Cardinals by a half-game going into Tuesday obviously has much to celebrate after its best May of baseball since 1977.
Monday's game was also a great start to a tough stretch of schedule. The Cubs play the Padres on Tuesday and Wednesday of this week, then head to San Francisco (the Giants are a surprising 34-20) for four and finally to San Diego for three more.
Jim "Coach" Coffman welcomes your comments.
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