Before the Chicago Cubs’ 8-6 win against the Atlanta Braves on Saturday at Wrigley Field, manager David Ross discussed his decision to sit slumping right fielder Seiya Suzuki, one of President Jed Hoyer’s biggest free-agent signings of the last two years.
The talking points weren’t surprising.
Ross wanted Suzuki to work on his approach, which he described as “in-between,” adding the Cubs were trying to get him a plan to “think the right thoughts” at the plate.
“He knows he has to work on some things,” Ross said. “It’s hard to do that in-game. We’ll give him some time, and he’ll be back in there when we feel like he can help us win games.”
When that would be was a question Ross couldn’t answer, but he admitted he was “fortunate” to have enough players in a groove that he could afford to sit one of his starters.
Ross has endured much criticism this season over his lineups and pitching moves, but to his credit he never has wavered on doing what he thought was best for the team, even if it made him a human pin cushion on social media.
But does Ross have complete autonomy to bench a would-be star whom Hoyer made one of the core players of what he hoped would be “the next great Cubs team”?
“I talk to Jed about everything,” Ross said. “Jed is my boss, so I don’t know if I have autonomy over anything.”
But if Ross wanted to make a decision Hoyer didn’t agree with, would he do it anyway?
“We talk through what’s best for the players,” Ross said. “Jed doesn’t ever tell me I have to do something. He doesn’t tell me I don’t have to do something. We talk through it and feel like what makes the most sense for us as a group.
“There is no ‘You’ve got to do this,’ or ‘You’ve got to do that.’ We’re in this thing together and try to do what’s best for the group. We know Seiya is not in a place he needs to be. Jed sees that. I see that. We try to work to get him better.”
With 51 games remaining in a season in which the Cubs have dug themselves out of a big hole, every decision from here on out will undergo added scrutiny. The Cubs were two games behind the first-place Milwaukee Brewers after the win and one game out of the third wild-card spot.
Justin Steele faces veteran Charlie Morton on Sunday in the series finale before the Cubs’ six-game trip to New York and Toronto.
After losing 8-0 on Friday and looking like a team that wasn’t in the same area code as the dominant Braves, the Cubs burst out to a quick lead and hung on against the league’s best lineup.
Dansby Swanson’s two-run home run against former teammate Bryce Elder keyed a five-run first that gave spot starter Javier Assad room to breathe, and Jeimer Canderlario and Ian Happ added solo shots as the Cubs evened the series.
Swanson has five home runs on the homestand and seven in his last 12 games after hitting 10 in his first 99 games as a Cub.
“Coming off the IL (on July 22), I was able to get a little bit of a fresh perspective on hitting and how I was doing,” Swanson said. “I just feel like I’ve been able to hit good pitches recently. At times early in the year it felt like I was missing a lot of good pitches. This last couple weeks I feel like I’ve just hit ‘em. Sometimes it’s just a little bit of a difference in timing, and usually here in the summer the wind starts blowing out, so that helps a little bit too.”
Assad threw a season-high 83 pitches moving into Marcus Stroman’s spot in the rotation, allowing two runs over 3 2/3 innings. The game’s biggest moment came in the sixth when Mark Leiter Jr. struck out Austin Riley to end the inning with the bases loaded and the Cubs up 7-4. The bullpen horses — Michael Fulmer, Leiter, Julian Merryweather and Adbert Alzolay — have been among the keys to the Cubs’ turnaround, though Leiter credited Assad, who came in with an 0.40 ERA in nine relief appearances since June 27.
“I think the world of Javy, I think he’s one of the best pitchers in baseball to be completely honest,” Leiter said. “Having been a long reliever, it’s the most difficult job in the game, and he’ handled it like a machine. He’s able to do so many different things for us, so for him to be able to step in there against one of the best teams in all of baseball and give us a chance to win the game speaks volumes to the work he puts in and the preparedness he has.”
The Cubs have shown they have enough offense to roll over pitching-poor teams such as the Cincinnati Reds and St. Louis Cardinals, but doing it against the Braves after being shut out Friday showed some resiliency. Happ insisted the series against the Braves was no different than any other.
“You guys asked about this when we played the Rays,” Happ said, showing he has a good memory.
The Rays were the best team in baseball and the Cubs were eight games under .500 when they met at the end of May. Winning two of three from the Rays didn’t kick-start the Cubs, who didn’t get over .500 until July 30 in St. Louis.
Winning a series against the Braves might not mean anything in the long run, but for Cubs fans who’ve waited patiently for a team to believe in, Sunday’s game is as big as it gets.
Source: Berkshire mont