If there’s been a wart in All-Star Marcus Stroman’s contract year this season, it’s a walk rate that soared to a career-high 9.2% after four against the Cardinals on Thursday in the Cubs’ 7-2 loss.
On the plus side, impact is usually minimized by its constant ability to generate soft contact with the ground.
If there was one wart to focus on in the Cubs’ game behind their ace in the opener of a four-game series with their archrivals, it would be the two errors – and one more error – at third base by Patrick Wisdom, leading to an unearned run in the first inning.
“We never gave [Stroman] a real chance to get into a rhythm,” manager David Ross said. “There are a lot of pretty standard major league plays that should have been made behind him.”
Both errors conspired to up Stroman’s pitching count early, putting the Cubs’ innings leader in the showers before completing four innings to 99 pitches. But not before Jordan Walker’s two-run home run on a hanging slurve and Nolan Arenado’s double against the block opened things up in a four-run Cardinals quarter.
“I was just a little off mechanically, missing the zone, falling behind in the tallies,” Stroman said. “[The Cardinals] have a bunch of guys who prioritize the battle, keeping score deep, doing a really good job of just swinging at strikes. I feel like they haven’t expanded in the area at all, so my tone count has gotten really high.
Paul DeJong’s two-run off fielder off reliever Michael Rucker in the fifth inning only set the tone for the night.
The Cubs may not have publicly stated a direction for the upcoming August 1 trade deadline, but their counterparts for the weekend are declared sellers. And the Cardinals are just 1 1/2 games behind the Cubs in National League Central.
There is a consistently good to great track record over Stroman’s nine-year major league career and a 57.8% ground ball rate, second best in the majors, testament to the continued effectiveness of his sinker. Coupled with a 3.09 ERA, there are many reasons why he would be a hot trade target if the Cubs move him at the deadline.
Stroman has a 6.56 ERA in his last five starts, walking for 12 batters in 23‰ innings. He earned the win in just one of those outings on the back of a seven-game hitting streak that ended last month. His ERA is back above 3.00 for the first time in two months.
“Sometimes things work out that way,” Stroman said. “It’s one where I wash it, do some mechanical adjustments, and be back out there in five, six days.”
His monstrous first half combined with a breakout season by Justin Steele made the Cubs’ rotation and playoff hopes look legitimate during the first three months of the season. But that speed boost was one of the reasons for the Cubs’ 7-9 record in July.
The Cubs needed a big raise this month to justify the deadline buy and chase a division title. Nico Hoerner’s cathartic eighth-inning grand slam Wednesday night looked like it might be the start of something like this for an up-and-down Cubs offense.
Thursday night reminded everyone that in baseball, momentum is the next day’s starting pitcher.