Even-keeled Taillon gets Cubs back on track: 'We needed that start'

September 23rd, 2023

CHICAGO -- When asked ahead of Friday afternoon’s game what brings to the Cubs, manager David Ross was quick to point out the right-hander's unwavering confidence. Ross praised Taillon’s even-keeled approach to his starts, viewing it as an essential trait for the multiple peaks and valleys that occur within a 162-game season.

“You believe in those types of people that you feel like are wired the right way,” Ross said. “The veterans that, even when things don’t go right, you know the process is right.”

Chicago entered the day navigating quite a valley, and Taillon did everything he could to push them back towards a peak.

The 31-year-old battled through a grueling start, escaping multiple jams while striking out seven across six scoreless innings during the Cubs’ 6-0 win over the Rockies at Wrigley Field. It was a badly-needed effort for a Chicago team that entered having lost 10 of its past 13 games while desperately fighting to secure a National League Wild Card spot down the season’s home stretch.

  • Games remaining (8): vs. COL (2), at ATL (3), at MIL (3)
  • Standings update: The Cubs (80-74) sit eight games behind the first-place Brewers (88-66), who clinched a postseason spot on Friday, in the NL Central. In the NL Wild Card race, Chicago sits in the third and final spot. The Marlins (79-75) and the Reds (79-75), who each have the tiebreaker after winning their respective season series, are one game behind the Cubs. The Phillies (85-69) are the top Wild Card seed, with a five-game lead over the Cubs, while the D-backs (81-73) sit in the second spot (one game up). Philadelphia and Arizona also own tiebreakers over Chicago.

“The goal is always to not give up runs,” Taillon said, “but today especially, I was just in the mindset of, ‘Can’t let these guys score.’ Got into some traffic early, some walks -- which is a little uncharacteristic -- but I was able to just navigate it and make pitches when I had to. It wasn’t easy, but we found a way.”

Taillon hammered home that point from the get-go on Friday, walking two of the first three hitters he faced in what turned into a 30-pitch first inning. He quickly bounced back, striking out former Cub Kris Bryant and Ryan McMahon to return to the dugout unscathed. It was one of three innings that featured Taillon putting two men on yet never letting one of them come close to home plate.

For all the hot water he found himself in, Taillon never once appeared uncomfortable on the mound. The righty stranded seven baserunners, holding the Rockies 0-for-5 with men in scoring position. Of his seven punchouts, four of them came with two runners on.

Per Ross, it was the perfect outcome considering the stretch Chicago has endured.

“Today, you just needed somebody to stop this. Just put up a bunch of zeros,” Ross said. “Nobody’s perfect, and it’s rare that somebody’s perfect out there. You’ve got to continue to pitch. ... We needed that start.”

Taillon’s biggest source of run support came in the fourth inning, when Seiya Suzuki -- who singled home a run in the first -- slugged a two-run blast. It was Suzuki’s 20th homer of the season and his 11th in 40 games since returning from a stretch of August off-days that he used to retool his plate approach.

The Cubs’ right fielder has looked like a completely different player since his mini-sabbatical, a period that, upon reflection, was just what he needed.

“To be honest with you, I didn’t want to take those times off,” Suzuki said via interpreter Toy Matsushita. “But I think Rossy and [Cubs president of baseball operations] Jed [Hoyer] made the best decision for me.

“I, personally, didn’t want to waste their time. It was about using time efficiently, and I think I was able to do that, which is why I’m performing really well right now.”

Like Suzuki, Taillon has spent much of the 2023 season navigating through what he referred to as the toughest stretch of his career. A rocky first half inflated his numbers beyond what he’s used to seeing, while his recent outings have veered between highly effective and notably bumpy. 

Yet the difficulty he’s experienced throughout the year has done little to shift his focus on the task at hand. 

“I can’t remember, results-wise, a struggle like I’ve had this year,” Taillon said. “But I’ve dealt with stretches, and I’ve dealt with more serious stuff -- injuries and cancer, all that stuff. So I feel like I’ve got good perspective to get me through some of the hard times.” 

That perspective, on top of the ever-present self-confidence Ross raved about, helped Taillon remind himself why the Cubs signed him in the first place. 

“This team went out and got me for a reason,” Taillon said. “I have an opportunity to go out and prove them right and have a good game on a day like today when we really needed it.”