'Anyone can still win it': Hoyer talks shop before Cubs' big rally

President of baseball operations addresses strategy with Stroman, Bellinger

June 15th, 2023

CHICAGO -- The Cubs can no longer cling to the "it’s still early" mantra repeated throughout the club’s trying May. What Chicago can do is peer at the National League Central standings and hold out hope that the landscape still offers a chance to turn things around.

“Anyone can still win it,” Cubs president of baseball operations Jed Hoyer said. “No one has pulled away, or even pulled away from .500. And that's one of the challenges of evaluating your team, is that you're evaluating where you are in the standings, but you're also evaluating how you're performing.”

After a 10-6 comeback win over the division-leading Pirates on Wednesday night at Wrigley Field, the North Siders moved to 4 1/2 back in the division. With a 30-37 record, Hoyer said his ballclub is “fortunate” to be in a Central race that has all five clubs bunched together with no clear front-runner, allowing time to determine the strategy leading up to the Aug. 1 Trade Deadline.

“A lot happens in that time,” Hoyer said. “We have six more weeks to play to get a feel for where we are. I think we have to evaluate all of that. Obviously, given where we are in relation to .500, I think in a normal season, we'd be looking at a much steeper climb than we are right now.”

The Cubs used a six-run sixth inning -- driven by run-scoring singles from , and -- to climb back from a four-run deficit. extended the lead in the eighth with a two-run double deep into the right-center gap. Chicago will have four more chances to gain ground on the Pirates within the next seven games, too.

“A really nice comeback win for us,” Cubs manager David Ross said. “Those have been a little few and far between. I love how the offense picked up the pitching tonight.”

Here are a few more highlights from Hoyer’s chat with reporters on Wednesday:

1. Reaction to Stroman’s extension-talks post
While the Cubs were in San Francisco recently, starter Marcus Stroman posted on Twitter that his camp had made “multiple attempts” to engage the club about a contract extension, adding that the front office was “not interested in exploring it now.”

Stroman told reporters that he wanted to make sure his interest in remaining in Chicago was well-noted. Hoyer was asked for his reaction to the post by Stroman, who is having a stellar season and can opt out of his current deal in favor of free agency in the offseason.

“Not really any,” Hoyer said. “I mean, honestly, like I’ve talked about a million times: we just don't talk about those things. Obviously, he made that public and, listen, I love the fact that he wants to be here. And we've had conversations about it. I'm not going to disclose what we've talked about, but there's dialogue and we'll keep that in-house.”

2. Why is Bellinger playing first base for Triple-A Iowa?
Ross detailed on Tuesday the reasons behind Cody Bellinger -- the team’s everyday center fielder until a trip to the injured list May 19 -- manning first base at the outset of his Minor League rehab stint with Iowa. Tauchman has impressed in center, the production at first has been lacking and it was a way to ease Bellinger back into the mix due to his left knee issue.

While Bellinger may indeed rejoin the Cubs as an option for first base, Hoyer made it sound more like a short-term solution than a long-term plan.

"His biggest impact for the Cubs is probably playing center field," Hoyer said. "It makes a lot of sense for us to [have Bellinger play first] now. Obviously, we're not doing this because we see him as our first baseman the rest of the year, but more as a way of getting him back in the lineup."

3. Watching Hendricks flirt with history
Veteran right-hander Kyle Hendricks came four outs away from a no-hitter against the Giants on Saturday, marking the deepest no-hit bid in MLB this season. It was only Hendricks’ fourth start off the injured list, following nearly a year-long comeback from a right shoulder injury.

“I wish I had been there,” Hoyer said. “That was so fun to watch. And I found myself rooting so hard for him to get it, because it's so hard for a contact pitcher to have a chance at that. And then obviously it would have been such a wonderful thing, given how hard he had to rehab and come back.”