Youth movement on display as Wicks gets win No. 3

September 6th, 2023

CHICAGO -- Cubs rookie described parachuting into a postseason chase as calming. The way he sees things, narrowing his focus to simply finding a path to victory is easier on the mind than fine-tuning pitches within a multifaceted development plan.

On Wednesday afternoon, Wicks walked off the mound after his first career start at Wrigley Field to a standing ovation, having put the North Siders on course to an 8-2 win over the Giants. As the young southpaw left the field, he took a moment to scan the stands, soaking in the moment for his memory bank.

“It was really special for me,” Wicks said.

And this has been a special run for the Cubs, who spent the offseason injecting a group of playoff-tested veterans into a roster that was coming out of a two-year rebuild. One reason Chicago believes its success is sustainable -- into October and into the future -- is the wave of homegrown arms that has emerged and continues to arrive for the franchise.

  • Games remaining: vs. AZ (4), at COL (3), at AZ (3), vs. PIT (3), vs. COL (3), at ATL (3), at MIL (3)
  • Standings update: The Cubs (76-64) are 1 1/2 games behind the Brewers (77-62) for first place in the NL Central. The Cubs and Brewers have split the season series so far, so the tiebreaker has not yet been determined. Chicago sits in the second Wild Card spot, trailing the Phillies by 1 1/2 games, and holds a 3 1/2-game lead over the third-seeded Reds (who play the Mariners on Wednesday night). The Marlins, D-backs and Giants are also in the hunt. The Cubs have won the tiebreaker over San Francisco, but lost it to Philadelphia, Cincinnati and Miami. They have not played the D-backs yet, but have seven games against them coming up in the next two weeks.

Lefty Justin Steele has blossomed into a National League Cy Young Award contender this season, and he is a major reason the Cubs sit just 1 1/2 games back in the division. Adbert Alzolay, Steele’s longtime friend since their early days in the Minors, is closing out games for Chicago.

Javier Assad seized a rotation job last month, and has started his time as a starter on a strong run. Wicks -- a first-round pick in the 2021 Draft -- was summoned recently, and is 3-0 with a 2.16 ERA three starts into his career. In Wednesday’s win, 6-foot-8 lefty Luke Little made his MLB debut and struck out two in the ninth to put a stamp on the victory.

There is a pile of pitching prospects on the horizon, too.

“Big picture, I think it's really nice for, one, the front office,” manager David Ross said. “[You see] the hard work of player development and scouting in the Draft. All those little things that I don't think get talked about enough, but when you sit in my seat you really see how important they are, and the depth.

“And when you need pieces, to be able to call on a young man that you feel like can maybe help. They have to go and do it, but we've had a couple -- the Assads and the Wickses -- come up and fill in and pitch meaningful innings in this moment, a big moment in this organization, pushing towards a playoff spot.”

Before coming to the Cubs this year, center fielder Cody Bellinger saw how the Dodgers operated over a prolonged period of success. He has been impressed by how the North Siders have developed arms to help fill in spots in the rotation and bullpen throughout this season.

“I’m seeing it here,” Bellinger said. “There's a physical component and a mental component, and the guys that we're bringing up seem to have what it takes. Obviously I didn't come up in this organization, but credit to the player development. These guys seem ready to play from the jump.”

A three-run double by a scorching-hot Seiya Suzuki -- he has hit .367/.411/.735 with 20 extra-base hits and 21 RBIs in his past 26 games -- in the first inning gave Wicks a quick cushion to use to his advantage. The 24-year-old left-hander featured five of his six pitches, leaning mostly on four-seamers and his signature changeup to work efficiently.

Wicks logged six scoreless innings -- sidestepping at least one baserunner in each frame -- before finally yielding two runs in the seventh. By that point, the Cubs had built a healthy lead. Catcher Miguel Amaya belted a solo shot in the fourth, and Bellinger drove in two runs via a double and homer.

Wicks ended his outing with one strikeout, no walks and nine hits scattered over 6 2/3 innings, becoming the first Cubs starting pitcher since at least 1901 to begin a career with three consecutive wins.

“The thing that’s stood out to me most since he's gotten here is, good pitchers pound the strike zone with their stuff when you get a lead,” Ross said. “And he knows how to pitch with a lead. He's going to be on the attack. He's not worried about a baserunner.”

Wicks is only worried about one thing.

“I couldn’t care less what my stats are,” Wicks said. “My whole goal when I take the mound is, when I come out of the game, I want us to be in the best position possible to win the game. And so that's my whole entire mantra. That's what I stand by.”