CHICAGO -- Marcus Stroman walked into the interview room on Sunday, holding his young son Kai in his arms. The Cubs' pitcher then began fielding questions about his first season with the North Siders, while his son tried to reach for the microphone and eyed the phones and recorders on the table.
"I'm extremely thankful to be a Chicago Cub," Stroman said. "I can't wait to continue to go out there and perform for this fan base."
At that moment, Kai let out a happy cry.
"Are you excited, too?" Stroman added with a smile.
In an 8-1 victory in Chicago's final home game of the season, Stroman delivered six shutout innings to put the period on his campaign. There were highs and lows for the pitcher, who dealt with some health setbacks, but ended his year with two-plus months of strong performances.
With Stroman guiding a rotation that endured a series of setbacks throughout the season, the starters have combined for a 2.95 ERA in the second half. Only the NL and AL No. 1 seeded Dodgers and Astros have been better in that regard. It has been a key reason behind the Cubs' seven-game winning streak and the team's 38-29 record.
"Stroman's been great," Cubs manager David Ross said. "I'd watched him pitch from afar. Being able to sign him this offseason and watch him go about his work, I mean, he's all in about everything. The details. He takes care of his body. He invests in his teammates.
"He invests in the group here, the coaching staff. He's a worker. He's a listener, he's pushing himself to get better. He's never satisfied. He wants to be great -- not just good. He wants to be great. And he's shown that in the way he's going about his business every day."
In his final start of the season, Stroman struck out seven, walked two and limited the potential damage of five hits allowed. That gave him a 3.50 ERA this season in 25 starts, which included 119 strikeouts, 36 walks and a 1.15 WHIP in 138 2/3 innings.
Stroman missed two-plus weeks in May due to a bout with COVID-19 and then lost nearly all of June to a right shoulder setback. Since returning from the injured list on July 9, Stroman has turned in a 2.56 ERA over 16 starts (91 1/3 innings). In that span, he lowered his season ERA from 5.32.
"I thought I did a really good job of bouncing back from a rough start," Stroman said. "A lot of people can kind of cash it in mentally, physically, emotionally. I had close to a 6.00 ERA after my first few starts. It's just a product of all the work that goes into it.
"I'm someone who never gives up regardless of if I've had 10 bad starts or 10 great ones. I'm truly adapting and changing and working in-between each and every start. I'm just thankful for how it all played out."
As things currently stand, Stroman (signed to a three-year, $71 million contract last winter) projects to return as a key part of the top of the 2023 rotation. Kyle Hendricks is under contract, but will be aiming to prove he can bounce back from an injury-marred season.
One of the prospects who could break through as early as 2023, left-hander Jordan Wicks, has been at Wrigley Field this weekend with a group of select Minor Leaguers. Wicks -- a first-round pick in the 2021 MLB Draft and the Cubs' No. 5 overall prospect -- said he is looking forward to seeing how the front office adds to the pitching staff this coming offseason, even with so many talented prospects climbing the ladder.
"[President of baseball operations Jed Hoyer's] job is to make this organization better, to make this team better," Wicks said. "My job is just to continue to make myself better to help this organization. That's all I can do. But I can tell you right now, whatever decision he makes to help this organization, I'm fired up and I'm excited for it."
After his previous start, Stroman said he would love to be part of the Cubs' recruiting efforts for free agents this coming offseason. Front-line rotation help will be on the club's wish list.
Stroman has repeated throughout the year that he feels the club is just "a piece or two away" from being a contender as soon as '23.
"I can't wait for next year," Stroman said.