Contreras still bringing fireworks to Wrigley

Backstop on club's recent hot streak: 'I think the future is bright'

September 8th, 2021

CHICAGO -- When the smoke cleared after the Cubs' franchise-altering Trade Deadline, Willson Contreras was one of the few remaining pieces of the core. The question that will linger into the offseason is whether the catcher is part of the team's long-term plans.

In a 4-3 loss to the Reds on Tuesday, Contreras certainly put his importance on display. He helped guide journeyman starter Adrian Sampson through five solid innings and also supplied a two-out solo home run off Wade Miley in the third inning. A late push by Chicago, however, was not enough to extend the team’s seven-game winning streak.

"He's a huge part of what we do here," Cubs bench coach and acting manager Andy Green said. "An All-Star. World Series champion. He hits in the middle of the order for us. [He] shuts down running games for us. [He] has a lot of experience in a lot of big moments."

Contreras has said the right things since the Deadline dismantling of the core group that brought that 2016 World Series title to the North Side. The two-time All-Star has expressed a desire to stay put, to provide veteran leadership for the rise of the next October-caliber Cubs team.

Right now, even if the Cubs wanted to come with an extension, Contreras has the ability to wait and see if the rebuilding process is as swift as the front office hopes. He is 29 years old and under contractual control for one more season.

Contreras said Tuesday that an extension is not even on his mind at the moment.

"Man, to be honest, I haven't been thinking about that," Contreras said. "And I haven't heard anything yet. I'm just looking forward to enjoying this last month with these guys, these special guys that are doing really well. And I'll try to guide them on the right path."

Sampson did surrender a pair of home runs -- a leadoff shot to Jonathan India and a blast off Nick Castellanos' bat two batters later -- in the first inning. From there, Sampson settled down and settled in, keeping the Reds at bay.

“They just jumped on me real quick,” said Sampson, who has a 2.20 ERA through six appearances (two starts) with the Cubs. “I didn’t really change much of my plan. I just made better pitches as I went on.”

In the eighth, 30-year-old outfielder Rafael Ortega came off the bench and delivered a pinch-hit homer. The red-hot Ian Happ (.376/.411/.776 in his last 23 games) also went deep in the inning against reliever Michael Lorenzen.

Like Sampson, Ortega is one of the players who has taken advantage of the post-Deadline playing time. They -- along with the likes of Frank Schwindel and Patrick Wisdom -- have capitalized on the kind of chance they did not receive with other organizations.

"There's a beauty in being cast aside," Green said, "and people start to doubt you. It really triggers inside some guys, this really competitive nature, that it helps them become what people thought they could once become.

"And I think you look across our roster, it's littered with guys in that category."

Their collective success recently has been something Contreras has enjoyed watching.

“They should take it personally,” Contreras said of the players who were let go by other teams. “Right now, they have the opportunity to be an everyday player with the Cubs. And they're doing amazing. No one expected them to be as good as they are right now.”

Contreras, who recently returned from a stint on the injured list due to a right knee issue, said he walked back into a great atmosphere behind the scenes.

“When I came back from my IL stint, I really loved the energy that we have right now," Contreras said. "And the chemistry is getting a lot better. I think the future is bright.”

Contreras was asked why he thinks the future looks bright, given that the players that were being discussed are each nearing or beyond their 30th birthday. Those are not typically the kind of players utilized to come out of a rebuilding process.

“They come with a lot of energy, with a lot of hunger. And I think they're ready to fight,” Contreras said. “I think they're ready to win a lot of baseball games. I've been watching the games from the IL, and they're looking good. They're doing just fine.

“I know that next year, they're probably going to make some moves, but there's a lot of talent in this lineup.”