Hoerner's here, he's there, he's everywhere

Cubs middle-infield duo, Nico and Nick, shines in extra-inning win

August 21st, 2022

CHICAGO -- In the middle of an answer about his outing on Saturday evening, Cubs starter Marcus Stroman switched gears. He brought up before even fielding a question about the Cubs' shortstop.

"I don't think Nico Hoerner gets enough credit in the league, in MLB," said Stroman. "What he's been doing is pretty incredible this year."

Hoerner was involved in a pile of highlight reel-worthy defensive plays throughout the Cubs' 6-5, 11-inning victory over the Brewers at Wrigley Field. His counterpart at second base, , churned out three hits, including a game-tying single in the ninth.

Together, Hoerner and Madrigal have looked like the middle-infield combination the Cubs anticipated this season with their play over the past couple of weeks. It has been the type of play that will give Chicago plenty to weigh while mapping out their 2023 plans.

"We're both players still establishing ourselves at this level," Hoerner said. "The only thing we can do right now is continue to play well."

Hoerner ‘everywhere' defensively

Cubs manager David Ross said he sometimes jots down notes during games. On Saturday, he made sure to make a notation about Hoerner.

"I felt like Nico was everywhere today," Ross said.

Going into Saturday's action, Hoerner's 13 Outs Above Average (per Statcast) were second only to Atlanta's Dansby Swanson (14) among MLB shortstops. Hoerner was tied for second in Defensive Runs Saved (12) and second in Defensive Runs Above Average (12.7).

Hoerner's defensive skill showed up in a variety of ways in Saturday's win.

In the fifth inning, Hoerner ranged to his right, gloved a sharp grounder off the bat of Jonathan Davis and fired to Madrigal to start a double play. Hoerner was quick to credit Madrigal's swift turn to get the ball to first in time to nab Davis.

"He's always been incredible at that," Hoerner said. "It seems like he isn't even going to catch it. It's just kind of a deflection into the hand when it's up in the air. That's just who he is and what he does. And he's as good as anyone I've seen over there doing it."

Hoerner snagged a couple of hard line drives -- one with a leap to rob Luis Urías in the eighth -- but the play that multiple people mentioned postgame arrived in the sixth. Hoerner was in right field deep in a pull shift against Christian Yelich, who pulled a ball his way. The shortstop ran it down, spun and lofted an accurate throw to first baseman Patrick Wisdom.

"The one from Yelich is definitely the one that stood out," Stroman said.

Madrigal's ‘first big Cubs moment’

In the ninth inning, Madrigal slipped into an 0-2 count against Devin Williams. Still, given the second baseman's elite contact rate, he was a great candidate to keep the plate appearance alive.

Williams fired four more pitches while Brewers second baseman Kolten Wong stayed a few steps toward second with Wisdom in scoring position. Madrigal connected on a 1-2 fastball, sending it just out of reach of Wong and dropping it into shallow right-center for his third single of the game.

"Today was so great for him," Hoerner said. "I felt like that was kind of his first big Cubs moment, you know? And he's put so much time and effort in."

This month, Madrigal has looked like he has turned a corner in another season full of health setbacks. Since returning from the injured list at the start of this month, he has slashed .348/.423/.391 in 13 games, giving Chicago the type of bat-to-ball threat they envisioned.

"He's continued to work through a challenging year," Hoerner said, "just physically to get to this point and put himself in a position just to be himself, whatever that means. And I think we're getting a good glimpse of that, because he's a really great baseball player."

Looking ahead to 2023

Stroman concluded his unsolicited praise of Hoerner with this comment: "He's definitely someone that you definitely want to build around going forward in the future."

Even with Hoerner's strong all-around play this offseason, there has been and will continue to be chatter about the Cubs targeting one of the coming offseason's big-name shortstops. If they opt out of their current deals, Carlos Correa and Xander Bogaerts will top the list. Trea Turner and Swanson will also be free agents.

Adding a marquee shortstop could force Hoerner to move to second base, where he has been a Gold Glove-caliber defender in the past. There would then be a domino effect for Madrigal and other players in the mix for at-bats at second or third base.

"What the Cubs do in free agency this offseason," Hoerner said, "if they make moves that are going to help us win baseball games, that's not going to be a huge issue around here. Obviously, I believe in myself as a shortstop and I've said that for a while, and people believe that now.

"But just continue. Continue on, and if we have the issue of having too many good players, then I'll like that problem."