Cubs might have a few players to watch the rest of the way

                                                                                                                                                                                                   
  • Chicago Cubs' Rafael Ortega celebrates his home run during the first inning of a baseball game against the Washington Nationals, Sunday, Aug. 1, 2021, in Washington.

    Chicago Cubs' Rafael Ortega celebrates his home run during the first inning of a baseball game against the Washington Nationals, Sunday, Aug. 1, 2021, in Washington.

 
 
Updated 8/2/2021 5:51 PM

The Cubs threw in the towel a few weeks before trading away their successful nucleus.

So it makes sense if fans pay more attention to Anthony Rizzo and Javy Baez in New York, or Kris Bryant in San Francisco than what happens on the North Side the rest of the season.

 

At the same time, the Cubs know more losses will lead to a higher draft pick in 2022, so these next two months could get ugly.

But there are a few details that could make a difference in the Cubs' future. Here's a quick watch list:

Earning jobs: The Cubs did some nice work in finding underutilized talent this season. The most obvious examples are Patrick Wisdom and Rafael Ortega.

It's a little strange that this is Wisdom's fourth season of playing in the big leagues, but per MLB rules, he's considered a rookie. And he's definitely put himself in NL Rookie of the Year contention. Wisdom leads NL rookies in home runs (16) and OPS (918), and is fourth in batting average (.268). Only Shohei Ohtani has a better home run per at bat ratio in the majors.

The front-runner for NL Rookie of the Year is likely Marlins pitcher Trevor Rogers (7-6, 2.45 ERA). It's conceivable Wisdom could get to 30 home runs, which should at least place him among the three finalists.

Ortega has been incredible, hitting .414 over the past 30 days, capped off by his 3-home run performance Sunday in Washington. That was the first 3-homer game by a Cubs left-handed hitter since Brant Brown in 1998.

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At this point, it looks like Wisdom and Ortega have earned jobs for next season, and the Cubs will hope it stays that way. Don't overlook what a life-changing experience this has been for those two guys, who have been grinding away for a combined 23 different minor-league teams over the years.

"I would love to be part of it in the future and long-term plan, but it's something that's going to have to play out by itself, and I'll continue to do my best," Ortega said Sunday.

There might be a third candidate still down on the farm. Outfielder Michael Hermosillo, a native of Ottawa, Illinois, has been playing well since spring training, but he was injured at Iowa the two times the Cubs called up outfielders.

New relievers: Manuel Rodriguez was electric in his major-league debut Friday, hitting 100 on the radar gun and throwing a perfect inning. His second appearance resulted in a walk-off home run by Washington's Yadiel Hernandez.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Such is the life of a big-league reliever. The Cubs will be hoping Rodriguez can get valuable experience the rest of the way without losing any confidence.

New addition Codi Heuer from the White Sox has looked good in two appearances. And you've got to think at some point the Cubs will bring up Ben Leeper, the undrafted free agent from Oklahoma State who has been throwing high-90s in Iowa.

New starters: There will be anticipation for Justin Steele's debut as a major-league starter, which probably will happen in the next week or so.

The left-handed Steele was very good in the Cubs' bullpen early this season, went on the injured list with a hamstring issue and has excelled in a starting role at Iowa. Earning a long-term spot in the Cubs rotation is certainly the preferred outcome.

Keegan Thompson also is getting stretched out in the minors, so he and Steele figure to be starters for the Cubs the rest of the year. The Cubs also must determine the best course of action for Adbert Alzolay. Does he need some time off to figure out his approach to left-handed hitters, or should he keep trying to work through it?

Turnaround needed: With this season a lost cause, manager David Ross can go back to putting Ian Happ in the lineup every day and see if he can get on track. Happ went from the team's best offensive player last season to hitting .177 this year.

Happ is about to turn 27, so the Cubs won't give up on him yet, but opposing pitchers are throwing heat and he has struggled to catch up.

David Bote is in a similar spot, hitting .199 this season, but he is under contract through at least 2024.

@McGrawDHSports

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