CINCINNATI — As Cubs third baseman Patrick Wisdom’s three-run home run dropped in the right-center-field seats at Great American Ball Park, it extended a streak the club hadn’t witnessed in years.
With that blast in the Cubs’ 7-4 victory Monday against the Reds, Wisdom has homered in four consecutive games.
The last Cub to do so was Anthony Rizzo in 2015.
That year, the Cubs’ rebuild surged ahead of schedule. A lot would have to fall the Cubs’ way for that to happen again. But a flexible approach to team building partially explains president of baseball operations Jed Hoyer’s unwillingness to put a date on the next time the Cubs will be a division contender.
As for where the Cubs are in their team-building cycle, Hoyer is just as hesitant to make any promises.
“Evaluating where we are, evaluating our division and where we are playoff-wise,” Hoyer said of how the Cubs will decide whether to sell at the trade deadline. “And now, obviously, you’re taking a look into the next few years, as well. There are certain pieces that are, quote, unquote, rentals that may not be back. But there are certain pieces you get asked about that are part of your future.”
Last season, an 11-game losing streak before the trade deadline made up Hoyer’s mind for him. As Cubs fans won’t soon forget, the team traded away one-third of its Opening Day roster, including championship core members Rizzo, Javy Baez and Kris Bryant.
Back in 2015, those three pushed up the Cubs’ championship timeline.
“You hear about all the guys that are potentially coming,” manager David Ross said of joining the organization as a player in 2015. “But, you know, from a veteran-player standpoint, I think the message is, we’ll see when they get here. . . . I think that holds true.”
The Cubs were seven games above .500 (47-40) in the first half of that 2015 season, before going on a 50-25 run in the second half. They made a surprise run to the National League Championship Series, signaling to the front office that it was time to go all in on a championship.
“I don’t think anybody would sit there early in the season and see that type of team from what we had,” Ross said, “but a few holes filled in, and good things happen. Guys get confidence.”
Maybe those kinds of timeline-altering players are on the Cubs’ roster now. Utility player Christopher Morel and pitcher Brandon Hughes made a splash in their major-league debuts last week. Maybe they’re in the minors waiting for their turn like right-hander Caleb Kilian, who’s expected to debut this season. Maybe the Cubs have yet to acquire them.
In the meantime, this team is starting to round into shape, still navigating a slew of injuries. But the rotation is finally whole, with Wade Miley (sore left elbow) and Marcus Stroman (COVID-19) returning from the injured list in the last couple of weeks.
“It’s great,” Miley said. “It’s a little bit different than most rotations in the game, right? Not to say other guys aren’t pitchers, but we’re more reliant on location, and we’re more reliant on pitching in a sense. We can’t just go out there and blow doors off and think we can get away with it.”
A quarter of the way through the season, the Cubs (17-24) are tied for third place with the Pirates in the NL Central standings.
“A lot of good progress has been made,” Ross said, pointing to the work Wisdom, shortstop Nico Hoerner and outfielder Ian Happ put in during the offseason. “I thought we’ve gotten much better on the bases than when we started. I still think there’s some areas where we can grow.”
Happ went 2-for-3 with a three-run home run.
Are the Cubs improving quickly enough to usher in a championship-caliber season ahead of schedule?
Wisdom’s fourth straight game with a home run could very well be one of only a few 2015-like moments for the Cubs this year. But as Ross said, “Narratives can change -really fast.”