Cody Bellinger’s slam leads the Chicago Cubs in a 10-4 win, while Marcus Stroman remains open to an offseason reunion

16 July 2023

Cody Bellinger has tried to keep things simple.

The Chicago Cubs center fielder has avoided delving too much into the specifics of the mechanical adjustments he has made since signing with the organization in the offseason. Much of his success has stemmed from a mindset and approach that allows him to embrace his athleticism and limits overthinking while getting his timing in sync. Results have backed up his process, leading Bellinger to produce like the 2019 version that won him the National League MVP award.

“He’s been more than expected since he’s been here,” manager David Ross said Saturday. “He’s the total package: the defense, the clubhouse presence, the bat and the power showing up. … He really put a lot of work into the offseason, made some adjustments and came here to prove the player that he was, and he’s proven it.”

Bellinger’s grand slam served as the big blow in the Cubs’ six-run third inning Saturday to blow the game open en route to a 10-4 win against the Boston Red Sox at Wrigley Field. Bellinger has hit five home runs in his last six games, including three the last two days.

“Confident in my swing and playing the game within the game and just being consistent,” Bellinger said after his multihomer game Friday.

Bellinger’s performance the last three weeks is capable of carrying the Cubs offense at a time the group desperately needs to find consistency if they’re going to rack up the wins needed to convince president of baseball operations Jed Hoyer that the team should be trade-deadline buyers. Bellinger’s power is particularly important in the middle of the order for a lineup that needs more slug from their top hitters, namely Ian Happ and Seiya Suzuki.

Bellinger’s all-around play is especially valuable to a Cubs team fighting to stay within the division race as they try to get back to .500. Bellinger, who turned 28 on Thursday, has a mutual $25 million option for 2024 that is not expected to triggered. This season was viewed by both sides as a bounce-back opportunity for Bellinger to, ideally, reestablish his market while helping the Cubs get to the postseason. If the Cubs (43-48) decide to sell at the Aug. 1 deadline, Bellinger will be a hot commodity.

Bellinger will be joined by right-hander Marcus Stroman as the two most coveted trade pieces should the Cubs fail to take advantage of this upcoming stretch against three below-.500 teams.

Stroman’s major-league-leading 15th quality start — one run and three hits allowed in six innings — ensured Bellinger’s performance wasn’t wasted. Bellinger’s grand slam came off Red Sox left-hander James Paxton, a continuation of his dominance in lefty-lefty matchups. Six of Bellinger’s 12 home runs this season are off a left-hander. He entered Saturday with a .338/.416/.647 slash line and 1.063 OPS, eight walks and 10 strikeouts in 77 plate appearances against lefties.

“Change of scenery can be a great thing for guys,” Stroman said. “He’s still that same player. Just because you have kind of an up-and-down few years, people don’t understand when you have that MVP type of mentality inside of you and you have a great process and you have a great routine, it’s only a matter of time before you’re going to be at the the pinnacle of your game again. It’s awesome to see Belli back.”

Although Stroman has faced Bellinger only three times in his career, once last season and twice in 2021, he understands what challenges the slugger’s presence in a lineup can present to opposing pitchers, especially when Bellinger is in a groove like the one he has been in this month.

“He’s someone who changes an entire lineup,” Stroman said. “Every time you face a lineup that has Belli in it, it’s in the back of your head that you have to get to that spot that bellies in. And regardless of where he’s at, no one wants to face Belli because they know the type of individual in the box and they know that with one swing he can change the game. To see him locked in is incredible. He’s an amazing human being, and I love everything about his process and routine.”

Stroman is lined up for three more starts before Aug. 1 with the last set for July 31. He believes the next seven to 10 days shouldn’t be a determining factor as to whether the Cubs will be buyers, citing how open the division is to win. And, more broadly, Stroman wondered, “As an organization, why would you not want to be competitive for multiple years, year after year after year?”

“Belli’s a guy who changes the lineup, why would you want him to get away? Why would you want a guy like myself, who goes out there and gives you quality starts in a league that’s incredibly hard to do?” Stroman said. “It’s incredibly hard to say, oh, we’re going to get this production or this young guy, we’re going to get this. But it’s hard.

“I know Belli wants to stay. I would love to stay here, but a lot of that’s out of our control. At the end of the day, it’s a business so we have to treat it as such, even though we have this love for this fan base and this organization.”

Stroman reiterated after Saturday’s start that he would love to stay with the Cubs long term and remains open to signing an extension. Stroman, who holds a player opt-out after the season, does not expect the organization to work out a deal ahead of the deadline. He also didn’t rule out re-signing in the offseason, even if the Cubs trade him.

“There’s zero hard feelings,” Stroman said. “I have a great relationship with Carter (Hawkins), Jed, the Rickettses. I love everything here. I just don’t think they’re in a position to sign me before the deadline. I would hope that they’ll be in the mix in the offseason.”


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