Home Sports 20-29 record aside, the Chicago Cubs enter June with a feeling of optimism. Here are 5 reasons why.

20-29 record aside, the Chicago Cubs enter June with a feeling of optimism. Here are 5 reasons why.

by staff

The arrival of June means two things for the Chicago Cubs.

It’s two months until the trade deadline — and four months until the end of the season.

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But despite a 20-29 record and the fact they trail the division-leading Milwaukee Brewers by 11 games entering the month, the Cubs haven’t reverted to lovable loser status in Chicago just yet.

The clubhouse is upbeat. Rookie Christopher Morel has added life to the lineup. And Cubs fans seem OK knowing the team is rebuilding in ‘22 but capable of winning a fun game like Tuesday’s wild, 8-7 comeback victory over the Brewers.

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“Anytime you can get a win, it’s much better than a loss,” starter Justin Steele said postgame in an apparent bid to get an Obvious Shirts slogan.

Here’s what we know — and don’t — so far about the 2022 Cubs.

The veteran catcher and two-time All-Star is entering his walk year in free agency. He has a career high .907 OPS and .155 OPS+ (on-base plus slugging adjusted to the player’s ballpark).

Is Contreras having a better season than his All-Star years in 2018 and ‘19?

“It feels like it’s very similar,” he said Tuesday night. “But we’ve got a whole different team and I’m trying to battle with these guys on this ship.”

Willson passed his brother, William, in home runs by hitting No. 8 in the first inning vs. the Brewers Tuesday. William Contreras also is off to a great start with the Atlanta Braves, with a 1.053 OPS in 18 games.

“I saw that on the scoreboard,” Willson said of the brotherly battle for supremacy. “Inside it makes me laugh because he makes me proud. We’ve come a long way.”

The Contreras brothers are 1-2 in home runs by catchers. They could potentially join each other at the All-Star Game at Dodger Stadium, with Willson as a probable National League starter and William as a reserve.

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Have the Cubs finally found a leadoff man to replace Fowler, five years after his departure?

Morel has relished the role of sparkplug at the top of the Cubs lineup since being called up from Double-A Tennessee.

“Nothing but amazing,” Contreras said of Morel. “He got called up and he’s really comfortable. He’s being himself, which is huge for us. He’s not afraid of failing. Batting behind him, I have to be ready because once I get to the on-deck circle, he’s already swinging.

“He’s getting on base, has great at-bats and doesn’t give anything away.”

Manager David Ross compared Morel’s energy to the kind provided by Báez, who was dealt to the New York Mets in last summer’s sell-off. After hitting a triple in the sixth inning Tuesday, Morel distracted Brewers pitcher Trevor Kelley by repeatedly faking a steal of home. Kelley then served up a long, run-scoring double to Contreras.

“He’s playing the game with a lot of passion, almost that same ‘playing with your hair on fire (attitude),’” Ross said of the comparison to Báez. “But he’s calm in the box, taking his walks.”

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Contreras agreed with Ross, though he noted the two players are “different people.” Báez was more reserved and serious, while Morel is a free spirit whose smile is the first thing you notice when he enters a room.

Morel broke Contreras’ club record for reaching base at the start of his MLB career — it’s at 14 games and counting entering Wednesday’s game.

While Thompson figures to join the rotation full-time at some point, the Cubs are fine using him in a hybrid role early in the season. Thompson posted a 1.58 ERA through May, one of six National League pitchers with an ERA under 2.00 while throwing 40 or more innings.

So what is his preferred role?

“I don’t know if I’ve really been a reliever or starter,” he said. “I’ve been more of an innings eater guy.”

There is no separate category for “innings eater guy,” though if a new category of “IEG” was invented by stats nerds, Thompson would be among the leaders.

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Does he expect to be a starter this season?

“We’ll see,” he said knowingly. “I don’t know.”

He probably knows, but doesn’t care right now as long as he gets the ball. Thompson said he only needs a day or two’s notice if Ross wants to start him, like Saturday against the White Sox.

“I know I’m going to throw anyway, whether it’s 3-4 innings out of the bullpen or four or five as a starter if I can get stretched out,” Thompson said. “I prepare for a start like I’m getting a call out of the bullpen.”

The second baseman didn’t play for the Cubs last summer after undergoing hamstring surgery with the White Sox. And he had a poor offensive start this season before another IL stint with lower back issues. He said the Cubs staff couldn’t figure out why his back wasn’t originally responding to exercises and soft tissue treatment, but now his range of motion has returned.

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“I feel like physically, mentally I’m ready to get back on the field,” Madrigal said. “It was tough sitting in the dugout.”

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Madrigal is hitting .210 after averaging .317 in two seasons with the White Sox. He’s also struck out 14 times after fanning just 17 times in 200 at-bats last season. The back issues could be been a factor, but he’s not using that as an excuse.

Madrigal needs to be the player he was on the South Side to remain the Cubs’ full-time starter at second base. Morel also can play the position, though he’s more valuable as the starting center fielder.

Tuesday’s win over the Brewers on Patrick Wisdom’s eighth-inning home run was only the Cubs’ fifth in 18 one-run games. That’s not good. The Cubs also are 0-24 when trailing entering the seventh inning, meaning they haven’t learned the art of the comeback.

If they hope to be respectable the remainder of the season, the Cubs need to change direction in both categories.

“The fact we’re in it means we are good enough to compete there,” Ross said of Tuesday’s win. “We’ve just got to figure out a way to win.”

No one gets a ring for being “good enough to compete,” so the Cubs have a ways to go still.

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