The Chicago Cubs feature hitters who carry the lumber like Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo, and Jorge Soler. And, shortstop Addison Russell has had flashes lately. But the Cubs have key contributors who come off the bench and a strong bench can only be an asset during the long season.
Matt Szczur, 26, had the biggest hit of his major league career when he pounced on a Chris Withrow fastball with the bags full in the bottom of the eighth inning for a nicely hit home run to left field.
The ball was clouted with authority and cleared the wall for a Grand Slam which punctuated the Cubs 6-1 win vs. Atlanta last Friday. It was Szczur’s first career Grand Slam.
Szczur who has been back and forth from Triple-A in Iowa to the Bigs, knows his role with the team. “I just wanted to put the ball in the air,” Szczur said. That he did. “It was a big hit,” he said, “I was just super-excited, kind of sealed the deal for us.”
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The Cubs are 17-6 and off to its best start since 1907 when $2.00 would get you a good meal. The reserves have been solid this season which bodes well for the team.
Szczur came into the game as a defensive replacement and his bat did the talking in the 6-1 win. Afterward, Cubs manager Joe Maddon called Szczur “a managers or coaches dream.” Maddon added, “The last step for him was to realize that he belongs in the major leagues.”
Szczur has only 28 AB but he is batting .333. His ten RBI are already over his 2015 total and he has had much fewer at-bats. In 2015 had 72 at-bats and drove in eight runs. So watch out for Szczur.
Tommy La Stella, 27, has been with the Cubs for one full season and now he is finding his role. The Cubs like his batting eye and versatility. He can play second or third base. He has battled the injury bug and is healthy now and has contributed to team’s success.
In a recent game vs. the Reds, he went 3-for-5 with a home run. And in Jake Arrieta’s last start, La Stella doubled in Anthony Rizzo in the bottom of the third inning to plate a run. Prior to Sunday’s game, he was batting .400 for the season.
Last season he was the club’s best pinch-hitter going 6 for 14 for a .429 average. La Stella likes the challenge of coming off the bench to pinch-hit. “It starts with being open-minded to the idea that’s it’s not about me, it’s about the team,” La Stella noted. “Not only is it tolerable but you look forward to the opportunities.”
Matt Szczur and Tommy La Stella might not grab the headlines like some of the power hitters. But they are important players to the team’s success. A reliable bench can only help in the hot days of July.