On Sunday afternoon in front of a raucous D.C. crowd, Chicago Cubs outfielder Rafael Ortega had himself a day to remember, one that, by the end of it, would be a career-defining performance for the 30-year-old journeyman.
In a game which the Cubs ultimately lost in the bottom of the ninth on a Yadiel Hernandez walk-off home run, the day still undoubtedly belonged to Ortega and his tenacious offensive outburst. Coming into the day, Ortega was slashing a very respectable .294/.347/.450 with an above-average 115 wRC+ – not bad numbers for a utility outfielder.
Ortega finished his day on Sunday a perfect 4-for-4, mashing a trio of home runs to keep fans interested and the Cubs in the game, adding three runs and five RBI. Entering Sunday, Ortega slashed .344/.382/.500 over his previous ten games.
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The fallout from a flurry of deals at the deadline, which saw the Cubs trade what felt like their entire roster, has now put Ortega in a position to see legitimate playing time — and the lefty is taking full advantage of his opportunity.
Chicago Cubs: Ortega making the most of his shot in the bigs
Ortega is the perfect definition of a grinder. A journeyman, if you will. Looking at him, you’d imagine a guy who recently got his feet wet. As Ortega has been around baseball since signing with the Colorado Rockies as a fresh-faced 17-year-old many years ago, it has not been the case.
A significant step for Ortega and his professional baseball career was seven years in Colorado’s organization before the St. Louis Cardinals scooped him up from the Texas Rangers. Ortega was an undrafted free agent and quickly made himself a more-than-serviceable project during the early parts of his career. Ortega then signed with the Los Angeles Angels before another bout of free agency overtook him.
Ortega spent a brief period at the big league level while with the Angels, hitting .232 in 25 games. Following, Ortega bounced from the Angels to the San Diego Padres, then to the Miami Marlins, then to the Atlanta Braves, before ultimately landing with the Cubs.
Things have been well below-average for Ortega in his various big league stints. However, he has seemingly begun to put it all together, and Sunday showed him and his talents off in a big way. The three-homer day was a career-high for Ortega. The five RBI that went along with it also so for Ortega.
The journey for Ortega has been an arduous one, and one that grit and tenacity have been a catalyst for him to reach the big stage. His month of July will be one to remember as he slashed a whopping .370/.424/.537 with a 157 wRC+ amidst more consistent playing time. However, once he got the green light, it has been wheels up, and Ortega has not slowed down.
Cubs baseball is not very fun at the moment, and it is heartache to have seen the ‘Big 3’ find new homes. However, it is what it is, and in the construct of the future direction of this club, Ortega, even at 30 years old, represents a new direction.
As tough as things are right now from the baseball side of things, finding those tiny glimmers of hope is vital. Sunday represented that feeling for all to a tee.