Monday night’s walk-off win over the Colorado Rockies, one of the worst road teams in baseball, won’t change how Chicago Cubs fans end up viewing the 2021 season. But, man, it still felt really good to know the ‘W’ was flying above the Wrigley Field scoreboard for the first time in almost a full month.
"“I just had a feeling,” Ortega said. “I knew if I could get up there, stay patient, wait for the right pitch, I thought that I could do it, that I could hit a homer in that situation.”"
The series opener hero, Rafael Ortega, continues to do everything he can to show he belongs not only on a roster that’s little more than a patchwork of Triple-A players, but on the next contending Cubs team. The Chicago leadoff man came through big-time with the walk-off home run in the ninth off Daniel Bard – putting an end to the longest home losing streak in franchise history in the process.
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Things haven’t been easy – for fans or for players. Ortega spoke after the game, pointing out the toll that losing takes on the guys in the clubhouse, as well. Sometimes, as fans, that’s something that we just don’t have a lot of visibility to – we’re caught up in our own emotions and reactions.
"“It’s been really tough,” Ortega told MLB.com. “Just coming here every day, especially not winning many games, not winning games at home. It’s something that weighs on you, just coming in every day knowing that you might not be able to win.”"
Given the sell-off we witnessed nearly a month ago, there was little doubt what direction the team would head over the season’s final two months. But that doesn’t mean there’s not reasons to tune in – or, for players, a reason to grind out at-bats and do the little things that could catch the eye of David Ross or Jed Hoyer as the Cubs approach an offseason filled with uncertainty.
Ortega carries a .306/.365/.483 line this year through 70 games with Chicago. We’re getting pretty darned near the point where you can’t chalk it up to a small sample size. A .370 BABIP makes you think there should be some regression coming for the 30-year-old, but at this point, it hasn’t hit.
The Cubs’ outfield mix is brutal. Ian Happ, who has, all of the sudden, gotten hot (a 1.300 OPS in the last week), is wildly inconsistent and needs to level off if he’s ever going to be considered a long-term building block for the team. Jason Heyward, despite all the value he brings with his veteran mentality and strong community ties, is dead weight (59 OPS+ and two years, $44 million left on his deal).
All this to say the opportunity is there for Ortega to grab a spot (again, this is totally dependent on the team’s actions in the coming offseason). He’s got five-plus weeks left to show he’s more than a guy on a hot streak. Let’s hope he can do it.