Regardless of how the final two weeks of the season play out, there's no disputing the fact the Cubs have finally started to produce young arms capable of contributing at the big league level.
Justin Steele built on his breakout second half from a year ago, emerging as a legitimate NL Cy Young candidate. Adbert Alzolay seized the closer's role, Mark Leiter has been a go-to presence in the bullpen for David Ross and, most recently, Jordan Wicks came up and has settled into the rotation without hitting much in terms of speed bumps.
But one guy who's seemingly done it all for the Chicago Cubs this year is right-hander Javier Assad. After an international coming out party as a member of Team Mexico in the World Baseball Classic, Assad lost out on a starting job in spring training and found a home in the bullpen as the season went on. But when Marcus Stroman went down with an injury, it was Assad who got the call - and he's answered it in every way imaginable.
Cubs couldn't have asked for more from Javier Assad this summer
He's made nine starts, his latest coming in the Cubs' 14-1 blowout win over the Pirates on Tuesday, working to a 2.84 ERA - due largely to his ability to keep the ball on the ground and take advantage of the defense behind him. You can see how he's benefited from that defense in his 4.52 FIP. All told, the Cubs have won six of his nine starts and he's been a major factor in keeping the team's postseason hopes alive.
Looking at the National League Rookie of the Year race - there's no chance Assad gets serious consideration. The two clear front-runners are Diamondbacks outfielder Corbin Carroll and Mets right-hander Kodai Senga - and there's a sizable gap between that duo and the rest of the pack. But that doesn't negate the fact that, without him, the Cubs could have easily faded away as the season wore on and they trudged on without Stroman. Instead, they control their own destiny with 11 games to go.