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Cubs notes: Bellinger, Suzuki, Steele, Mervis

The Cubs currently sit at a solid 20-14 record, just one game back of the Brewers for the NL Central lead. That strong start came despite several key injuries: the staff ace Justin Steele he was ruled out of his opening day game against the Rangers with a pulled hamstring and hasn't taken the mound in the majors since, with the club losing both. Cody Bellinger again Seiya Suzuki rib and oblique injuries, respectively.

Fortunately for Chicago, however, it looks like all three stars will be back in action. The manager Craig Counsell told reporters (incl ESPN's Jesse Rogers) this afternoon that both Suzuki and Bellinger could return to action sometime next week, and's Injury Tracker notes that Counsel told reporters yesterday that Steele is scheduled to be activated from the IL and take the ball in Monday's game against the team. . Padres.

All three of these updates are good news for the Cubs. When Suzuki was placed on the IL on April 15, the Cubs' offense produced a solid 108 wRC+ (11th in the majors) but the offense struggled without the right fielder with a 93 wRC+ (17th in the majors). majors) since then. . The club's struggles have become even more prominent since Bellinger was shelved, as the club has posted a 73 wRC+ (24th in the majors) and a .101 ISO since then.

The club will have some interesting roster decisions to make upon the return of these two, as the top prospect Pete Crow-Armstrong made a strong impression with a 90 wRC+ and superior defense in center field while Bellinger was on the shelf as a veteran quarterback. Mike Tauchman has taken advantage of everyday opportunities and is now hitting a whopping .276/.406/.460 with a wRC+ of 154 in 106 trips to the plate this season. The most likely outcome seems to be Crow-Armstrong returning to Triple-A while Tauchman takes over as the club's regular DH, with Bellinger and Suzuki quickly returning to their usual spots in center and right. That being said, it's possible the club considers Crowe-Armstrong's defense and baserunning too important to lose and instead looks to carry him as a bench player even after Bellinger and Suzuki return.

Although Chicago's offense has struggled without its two outfielders, the rotation has improved even without last year's fifth-place finisher in the NL Cy Young Award. The Cubs' rotation has a combined 3.35 ERA that ranks seventh-best in the majors this year. Shota Imanaga (0.78 ERA), Jameson Taillon (1.13 ERA) and Javier Assad (1.97 ERA) has been dominant as they have led the team in Steele's absence while the youngsters are similar Hayden Wesneski, Ben Brownagain Jordan Wicks combined for a solid 3.27 ERA in 11 starts filling out the back rotation. That being said, Steele's return would allow the club to return either Wesneski or Brown to a struggling bullpen that has pitched to a below-average 4.50 ERA and ranks in the bottom five in the majors in terms of fWAR.

In less good news for the Cubs, the club has selected a first base coach Matt Mervis to Triple-A Iowa today, recalls the electric infielder Miles Mastrobuoni to take his place on the list. Mervis received top-100 prospect buzz entering last season due to his rapid rise through the minor leagues that saw him reach Triple-A in his second professional season, but he has stagnated despite a stellar .297/.393/. 556 slash line in his career.

He has earned two cups of coffee in the majors so far in his career but has failed to hit in either of them, with a slash line of .155/.222/.259 in 127 trips to the plate at the big league level. including nine games this season in which he went 3-26 with a 30.8% strikeout rate. Mervis will now return to the minor leagues to wait for his next opportunity, although at the moment he seems to be blocked by players like Michael BuschBellinger, Tauchman, and even Crow-Armstrong about the club's left-handed options.

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