Cody Bellinger’s remarkable comeback season has helped the Chicago Cubs morph from pretenders to contenders – Boston Herald


Summer in Chicago is fleeting, and every moment needs to be savored.

That’s exactly what a crowd of 39,525 did Saturday on a beautiful August afternoon at Wrigley Field during the Air and Water and Bellinger Show.

With the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds providing the backdrop in the Chicago Cubs’ 6-4 win against the Kansas City Royals, first baseman Cody Bellinger poked a pair of opposite-field home runs and drove in four runs on a day the organization celebrated the life of legendary WXRT-FM 93.1 DJ Lin Brehmer.

Justin Steele pitched six strong innings, allowing two runs while striking out seven to tie for the major-league lead with his 14th win. Adbert Alzolay converted his 13th straight save opportunity, and the Cubs evened the series at a game apiece with Kyle Hendricks taking the mound Sunday in the rubber game.

But the day belonged to Bellinger, who once again carried the Cubs on his shoulders.

“Putting the lineup on his back is kind of what he does,” manager David Ross said. “The Belli story is like our offense kind of goes as he goes.”

Bellinger worked on going to left field before the game, Ross said of a pregame batting practice session, and the work paid off.

“I didn’t like how I felt yesterday,” Bellinger explained. “I just wanted to come early and get some extra reps and feel what I wanted to feel.”

Whatever he felt, the Cubs hope it’s contagious. They have eight more games against sub-500 teams before a series against the first-place Milwaukee Brewers on Aug. 28-30 at Wrigley Field.

Bellinger’s remarkable comeback season has helped the Cubs morph from pretenders to contenders over the last two-plus months, bringing Wrigley back to life for what’s shaping up as a wild finish to the season.

Cubs fans of every age have seen better teams than the one that improved to 63-59, but few of recent vintage have been as fun to watch as this one has been since late June, with Bellinger, Steele, Nico Hoerner and Dansby Swanson leading the way.

Whether Bellinger will return in 2024 is the question all Cubs fans want answered, especially season ticket holders being asked to pay for postseason tickets before Sept. 15. Former Los Angeles Dodgers star Eric Karros said during the memorable 2003 season that “every player should be a Cub for one year,” and if this is Bellinger’s only season on the North Side, he’s making the most of it.

His two-homer game Saturday gave him 20 for the season, tying Patrick Wisdom for the team lead. Since July 16, Bellinger has hit .374 (43-for-115) with eight home runs and 27 RBIs, leading the Cubs’ resurgence.

There’s a good chance some free-spending team will outbid the Cubs, who no doubt have the money to compete with any other rival and already have announced an average ticket increase of around 3% for 2024. But they might be reluctant to exceed the luxury tax, based on history and Chairman Tom Ricketts’ aversion to spending more than he absolutely has to in order to win a second championship.

“We’ll manage (the competitive balance tax) year to year,” Ricketts said in spring training. “I’m not going to promise top five or anything like that, but we will definitely put the resources we have on the field.”

Other than the unicorn, Shohei Ohtani, no other free-agent hitter figures to command the kind of deal Bellinger should get this offseason. He was a former MVP non-tendered last fall by the Dodgers after two subpar years, so there might be questions about whether this season is an anomaly.

Bellinger admitted Saturday that he tried to return too soon from shoulder surgery in 2021 after dislocating it while celebrating during the 2020 posteason.

“Definitely looking back I would’ve taken a little more time as opposed to trying to get ready for opening day,” he said. “But my first-ever surgery, and I really had no idea. It is what it is. It was a long time ago, and I’m looking forward.”

Bellinger might not be seeking to break the bank as long as he is happy and has a chance to win. So far, so good.

“It’s been a fun year,” he said. “It was fun when I started in January. Got off on the right foot. Love Wrigley. It’s a great organization.”

But that’s not on his mind right now. The story of this crazy Cubs season has a few chapters left, and Bellinger knows he can’t start thinking with his wallet.

“We have 40-something games left and we’re in a playoff race,” he said. “And for me that’s the only thing I’m focusing on.”

Cubs fans have done their part in trying to keep Bellinger around, showering him with love and making it hard for him to leave.

And if the Cubs can make the postseason, he could have a chance to really experience what October baseball is like at Wrigley. He played here one October as a Dodgers rookie during the National League Championship Series in 2017, but the buzz was muted quickly. The Cubs lost Game 3 at home to go down 3-0 and ultimately fell 4-1.

“I wasn’t here in ‘16 when they beat us, and I heard it was really crazy,” he said. “Obviously we came in in ‘17 and beat them. It’s always a great atmosphere.”

The Cubs are assured of playing home games in October only if they win the division or finish with the best NL wild-card record. Otherwise they would have to make it to the NL Division Series. They trail the first-place Brewers by three games and were a half-game out of the final wild-card spot entering Saturday night’s action.

Summer’s end is creeping in, and the Cubs have made it interesting again.

As Brehmer liked to say, it’s great to be alive.


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