Sampson Relishes Underdog Role, Which He’s Not Likely to Escape Anytime Soon

Adrian Sampson wasn’t supposed to pick up his second win of the season Tuesday night, not when facing Jacob deGrom and the first-place Mets in Flushing. The situation would have set up some low-hanging joke fruit had deGrom still been rocking the flow from his earlier days, but both pitchers performed well despite their closely-cropped locks. In the end, it came down to one team taking advantage of their opponent’s mistakes.

Ian Happ put the Cubs on the board with a big homer in the 2nd inning, then the Cubs played small ball to add two more tallies in the 4th and effectively ice the game. The only problem with deGrom being the best pitcher on the planet is that his teammates seem to forget that they still need to score runs once in a while to support him. To wit, his only two losses this season have come in the two games he allowed more than two runs.

“From the outside factor, everyone expects him to win,” Sampson told reporters when asked about facing deGrom. “I have no pressure on me. At the end of the day, he has more pressure on him to perform than me. Don’t let the underdog [beat you]. I felt comfortable out there. I was in New York. This is my first time pitching in New York, but there weren’t any problems.”

Sampson’s staccato delivery makes it seem as though he’s answering questions while on a pitch clock, so maybe he’s just getting ready for next year. Speaking of which, his spot on the staff is far from a guarantee despite his strong performance and the Cubs’ need for pitching. That need could even push them into the orbit of deGrom, a free-agent-to-be who would instantly raise the profile of the organization in more ways than one.

Bolstering the rotation with a true ace would elevate the Cubs into a much more competitive position while signaling to the rest of baseball that they’re actually ready to try again. While deGrom and Jon Lester have very different pedigrees, they’d be very similar in their ability to change the fortunes of a franchise. Of course, it’s going to take a record-setting offer to land the Mets righty and the Cubs might not be the top bidder.

Even if it’s not deGrom, Jed Hoyer and Carter Hawkins should be very much in the market for a top-line starter. Between that and the ascension of several prospects from the minors, Sampson and other incumbent pitchers could very well end up being squeezed out. That said, the Cubs may very well want to be more creative with the rotation next year as they balance youth with age in an attempt to extract the most possible value while keeping pitchers healthy.

Think piggybacks, swing starts, openers, everything the Rays are doing down in Tampa. If the changes Sampson made to his repertoire continue to yield these results — namely a dramatic decrease in home runs allowed — he’ll remain a valuable member of the staff because he can provide length in a flexible role.

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