The current four-game losing streak that the Cubs are experiencing is not a reason for fans to panic. Not yet, anyway. Yes, it's never fun to be swept by the Cardinals. And you hope to (A) score more than two runs in Miami and/or (B) not see your 8th inning reliever give up those runs in a 4-2 loss. But there is much more going on here.
The Cubs will now try to bounce back from their longest losing streak of the season, yet they enter the weekend with a firm nine-game lead. What's more important, though, is the fact that more young players are getting work at this level here in June.
Remember last year in the postseason when Javy Baez hit the huge home run against St. Louis? Fans love it when Chicago puts these guys in big spots and they come through like that. But it isn't magic. Baez had to get enough time in the league to get to that point. And this is exactly what we're seeing right now with Contreras and Almora (and possibly a couple of relievers as well).
I believe that the front office and coaching staff see Almora and Contreras as key players down the stretch and into the postseason. If this is true, it has to start now. These innings and at-bats might not seem very important here in June. But in September (and hopefully October), every bit of experience could pay off.
This really shouldn't even be a surprise to Cubs fans, as the team is sort of making this a routine now. The only difference now, of course, is the huge division lead. Yes, the lead has dipped to single digits. But give it just give it a minute for things to start to click again.
Furthermore, for a guy like Contreras to get the promotion and to have immediate success seems about right when looking at the team's track record.
For example, take a look at Kris Bryant's and Kyle Schwarber's AVG/OBP/OPS stats from their time at AAA. Bryant's stats were .298/.412/1.037, while Schwarber's were .333/.403/1.036. Those numbers were similar enough that it wasn't a total shock to see Schwarber follow up Bryant's MLB success. Well, Contreras also had very comparable numbers of .350/.439/1.030.
Taking this a step further, I am personally interested in another guy currently at AAA Iowa: Dan Vogelbach. Through 228 AAA at-bats, he's posted a similar .298/.419/.941 at Iowa this season. The average matches Bryant's, while the OBP is better than both Bryant and Schwarber. I know, I know. There's nowhere to play him in Chicago. Of course, we never expected to see Willson Contreras playing first base last night either, did we? All I know is that these other players were obviously ready to come up within 200 at-bats or fewer, and Vogelbach's time could be coming soon.
I assume the Cubs front office is watching all of these stats and more, considering possibly finding a spot for Vogelbach in Chicago or (more likely) making other teams aware of the numbers as the trade deadline approaches. Either way, the success of Bryant, Schwarber, and Contreras could lead to a call-up or a significant trade when it comes to Vogelbach.
The system is working, and we cannot get caught up in a four-game losing streak and begin to think otherwise. Hopefully in the fall, we'll look back at this time as the week where we saw what Contreras was really capable of: owning the catcher position, filling in at first base, and driving in some of the team's only runs in the midst of its worst losing streak.
Finally, just for fun, I'll point out that Ian Happ is now at AA Tennessee. His numbers at A+ of .296/.410/.885 do compare OK to Bryant's (.333/.387/1.106) and Schwarber's (.302/.393/.952) at that level. As expected, he showed less power but got on base at a better pace than both of them. But he's clearly on the same path!