After 'whirlwind' 2017 where things didn't go as planned, Justin Wilson is confident heading into a new season with the Cubs

After 'whirlwind' 2017 where things didn't go as planned, Justin Wilson is confident heading into a new season with the Cubs

For Justin Wilson, the offseason was a little bit longer than it was for his Cubs teammates.

Wilson went from trade deadline addition to being left off the NLCS roster. The reliever made one appearance in the NLDS, the last two outs in the Nationals’ ninth in Game 4 with the game practically decided with the Nationals up five runs in Wrigley, and was then replaced on the roster by Hector Rondon for the NLCS against the Dodgers.

“It kind of sucked at first. You go home and there’s still baseball on TV so that sucks," Wilson said in a one-on-one interview with NBC Sports Chicago’s Kelly Crull. "I was happy to come over to the Cubs. Clearly it didn’t go as I wanted it, but it’s a great organization and it’s a really good ball club so I’m excited for a little fresh start this year.”

Wilson had an ERA north of five in 23 appearances with the Cubs and walked 19 in 17 2/3 innings. Before joining the North Siders, Wilson had a 2.48 ERA with the Detroit Tigers and walked 16 in 40 1/3 innings.

Whatever it was, things weren’t working for Wilson with the Cubs.

“Since I came over it just never felt the same,” Wilson said. “The ball wasn’t coming out the same. I clearly wasn’t throwing enough strikes and then, you know, competitors start making changes to compete and get back out there. I made little tweaks here and there and just never found my way. I threw the ball better towards the end, but it still wasn’t the same.”

Wilson said he feels great now and has focused on getting back to what he does best this spring. He believes part of the reason for his renewed confidence is simply comfort.

“It was kind of a whirlwind last year, especially going into a team that’s very good and in the race, you want to do so well,” Wilson said. “I probably added some pressure to myself. Getting here, getting into camp and kind of slowing moving into things, moving into the season, it’s a little more comfortable.”

With a new pitching coach in Jim Hickey, Wilson has a new set of eyes to figure out how to get him back on track. One of the things Wilson noticed about Hickey is how much he preaches the change up.

“I came into camp learning one and continue to throw it,” Wilson said of his change up. “I think it will be a big pitch for me and a big pitch for a lot of us.”

The Cubs have revamped the bullpen this year, but Wilson thinks he can still play a key role. The 30-year-old lefty believes the key is moving past his forgettable few months last season.

“As a reliever you got to be able to flush it because you’re most likely in there the next day or the day after that so the quicker you can do away with it, flush it, learn from it, try to correct it, the faster you’ll get back on track,” he said. “You got to have I guess a little bit of a thick skin, but you also, like I said, have to be able to have a clear mind when you come to the field the next day.”

Summer of Sammy: Sosa's 30th homer in 1998

Summer of Sammy: Sosa's 30th homer in 1998

It's the 20th anniversary of the Summer of Sammy, when Sosa and Mark McGwire went toe-to-toe in one of the most exciting seasons in American sports history chasing after Roger Maris' home run record. All year, we're going to go homer-by-homer on Sosa's 66 longballs, with highlights and info about each. Enjoy.

Sosa hit the 30-homer threshold on June 21, 1998 in only his 71st game of the season. For perspective, the 2018 Cubs leader in homers on June 21 is Javy Baez with 14 and Mike Trout leads all of baseball with only 23.

At this point, Mark McGwire was ahead of Sosa, but the Cubs slugger was pulling closer. McGwire had 33 dingers on June 21 while Ken Griffey Jr. had 28 and Greg Vaughn had 25.

Sosa' June 21 homer came off Tyler Green and was his 5th blast of the series against the Philadelphia Phillies at Wrigley Field that year. But the Cubs lost that series, despite Sosa's efforts.

Fun fact: Sosa drove in 10 runs in the three-game series with the Phillies that summer while the rest of his teammates combined for only 9 RBI.

Podcast: Wild week at Wrigley wraps up with Cubs showing what they’re made of


Podcast: Wild week at Wrigley wraps up with Cubs showing what they’re made of

The Cubs have been a different team the last six weeks, looking a lot more like the resilient bunch from 2016 than the sluggish 2017 squad that lacked energy. After some wacky circumstances Monday and a tough loss in Game 1 of Tuesday’s doubleheader, the Cubs came out and showed what they’re made of in the last two games of the series against the Dodgers, a team that knocked them out of postseason play last fall.

Kelly Crull and Tony Andracki sum up the longest short homestand (or shortest long homestand?), updating the status of Yu Darvish, Brandon Morrow, the Cubs pitching staff and how the team is rounding into form as the season’s halfway mark approaches.

Check out the entire podcast here: