Can Cubs break own dubious MLB record with 32 games left?

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Turns out one man’s ban from a country is another man’s treasure.

Or in the case of the Cubs on Tuesday night, two bans and two treasures.

And whether it helps lead the Cubs to breaking the major-league record they set a year ago — albeit, a less-than-glorious one — they moved two big steps in that direction Tuesday, thanks to Justin Steele’s and Adrian Sampson’s decisions to remain unvaccinated against COVID-19.

Because Canada bans visitors to the country who are not fully vaxed, Steele and Sampson are on the restricted list, opening the way for their roster replacements — relievers Brendon Little and Jeremiah Estrada —  to make their major-league debuts during Tuesday night’s 5-3 loss to the Blue Jays.

They are the 13th and 14th players to make their big-league debuts for the Cubs this year and the 59th and 60th players used overall this season by the club — nine short of their 2021 MLB record for most players used in a season, with 32 games left.

Little, a first-round pick in the 2017 draft, was charged with the loss after turning a 2-1 lead into a 4-2 deficit after a walk, single and Teoscar Hernández home run in relief of starter Marcus Stroman in the sixth.

“Brendon had some things speed up on him a little bit,” manager David Ross said postgame on the Cubs’ broadcast. “He settled down and was able to get an out or two.”

Estrada, a sixth-round pick from the same draft, pitched a scoreless eighth, striking out two, in his debut.

“He’s got a really good fastball. Threw the ball extremely well,” Ross said. “He’s got some swing and miss in there. Nice job by him.”

Neither is on the 40-man roster (which is allowed for Canada-ban replacements) and likely are headed right back to Triple-A after the series.

The blown lead, which spoiled Marcus Stroman’s return to Toronto to face his original team, underscored the massive hole the Cubs front office created in its bullpen when it traded away its four best relievers at the deadline four weeks ago.

But those departures also represent one more reason why the not-so-nice record of 69 players remains in play as the Cubs run a parade of relievers through the late innings down the stretch as it holds early auditions for next year.

Little and Estrada, by the way, were just two of five Cubs in Tuesday’s game who made their big-league debuts this year.

They included third baseman Chris Morel, who homered and doubled in the game; Seiya Suzuki, who singled twice; and Nelson Velázquez, who walked and scored a run.

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