The Chicago Cubs have fought hard all season to stay in the race for the National League Central title, but they’ll have to fight even harder just to hang on to their current wild card playoff spot.
Shortstop Javier Baez, last season’s runner-up for National League Most Valuable Player, has been diagnosed with a hairline fracture in his thumb and may miss the remainder of the regular season. As of yet, there is no timetable on any recovery. This, in addition to Kris Bryant’s nagging knee injury and their already-deficient pitching staff, will test the depths of the Cubs’ lineup as the regular season draws to a close.
To replace Baez at shortstop, the Cubs must turn to Addison Russell. a capable batter who has struggled in the field this season. Case in point, his errant throw in the bottom of the ninth inning helped gift the Brewers their winning run in the Cubs’ 3-2 loss Saturday night. However, there is reason for Cubs fans to hope.
Shortstop was Russell’s position throughout the 2016 postseason when the Cubs won the World Series. With a little time, Russell can recapture the form that made him a key contributor to that world champion team.
That is, if they have enough time.
At the moment, the Cubs have the second Wild Card spot, and their margin of error is slipping day by day. The team most likely to catch them is the red-hot Arizona Diamondbacks, winners of their last five games, who trail the Cubs for the Wild Card by a game and a half. Both teams’ paths will cross through the similarly red-hot St. Louis Cardinals, who lead the Central division by three and a half games. The Brewers are also in the race, especially if they win today and become just two games behind the Cubs.
That said, even with injuries to key parts of their lineup, the Cubs still have power hitter Kyle Schwarber. They still have their leading hitters, Anthony Rizzo and Willson Contreras. Unlike the Diamondbacks, who have no ace pitcher to speak of (as they gave Zack Grienke away in July), at least the Cubs can depend on Jon Lester and Yu Darvish. Unlike the Diamondbacks, the Cubs have been here before, since 2015, this band’s first rodeo with the playoffs.
Not to say that youth and inexperience are inherently a disqualifying factor for playoff success, as, with a bit of luck, this Arizona squad led by the hitting of All-Star Ketel Marte could put an October run together. However, the Cubs may have a bit extra incentive — this could be their last chance to bring home a second title before the window shuts.
Rumors swirl by the month that the 2019-20 offseason could bring drastic shakeups to the Cubs organization, meaning that the band that finally brought the North Side a world championship could be broken up if they don’t make something happen this season. And if there’s one thing the rest of the National League should fear, it’s a Cubs team with a chip on their shoulder.