Cubs

As the Cubs struggle, so do their rivals

As the Cubs struggle, so do their rivals

By: Brenna Carberry  

As the Cubs' slump continues, it’s difficult to look past the ongoing issues on both sides of the ball. 

After having seven players selected for next week's All-Star Game, the Cubs lost to the last-place Reds Wednesday for the second time in three days. The North Siders have now lost four of their last five series, and have dropped below the San Francisco Giants for the majors' best record. 

[SHOP: Buy Cubs All-Star Game gear]

But it's not a time to panic. Despite being stuck in their worst funk this season, the Cubs (52-32) remain atop the NL Central and their struggles are relatively minor issues compared to what their rivals are dealing with these days. 

The St. Louis Cardinals lost arguably their best player Wednesday night when Matt Carpenter suffered a right oblique strain in the bottom of the third inning against the Pittsburgh Pirates. Carpenter was placed on the 15-day DL on Thursday, but it is hard to know exactly when he'll return to the lineup as oblique injuries generally cost players at least a month. 

Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said he had a "high level of concern" about Carpenter's injury after the game. 

A similar oblique injury cost Carpenter a month on the DL four seasons ago, and this one could be more serious

The Cardinals do have the personnel to cover for Carpenter, but replacing him is near impossible as he is the best player the Cardinals have by pretty much any objective measure - batting .298/.420/.568 with 14 home runs, 53 RBI, and 56 runs scored in 78 games this season. They'll look to Kolten Wong and Jedd Gyorko to fill in for Carpenter at second base, but with first baseman Brandon Moss on the 15-day DL with a left ankle sprain, and Brayan Pena (knee) and Jhonny Peralta (thumb) battling injuries, cover options are running low. 

The future is murky for Matt Carpenter and the St. Louis Cardinals, who are in a dog fight in the National League Wild Card race. After losing to the Pittsburgh Pirates Wednesday night, the Cardinals dropped a half-game below the Pirates in the NL Central standings, putting them 9 games behind the division-leading Cubs. The big question now is can the Cardinals climb back from this deficit, or is it all downhill from here?

[MORE CUBS TALK: Joe Maddon won't connect all the 'negative dots' around Cubs]

It's not just the Cardinals either. The New York Mets are battling significant injuries as well with right-hander Matt Harvey on the DL with right shoulder discomfort, and Steven Matz and Noah Syndergaard are pitching through bone spurs in their pitching elbows. And with the Cubs' newfound rivalry with the Mets, these lingering injuries could impact both teams' playoff runs come October. 

It's hard to know how things will shake out in the National League down the road, but one thing we know for sure right now is that as the Cubs struggle, so do their rivals. 

Addison Russell is so over 2017: 'That's last year, don't want to talk about that'

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Addison Russell is so over 2017: 'That's last year, don't want to talk about that'

MESA, Ariz. — “That’s last year, don’t want to talk about that.”

In other words, Addison Russell is so over 2017.

The Cubs shortstop went through a lot last year. He dealt with injuries that affected his foot and shoulder. He had a well-documented off-the-field issue involving an accusation of domestic abuse, which sparked an investigation by Major League Baseball. And then came the trade speculation.

The hot stove season rarely leaves any player completely out of online trade discussion. But after Theo Epstein admitted there was a possibility the Cubs could trade away one or more young position players to bolster the starting rotation, well, Russell’s name came up.

And he saw it.

“There was a lot of trade talk,” Russell said Saturday. “My initial thoughts were, I hope it doesn’t happen, but wherever I go, I’m going to try to bring what I bring to the table here. It’s a good thing that it doesn’t have to be that way. I’m happy being in a Cubs uniform, I want to be in a Cubs uniform, for sure. But there was some talk out there. If I got traded, then I got traded, but that’s not the case.”

No, it’s not, as the Cubs solved those pitching questions with free-agent spending, bringing in Yu Darvish and Tyler Chatwood to replace the departed Jake Arrieta and John Lackey. It means Russell, along with oft-discussed names like Kyle Schwarber, Ian Happ and Javy Baez, are all still Cubs.

While the outside world might have expected one of those guys to be moved in some sort of blockbuster trade for Chris Archer or some other All-Star arm, the Cubs’ young core remains intact, another reason why they’re as much a favorite to win the World Series as any team out there.

“I’m really not surprised. The core is still here. Who would want to break that up? It’s a beautiful thing,” Russell said. “Javy and I in the middle. Schwarber, sometimes playing catcher but mainly outfield. And then (Kris Bryant) over there in the hot corner, and of course (Anthony) Rizzo at first. You’ve got a Gold Glover in right field (Jason Heyward). It’s really hard to break that up.

“When you do break that down on paper, we’ve got a lineup that could stack up with the best.”

This winter has been about moving on for Russell, who said he’s spent months working to strengthen his foot and shoulder after they limited him to 110 games last season, the fewest he played in his first three big league campaigns.

And so for Russell, the formula for returning to his 2016 levels of offensive aptitude isn’t a difficult one: stay on the field.

“Especially with the injuries, I definitely wanted to showcase some more of my talent last year than I displayed,” Russell said. “So going into this year, it’s mainly just keeping a good mental — just staying level headed. And also staying healthy and producing and being out there on the field.

“Next step for me, really just staying out there on the field. I really want to see what I can do as far as helping the team if I can stay healthy for a full season. I think if I just stay out there on the field, I’m going to produce.”

While the decrease in being on the field meant lower numbers from a “counting” standpoint — the drop from 21 homers in 2016 to 12 last year, the drop from 95 RBIs to 43 can in part be attributed to the lower number of games — certain rate stats looked different, too. His on-base percentage dropped from .321 in 2016 to .304 last year.

Russell also struggled during the postseason, picking up just six hits in 36 plate appearances in series against the Washington Nationals and Los Angeles Dodgers. He struck out 13 times in 10 postseason games.

Of course, he wasn’t alone. That World Series hangover was team-wide throughout the first half of the season. And even though the Cubs scored 824 runs during the regular season, the second most in the National League and the fourth most in baseball, plenty of guys had their offensive struggles: Schwarber, Heyward and Ben Zobrist, to name a few.

“You can’t take anything for granted. So whenever you win a World Series or you do something good, you just have to live in the moment,” Russell said. “It was a tough season last year because we were coming off winning the World Series and the World Series hangover and all that. This year, we had a couple months off, a couple extra weeks off, and I think a lot of guys took advantage of that. I know I did. And now that we’re here in spring training, we’re going to get back at it.”

Cubs Talk Podcast: Discussing 5-man unit and where Montgomery fits into Cubs' plans

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Cubs Talk Podcast: Discussing 5-man unit and where Montgomery fits into Cubs' plans

Jon Lester has arrived at Cubs camp, and he’s pleased with the new-look rotation full of potential aces. Kelly Crull and Vinnie Duber discuss the 5-man unit, and where Mike Montgomery fits into the Cubs’ plans.

Plus, Kelly and Vinnie talk Jason Heyward and Kyle Schwarber, along with the continuing free agent stalemate surrounding Jake Arrieta.

Listen to the full Cubs Talk Podcast right here: