A diminished Max Scherzer could change the entire complexion of Cubs-Nationals


A diminished Max Scherzer could change the entire complexion of Cubs-Nationals

As the Cubs break down the Washington Nationals on video, synthesize their scouting reports and run through different scenarios for the playoff roster, this data point might loom larger than anything else: Max Scherzer landing awkwardly Saturday night, walking off the mound with a damaged right leg and getting a precautionary MRI.

By Sunday morning, Scherzer was telling Washington reporters that he had a hamstring “tweak” – not a “major strain” – without guaranteeing that he would be ready to face the Cubs five days later and start Game 1 of the National League Division Series at Nationals Park.

“That’s a definite, the ‘tweak,’ at it’s defined by the American Medical Association,” Cubs manager Joe Maddon said before Game 162 at Wrigley Field. “I’m always curious about how we all try to play semantically with injuries. I have no idea what a ‘tweak’ is. A ‘tweak’ could be a sprain or a strain. I have no idea. But I love the word ‘tweak.’”

Maddon isn’t a doctor, but there are times where he has to play one on TV, trying to answer injury questions without a complete medical picture and without revealing too much information. The Cubs are already going through this with their own Cy Young Award winner.

Jake Arrieta hobbled off the field on Labor Day at PNC Park and downplayed the grabbing sensation in his right leg, hoping it might have just been cramping that knocked him out in the third inning against the Pittsburgh Pirates. Even after an MRI revealed a Grade 1 strain, Arrieta talked about getting back on the mound in a few days and missing only one or two starts.

Arrieta wound up going 17 days in between starts, having mixed results against the Milwaukee Brewers and St. Louis Cardinals (six runs allowed, four earned, in eight innings combined) and getting scratched from Sunday’s start against the Cincinnati Reds.

The hope is the extra rest will help Arrieta – who came back at less than 100 percent – recover in time for a Game 3 or 4 against the Nationals. By waiting until Oct. 9-10,  he would get roughly two full weeks in between starts.

Scherzer made the point that he could still potentially start Games 2 and 5 if he needed an extra day of treatment. But a compromised Scherzer could change the entire complexion of this best-of-five series.

“Of course,” Maddon said. “We’re going to find that out. Obviously, absolutely, it can. Just like Jake. Having to push Jake back a little bit, same-same. Hammies are funny. We’ve talked about that.

“To the extent that he did it – if it was just a cramp – that’s something entirely different. You get over that. You just drink a lot of fluids – you’re fine. But if it was actually some kind of injury to it…it could be a Grade 2 tweak.”

Maddon again laughed at the “tweak” lines and knows enough about “Mad Max” after selecting him as the NL’s starting pitcher for the All-Star Game and interacting with him during this summer’s festivities in South Florida.

Even while abruptly leaving Saturday’s start against the Pirates in the fourth inning, Scherzer may have put the finishing touches on his third Cy Young Award campaign: 16-6, 2.51 ERA, 268 strikeouts in 200-plus innings.

“Mr. Scherzer is one of the best that I’ve ever seen,” Maddon said. “Regardless of whether you got your Grade-A lineup or not, when this guy’s on, it’s difficult. You have to pitch a little bit better than him, and that’s really going a long ways.”

Scherzer already beat the Cubs once this season – a 6-1 win on June 27 at Nationals Park – at a time when Arrieta (4.67 ERA) hadn’t found his second-half stride yet and injuries to Ben Zobrist and Jason Heyward limited the lineup possibilities. An offense that would score 800-plus runs again wasn’t clicking on all cylinders, and the Cubs will draw from their unique playoff experiences last October into early November.   

“You just got to look for that edge in the game,” Maddon said. “Whatever you want to call it or describe it is the fact that you have the guys that are supposed to be out there, out there vs. him. And you’re playing in this situation that you’re somewhat used to and you’re confident. Those are the things that will work in our favor.

“But when this guy’s on, I don’t care who you’re throwing up there to the plate, this guy’s that good. (So) whenever you have a chance to score a run with an out, score a run with an out. Anything that occurs that permits you to take a little – and move the needle a little bit – you got to do it because he is that good.”

Scouting the Cubs' competition: Does Jake Arrieta transform Phillies' playoff hopes?


Scouting the Cubs' competition: Does Jake Arrieta transform Phillies' playoff hopes?

The expectations couldn't be any higher for the 2018 Chicago Cubs. 

It's 2016 all over again. The goal isn't just a trip to the playoffs or another NL pennant. It's World Series or bust for this group of North Siders.

With that, let's take a look at all of the teams that could stand in the way of the Cubs getting back to the Fall Classic:

Philadelphia Phillies

2017 record: 66-96, last place in NL East

Offseason additions: Jake Arrieta, Carlos Santana, Tommy Hunter, Pat Neshek, Drew Hutchison, Will Middlebrooks

Offseason departures: Daniel Nava, Clay Buchholz, Hyun-Soo Kim, Freddy Galvis

X-factor: Odubel Herrera

Rhys Hoskins won't continue to hit homers at such a historic rate, but everything points to another very strong season for the young outfielder/first baseman.

Instead, it's Herrera who enters the season with the most questions surrounding his impact. He's penciled in as the Phillies' No. 3 hitter in his age-26 season and saw regression in 2017 in strike zone organization.

Herrera's walk rate was cut nearly in half and saw an increase in strikeouts. As a result, his on-base percentage dropped 36 points despite a batting average just 5 points lower than 2016. He did flash more power (59 extra base hits compared to 42 in '16), but he will need to correct the recent trends of patience at the plate if the Phillies are actually going to take a step forward this year.

Projected lineup

1. Cesar Hernandez - 2B
2. Carlos Santana - 1B
3. Odubel Herrera - CF
4. Rhys Hoskins - LF
5. Nick Williams - RF
6. Maikel Franco - 3B
7. Jorge Alfaro - C
8. J.P. Crawford - SS

Projected rotation

1. Aaron Nola
2. Jake Arrieta
3. Vince Velasquez
4. Nick Pivetta
5. Ben Lively


The Phillies are probably at least a year away from being legit contenders, but adding Arrieta was a huge step in that direction. This team needed more starting pitching and they got it with the second-best starter on the free agent market.

The Santana signing was curious given Philly already had Hoskins at first base, so they have to pray the kid won't miss a step adjusting to a full-time role in left field. Santana is a very good player and still only 31, so it's not a bad move at all.

The rest of the Phillies lineup features a bunch of young players beginning their post-prospect life, packed with a bunch of questions. Franco and Crawford were projected to be stars and Alfaro and Williams very well could be important pieces in the core. But 2018 will feature growing pains with a lineup featuring five players under the age of 26. 

Hernandez is one of the more underrated players in the game — a solid leadoff hitter who has turned into a very patient player. With a full season of at-bats, he and Santana could combine for over 200 walks.

The starting staff is still lacking depth, but if Velasquez can actually stay healthy for once, that would go a long way toward legitimizing this staff.

The bullpen is solid with Hector Neris set for the closer's role and veteran additions Hunter and Neshek helping bridge the gap.

Even if the Phillies don't make the postseason in 2018, their time is coming and they would be a scary team to face this summer when they're hot.

Prediction: 4th in NL East, no playoffs

Which Cubs and White Sox players are included in MLB The Show 18's player rankings?


Which Cubs and White Sox players are included in MLB The Show 18's player rankings?

MLB The Show 18 apparently is not high on too many Cubs and White Sox players entering the 2018 season.

Thursday, Playstation released the Top 10 players in MLB The Show 18 position-by-position. Of the 10 positional groups (including starting and relief pitchers), only five Chicago players are included in the Top 10 at their respecitve positions (three Cubs, two White Sox). 

Kris Bryant is highest ranked Cub and the third-best third baseman in the game with an 86 rating. Anthony Rizzo is ranked as the third-best first baseman with an overall rating of 85, while Willson Contreras is ranked as the fourth-best catcher with a rating of 83.

For the White Sox, Jose Abreu is ranked the eighth-best first baseman with an 82 rating, while Avisail Garcia (79 rating) is ranked the ninth-best right fielder. 

The Chicago player rankings are quite odd in comparison to other players ranked in the Top 10 at their various positions. For example, Jose Reyes (79 rating) is ranked as the 10th best shortstop in the game. Reyes is a .286 career hitter, but he is coming off of a season in which he hit .246 in 501 at-bats.

While Addison Russell had a down year in 2017 (.239/.304/.418), it seems safe to say that he is a better player than Reyes at this point. And even if Russell is not worthy of a Top 10 ranking, there is a case to be made for other shorstops (i.e. Zack Cozart, Brandon Crawford, Jean Segura) to be ranked above Reyes.

Similarly, Kris Bryant's 86 rating is quite low considering that he was rated 94 in MLB The Show 17. While his home run and RBI totals both decreased slightly from 2016, Bryant still put together an all-around great 2017 season. He led MLB third basemen in walks (95) and runs (111) while also producing a slash line of .295/.409/.537.

Ultimately, the ratings and overall rankings must be put into perspective. Mike Trout's rating (93) is the highest in the game, yet even he experienced a drop from his 99 rating in MLB The Show 17. 

The ratings for Bryant, Rizzo and Abreu seem low, but Nolan Arenado (90) leads all third basemen, while Joey Votto (87) is best among first basemen. Basically, the various Cubs and White Sox players are not rated too far behind the best.

Here are the complete position-by-position rankings for MLB The Show 2018: