How will Cubs bullpen adapt without Pedro Strop?

How will Cubs bullpen adapt without Pedro Strop?

The Cubs envisioned Aroldis Chapman changing the entire shape of their bullpen – and the feel of playoff games – when they decided to take the off-the-field baggage and acquire the superstar closer in a 4-for-1 trade with the New York Yankees in late July.

And then manager Joe Maddon tried to squeeze four-out saves from Chapman, only to find out that the 100-mph lefty prefers to work one inning at a time.

And then Hector Rondon – another dominant closer bumped into the eighth inning with Chapman’s arrival – started feeling tightness in his triceps muscle. The Cubs already had to be cautious with a pitcher who missed almost three seasons with right elbow issues and came back from Tommy John surgery. Rondon hasn’t pitched in a game since Aug. 2 and will try to get in a bullpen session on Friday at Wrigley Field.

And now Pedro Strop – one of the league’s top setup guys – is looking at a four-to-six-week recovery period once he undergoes surgery to repair the torn meniscus in his left knee.

“We’re just trying to build to that ninth inning with the lead,” Maddon said. “We can still do that. We’re going to miss him, though. Stropy’s that guy that I feel really good against the other team’s best hitters all the time.”

The Cubs needed 11 innings to beat the St. Louis Cardinals on Thursday night, with John Lackey warming up in the bullpen and Anthony Rizzo drawing a walk-off walk as the exclamation point to a wild 4-3 win. Maddon used five relievers to cover the final five innings, including Justin Grimm, who has been shuttled back and forth from Triple-A Iowa because of his minor-league option and the 25-man roster crunch, the Cubs now hoping he will resemble the trusted reliever he became during last year’s playoff run.

“I know what I’m capable of doing here,” Grimm said. “This is where I belong.”

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Joe Smith – the funky right-hander acquired from the Los Angeles Angels as part of the trade-deadline dealing for Theo Epstein’s front office – should take on bigger responsibilities now.

“It will give more opportunities to different guys,” Maddon said. “Particularly Joe Smith, I think, is really going to be the guy that will be utilized more often because of it. Grimm has his strong points, too, that we can utilize. We’re still waiting to find out about Hector and exactly when he’s going to be available again. So there’s that to consider, too, but it’s still a really strong bullpen.”

Mike Montgomery hasn’t been the next Andrew Miller the Cubs wished for when they traded with the Seattle Mariners. And until Thursday night, the lefty hadn’t pitched in August, with Maddon saying the Cubs wanted to stretch him out and needed to keep next week’s doubleheader against the Milwaukee Brewers in mind.

Montgomery fractured Matt Holliday’s right thumb with an accidental pitch, and accounted for two scoreless innings against the Cardinals and earned his first win as a Cub.

“It’s my job is to be ready for anything,” Montgomery said.  

After Strop heard his left knee pop on Wednesday night, Carl Edwards Jr. got three big outs in the eighth inning of an eventual 3-1 win over the Angels, retiring Mike Trout, Albert Pujols and Andrelton Simmons in a row. But given his rookie status and slender frame, the Cubs are not ready to use Edwards (1.42 ERA and 26 strikeouts in 19 innings) in back-to-back games.

“Not yet,” Maddon said. “I don’t want to push it yet. I don’t think it’s time to go there. He was spectacular (against the Angels). I don’t know (if it’s) because we gave him the appropriate rest in between appearances. Just talking to the guys that have had him (before) in the organization – and how he’s been utilized to this point – I’ve listened regarding (C.J.). It’s worked out pretty well to this point.”

Even the Indians can't deny the lasting impact Cubs have on Progressive Field

Even the Indians can't deny the lasting impact Cubs have on Progressive Field

CLEVELAND — Even the Indians can't deny the lasting impact Cubs have on Progressive Field.

Namely, the impact the Cubs left on the floor of the visiting locker room.

With 18 months in between visits, one of the first things the Cubs noticed about their clubhouse at Progressive Field was the new carpet.

"It's probably necessary," Joe Maddon said with a smile. "So some good things have come from all that stuff, too, for the visitors. You get new interior decorating."

After the Indians blew a 3-1 lead in the 2016 World Series, the Cubs — and Bill Murray — dumped an awful lot of champagne and Budwesier on the old carpets.

Like, A LOT. 

"Oh yeah," Addison Russell said, "I think we messed it up pretty good."

It'd be hard to fault the Cubs for an epic celebration to honor the end of a 108-year championship drought, especially the way in which they accomplished the feat with maybe the most incredible baseball game ever played.

As the Cubs returned to the emotional, nostalgic-riddled scene of that historic fall, the parallels were striking.

Exactly 18 months before Tuesday, the Cubs walked into Progressive Field for the start of the World Series in 54 degree Cleveland weather with overcast skies and a pestering little drizzle.

Tuesday, the Cubs walked back into Progressive Field in 54 degree Cleveland weather with overcast skies and a pestering little drizzle.

A bunch of Cubs also found their lockers in the same place in that visiting locker room.

Russell, Ben Zobrist, Kyle Schwarber, Jason Heyward, Anthony Rizzo and Jon Lester all have their lockers in the same spots this week as they had for the 2016 Fall Classic.

Some clubhouses go in numerical order, some go based on position groups. The Indians don't really seem to fall under either camp, considering Lester was surrounded by all position players in the corner of the locker room, where — before Tuesday —was last seen giving a heartfelt "thank you" to the media for "putting up with him" all season.

"Just walking back into the stadium from the bus into the clubhouse, you get the sense of nostalgia," Russell said. "I see that they replaced the carpet, which is nice. But yeah, the weight room, the food room, I just remember walking around here having that World Series Champs shirt on.

"It's a great memory. I think this is the same locker I had as well. Everything's just fitting like a puzzle piece right now and it's pretty awesome."

Kyle Schwarber is basically Superman in Cleveland

Kyle Schwarber is basically Superman in Cleveland

CLEVELAND — Kyle Schwarber LOVES hitting in Cleveland.

It's like he morphs into a superhero just by stepping foot into the left-handed batter's box at Progressive Field.

Playing in Cleveland for the first time since his legendary return to the field in the 2016 World Series, Schwarber went absolutely bonkers on a Josh Tomlin pitch in the second inning Tuesday night:

That wasn't just any homer, however. 

The 117.1 mph dinger was the hardest-hit ball by any Cubs hitter in the era of exit velocity, aka since Statcast was invented in 2015:

Schwarber followed that up with another solo blast into the right-field bleachers in the fourth inning off Tomlin.

Schwarber — an Ohio native — collected his first MLB hit at Progressive Field back on June 17, 2015 in his second career game. He went 6-for-9 in that series with a triple, homer and 4 RBI.

Couple that with his World Series totals and the first two times up Tuesday and Schwarber has hit .500 with a .545 on-base percentage and .900 slugging percentage in his first 33 trips to the plate in Cleveland.