Javier Baez takes off while Cubs brace for possibility Addison Russell could miss rest of season

Javier Baez takes off while Cubs brace for possibility Addison Russell could miss rest of season

PITTSBURGH – While Javier Baez takes his game to another level, the Cubs are bracing for the possibility that All-Star shortstop Addison Russell could miss the rest of the season as he deals with a strained right foot and plantar fasciitis.

“There’s no assumption,” manager Joe Maddon said Thursday at PNC Park. “He could be out the rest of the year. He could be back. I don’t know.”

Do the math: An MRI on Aug. 31 revealed a re-aggravation of the plantar fasciitis that has been part of the nagging issues that pushed Russell onto the disabled list on Aug. 3. The Cubs are one week into a three-week recovery period, though at this point it’s unclear whether that means jumping back into the lineup or ramping up baseball activities again. The playoff window would likely be the National League divisional round that begins Oct. 6.

MVP candidate Anthony Rizzo made an interesting observation during a state-of-the-team conversation in the middle of this four-game series against the Pittsburgh Pirates. The Cubs watched Jake Arrieta (strained right hamstring) hobble off the mound and catcher Willson Contreras (strained right hamstring) leave to join advanced Class-A Myrtle Beach in the Carolina League playoffs.

“The feeling is that it’s not season-ending for anyone,” Rizzo said. “Addie’s been out for a while now. His chances of coming back are kind of growing slim now.

“But with Jake, it’s optimism. He’s going to come back and make a couple starts. (With) Willson, hopefully he’ll be back in a few days now after he goes out for rehab. But it’s part of the game.”

Baez has maximized this opportunity, showing that he can be a dynamic, two-way, big-league shortstop, leaving Ben Zobrist, Ian Happ, Tommy La Stella and Mike Freeman as part of the jigsaw puzzle at second base.

“Javy’s shored up that spot really well,” Maddon said. “My bigger concern right now would be in the latter part of the game: Where do you want to go at second base? Based on who’s available, everybody else who’s in the game that night, love Tommy coming off the bench to pinch-hit, there’s all different things to consider.

“So if, in fact, Addie can’t make it back, I think it’s going to be important to figure out who is the best defensive second baseman to run with in the latter part of a game.”

Ever since their first spring training together in 2015, Maddon saw the possibilities with Baez and appreciated his unique skills, lobbying for him to make the Opening Day roster. The Cubs opted for more development at Triple-A Iowa, and Maddon purposely avoided anointing Baez and allowing him to get too comfortable.

After this extended look – starting 32 of 33 games at shortstop in the middle of a 21-homer, 67-RBI, age-24 season – is Baez an everyday player now? 

“First of all, you just got to get Addie back,” Maddon said. “Don’t forget, he’s missed a lot of time. When I was talking about it before, I anticipated he would be back for this entire month. I just don’t know where he’s going to be when he shows up. It’s going to be hard to just say automatically: ‘Here, you go play shortstop.’

“Because I don’t know that answer right now. I think it would be great to have Javy and Addie on the field at the same time in the latter part of any game, if, in fact, Addie is ready to do that.

“Moving down the road, heck, Javy’s showing right now that he can be an everyday player. He’s absolutely shown that. And I’ll tell you the thing I’m most impressed with is just his durability. We’ve gone beyond hits and plays and running. He looks fresh.”

Ozzie Guillen compared Sammy Sosa to Michael Jordan...and Michael Jackson

Ozzie Guillen compared Sammy Sosa to Michael Jordan...and Michael Jackson

Ozzie Guillen is no stranger to saying outlandish things.

So it's not surprising that Guillen would agree with Sosa when the former Cubs outfielder said he made the city of Chicago what it is today.

Thirteen months ago, Sosa gave a candid interview to Chuck Wasserstrom and compared himself to Jesus before saying: "When nobody knew who Chicago was, I put Chicago on the map."

Guillen echoed that sentiment on the latest White Sox Talk Podcast.

Maybe from where they sit, that's exactly what has occurred. Sosa and Michael Jordan certainly helped make the Cubs, Bulls and Chicago sports in general on the map internationally.

"People know who the Cubs were because Sammy put them back on the map," Guillen said. "... For the city of Chicago, when Sammy was Sammy — that race with [Mark] McGwire, then people noticed what Chicago was."

Ozzie said — from his perspective — when people hear about Chicago, they ask, "Oh, you know Sammy?" or "You know Michael?" referencing Michael Jordan.

Guillen also weighed in on Sosa's ever-changing appearance that has sparked A LOT of attention lately.

"But the color, I'm tired. I think he uses the same product Michael Jackson did," Guillen said. "It's funny because I work with him — we talked to him a lot for ESPN Deportes. When you're lying, that's when people don't get it.

"Listen, if you want to change your color, why not? You got the money, you got the time if that's what you want to be. But if you say, 'Well, I got too much color because of the sun when I was playing.' OK...You live in Miami, you grew up in the Dominican. To me, I just laugh."

Scouting the Cubs' competition: Will the Nationals finally win it all before Bryce Harper leaves?


Scouting the Cubs' competition: Will the Nationals finally win it all before Bryce Harper leaves?

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:

Washington Nationals

2017 record: 97-65, 1st place in NL East

Offseason additions: Miguel Montero, Matt Adams, Joaquin Benoit, Matt Reynolds, Jeremy Hellickson, Tommy Milone

Offseason departures: Adam Lind, Stephen Drew, Jose Lobaton, Jayson Werth, Matt Albers, Oliver Perez, Joe Blanton

X-factor: The health of their stars

Health is an X-factor for any team, but it carries more weight in D.C. than anywhere else in baseball.

Bryce Harper, Trea Turner and Stephen Strasburg are three of the Nationals' best players and yet three guys that can't seem to stay healthy for a full season. Couple that group with leadoff hitter Adam Eaton and Daniel Murphy coming off knee injuries, the health questions are running rampant in Washington.

Those are the Nationals' projected Top 4 hitters and No. 2 starter. If they all stay healthy, they'll put up some whopping numbers. But if history repeats, it will make the road quite a bit tougher despite a weak NL East.

Projected lineup

1. Adam Eaton - LF
2. Trea Turner - SS
3. Bryce Harper - RF
4. Anthony Rendon - 3B
5. Ryan Zimmerman - 1B
6. Howie Kendrick - 2B
7. Matt Wieters - C
8. Michael Taylor - CF

Projected rotation

1. Max Scherzer
2. Stephen Strasburg
3. Gio Gonzalez
4. Tanner Roark
5. A.J. Cole


When healthy, this may be the most talented roster in the NL. Harper, Rendon, Murphy and Turner could all wind up as serious contenders in the 2018 MVP race while Scherzer and Strasburg figure to garner some Cy Young votes once again.

The Nationals also have the advantage of a pretty rough division, at least on paper. Three teams are rebuilding and the Mets haven't made the playoffs in a couple years now. Getting to play 18+ games against all four of those teams is a godsend.

Which is good news for a Nationals fanbase that is absolutely starving for some actual postseason success. Wade Davis and the Cubs knocked Washington out last fall and 2018 represents what figures to be the final chance to win it all (or even win A playoff series) with Harper before he gets a $400 million deal elsewhere (like Chicago??).

The 2018 Nationals have no holes. If any of their starters falter, they have Hellickson available. If any of their position players struggle, they have depth in the form of Kendrick (once Murphy is healthy), Montero, Adams, Wilmer Difo and Brian Goodwin.

And the bullpen is very, very good thanks to a bunch of moves before the 2017 Trade Deadline and also have Benoit and Koda Glover expected to start the season on the DL.

The Nationals will be playing in October this year. But what they do in the postseason is a question that won't be answered for 6 months. 

Prediction: 1st in NL East, playoffs