Theo Epstein doesn't see a shortstop controversy for Cubs with Addison Russell nearing return

Theo Epstein doesn't see a shortstop controversy for Cubs with Addison Russell nearing return

Theo Epstein doesn't sense a shortstop controversy brewing in the final weeks of the Cubs season.

With Addison Russell on the cusp of returning, Epstein essentially shot down any talk of Russell moving to second base and keeping Javy Baez at short.

"Thought? Maybe. Formal discussions? Not really," Epstein said before Friday's 8-2 win over the Cardinals at Wrigley Field. "I think it's pretty well established with the body of work with this team — we're a good defensive unit when Addy's at short and Javy's at second.

"I don't think you can go wrong with how you throw those guys out there. But that's how we've been and that's probably how we'll be for the rest of this season."

Russell hasn't played since Aug. 2 with a foot injury and in his stead, Baez has emerged as a force for the Cubs both offensively and defensively. In those 39 games, Baez has hit .298 with an .866 OPS, clubbing eight homers with 26 RBI and 31 runs while playing nearly every inning at shortstop in that time.

But even with all those flashy plays, FanGraphs evaluates Baez's shortstop defense as -2 Defensive Runs Saved, while Russell is at +15 DRS on the year. By that one metric, Russell is the second-best shortstop in baseball, behind only Los Angeles Angels' Andrelton Simmons (+27 DRS).

Russell said his return against the Cardinals this weekend would be "ideal" but the Cubs aren't getting caught up with that timeline, knowing the young infielder needs to get through his Saturday workout without issue. 

And once Russell does return, the Cubs won't push him to the limits or let him play every inning of every game immediately. Joe Maddon confirmed Friday morning they'll work Russell in slowly as they have with dynamic catcher Willson Contreras.

So even if Russell immediately slots in at shortsto once he's back, Baez still figures to move over to the most demanding position on the infield on at least a part-time basis.

"Addy's availability is something we'll have to monitor," Epstein said. "Unfortunately this time of year, there's no place for a rehab assignment. We're gonna evaluate him tomorrow a little bit, decide how much he can play and if he'll be able to play nine [innings] right away as well. 

"We're gonna be mixing and matching no matter what."

Russell knows he needs reps and he's been taking swings in the batting cage and on the field while also taking grounders and running "pain-free," Maddon said.

If Russell returns late in the Cardinals series or early next week, that only leaves him with somewhere in the neighborhood of 12-13 games left in the season to gear up for the playoffs.

Not to mention the importance of those games, with eight remaining after this weekend against the Cardinals and Milwaukee Brewers.

"My confidence will build the more at-bats I get, obviously," Russell said. "But yeah, it's all about seeing as many pitches as I can, hopefully, before I get into a game. And then just take everything in that first game and build off that."

Assuming the Cubs do make the playoffs, would there be a question on if Russell would be active for the postseason with so little time to find a groove?

"No," Epstein said flatly. "If he's available, he would not be a tough call on a playoff roster.

"Just to clarify — if he's available, he's on the playoff roster."

Scouting the Cubs' competition: Can anybody dethrone the Dodgers?


Scouting the Cubs' competition: Can anybody dethrone the Dodgers?

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:

Los Angeles Dodgers

2017 record: 104-58, 1st place in NL West

Offseason additions: Matt Kemp, Scott Alexander, Brian Schlitter (former Cub still in the league), Pat Venditte (switch-pitcher), Hamlet Marte (only included because his name is "Hamlet")

Offseason departures: Yu Darvish, Brandon Morrow, Tony Watson, Adrian Gonzalez, Curtis Granderson, Andre Ethier, Franklin Gutierrez, Scott Van Slyke, Brandon McCarthy, Luis Avilan, Scott Kazmir

X-factor: Chris Taylor/Alex Wood

Cheating a bit here and going with two guys.

Wood has been a very good and very underrated pitcher for his entire career, but he also has struggled to stay healthy. He made just 27 appearances (25 starts) last season and has pitched more than 172 innings in a season just once (2015).

Wood has a career 3.20 ERA and led the league in winning percentage last season after going 16-3. We all know Clayton Kershaw is the best pitcher on the planet (again, when healthy), but if Wood can take the ball every fifth day, it takes so much pressure off Kershaw and makes the Dodgers that much more formidable.

Taylor came from out of absolutely nowhere last year to turn in a heck of a season - .288/.354/.496 slash line, 21 HR, 72 RBI, 85 R, 17 SB - and sat atop the Dodgers order as they marched all the way to Game 7 of the World Series. 

The power was a huge surprise, but he's always had speed, hit for a high average and drawn walks, so if the power plays again, he's a huge weapon, especially with Justin Turner down with a wrist injury now. And the power actually looks legit after a swing and philosophy change.

Projected lineup

1. Chris Taylor - CF
2. Corey Seager - SS
3. Cody Bellinger - 1B
4. Yasiel Puig - RF
5. Yasmani Grandal - C
6. Joc Pederson - LF
7. Logan Forsythe - 3B
8. Chase Utley - 2B

Projected rotation

1. Clayton Kershaw
2. Alex Wood
3. Kenta Maeda
4. Rich Hill
5. Hyun-jin Ryu


Turner's broken wrist is a huge blow to the Dodgers before the season has even begun, especially when he's suddenly like the best right-handed hitter on the planet not named Mike Trout or Kris Bryant. 

Turner was always a solid utility player for the Mets but not much of a hitter (.696 OPS in 301 games with the Mets). In L.A., however, Turner has an .881 OPS in four years, including an incredible .945 OPS in 2017.

He's the anchor of their lineup and any time he misses is a big loss. But this Dodgers team is so talented around him that they'll be fine getting into the playoffs. Turner was bound to miss time anyways - he's played in more than 130 games in a season just once in his career.

The only thing that could slow this team down would be more injuries, especially if Kershaw's balky back rears its ugly head again. 

This may be the most talented roster in the National League (once Turner returns), so even in an NL West where four teams may be competing for the division title, the Dodgers should take the cake once again.

But will they have enough left in the tank to get past the Cubs or Nationals to represent the NL in the World Series once again?

Prediction: 1st in NL West

Complete opposition research

Los Angeles Dodgers
San Francisco Giants
Arizona Diamondbacks
Colorado Rockies
San Diego Padres

Here are the sharp holiday and special event uniforms that the Cubs will be rocking this season


Here are the sharp holiday and special event uniforms that the Cubs will be rocking this season

MLB will once again commemorate several holidays and special events during the 2018 season.

Monday, the league revealed the uniforms teams will don on Jackie Robinson Day, Mother's Day, Father's Day, and during Memorial Day weekend and Independence Day weekend.

The Cubs' regular uniforms are great, of course, but their special event uniforms are solid as well. Take a look:

Not too shabby, eh? In addition to the special caps and jerseys, MLB teams will be rocking unique socks and patches for each occasion. A complete collection of the uniforms can be found here.