Carrying three catchers comes in handy again for Cubs


Carrying three catchers comes in handy again for Cubs

This is the benefit of having three catchers on the roster.

In the eighth inning of Thursday's game against the Mets, David Ross stepped out of the batter's box during his at-bat, grabbing at his side. He eventually bunted - with two strikes - and came out of the game.

Miguel Montero had pinch-hit earlier in the eighth inning and replaced Ross in the game (after Ross had come in to replace starting catcher Welington Castillo in the fifth inning).

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At first, it looked as if Ross had suffered a dreaded oblique injury, which have been known to shut down hitters for more than a month.

The Cubs initially called it "abdominal tightness" but Ross said Friday morning he felt fine and didn't expect a stint on the disabled list.

"I don't know exactly what it was. Maybe it released some scar tissue or something. I'm 38, there's no telling what this body's been through," he joked.

"It was just a little tweak and [Cubs manager Joe Maddon] wanted me to bunt, just to make sure I didn't do anything crazy. And then with Miggy having pinch-hit and us out of catchers, Miggy had to go in and catch.

"It was just precautionary and hopefully everything is good. I feel fine this morning."

Ross was insistent it was not an oblique injury, saying the feeling was different.

"It felt a little funny, but I took a couple practice swings and it didn't grab," Ross said. "I pulled an oblique once before in Double-A and know what that feels like. It didn't feel like that.

"It just felt like a little sharp twinge and tightened up just a little bit and then kinda released. I came in, saw the trainer and he felt where it was tight and released it. I think I'm OK."

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As for the bunt with two strikes (which rolled foul for a strikeout), Ross laughed it off, saying Maddon was "pretty adament" about the veteran catcher not swinging and risking further injury.

"Whenever that happens, you always think badly immediately," Maddon said. "So I went out there and he didn't think it was that bad when I talked to him. I said, 'You know, regardless, why don't you put down a bunt for a base hit here?' He's actually good at it, even though there were two strikes.

"I did not want him to swing and then unnecessarily do something bad. We made the adjustment because again, there are so many little things moving right there. Montero had just hit. If that had happened back in the dugout and he said soemthing after you had already taken Montero out of the game, [that would have been bad]. That's the beauty of having three catchers."

With the Pirates starting left-hander Jeff Locke on the mound Friday, the right-handed-hitting Castillo got another start behind the dish.

The hope is Ross will be set to regain his usual role as Jon Lester's personal catcher Saturday against Pittsburgh.

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In his first year with the Cubs, Ross is hitting only .192, but he has worked seven walks and clubbed four doubles to boast a .364 on-base percentage and .346 slugging. He's also served as a strong veteran voice in a young clubhouse.

The three-catcher experiment has worked for Maddon and the team so far this season. Cubs catchers have combined for an .853 OPS, tops in the National League and third in baseball.

Javy Baez should be the frontrunner for NL MVP heading into the All-Star Break

Javy Baez should be the frontrunner for NL MVP heading into the All-Star Break

If the season ended today, Javy Baez may be your National League MVP.

Of course, the season isn't ending today, only the first half of the 2018 campaign is.

He flashed his skills again over the weekend — scoring the game-winning run Friday, posting a 5-RBI game Saturday and then drove in the Cubs' first run in their 7-4 victory Sunday to close out a sweep of the Padres.

Entering the All-Star Break, Baez should be the frontrunner for Most Valuable Player.

For starters, he's the best player on the best team in the league.

Thanks to a recent hot surge by the Cubs and an ugly weekend for the Brewers (who have lost 6 straight), Baez and Co. will go into the break with the best record in the NL. 

Baez, meanwhile, leads the Cubs in WAR and nearly every offensive category — OPS, slugging percentage, homers, RBI, runs scored, doubles, triples, total bases, stolen bases and hits.

And that's not even saying anything about his glovework at any position on the infield or dynamic baserunning.

He's on pace to become the first Cubs player to drive in 125 runs since Sammy Sosa in 2001.

Baez also is on track for a 30-30 season — something only Sosa accomplished in a Cubs uniform in 1993 and 1995. 

El Mago will enjoy his week in the Home Run Derby and as the NL's starting second baseman in the All-Star Game, but those shouldn't be the end of his accolades this year if he can find a way to keep this pace up in the second half.

What other NL candidate would be a better choice for the MVP right now?

Baez is tied for the league lead in RBI. Brewers first baseman Jesus Aguilar is just behind Baez with 70 RBI, but he also has 70 fewer at-bats than the Cubs star due to a platoon to begin the year. 

Eugenio Suarez and Scooter Gennett are also having great years, but the Reds are nowhere close to a playoff spot. 

Nolan Arenado, Freddie Freeman and Paul Goldschmidt are also having very good seasons on teams that are currently in the playoff hunt, but how do you deny the best player on the league's best team?

After all, where would the Cubs be without Baez this season? 

Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo have battled through injuries and bouts of ineffectiveness, the pitching staff has had all kinds of consistency/health woes and Willson Contreras has yet to find his power stroke at the plate.

At the very least, "El Mago" has been the most important player on the North Side of Chicago during the first 3.5 months of 2018.

Nico Hoerner makes great catch in first game with South Bend

Nico Hoerner makes great catch in first game with South Bend

Cubs first-round pick Nico Hoerner made his debut with the Class-A South Bend Cubs, and he did not disappoint.

The 23-year old shortstop showed off impressive hops during an acrobatic grab in the topf of the second inning in his first game with the South Bend Cubs. Hoerner will surely be an exciting defensive prospect with ability like this.

As far as offense goes, through four at-bats at South Bend, Hoerner is batting .500, and this comes after he hit .318 with a home run and two RBI through seven games with the Eugene Emeralds, the Cubs Class A short-season affiliate.

Here is to hoping we continue to see big-time plays from Hoerner.