It doesn’t look like Willson Contreras suffered a season-ending injury, but the high-energy Cubs catcher is expected to miss a significant portion of the National League Central race.
That’s an early read on Contreras after Thursday’s MRI on his right hamstring in Arizona, according to two sources familiar with the situation, though the Cubs haven’t revealed their plans for one of their most valuable players.
That initial assessment would mean avoiding the worst-case scenario you envisioned on Wednesday at AT&T Park when Contreras grabbed his right leg running out a groundball and collapsed onto the outfield grass during a costly loss to the San Francisco Giants.
ESPN reported that Contreras will be sidelined for at least two weeks during a recovery process that could take more than a month. Cubs president Theo Epstein declined to comment on the possibility this could be a season-ending injury during an appearance on the team’s flagship radio station.
“I don’t want to speculate about that,” Epstein told WSCR-AM 670. “If it was a typical hamstring strain, you’re usually looking at four-to-six weeks, and that would give him a chance to come back with a little bit of the season left. But it’s really premature.”
Even before leaving San Francisco, the Cubs prepared to promote Victor Caratini from Triple-A Iowa and activate the backup catcher before Friday’s game against the Diamondbacks at Chase Field. Alex Avila – the respected veteran catcher acquired from the Detroit Tigers before the July 31 trade deadline – will take over most of the responsibilities behind the plate.
For all their inconsistencies and injuries, the Cubs (59-54) are still in a relatively good position. The defending World Series champs will wake up on Friday in first place – and only three games ahead of the fourth-place Pittsburgh Pirates. Contreras – who’s put up 21 homers, 70 RBI and an .861 OPS while also shutting down the running game with his strong arm – doesn’t have to wait until pitchers and catchers report to Mesa next year.
It could always be worse. But there’s only so much sugarcoating the Cubs can do before getting to the hard truth of what this means for the rest of their season.
“Obviously, he’s been carrying us,” manager Joe Maddon said. “Any kind of offensive resurgence we’ve had has been primarily centered around him and his contributions. And then his versatility – he can pick you up at first base. He can pick you up in the outfield. All the different things that he does – his energy – all that stuff is vital to us.”