ST. LOUIS — In a best-case scenario, Jorge Soler soon returns to full strength, brings a different dimension to this lineup and essentially becomes a big-bat trade-deadline addition for the Cubs.
“Of course, he can make a huge impact,” manager Joe Maddon said before Saturday’s 8-1 loss to the St. Louis Cardinals. “It lengthens out your lineup and really presents (a) different (look) to the other side. He could really get off and really go crazy offensively.”
Soler won’t be traveling with the team to New York after Sunday night’s game at Busch Stadium and will instead begin his rehab assignment at a minor-league affiliate. Maddon expects Soler will be activated before the All-Star break. Depending on how his left ankle responds, Soler returning around Fourth of July weekend sounds realistic.
“It makes a big difference,” Maddon said.
Soler won’t fix everything — and some of this is facing elite pitching — but the Cubs have scored more than four runs just once in their last 10 games. They’ve left 19 men on base so far in St. Louis, going 2-for-17 with runners in scoring position. They’ve been shutout three times in the last 19 days.
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Staying healthy has been the biggest issue for Soler, who has been sidelined with a sprained ankle since June 1. While the Cuban outfielder hasn’t lived up to the preseason hype that labeled him as a possible Rookie of the Year, there’s no denying his physical gifts and age-23 potential.
Soler still found ways to be a productive player (.724 OPS), even with only four homers and 67 strikeouts in 49 games. The Cubs believe things will click into place and his combination of power and patience will show up at this level.
“We’re really eager to get him back,” Maddon said. “But I also think maybe this little bit of a break can help him get back where he had been, get his strike zone more under control again and see what happens.
“Being as young as he is — and not having played a full season — this might actually work to everybody’s benefit.”