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Cubs offense absent in 'non-fortuitous' Crosstown opener

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Cubs offense absent in 'non-fortuitous' Crosstown opener

Well, Cubs hitters were certainly patient, but it didn't matter much.

The Cubs walked seven times, but managed just three hits in the Crosstown Cup opener Friday, losing to the White Sox 1-0 in front of 41,580 fans at Wrigley Field.

Forget the home plate umpire's strike zone (which had Cubs hitters frustrated all day), the North Siders still didn't do anything with the bats against Sox rookie Carlos Rodon, who walked six hitters in six innings of work.

The Cubs hurt themselves, hitting into five double plays on the afternoon, the first time they've done that since Sept. 4, 2007.

"A little non-fortuitous today in certain moments," Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. "That just happens. We'll show up tomorrow, I promise. We'll be ready to play again.

"Tough loss - two in a row. But that's how this thing works sometimes."

[MORE: Cubs vs. White Sox: What if Joe Maddon managed on the South Side?]

Kyle Hendricks was spectacular for the Cubs on the mound, tossing seven shutout innings, allowing just five hits. He also collected one of the three Cubs hits with a third-inning single to right field.

"We couldn't get any luck," Hendricks said. "Couldn't push a big hit across there at any point. It happens. We have those kinds of days, but I can only focus on what I can control."

Hector Rondon allowed the only run when he hit Emilio Bonifacio with a pitch and Bonifacio then stole second, advanced to third on a sacrifice bunt and scored on a fly ball to the outfield.

Apart from Hendricks' single, Jorge Soler had an infield single and Chris Coghlan had a pinch-hit single to right field to represent the rest of the North Siders' offense.

Dexter Fowler struck out looking three times as both he and Starlin Castro had several instances where they thought they had drawn a walk, but wound up striking out instead, adding to the Cubs' offensive woes.

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"Oh, you're always frustrated when you don't get a job done," Maddon said. "There's always that sense of frustration, but we'll be fine."

Fowler never actually called out the umpire in his brief postgame media stint, but it didn't take a Rhodes scholar to read between the lines.

"I dunno, man. Just trying to go out and take good ABs and take it one AB at a time," he said. "You know, whatever happens, happens.

"I looked at the video. But he made the call, so whatever he calls, that's what goes. ... We've hit the ball hard. Just really haven't had any luck. We just gotta keep swinging."

The most underrated storyline of the Cubs offseason

The most underrated storyline of the Cubs offseason

There are plenty of intriguing Cubs storylines to monitor this offseason from their potential pursuit of the big free agents to any other changes that may come to the coaching staff or roster after a disappointing finish to the 2018 campaign.

But there's one question simmering under the radar in Cubs circles when it comes to this winter: How will the team solve the shortstop conundrum?

Just a few years ago, the Cubs had "too many" shortstops. Now, there are several different factors at play here that makes it a convoluted mess.

First: What will the Cubs do with Addison Russell? The embattled shortstop is in the midst of a suspension for domestic violence that will keep him off an MLB diamond for at least the first month of 2019.

Has Russell already played his last game with the Cubs? Will they trade him or send him packing in any other fashion this winter?

Theo Epstein mentioned several times he felt the organization needs to show support to the victim in the matter (Russell's ex-wife, Melisa) but also support for Russell. Does that mean they would keep him a part of the team at least through the early part of 2019?

Either way, Russell's days in Chicago are numbered and his play on the field took another big step back in 2018 as he fought through a hand injury and experienced a major dip in power. With his performance on the field and the off-field issues, it will be hard to justify a contract worth somewhere in the neighborhood of $4 million in his second year of arbitration (prorated, with a month's worth of pay taken out for the suspension).

Even if Russell is on the roster in 2019, Javy Baez is unquestionably the shortstop for at least the first month while Russell is on suspension. 

But what about beyond Baez if the Cubs want to give him a breather or disaster strikes and he's forced to miss time with an injury?

At the moment, there's nothing but question marks on the current Cubs shortstop depth chart throughout the entire organization and they're certainly going to need other options at the most important defensive position (outside of pitcher/catcher). 

There's David Bote, who subbed in for Baez at short once in September when Baez needed a break and Russell was on the disabled list. But while Bote's defense at third base and second base has opened eyes around the Cubs, he has only played 45 games at short across seven minor-league seasons, including 15 games in 2018. There's also the offensive question marks with the rookie, who hit just .176 with a .559 OPS and 40 strikeouts in 108 at-bats after that epic ultimate grand slam on Aug. 12.

The Cubs' other current shortstop options include Mike Freeman (a 31-year-old career minor-leaguer), Ben Zobrist (who will be 38 in 2019 and has played all of 13 innings at shortstop since 2014), Ryan Court (a 30-year-old career minor leaguer) and Chesny Young (a 26-year-old minor-leaguer who has posted a .616 OPS in 201 Triple-A games).

Maybe Joe Maddon would actually deploy Kris Bryant at shortstop in case of emergency like a Baez injury ("necessity is the mother of invention," as Maddon loves to say), but that seems a lot more like a fun talking point than a legit option at this current juncture.

So even if Russell sticks around, there's no way the Cubs can go into the first month of the season with just Baez and Bote as the only shortstop options on a team that with World Series or bust expectations.

The Cubs will need to acquire some shortstop depth this winter in some capacity, whether it's adding to the Triple-A Iowa roster or getting a veteran who can also back up other positions. Right now, the free agent pool of potential shortstops is pretty slim beyond Manny Machado.

Epstein always says he and his front office look to try to mitigate risk and analyze where things could go wrong to sink the Cubs' season and through that lense, shortstop is suddenly right up there behind adding more bullpen help this winter.

Podcast: In light of recent hitting coach turmoil, who’s to blame for Cubs offensive struggles?

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USA TODAY

Podcast: In light of recent hitting coach turmoil, who’s to blame for Cubs offensive struggles?

On the latest Cubs Talk Podcast, David Kaplan, Kelly Crull, Luke Stuckmeyer and Tony Andracki discuss the comments Chili Davis made after being fired as Cubs hitting coach, ask if the Cubs struggles on offense were Davis' fault or the players and what Anthony Iapoce will be walking into as he tries to gets the team back on track a the plate.

 

Listen to the entire podcast here, or in the embedded player below: