Cubs: Wade Davis' takeaways from trying to defend a World Series title

Cubs: Wade Davis' takeaways from trying to defend a World Series title

MESA, Ariz. — Wade Davis scanned the clubhouse in the spring-training complex and called the Cubs "a crazy talented group," saying there are 10 or 12 players who are among the best in all of Major League Baseball.

That's where Davis would set the baseline, looking ahead at a roster layered with high-end talent, youth, versatility and playoff experience. Not finding a deeper meaning in how the Kansas City Royals went from losing a World Series Game 7 in 2014 to winning the 2015 World Series to finishing last season at 81-81.

"I don't think I bought into that whole 'tired' or 'hangover' thing," Davis said. "I didn't think that was the case, because you get the whole winter to get rid of that and get after it."

It still might have caught up to Davis, who made 140 appearances and pitched in 20 more playoff games during those two pennant-winning seasons combined. A flexor strain in his right forearm twice put the All-Star closer on the disabled list last year, when the Royals sunk to third place in the American League Central.

"I don't think there was like a mentality that changed," Davis said. "We just didn't have all the pieces that we needed to have."

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Kansas City's season pivoted during a collision last May, when All-Star third baseman Mike Moustakas tore the ACL in his right knee and Gold Glove outfielder Alex Gordon broke his right wrist. The year after finishing third in the AL MVP voting, dynamic center fielder Lorenzo Cain stayed healthy enough to play in only 103 games. The pitching-and-defense formula didn't carry over for a team that put up a 4.67 rotation ERA and dropped from third to 17th in defensive efficiency.

Davis doesn't care about Cactus League stats (14.40 ERA) and gets the benefit of the doubt after being such a lights-out reliever in the postseason (0.84 ERA, 46 strikeouts in 32.1 innings). Manager Joe Maddon has insisted that Davis looks good in terms of velocity, movement and mechanics, suggesting the injury concerns are overblown.

But again staying healthy will be a huge issue for a Cubs team that won the National League pennant at a time when the Los Angeles Dodgers didn't seem to truly trust anyone on their pitching staff beyond Clayton Kershaw, Rich Hill and Kenley Jansen. The Cleveland Indians somehow made it to the 10th inning of a World Series Game 7 without Carlos Carrasco or a full-strength Danny Salazar.

The dynamics of that entire playoff run might have changed if the ball Javier Baez hit off Johnny Cueto hadn't landed in the Wrigley Field basket for a 1-0 win over the San Francisco Giants in Game 1.

"There are definitely a lot of things that have to go your way in some situations," Davis said. "Sometimes, you just go out and beat the crap out of people. Sometimes, you need that flyball to drop or that ball to just go foul or whatever it might be. That's kind of the lucky part of the game."

Why Cubs-Cards COVID-19 postponement raises heat on MLB, ethics questions

Why Cubs-Cards COVID-19 postponement raises heat on MLB, ethics questions

Millions of Americans have lost jobs or taken pay cuts because of the economic impact of a coronavirus pandemic that in this country shows no signs of going away anytime soon, including countless members of the sports media.

So despite some of the more laughably ignorant opinions from the dimmer corners of social media, exactly nobody in the media wants any sport to shut down again.

That said, what the hell are we doing playing games outside of a bubble during the deadliest pandemic in this country in more than 100 years?

With Friday's news that another Cardinals staff member and two more players tested positive in the past two days for COVID-19, the Cubs-Cards weekend series was postponed as officials scrambled to test and retest Cardinals personnel and try to get their season restarted.

The Cubs, who have not had a player test positive since the intake process began in June, have done everything right, from management to the last player on the roster, to keep their team healthy and playing.

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But the operative, most overlooked, word in all of this has always been “playing.”

And the longer MLB pushes through outbreaks, and measures the season’s viability in counting cases instead of the risk of a catastrophic outcome for even one player, the deeper its ethical dilemma in this viral cesspool.

“Ethically, I have no problem saying we’re going to keep doing this,” Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer said over the weekend about asking players to continue working as the league experienced outbreaks involving the Marlins and Cardinals.

“That said, we have to do it the right way,” Hoyer said, citing the extra lengths the Cubs have taken to keep players and staff safe.

RELATED: Cubs better prepared than MLB to finish COVID-19 season — which is the problem

But even he and other team executives understand the limits of all the best-made plans.

“The infection is throughout the country. That’s the reality,” team president Theo Epstein said. “If you’re traveling around, there’s a real risk. Protocols are not perfect. No set of protocols are perfect. They’re designed to minimize the risk as best you possibly can.”

And while the odds for surviving the virus favor young, athletic people such as baseball players, the nearly 160,000 Americans killed by COVID-19 in the last five months include otherwise healthy toddlers, teens and young adults.

Add that to the best-known characteristic of this virus — its wildfire-like ability to spread within a group — and baseball’s attempt to stage a two-month season involving travel in and out of 30 locales starts to look like Russian roulette.

Red Sox pitcher Eduardo Rodríguez, 27, contracted COVID-19 last month and as a result developed myocarditis — an inflammation of the heart — that might shut him down for the season even after multiple tests say he’s clear of the virus.

Cubs pitching coach Tommy Hottovy, a fit, 39-year-old, recent major-league athlete, had a monthlong case so severe he went to the emergency room at one point for treatment before the viral pneumonia and high fever began to improve.

The vast majority of players insist they want to play, including Rodríguez, even after his heart diagnosis. More than 20 others have opted out because of the risk, including All-Stars Buster Posey, David Price and — in the past week — Lorenzo Cain and Yoenis Céspedes.

Obviously the owners want to play, with more than $1 billion in recouped revenues at stake in a season of deep financial losses.

“Everyone that I know outside of baseball who’s become positive, who’s gotten COVID-19 at some point, did everything right — washed their hands, wore masks, socially distanced — and they still became positive,” Epstein said. “They don’t know where. It could have been the grocery store. It could have been walking down the street.

“And as far as I know that’s the case inside baseball, too,” he added. “This is everywhere in the country and unfortunately going the wrong direction nationwide. It’s a fraught environment out there that we’re operating in, and we’re going to need to do our absolute best and also be fortunate.”


Cubs-Cardinals series postponed after Cardinals' COVID-19 outbreak worsens

Cubs-Cardinals series postponed after Cardinals' COVID-19 outbreak worsens

The COVID-19 pandemic finally caught up to the Cubs, who had their weekend series against the Cardinals postponed Friday after the Cardinals' coronavirus outbreak worsened by three positive tests before the teams were scheduled to open a three-game series in St. Louis on Friday night.

The Cardinals, who haven't played since last week because of an outbreak that now includes at least 16 players and staff, scrambled to test and retest personnel Friday as Major League Baseball wiped another series off their schedule.

Cardinals president John Mozeliak said Friday the latest players to test positive are outfielder Austin Dean and pitcher Ryan Helsley. The club announced Tuesday catcher Yadier Molina and shortstop Paul DeJong recently tested positive.

The Cubs, who have not had a player test positive since intake testing began more than a month ago, had not lost a game on their schedule because of coronavirus issues.

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The Cubs (10-3) were scheduled to fly home from St. Louis Friday night and are not scheduled to play again until Tuesday in Cleveland. This weekend's series has not been rescheduled yet.

“Based on the information MLB has shared with us, postponing this series is a necessary step to protect the health and safety of the Cardinals and the Cubs,” Cubs president Theo Epstein said in a statement. “Therefore, it is absolutely the right thing to do.

“While it’s obviously less than ideal, this is 2020, and we will embrace whatever steps are necessary to promote player and staff wellbeing and increase our chances of completing this season in safe fashion,” he added. “We will be ready to go on Tuesday in Cleveland. In the meantime, we wish the Cardinals personnel involved a quick and complete recovery.”