Even while facing knee surgery, Pedro Strop expects to be part of playoff push with Cubs

Even while facing knee surgery, Pedro Strop expects to be part of playoff push with Cubs

Pedro Strop might be the most positive, emotional player on a Cubs team that loves to express itself, and he feared the worst after he heard a pop in his left knee and couldn’t straighten out his leg.

“It was a horrible feeling,” Strop said. “I almost cried, just thinking I might be out for the season. This is a really special group. I want to be part of it in the playoffs and the World Series.”

Strop, a featured part of that October blueprint as a trusted setup guy, could exhale after Thursday morning’s MRI revealed a torn meniscus that will sideline him for four-to-six weeks – instead of until Opening Day 2017. Strop will undergo arthroscopic surgery on his left knee on Friday, the relative good news being the MRI didn’t show any torn ligaments or season-ending damage.

“It could have been worse,” manager Joe Maddon said. “It could have gone in any direction, obviously, so in some ways, we’re lucky.”

Strop didn’t get a good jump off the Wrigley Field mound on Wednesday night, when Los Angeles Angels leadoff guy Yunel Escobar began the eighth inning by softly hitting a groundball up the third-base line. Strop felt his adrenaline take over and slid awkwardly while picking up the ball, getting caught in the grass as the weight of his body collapsed onto his left knee.

[RELATED: Cubs out to 'clinch as quickly as possible']

Javier Baez should be credited with a save in that 3-1 victory over the Angels. The third baseman shouted “No! No! No!” and grabbed Strop before he could fire the ball to first base.

“The doctor said maybe if I turned to make the throw, it could be worse,” Strop said. “So I appreciate how Javy kind of hugged me and didn’t let me throw the ball.”

Strop walked around the clubhouse in crutches before Thursday night’s rivalry game against the St. Louis Cardinals. To take Strop’s spot in the bullpen, the Cubs recalled hard-throwing right-hander Justin Grimm – who’s been squeezed by the numbers game because of his minor-league option – from Triple-A Iowa.

“It was terrible news,” Grimm said. “Honestly, it really was, even when I got the call that I was coming back to the big leagues. Strop’s an unbelievable teammate, probably one of the best teammates I’ve ever had. He always comes to the field with a smile on his face. It’s a tough loss, but I hope we get him back as soon as we can.”

The final image of Strop (2.89 ERA, 21 holds) this season doesn’t have to be him limping off the field with the help of Baez and an athletic trainer. Soon enough, Strop should be pointing at the sky and pounding his chest again.

“I know I’m going to be back next month,” Strop said. “And I’m going to keep helping this team to win – and get where we want to (go) – a World Series championship.”

Albert Almora Jr. gave another example of his all-around game

Albert Almora Jr. gave another example of his all-around game

Albert Almora Jr. might be in the middle of a breakout season. The 24-year-old outfielder continues to show his impressive range in center field and is having his best year at the plate.

In Sunday's 8-3 win against the Giants, Almora had three hits and showed off his wheels in center to rob Evan Longoria of extra bases. The catch is visible in the video above.

"Defensively, right now he's playing as well as he possibly can," Maddon said.

On top of the defense he has become known for, he is hitting .326. That's good for fifth in the National League in batting.

"He's playing absolutely great," Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. "He's working good at-bats. His at-bats have gotten better vs. righties.

"The thing about it, is there's power there. The home runs are gonna start showing up, too."

There's also this stat, which implies Almora is having a growing significance on the Cubs as a whole:

There may be some correlation, but not causality in that. However, with Almora's center field play and growing accolades at the plate, the argument is becoming easier and easier that he is one of the most important players on the Cubs. That also goes for Almora's regular spot in the lineup, which has been up in the air with Maddon continuing to juggle the lineup.

Joe Maddon wants Cubs fans to cheer for Gleyber Torres and Eloy Jimenez

Joe Maddon wants Cubs fans to cheer for Gleyber Torres and Eloy Jimenez

Why can't a trade be looked at as a win-win? 

There doesn't always have to be a clear winner and loser.

Prior to Jose Quintana taking the ball for Saturday's game against the San Francisco Giants at Wrigley Field, Joe Maddon was asked about the players (Eloy Jimenez, Dylan Cease) the Cubs gave up to acquire Quintana as well as the deal with the Yankees for Aroldis Chapman in July 2016.

Gleyber Torres is absolutely killing it in New York, hitting .323 with a 1.014 OPS, 9 homers and 24 RBI in only 29 games. Six of those homers have come in the last week alone. 

With the White Sox, both Jimenez and Cease have found success in Double-A and Advanced Class-A, respectively.

Jimenez is hitting .331 with a .992 OPS, 9 homers and 35 RBI in 35 games. Cease is 6-2 with a 2.83 ERA, 1.22 WHIP and 57 strikeouts in 47.2 innings.

As the Cubs work to get their offense settled into a consistent groove, some Cubs fans have been looking at what might've been with guys like Torres and Jimenez.

"You can't have it both ways, man," Maddon said. "I'm happy for Gleyber. When he left, we talked about it. And we talked about the kids that went to the White Sox. It's good stuff. 

"I'm really disappointed if anybody's disappointed in the fact we won the World Series in 2016 and the fact that the guy we're talking about that we had to give up Gleyber for was so instrumental in that happening. That's bad process if you're gonna get stuck on something like that. Be happy for Gleyber. Be happy for him."

Maddon has been a fan of Torres' since he saw him in spring training in 2015, Maddon's first year in the Cubs organization.

"This kid's 21, with high, high baseball intellect," Maddon said. "He's very similar to Javy on the field. I've had some great conversations with him in the past. 

"The first time I saw him in spring training, I thought this guy's for real. It was like one at-bat, line drive to RF, I said who is this guy? And then you have a conversation with him. He's solid."

Maddon's point is a great one — would Cubs fans prefer to still have Torres and NOT have the 2016 World Series championship? Because that title doesn't happen without Chapman, regardless of how you feel about him as a person or what the Cubs had to give up to acquire him.

"Don't play that game," Maddon said. "Be happy for [Torres]. I'm gonna be happy when Eloy and Dylan make it up here. All these dudes, I want them to get here and be really good. And the guys that we get, I want them to be really good. 

"I don't understand why somebody's gotta lose all the time. This is an absolute classic example of what was good for both teams."