Cubs

How Cubs convinced themselves Wade Davis would be worth the health risk

How Cubs convinced themselves Wade Davis would be worth the health risk

NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. – Dayton Moore, the straight-shooting general manager of the Kansas City Royals, took the unusual step of allowing the Cubs to give Wade Davis a physical exam before closing the deal for a World Series closer.

Cubs athletic trainer PJ Mainville met Davis on Wednesday in New York’s Hudson Valley, where he met his future wife near the beginning of his professional career and still keeps an offseason home. The Cubs wanted to follow up on the flexor strain in his right forearm that twice put Davis on the disabled list this year.  

Information is the currency at the winter meetings and the Davis rumors buzzed around the Gaylord National Resort & Convention Center from Tuesday night into Wednesday morning. By that afternoon, Moore and Cubs GM Jed Hoyer were up on stage in a huge hotel ballroom outside Washington, D.C., for the press conference announcing the Davis-for-Jorge Soler trade.

Cubs officials will now check out of this sprawling hotel on Thursday with most of the holiday shopping for the World Series champs already done, absolutely believing that Davis will be worth the risk.  

“There’s nothing more we can do,” Cubs president Theo Epstein said while meeting with the Chicago media in one of the team’s suites. “At this point, we’ve pored through the medical extensively. We’ve seen all the MRIs. We’ve physically examined him ourselves. 

“We’ve tracked every pitch he threw through the course of the season.”

The Cubs built their franchise around young hitters and the idea that pitching goes poof. The Cubs viewed position players as safer investments that could be cashed in for whatever pitching needs might arise in the future. For Soler’s untapped potential and inconsistent production, the Cubs are getting a two-time All-Star with a 0.84 ERA through nine career playoff series.

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At a time when big-name closers Aroldis Chapman and Kenley Jansen are looking to shatter the record four-year, $62 million contract the San Francisco Giants just handed Mark Melancon, the Cubs are only committed to Davis for one season at $10 million.

That will seem like a bargain if the way Davis finished this season – seven straight scoreless appearances – is the indicator. The Cubs are betting that the July discomfort is a reflection of fatigue/overuse and not a precursor to Tommy John surgery.    

“It’s important to look at how he came back,” Epstein said. “We spent a ton of time dissecting every pitch he threw in September, including seeing him walk off the field after his last outing. 

“He threw some 93-mph cutters and really good curveballs and blew some guys away with his fastball. And he looked like vintage Wade Davis. 

“We studied the whole arc of his season and his career and we’re very comfortable that it was something he dealt with midseason and is not going to be something that’s chronic.”

Davis – who had been originally groomed as a starter for the Tampa Bay Rays – already knows what it’s like to pitch for Joe Maddon and in October. The Cubs also understand the idea of a reliever with a spotless medical record is kind of like a unicorn. But if healthy, Davis can change the entire look and feel of what will be an eight-man bullpen. 

“It’s just the nature of bullpens,” Epstein said. “With relievers, it’s very rare to have someone who’s just healthy year after year after year without a DL stint for something. They’re all either coming off a year in which they had a DL stint – or they’re maybe a year or two away from going on the DL for something. 

“We have to be cognizant of the fact that we ride these guys pretty hard. Joe’s managerial style is to go to his guys (and) not be afraid to match up and use guys a lot. We played seven months last year – and we want to play seven months again this year.”

Cubs injury updates: Rizzo, Russell, Kimbrel, Baez

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USA TODAY

Cubs injury updates: Rizzo, Russell, Kimbrel, Baez

If the Cubs are going to catch the Cardinals in the NL Central, overtake the Nationals in the Wild-Card race or hold off the Brewers, they're going to have to do so without the help of some key players down the stretch.

The Cubs were already feeling the effects of those injuries even before Anthony Rizzo went down with a nasty-looking ankle injury Sunday afternoon.

The good news is Rizzo appears to have avoided a fracture, as initial X-rays were negative. However, he will have an MRI Monday to determine the severity of his sprained ankle and will likely be sidelined for at least a few days, if not longer.

Rizzo's absence is huge, both offensively and defensively, as he remains the cornerstone of their infield with his Gold Glove work at first base. He also recently stepped into the leadoff role and completely changed the complexion of a Cubs lineup that has been waiting for consistent production out of the top spot all season.

Beyond Rizzo, the Cubs are also still unsure when they're going to see Javy Baez (fractured left thumb), Craig Kimbrel (right elbow inflammation) or Addison Russell (concussion) back on the field.

Baez suffered his thumb injury while sliding headfirst into second base on Sept. 1. An MRI on Sept. 9 showed the hairline fracture and he is expected to miss the rest of the regular season.

The Cubs don't yet have a timeline for Baez's return, but are holding out hope he can help the team in some way if they make it to October. He has been at home recovering in recent days, but will rejoin his teammates in Chicago at some point this week.

The Cubs have also been without Kimbrel since Sept. 1, but he threw a 20-pitch bullpen Sunday morning and came away from it feeling good. If he responds/recovers well Monday, he will face hitters in some capacity mid-week, likely in a simulated game.

Russell was placed on the 7-day IL Sunday due to a concussion he suffered last weekend in Milwaukee when he was hit in the face with a 94 mph fastball. The IL move is retroactive to Sept. 12, meaning he cannot play until at least Thursday, Sept. 19 (though even that is in doubt since head injuries do not carry clear timelines for recovery).

Rookie Nico Hoerner will remain as the Cubs shortstop in the interim.

Kris Bryant has also been dealing with right knee inflammation that has forced him out of action at various points over the last couple months, including Sept. 8 and 9. But Bryant received a cortisone shot in his knee early last week and has been on a tear since, with 5 home runs in 6 games since returning to the lineup. Bryant went 3-for-5 with 2 home runs and 4 RBI in Sunday's game.

After wrapping up a three-game sweep of the Pirates at Wrigley Field, the Cubs will host the Cincinnati Reds from Monday through Wednesday. Meanwhile, the Nationals and Cardinals will square off in St. Louis while the Brewers get set to host the Padres at Miller Park.

 

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Nightmare scenario for Cubs as Anthony Rizzo leaves Sunday's game with injury

Nightmare scenario for Cubs as Anthony Rizzo leaves Sunday's game with injury

A Cubs team already without its closer and top two shortstops will now hold its breath waiting to hear on Anthony Rizzo's status.

Rizzo left the Cubs game Sunday after rolling his ankle on a nasty-looking play in the top of the third inning. He approached a bunt in front of the plate and slipped on the Wrigley Field grass, making a huge divot and rolling his ankle in the process.

He finished the play (though his throw to first base was wide) and crumpled to the ground in serious pain as Cubs trainers, coaches and teammates rushed to his side:

The Cubs are calling it a sprained right ankle for Rizzo and initial X-rays at the ballpark did not reveal a fracture. He will get an MRI on Monday to determine the severity and we will know more about his timeline then. The Cubs welcome the NL Central-leading St. Louis Cardinals to town Thursday night for a crucial four-game series that could decide the fate of the division.

Rizzo remained on the ground for a few minutes before getting to his feet and had to be helped back to the dugout by a trainer and teammate Jason Heyward. Ian Happ took over at first base.

The air completely went out of the stadium and to make matters worse, the Pirates jumped all over Jose Quintana and plated 5 runs in the inning immediately after Rizzo's injury. The Cubs offense later picked up the slack and notched a third straight game with double digit runs against the Pittsburgh pitching staff.

Considering the shape of the National League playoff race, this is a nightmare scenario for the Cubs. They entered Sunday 1.5 games behind the Washington Nationals for the top Wild-Card spot and 3 games behind the Cardinals in the division, with those two teams squaring off against each other in St. Louis Monday through Wednesday.

Rizzo has always been one of the Cubs' most important players, but he's been a huge key to the offensive turnaround of late by stepping into the leadoff role.

Since Joe Maddon moved him into the top spot last Thursday, Rizzo has responded by reaching base safely to lead off all four games and scoring runs in three of those instances. He drew a walk in the first inning Sunday and came around to score on Kris Bryant's homer, then walked again in the bottom of the second inning before leaving the game with the injury.

The leadoff spot has been a huge point of contention surrounding this team lately and for good reason. In 6 starts leading off, Rizzo has been a difference-maker hitting .421 with a .560 on-base percentage and 1.297 OPS while reaching base safely 14 times and scoring 7 runs. Even with those contributions, the Cubs are still last in the majors by a wide margin in terms of batting average (.207) and OBP (.288) out of the leadoff spot. 

Maddon already said he planned to roll with the veteran atop the order indefinitely. Rizzo's 2019 success only adds to his stellar career numbers in the leadoff spot (.328/.426/.602) and he currently leads all active players in OBP, SLG and OPS as a leadoff hitter (minimum 50 games).

In Rizzo's absence, Ben Zobrist might be the best bet to slot back into the leadoff spot, but they've had to manage his playing time to try to keep him fresh and he started both Saturday and Sunday's games. When Zobrist returned from personal leave earlier this month, he was immediately inserted atop the order, but after initial success, he struggled in his last four games there (2-for-16, 0 BB).

On days Zobrist doesn't play, Maddon may have to revert back to playing matchups in the leadoff spot, with Happ, Kyle Schwarber and Jason Heyward possibilities against right-handed pitchers and Willson Contreras a potential option against lefties when he catches.

Defensively, the Cubs have gone with both Happ and Victor Caratini at first base when Rizzo has had to miss games in the past. Both would figure to be in the mix here, especially since Caratini could be freed up behind the plate with the Cubs currently carrying three catchers. Zobrist also has experience there and while those three are solid options, Rizzo is a two-time Gold Glover (including 2018) at the position, so any scenario where he's not playing first base is a downgrade for the Cubs.

Rizzo joins Javy Baez (fractured left thumb), Addison Russell (concussion) and Craig Kimbrel (right elbow inflammation) on the shelf, plus Bryant has been hampered by a right knee issue for the last couple months.