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.”

A Hobbled Hero: Baez, Cubs keep finding wild ways to win

A Hobbled Hero: Baez, Cubs keep finding wild ways to win

Javy Baez has only seen one pitch in the Cubs-Phillies series, but that's all he needs to make a major impact.

"El Mago" notched his first walk-off RBI since May 8, 2016 in the bottom of the ninth inning Tuesday night, lacing the only pitch he saw from Juan Nicasio down the right-field line. Baez had missed the entire series to that point due to a heel injury he suffered Sunday in Washington D.C. and actually underwent an MRI before Tuesday's game to make sure there was no other damage.

Baez's single put the finishing touches on the Cubs' first win this season when trailing after eight innings. They now lead the majors with five walk-off victories.

After another blown lead by the bullpen (the third in the last week), the Cubs entered the bottom of the ninth down 2-1, but Kris Bryant led off with a walk and then Anthony Rizzo doubled. After a Willson Contreras flyout, Jason Heyward was intentionally walked and then Albert Almora Jr. hit a tapper in front of home plate that Bryant just barely beat out at home to tie the game.

Then came Baez, as Joe Maddon opted to go to the hobbled star in place of Daniel Descalso, who was 0-for-4 on the evening to that point.

Prior to the ninth inning, Maddon wasn't sure if Baez would even be available to pinch hit in the game, but trainer P.J. Mainville taped up Javy's foot/ankle at the start of the inning and gave the Cubs skipper the all-clear.

"Just give PJ some credit on the tape job," Maddon joked. "This is right out of the Lombardi era kind of stuff. Tape and aspirin — go ahead and play. That's what everybody's football coach said."

If Baez hadn't delivered the walk-off hit and the Cubs wound up in extra innings, Maddon said he didn't know if Baez would be able to even play the field on his injured heel and the only player left on the bench was backup catcher Victor Caratini.

"In moments like that, you can only think it so far," Maddon said. "And then at some point, you gotta throw it at the wall and see what happens."

Maddon doesn't know if Baez will be able to play Wednesday night, but plans to make two lineups and then check with the shortstop to see about his status when he arrives at the field.

Baez's Cubs teammates are no longer surprised at the ridiculous things he does or how easy he makes some very difficult tasks look. Bryant joked he was actually upset Baez didn't hit it over the fence for a walk-off grand slam.

"I don't even know what's going on with him half the time anyway," Bryant said. "It's like, 'oh, Javy's pinch-hitting. And then I was debating like, 'don't swing at the first pitch," but I was like, 'no, it's Javy.' 

"It was awesome. He just like goes up there and swings the bat. If he didn't have to run to first base, he wouldn't. It's just like, 'I'm so good, I'm just gonna get this hit and then we're gonna go home.'"

However awe-inspiring Baez's Kirk Gibson impression was, the only reason the Cubs were even in the spot to win the game at that moment was because of the hustle and aggressive baserunning from Bryant. 

His game-tying run on Almora's tapper in front of the plate was huge, but his first trip around the bases was even more impressive. 

With Bryant on second base and Rizzo on first in the first inning, both runners were off on the full-count pitch to Contreras, who hit a routine grounder to Phillies shortstop Jean Segura. As Segura made the throw to first to retire Contreras, Bryant never hesitated around third base and scored on some heads-up, aggressive baserunning that looked like a page right out of the El Mago Playbook.

Bryant said as he was running, he thought about what it's like to play the left side of the infield on such a routine play and felt like he could catch the Phillies by surprise.

"I saw [third base coach Brian Butterfield] holding me up, too, and I just kept going," Bryant said. "I almost felt like I had eyes in the back of my head. It was kind of like one of those experiences that it's hard to explain, but I just kept going."

That run was all Jose Quintana and the Cubs needed for six innings, until Carl Edwards Jr. came on in relief for the seventh. Edwards allowed a leadoff single and then a double two batters later, giving way to Brandon Kintzler with two outs.

Kintzler gave up a groundball single up the middle to Andrew McCutchen and just like that, the Cubs' thin 1-0 lead had evaporated in the blink of an eye. And with the offensive issues (they were 0-for-10 with runners in scoring position before Baez's hit), that looked to be enough to send the Cubs to their second straight defeat in frustrating fashion.

But the magic of El Mago and Bryant allowed the Cubs to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat and send fans home happy and with a little more belief that this just might be a special summer on Chicago's North Side.

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Cubs Talk Podcast: Jake Arrieta discusses his return & Mark DeRosa talks the leadoff spot

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USA TODAY

Cubs Talk Podcast: Jake Arrieta discusses his return & Mark DeRosa talks the leadoff spot

Hear from Jake Arrieta after his first start as a visitor at Wrigley Field, including his thoughts on facing his former teammates and the standing ovation he received during his first at-bat (1:30). Then, Luke Stuckmeyer is joined by MLB Network's Mark DeRosa to discuss the Cubs' leadoff spot, the team outperforming expectations so far, and much more (8:15).

Listen to the full podcast here or via the embedded player below:

Cubs Talk Podcast

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