Joe Maddon doesn’t see Brewers struggling to handle Jimmy Nelson’s season-ending injury


Joe Maddon doesn’t see Brewers struggling to handle Jimmy Nelson’s season-ending injury

The Milwaukee Brewers will leave Chicago with at least a series victory following Saturday’s 15-2 drubbing of the Cubs, but that success will have come at a cost.

Ace right-hander Jimmy Nelson will miss the remainder of the 2017 season after suffering a right rotator cuff strain and partial anterior labrum tear while diving back into first base during Milwaukee’s 2-0 win Friday night. The 28-year-old has, statistically, been far and away the Brewers’ best player this year, totaling 4.9 WAR thanks to a 3.49 ERA and 3.03 FIP compiled over 29 starts (the Brewers’ next best player is third baseman Travis Shaw, who has 3 WAR).

“That’s a tough break for them,” Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. “He’s pretty much at the top of his game right now. Been watching that improve on an annual basis. They’re definitely gonna miss him.”

The Brewers, at least on Saturday, didn’t seem adversely affected by Nelson’s injury, battering Mike Montgomery and Justin Grimm during an eight-run third inning and cruising to a win that cut the Cubs’ lead in the National League Central to three games. Of course, the Brewers didn’t have to replace Nelson in their rotation on Saturday, but will next week — and how they handle having to start someone less likely to succeed than Nelson could be key in a close playoff race.

Maddon, though, wasn’t about to shovel dirt on the Brewers after they lost such a important piece to their playoff push.

“It could galvanize as much as it can be like ‘oh woe is us,’” Maddon said. “Sometimes it can be galvanizing, there’s no question. It depends on the replacement, who picks him up and if that guy fits in well. Long term … you look into the playoffs it can be much more difficult because he is that good. It’s hard to tell.

“They seem like they have a good thing going on over there in the clubhouse so I wouldn’t bet too heavily that its gonna have any kind of negative drag on them.”

Cubs prospect Adbert Alzolay placed on Triple-A injured list with biceps injury

Cubs prospect Adbert Alzolay placed on Triple-A injured list with biceps injury

Adbert Alzolay's return to the North Side will be temporarily delayed as he recovers from injury.

Friday, the Cubs announced that Alzolay is heading to the 7-day injured list at Triple-A with biceps inflammation. 

Alzolay exited his start with Triple-A Iowa on Wednesday after just 3 2/3 innings. While there is no such thing as good injury news, Alzolay seemingly has avoided a major injury. Iowa Cubs manager Marty Pevey described the ailment as "slight biceps soreness" to Tommy Birch of the Des Moines Register. 

The Cubs will surely be extra cautious with Alzolay, who missed majority of the 2018 season due to a lat strain and the start of the 2019 season with a side injury. With his injury history and Cole Hamels still recovering from an oblique injury, the last thing that the Cubs want is to rush Alzolay back and risk losing him for any extended period of time in the second half. 

The Cubs had a chance to call up Alzolay earlier this week, opting instead to promote Alec Mills from Iowa to start Tuesday's game against the Reds. Mills threw six innings of three-run ball, shutting out the Reds after the first inning.

Alzolay has struggled since the Cubs optioned him to Iowa on July 2, failing to pitch five innings in each of his three starts while also struggling with his command. 

-July 6: 3 1/3 innings, 4 hits, 5 runs/5 earned runs, 3 walks, 6 strikeouts
-July 12: 4 2/3 innings, 5 hits, 3 runs/3 earned runs, 6 walks, 2 strikeouts
-July 17: 3 2/3 innings, 6 hits, 5 runs/5 earned runs, 5 walks, 6 strikeouts

Be that as it may, Alzolay showed plenty of promise in his short stint with the Cubs before the All-Star break. The 24-year-old made his MLB debut on June 20 against the Mets, allowing just one earned run in four innings in relief. He followed that up with 4 2/3 innings of one-run ball on June 25 against the Braves, his first MLB start. However, he lasted just 2 2/3 innings his next time out, allowing seven runs on 10 hits in a start against the Pirates.

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Left-handed pitching has been the Cubs' Kryptonite this year


Left-handed pitching has been the Cubs' Kryptonite this year

The Cubs have a left-handed problem.

No, not in the bullpen (though they could use another lefty there even with Kyle Ryan's emergence).

The Cubs' issue is that their Kryptonite this year has been left-handed pitching. Considering they were one of the better teams against southpaws a year ago, this has been an unsettling development for their hopes of getting the offense on track consistently.

That changed for one day, at least, with one big swing of the bat from Anthony Rizzo Friday — a two-out grand slam in the third inning off San Diego southpaw Eric Lauer in a sloppy game the Cubs won 6-5.

But in general, facing lefties has been a major issue for this lineup.

"We've been terrible. we have to be better," manager Joe Maddon said. "We have guys that are really good against lefties that haven't shown that yet. of course, Albert [Almora Jr.] and [Addison Russell] and [David] Bote — those are the three guys, if they get back to their normal methods against lefties, that's really gonna help us a lot.

"That's the one element — talking about the offensive side of things — I really think for us, we have to get better vs. the lefty."

Entering play Friday, the Cubs ranked 28th in Major League Baseball in runs scored off left-handed pitchers and 29th in batting average (.234). They rank 15th in OPS vs. southpaws this season, but that mark — .752 — is actually better than they posted last year (.730) when they hit .260 against lefties.

On the one hand, the Cubs have not faced left-handed pitchers much — only one other team (Detroit Tigers) has faced southpaws less often than the Cubs this season.

On the other hand, the Cubs are trending in the wrong way against lefties. 

Since June 1 (entering play Friday), here are the OPS of Cubs players with at least 10 plate appearances against southpaws:

Willson Contreras — 1.379
Kris Bryant — 1.376
Addison Russell — .821
Anthony Rizzo — .639
Javy Baez — .579
Albert Almora Jr. — .558
David Bote — .455
Kyle Schwarber — .389
Jason Heyward — .221


That's three guys who are above average offensively, and one of those guys — Contreras — is currently on the injured list. 

It's encouraging for the Cubs that Russell has started to show more signs of life against lefties given his slow start in that regard and his typical solid production against them. But the other two Cubs lefty mashers — Almora and Bote — are way down at the bottom of that list. 

All three players were in the lineup Friday — Almora leading off, Russell hitting fifth and Bote hitting seventh — and Almora kicked off the Cubs' scoring by reached on an infield hit with two outs a few batters before Rizzo's blast. But outside of that, the three Cubs combined to go 0-for-6 with 5 strikeouts against the left-handed Lauer.

Even with a positive result in Friday's game, the Cubs still need to figure it out more consistently against southpaws. If they have hopes of going deep into the playoffs, they're going to have to contend with a bunch of lefties along the way, especially with the Dodgers (Clayton Kershaw, Hyun-jin Ryu, Rich Hill, Julio Urias etc.).

Whether that means the Cubs need to add another hitter to combat LHP or not remains to be seen, but with the trade deadline less that two weeks away, we'll have our answer soon enough.