Joe Maddon expects Kris Bryant to be fine following scary outfield collision

Joe Maddon expects Kris Bryant to be fine following scary outfield collision

Exhale, Cubs Nation. Kris Bryant is going to be OK.

There was plenty of reason to worry when the National League’s home run leader collided with center fielder Albert Almora Jr. in left-center field during the fifth inning of Monday’s 10-4 win over the Cincinnati Reds. Bryant got up from that collision and remained in the game only briefly before exiting for a pinch hitter in the bottom of the inning, the Cubs announcing he had a “contusion on the lower portion of his left leg.”

It looked like a replay of the collision in early April in Arizona, when Kyle Schwarber and Dexter Fowler ran into each other in left-center, leading to Schwarber getting carted off the field with a season-ending injury.

Bryant didn’t suffer the same fate, with manager Joe Maddon saying Bryant should be fine come Tuesday.

“He should be fine tomorrow,” Maddon said. “I’m anticipating putting his name in the lineup tomorrow.”

[SHOP: Gear up, Cubs fans!]

Maddon added that had the score been less one-sided, Bryant wouldn’t have exited Monday's game at all.

Bryant wasn’t around after the win to discuss the collision, but Almora faced the cameras, seeming both shaken and relieved at what happened to a guy he called his brother.

“We’re both trying to catch that ball,” Almora said. “As a center fielder, I feel like if it drops it’s on me. It’s a baseball play, it really is. We’re both trying to win. He was obviously right there under it, and I didn’t hear him. I should’ve probably looked. In that situation, we were winning the game, and that drop in could change the momentum and I just didn’t want it to happen.

“It was really unfortunate. Obviously I didn’t want to hurt my brother. He’s going to be one of my witnesses at my wedding in a couple weeks. I came in after the game, and I tried to find him. He’s doing all right. I gave like 15,000 hugs I think, and I apologized every time. He’s good, thank god.”

[MORE CUBS: No return date for Dexter Fowler, but Cubs can't wait to get him back]

Bryant added to his terrific first half of the season before he left Monday, clubbing his 24th home run of the year, a two-run shot, and scoring all three times he reached base. Had the Cubs lost him for any significant amount of time, it would’ve been a big problem, their hottest hitter joining Fowler on the disabled list.

Fortunately that didn’t happen, and Bryant should be ready to go not just for next week’s All-Star Game — in which he’s expected to be voted in as the National League’s starting third baseman — but for the remainder of this week’s games, as well.

But trust the look on Maddon’s face when the skipper said he doesn’t want anything like that to happen again in 2016.

“He did call it — inaudibly,” Maddon said of Bryant. “They couldn’t hear each other in the white noise of Wrigley Field.

“Albert’s just an aggressive center fielder, that’s why he’s so darn good. That’s just something to be talked about. You can’t just go out there and keep hitting fly balls. They know, they’ve got it. We just have to be more loud when you make that call.

“Sometimes they yell at the same time, and that’s the scariest part. Sometimes you’ve got to peek. And you have to have a lot of confidence in your abilities, but there should be a little bit of a peek involved, especially when you’re going like that. Center fielder always has the priority, don’t get me wrong, but when it’s that high and somebody’s camped (out under the ball), that’s another situation.

"It happens to every team throughout the course of the season, but for purposes I would like it not to happen again.”

'Season-defining win'? Cubs are here for it

'Season-defining win'? Cubs are here for it

Smiling came easy for Anthony Rizzo as stood at his locker and fielded questions in a robin-egg blue T-shirt that read: "positive vibes."

This was roughly a half-hour after he went through the high-five line telling all his teammates the 12-11 victory was a "season-defining win" for the Cubs.

Who knows if it will really be that big of a "W" for this ballclub in the midst of what has been an up-and-down season to this point, but there has certainly been no shortage of positive vibes around the clubhouse lately.

One thing's for certain: The Cubs will wake up Thursday morning in sole possession of first place again as the Cardinals lost to the Brewers in a rain-shortened game in St. Louis.

Yu Darvish and the Cubs bullpen squandered a 6-2 lead and then a 10-9 lead. Yet the offense picked up the slack, smacking 14 hits, including Kris Bryant's game-winning two-run blast in the bottom of the eighth inning.

"We haven't won a game like that really all year, I don't think," Rizzo said. "They scored 9 runs in the fifth to seventh innings. Teams don't really win when that happens. Just a good, hard-fought, never-quit win."

Rizzo is right: The Cubs haven't won a game in which they allowed at least 11 runs since Sept. 2, 2017 when they beat the Braves 14-12.

The Cubs have claimed 14 of 17 games at home since the All-Star Break and are now 43-19 at Wrigley Field this season - a winning percentage approaching .700 to combat the .390 winning percentage on the road.

So is it a season-defining victory?

"That's what Rizz told me," Bryant said. "We were high-fiving there and Rizz told me this is a season-defining win. I mean, I can't disagree with him. It's one of those games where you don't feel like you're gonna win just because you take a lead and then you're giving it back, but we came out on top. 

"Definitely some good momentum. We're playing good at home here, obviously and just gotta roll with the records at home and on the road."

Early on, it looked to be a night where the Cubs would cruise to victory behind Darvish, who came into the game red-hot and had settled into a rhythm after serving up a two-run shot to the third hitter of the game.

But that wasn't the case, as Darvish served up four homers overall and Derek Holland and Tyler Chatwood combined to allow 4 runs while notching just two outs as the first arms out of the bullpen.

Before the game, Joe Maddon talked again about how he felt like the only way the Cubs would be able to pull away in a tight NL Central race would be if the offense got into a groove and for one day at least, they were certainly firing on all cylinders.

The only starter who didn't reach base safely at least twice was Kyle Schwarber, and he drove in 3 runs on a homer and a groundout in which he hustled down the line to avoid a double play. Darvish even chipped in with an RBI single in the second inning.

Yes, it was a good win. Yes, the Cubs can go to sleep feeling content and wake up feeling hopeful.

But the only way this becomes a "season-defining win" is if the next five weeks play out like they hope. There have been several wins before Wednesday that seemed like they could propel the Cubs - including the finale in Cincinnati on the last road trip where Bryant once again came through with a clutch late homer. And every time, the team failed to keep the good times rolling for an extended period.

This is all a moot point if the Cubs come out and look flat this weekend or fail to carry any momentum onto the road.

"We'll find out," said Maddon, who has been in this game for nearly four decades. "I mean, I've been involved in those seminal moments and all of a sudden, things switch. 

"I'll tell you one thing though - I liked the method at the plate. Nobody was grinding sawdust; everybody was up there nice and chill and were getting good hacks on good pitches. ... I liked that. That's what we need to get to that point."

Willson Contreras progressing, but still no timeline for return to Cubs

Willson Contreras progressing, but still no timeline for return to Cubs

Before the Cubs hosted the San Francisco Giants on Day 2 of American Legion Week, Willson Contreras was out in left field running and working out his injured right hamstring.

The All-Star catcher hit the injured list earlier this month after hitting a line drive to the gap against the Milwaukee Brewers. 

That was two-and-a-half weeks ago and the Cubs initially tabbed the Grade-2 hamstring strain as a roughly four-week timeline. But team president Theo Epstein said Wednesday Contreras is not nearing a rehab stint.

"He's in what our trainers are calling the aggressive strengthening phase of his rehab, which is building up the hamstring strength now that he's gotten through the initial injury," Epstein said. "Always what comes with that is the strength deficit that you have to really be mindful of building back up so that you don't risk reinjuring it when you get back to full baseball activities. 

"You're gonna see him on the field a lot more over the next few days and hopefully soon he'll be progressing to baseball activities. He's not on the cusp of starting a rehab assignment or anything like that. He hasn't really progressed to baseball activities yet, so that will be the next step."

The minor-league season wraps up in the first couple days of September, so Contreras won't have much of an opportunity to get game at-bats and innings at catcher if he isn't able to head on a rehab stint soon.

But the Cubs won't rush it with one of their most important players. Contreras was hitting .275 with 19 homers, 57 RBI and an .890 OPS in 87 games before the injury.

In his absence, the Cubs have been pretty well covered with Victor Caratini and Jonathan Lucroy splitting duties behind the dish.

Lucroy - acquired Aug. 8 after being released by the Los Angeles Angels - is hitting .333 with a .798 OPS in 7 games and has impressed with his work as a game-caller and veteran presence. Caratini continues to put up quality at-bats while building on his breakout campaign.