Trevor Cahill beats Brewers in Game 1, looking like good insurance if Cubs put John Lackey on DL

Trevor Cahill beats Brewers in Game 1, looking like good insurance if Cubs put John Lackey on DL

In a perfect world, the Cubs wouldn’t need to start Trevor Cahill again, riding arguably baseball’s best rotation into October and then figuring out which pitcher to drop for the playoffs.

But everything hasn’t gone according to The Plan, even as the Cubs pile up the most wins in baseball and the computer simulations on Baseball Prospectus and FanGraphs almost give them a 100-hundred percent chance to win the National League Central.

Whatever the Cubs decide to do with their 25-man roster crunch, Cahill made a strong impression in Game 1 of Tuesday’s doubleheader at Wrigley Field, shutting down the Milwaukee Brewers for five innings during a 4-0 victory.

The 26th man maxed out at 84 pitches and allowed only two hits to a weakened lineup that no longer has Jonathan Lucroy (traded to the Texas Rangers) while Ryan Braun came off the bench to get booed as an eighth-inning pinch-hitter.

“It’s obvious he gave us something to talk about,” Maddon said. “We will discuss that. And we have to have an answer by tomorrow.”

One potential way to keep Cahill around would be putting John Lackey on the disabled list after the veteran right-hander exited Sunday night’s start against the St. Louis Cardinals with a tight shoulder.

“No clarity yet” on Lackey’s health situation, Maddon said. “He felt a little bit sore today, so we’re still talking about it, and we haven’t concluded anything yet.”

Cahill stretched out with six starts at Triple-A Iowa after going on the disabled list with patellar tendinitis in his right knee on July 15, becoming an insurance policy the Cubs hoped they wouldn’t really need, but might have to cash in again if Lackey’s shoulder issue is more serious than first believed.        

“We’re absolutely looking at different scenarios,” Maddon said. “Those are different things that are within our purview right now – poom! – Larry David (reference). The fact that (Cahill) pitched as well as he did today – and he’s as stretched out as he is – just opens up possibilities.” 

A strong pitching infrastructure helped Cahill revive his career and reinvent himself as a playoff-caliber reliever late last season – after getting released by the Atlanta Braves and Los Angeles Dodgers – and score a one-year, $4.25 million contract to return to Chicago.

[SHOP: Gear up, Cubs fans!]​

Maybe Cahill can again help stabilize a bullpen filled with questions marks, though Mike Montgomery and Hector Rondon did combine for three scoreless innings before Aroldis Chapman (fifth save in a Cubs uniform) bailed out Joe Smith (two walks) in the ninth. 

“Who knows?” Cahill said. “Whatever they want me to do, I’ll do it. I don’t know. I don’t want to speculate. Whenever you speculate, it always seems like it ends up completely different.”

While Cahill, a one-time All-Star, rebooted his game, Matt Garza (4-5, 4.87 ERA) has struggled to find focus and consistency since getting traded from the Cubs to the Rangers in the summer of 2013, one of many win-later deals that transformed this franchise. The Cubs wore down Garza, making him throw 103 pitches across five innings and manufacturing three runs with an Addison Russell sacrifice fly, a wild pitch that scored Dexter Fowler and Cahill’s RBI sacrifice bunt.

For all the contributions they’ve gotten from all over the roster, Cahill is only the eighth starting pitcher the Cubs have used this season. Veteran catcher Miguel Montero – who worked with Cahill extensively on the Arizona Diamondbacks – briefly turned away from some of the reporters at his locker and did the knock-on-wood motion.    

“We count on every single individual in the clubhouse,” Montero said. “Everybody has to contribute someway, somehow. Cahill stepped it up.”

Feeding off their defense, Cubs starting to feel those 2016 vibes

Feeding off their defense, Cubs starting to feel those 2016 vibes

A year ago, the Cubs were struggling to float above .500, sitting 1.5 games behind the first-place Brewers.

Two years ago, the Cubs were10.5 games up on the second-place Cardinals in the division and already in cruise control to the postseason.

As they entered a weekend series in Cincinnati at 42-29 and in a tie for first place, the Cubs are feeling quite a bit more like 2016 than 2017.

The major reason? Energy, as Joe Maddon pointed out over the weekend.

That energy shows up most often on defense.

The 2016 Cubs put up maybe the best defensive season in baseball history while last year they truly looked hungover.

After a big of a slow start to 2018, the Cubs are feelin' more of that '16 swag.

If you watched either of the wins against the Los Angeles Dodgers this week at Wrigley Field, it's clear to see why: the defense.

"I like the defense," Maddon said of his team last week. "I'm into the defense. There's a tightness about the group. There's a closeness about the group. Not saying last year wasn't like that, but this group is definitely trending more in the '16 direction regarding interacting.

"If anything — and the one thing that makes me extremely pleased — would be the continuation of the defense. We've fed so much off our defense in '16. We've been doing that more recently again. We do so much good out there, then we come in and it gets kinda electric in the dugout. I'd like to see that trend continue on defense."

The Cubs scored only 2 runs in 10 innings in the second game against the Dodgers Tuesday night and managed just 4 runs in the finale Wednesday. Yet their gloves helped hold the Dodgers to only 1 run combined between the two games.

Wednesday's game was a defensive clinic, with Jason Heyward throwing out Chris Taylor at home plate with an incredible tag by Willson Contreras while Javy Baez, Albert Almora Jr., Kris Bryant and Kyle Schwarber all hit the ground to make sprawling/diving plays.

"[Almora] comes in and dives for one and I'm just like, 'OK, I'm done clapping for you guys,'" Jon Lester, Wednesday's winning pitcher, joked. "It's expected now that these guys make these plays. It's fun on our end. It's the, 'Here, hit it. Our guys are really good out there and they're gonna run it down.'"

The Heyward throw, in particular, jacked the team up. 

Maddon compared it to a grand slam with how much energy it provided the Cubs. Almora said he momentarily lost his voice because he was screaming so much at the play.

There was also Baez making plays in the hole at shortstop, then switching over to second base and turning a ridiculous unassisted double play on a liner in the 8th inning.

"That's what we're capable of doing," Maddon said. "In the past, when we've won on a high level, we've played outstanding defense. It never gets old to watch that kind of baseball."

The Cubs are back to forcing opposing hitters to jog off the field, shaking their head in frustration and disbelief.

"It could be so dispiriting to the other side when you make plays like that," Maddon said. "And also it's buoyant to your pitchers. So there's all kinds of good stuff goin' on there."

A lot of that is the play of the outfield, with Almora back to himself after a down 2017 season and Schwarber turning into a plus-rated defensive outfield.

After finishing 19th in baseball in outfield assists last season, the Cubs are currently tied for 6th with 14 outfield assists this year.

Schwarber has 7 alone, which is already as many as he tallied in the entire 2017 season.

"I feel like they'll learn quickly on Schwarber, if they haven't yet," Heyward said. "You gotta earn that respect. You gotta earn that sense of caution from the third base coach.

"But please keep running on me in those situations. I want it to happen."

Brandon Morrow has a healthy sense of humor about his pants-related injury

Brandon Morrow has a healthy sense of humor about his pants-related injury

Brandon Morrow's body may not be healthy, but his sense of humor sure isn't on the disabled list.

The Cubs closer had to go on the DL Wednesday after he injured his back changing out of his pants early Monday morning when the Cubs returned home to Chicago after a Sunday night game in St. Louis.

The story made national rounds, not only in the baseball world, but resonating with non-sports fans, as well. After all, it's not every day a guy who gets paid millions for his athletic endeavors injures himself on a mundane every day activity.

But it's all good, because even Morrow can find the humor in the situation, Tweeting this out Thursday afternoon:

Morrow's back tightened up on him and didn't loosen up enough the next two days, making him unavailable for the Cubs doubleheader Tuesday at Wrigley Field.

The team decided to put him on the shelf Wednesday morning so an already-gassed bullpen wouldn't have more pressure during this stretch of 14 games in 13 days.

The Cubs are in Cincinnati this weekend for a four-game series with the Reds. Morrow is eligible to return from the DL next Wednesday in Los Angeles as the Cubs once again take on the Dodgers — Morrow's old team.

The 33-year-old pitcher is 16-for-17 in save chances this year while posting a 1.59 ERA, 1.15 WHIP and 25 strikeouts in 22.2 innings. He's only given up a run in 2 of his 26 outings as a Cub.