Cubs

The Brewers bullpen is suddenly in a serious state of flux

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AP

The Brewers bullpen is suddenly in a serious state of flux

When the Brewers were linked to Craig Kimbrel earlier this week, the initial reaction was a potential move that would be an embarrassment of riches — adding an elite arm to an already elite unit.

That might not be the case any more, however. Adding Kimbrel might be something more of a necessity for the Brewers.

Brewers closer Corey Knebel was shut down recently due to what was called a tired arm, The Athletic's Robert Murray wrote. But it just came out Thursday afternoon that he is getting his elbow checked out by the team physician and "there is reason for concern," Milwaukee manager Craig Counsell said.

That would be a huge blow to a Brewers bullpen that entered the season as maybe the best unit in the National League.

Milwaukee is already operating without Jeremy Jeffress for the first few weeks of the season with a shoulder issue, eliminating one of their top late-inning arms.

Now Knebel's ominous status lingers like a dark cloud over the Brewers, leaving Josh Hader as the lone high-leverage arm set for Opening Day.

Knebel, 27, endured an up-and-down 2018 season (he missed most of April with a hamstring injury and was actually sent down to the minors for a stretch at the end of August), but still wound up leading the Brewers with 16 saves (in 19 chances) while posting a 3.58 ERA and 1.08 WHIP with 88 strikeouts in 55.1 innings. 

He was lights-out in the postseason, allowing only a run on 2 hits in 10 innings while striking out 14 Rockies and Dodgers. In 2017, Knebel led the NL in appearances (76) with a 1.78 ERA, 1.16 WHIP, 39 saves and 14.9 K/9. 

Jeffress led the Brewers bullpen last year with a 1.29 ERA in 73 appearances (76.2 innings) with 15 saves, 89 strikeouts and 18 holds.

The Brewers also lost another potential bullpen arm in Bobby Wahl when he tore his ACL a few weeks ago. They acquired him from the Mets in January in exchange for Keon Broxton.

Kimbrel would obviously be a nice addition for the Brewers if they were able to pull something off. He ranks as arguably the top closer in baseball and is still unsigned with Opening Day a week away. 

The Brewers caught the Cubs from behind in the division last September and came one win away from only their second-ever World Series appearance. Their bullpen was a huge part of the team's success and they already let a bunch of lower-profile names walks this winter via free agency — Xavier Cedeno (who signed with the Cubs, but is currently battling a wrist injury), Joakim Soria, Dan Jennings, Jordan Lyles.

Milwaukee also moved young arms Brandon Woodruff and Corbin Burns to the starting rotation, further depleting the bullpen.

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Looking back on Rick Monday's flag-saving incident in 1976

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USA TODAY

Looking back on Rick Monday's flag-saving incident in 1976

"I would rather be remembered as someone who stood up and did something about something I felt strongly about, than as someone who just stood there and watched the parade go by."

When you least expect it, life can come at you pretty quickly. The way Rick Monday reacted 43 years ago in a Cubs uniform is still worth remembering.

The Cubs were playing at Dodger Stadium on April 25, 1976. Monday was in his fifth season with the Cubs and playing in center field. Steve Stone was the starting pitcher and in the bottom of the fourth inning, Monday heard something going on around him. Two fans ran onto the field and then past Cubs left fielder Jose Cardinal.

"Is it because they have a bet with somebody?" Monday said. "Is it because they've had too much to drink? Is it because they don't like you?”

The fans turned out to be protesters and one of them was carrying the American flag under his arm. As they laid down the flag and doused it with a can of lighter fluid, Rick Monday darted at them from center field.

"It angered me for a lot of reasons," he said. "First of all, you're interrupting the game. Secondly, now you're bringing out a flag and I was only about three or four years removed from being in the Marine Reserves."

Monday considered bowling them over if he got there on time, but the first match blew out as they tried to ignite the flag. Monday improvised. He scooped up the soaking wet flag and kept running with it. By the time he'd handed it to a teammate near the dugout, Tommy Lasorda let the protesters have a few choice words. At the time, Lasorda was the third baseman for the Dodgers.

"He [Lasorda] came running past me yelling about every expletive that a longshoreman would utter on a bad, bad day!" Monday said.

The fans were arrested, and when Monday came to the plate for his at-bat in the top of the fifth inning, the scoreboard in center field paid tribute with - "Rick Monday...you made a great play" and the California crowd gave the Cubs outfielder a standing ovation. One year later, they'd be cheering for him again. The Cubs traded Rick Monday in a five-player deal that brought Bill Buckner and Ivan DeJesus to the North side. Rick Monday went on to play a total of 19 seasons in the Majors. He was part of the Dodgers World Series championship team in 1981.

43 years after the flag incident, Rick Monday works in the Dodgers radio broadcast booth and that American flag is still a part of his life. He and his wife take the flag around the country while raising money for military charities. Monday says he reacted quickly that day because that's the way he was raised. Six years in the United States Marine Corps Forces Reserves only reinforced those instincts.

"It's a good thing I did get it, because I did not want any of my former drill instructors from the Marine Corps to come and say, 'Hey Marine! Why did you stand there and watch when they ignited the American flag?" Monday said.

An All-American play by a two-time All-Star outfielder

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Addison Russell goes 1-for-4 in rehab assignment with the Iowa Cubs

Addison Russell goes 1-for-4 in rehab assignment with the Iowa Cubs

Addison Russell is nearing the end of his 40-game suspension for violating the MLB's domestic abuse policy. He made his first rehab start with the Iowa Cubs on Wednesday night, performing quite well in the stint.

He was 1-for-4 with an RBI, one walk and a stolen base to boot in Iowa’s 6-4 win over the Nashville Sounds. Unless there any changes in the expected gameplan, Russell will be able to rejoin the big league club on May 3 at the earliest, when they begin a series against the division-rival St. Louis Cardinals.

Russell was a key piece of the 2016 World Series team but it will be interesting to see how he fits into the mix with Javier Báez in the midst of an excellent season at shortstop.

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