MILWAUKEE — Throughout his five years at the helm as Cubs manager, Joe Maddon has always said September brings its own energy with MLB pennant races heating up and the postseason drawing near.
It's Sept. 8, the NFL season has officially begun and yet the Cubs are still waiting for that energy to come, dealt another debilitating blow with the loss of Kris Bryant to an ongoing knee issue.
"Please Mr. September, bring it on," Maddon joked. "We're ready for your energy. Normally this time of the year, we've parceled out the year to the point where we are not beat up, not tired, not hurt. That's been the last four years. Last year, we just ran into an awkward schedule. We had everybody out here. This year, it's been harder to do that. Yes, Mr. September, we're ready for you."
Bryant was forced out of the starting lineup for Sunday's season finale with the Brewers due to the right knee inflammation that has been bugging him since at least late-July.
The former 2016 NL MVP got out to a phenomenal start to the season, hitting .297 with a .403 on-base percentage and .955 OPS in the first half. But since the All-Star Break, he's hitting just .249 with a .337 OBP and .773 OPS.
What's even more disturbing is his whiff rate — after striking out only 19.5 percent of the time in the first half, Bryant is striking out at a 28.3 percent clip since the Midsummer Classic. In other words, he's whiffing nearly as often as he did during his rookie season (30.6 percent) over the last two months.
He also has 15 strikeouts over 28 at-bats in his last nine games, including a pair of whiffs in Saturday night's loss.
He also appeared to foul a ball off that balky right knee:
Maddon noted that there was a foul ball Saturday night after which Bryant struggled to maintain his balance. In the 8th on Saturday, Bryant actually fouled a Hader pitch off his leg near his right knee. pic.twitter.com/FARVeke1zg— Jordan Bastian (@MLBastian) September 8, 2019
"It's bothering him in all aspects of the game," Maddon said. "We spoke [Saturday night], and I just said, 'Listen, man, get your treatment, we'll go like a day-by-day situation with it.' But he did not feel very good after [Saturday] night's game.
"When he comes in and says he needs a day, then you know, because he's played through a lot of different maladies."
All along, Bryant has insisted the right knee issue has not been affecting his play, but it's become clear that storyline is not accurate.
"I think any athlete you speak to is gonna say the same thing," Maddon said. "That's just being a Major League Baseball player. It's immeasurable, I think, when it really comes down to how much it is or isn't [impacting a guy]. You just don't know that. But you know the guy's not feeling well."
The Cubs held Bryant out of Tuesday's contest against the Mariners at Wrigley Field due to the knee and hoped that — coupled with Wednesday's off-day — would be enough of a break to spark him for the stretch run as the Cubs try to chase down the Cardinals in the division (and at the very least, hold off all challengers in the NL Wild-Card race).
But this knee issue is not going away and a Cubs team that is already without Javy Baez for possibly the end of the regular season, they can't afford another injury to a key player. Especially considering the inconsistent shape of the offense all year.
The Cubs limped into the end of September and beginning of October last year on offense, largely because Bryant was also dealing with a nagging injury (left shoulder) that sapped his power and required a full season's worth of rest and recovery. At the moment, it looks like the knee issue might have Bryant along a similar path.
After Sunday, the Cubs have just 20 games remaining and only one day off, so the clock is ticking.
"It's just treatment and stuff that I'm gonna have to do to make me feel better," Bryant said Thursday. "Obviously an offseason would make it feel much better when you have extended amounts of time off, but we don't have that. We have games we gotta win."