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The Cubs' incredible depth may be on full display over the final months of the regular season.

Kris Bryant's balky left shoulder continues to ail the former NL MVP and he was out of the lineup Wednesday for the second straight game. Cubs manager Joe Maddon couldn't guarantee Bryant would be ready for Thursday's homestand finale, either.

Bryant missed more than two weeks with the shoulder injury in late June/early July and another trip to the disabled list hasn't been ruled out in this case. He has not received a cortisone shot.

"We're gonna try to go day-by-day and figure this thing out," Maddon said. "It's just a matter of controlling it. That's all. I just have to listen to him and the docs right now and we'll try to make our determination.

"I don't have anything long-term positively or negatively right now. Just going a day-by-day kinda thing."

Bryant reportedly reaggravated the left shoulder on a swing Monday night against the Diamondbacks, which is as much a cause for concern as anything else.

After already taking more than two weeks off to let it heal, Bryant still isn't in the clear from this issue and one swing at any time could cause a setback, as this week has proven.

It's a scary thought that even if Bryant is able to play through the pain physically, any one swing he takes could cause him to be forced to sit for a few days at a time.

"Part of it is the pain tolerance kind of a thing," Maddon said. "You know what it's like when you know something's hurt and then you're working athletically and then all of a sudden, you get to that point where it might grab and you can restrict what you're doing and then that could lead to something else possibly.

 

"I just know that he's not comfortable with it. I know the other day, he said one swing bothered him in the game, on the ball hit to the right side. ... Of course we want him back as quickly as possible, but I don't know that this is something you could necessarily rush right now."

Bryant said he initially hurt the shoulder on a slide toward the end of May and then it continued to get worse as he increased the number of swings he took while trying to get through an offensive slump.

Even when he has been able to play, the shoulder is clearly bothering him. Maddon has said the ball just isn't "clicking" off the bat the way it normally does.

Since May 28, Bryant has only played in 32 games (31 starts) and put up a pedestrian .256/.338/.376 slash line (.714 OPS). That has included only 3 homers, 5 doubles and a triple while he's struck out 40 times in 133 at-bats.

No player is more important to the Cubs' success than Bryant, who initially appeared to be taking yet another step forward as a player early in the season, using the entire field more, cutting down on strikeouts, etc.

Then this shoulder injury hit and he hasn't been the same since.

Yet, the Cubs are still in first place in the division with the best record in the National League.

That's because the rest of the lineup has taken steps forward as well, so Bryant's loss hasn't been felt to the same extent as if he had been injured last year or in his MVP 2016 campaign.

So yes, the Cubs can have success without their best player in the lineup on a consistent basis (they're 12-8 when he doesn't start since late May). 

But the ultimate goal this season was to bring another World Series trophy back to the North Side of Chicago. That is significantly harder to do without Bryant in the lineup every day.

"You never enjoy playing without his services if he's one of your guys," Maddon said. "But I've always been of that ilk that you can make things work in other ways.

"That's how I've been trained. That's what we would have to do, but of course, it's gonna be a lot more fun with him."

If Bryant ends up having to miss any extended time again for this shoulder injury, the Cubs have depth at third base with Ian Happ (who has posted a .432 on-base percentage since May 18) and David Bote (who has impressed this year when he's been up in the majors). 

The Cubs could also use Tommy La Stella over there (as Maddon opted for Wednesday) or move Javy Baez over and have Ben Zobrist play second base more.

 

The downside to all that, of course, is defense, as Happ is still learing the third base position, La Stella is not known for his glovework and moving Baez from up the middle severely weakens the Cubs' overall defensive efficiency.

On top of that, Bote may be the Cubs' best trade piece at the moment in a farm system that lacks top prospects. He's proven he can provide at least a part-time role in the big leagues, but that also means he's integral to the Cubs' plans moving forward as a depth option behind Bryant.

Bote would've been especially useful if he were on the roster Wednesday, as Maddon was left with no choice but to play lefties La Stella and Kyle Schwarber against Arizona southpaw Robbie Ray, who is tough on lefties and struggles against righties. 

With Bryant's status up in the air, how can the Cubs trade away their insurance policy in Bote?