Cubs

Kris Bryant's 'fatigued' shoulder looms over Cubs, but they insist there's no cause for concern

Kris Bryant's 'fatigued' shoulder looms over Cubs, but they insist there's no cause for concern

This obviously isn't where the Cubs or Kris Bryant wanted to be heading into the final week of the regular season.

Instead of talking about Bryant's level of play or the Cubs' second straight decisive win on the South Side, the 2016 NL MVP stood near his locker, entertaining more questions about his sore left shoulder while he watched Tiger Woods lock up a victory at the Tour Championship.

Bryant did not suit up for the Cubs Sunday, out with what his manager Joe Maddon called "fatigue." 

"His shoulder's just a little bit fatigued. Not hurting, just fatigued," Maddon said before the Cubs' 6-1 victory. "So you want to be proactive. You can wait 'til tomorrow [to give him a day off], but then if you wait 'til tomorrow and something were to happen today, I'd feel really badly about that. 

"So just talking to him, listening to him and his body, we're gonna give him today off."

Maddon later described Bryant's shoulder "fatigue" as a lack of strength given the superstar has missed essentially two months of action due to the injury.

Maddon acknowledged the Cubs may play things safe with Bryant and keep him out of the lineup Monday, too, but would leave that up to the player.

Bryant insisted he will be in the lineup, telling the group of reporters several times that he already told Maddon he would be ready to go for the first ame of the homestand Monday night at Wrigley Field.

The 26-year-old admitted he just needed a breather Sunday after appearing in every game since returning from the disabled list Sept. 1.

"I'm still kinda in the early stages — I've had 60-something at-bats, which is like a spring training load, I think," Bryant said. "I wouldn't say I'm feeling something — I was just tired from playing."

He said he and the Cubs are just trying to exercise caution to ensure his left shoulder doesn't get any worse with postseason baseball a week away.

"I haven't had any pain or any of that, which is great," Bryant said. "I just gotta stay on top of my shoulder program and stuff like that, which we're doing, so that's good."

Bryant said he hit in the cage and went through a normal pregame routine Sunday, but instead of trying to catch up to big league pitchers throwing in the mid 90s, he got to sit back and let his shoulder rest.

The only possible concern there may be more at play with Bryant's shoulder is the timing of Sunday's day off.

Maddon said he was going to be cautious with Bryant when he first got off the DL and make sure he got enough rest, but then Bryant played every inning but two in his first six games back, only receiving a day off on Sept. 7 because rain washed away the game at Nationals Park.

Of the Cubs' 13 games since the other rainout in Washington D.C. on Sept. 9, Bryant started and played the entire contest in 12 of those games (he came in in the seventh inning in the other).

Bryant has had to utilize that left shoudler quite a bit since beginning his rehab four weeks ago, but he also received a day of rest just two days ago, when the Cubs had their only off-day of the month. 

If Bryant is back in the lineup on Monday, then this is all a moot point. And at the moment, there's no need to think the sky is falling and the Cubs will be without Bryant at all moving forward.

In fact, exercising caution is the right move given the potential danger that any one swing could bring the pain back in that left shoulder.

The Cubs woke up Sunday morning with a 2.5-game lead in the division and will maintain that gap into the final week of the regular season. There's no point in pushing Bryant to exhaustion or risking injury at the moment.

But if and when he does return, what type of force will he be in the Cubs lineup?

Since returning, Bryant is slashing .275/.346/.406 (.752 OPS) with 1 homer, 6 doubles and 5 RBI in 69 at-bats. He's also struck out a whopping 27 times (including a pair of 4-whiff games) against only 6 walks.

A healthy and successful Bryant is vital to the Cubs' World Series hopes next month and it will be interesting to see how much his shoulder becomes a talking point around this team over the final seven games of the regular season.

State of the Cubs: Left field

State of the Cubs: Left field

As the Cubs maneuver through a pivotal offseason, we will break down the current state of the team by sectioning it off into position groups. Here is the eighth installment on left field.

Is this the year Kyle Schwarber *truly* breaks out and finally silences all of the haters?

That's the narrative surrounding the left-handed slugger, but in reality, 2018 probably should've been enough to silence Schwarber's haters.

He finished with 3.2 WAR (FanGraphs), nearly reaching the mark (3.4 fWAR) he put up in his entire MLB career prior to 2018. A lot of that was due to increased defensive ratings across the board — the culmination of shedding a bunch of weight last winter and continuing to develop and learn the outfield position in the big leagues.

But Schwarber also took some major strides at the plate, even with some of the same questions about power that faced every Cubs hitter last year.

Consider this — the entire list of qualified MLB hitters who had a higher walk percentage (15.3 percent) AND isolated power (.229) than Schwarber in 2018:

Mike Trout
Bryce Harper

That's it. That's the complete list.

Of course, Schwarber is not without his warts as a player. His defense still isn't "good" even when you take into account the weapon his throwing arm has become. He struggles mightily against left-handed pitching, posting a .654 OPS and hitting only 1 of his 26 dingers off southpaws last year. 

Maybe more than anything, Schwarber has to find a way to produce runs when he's not hitting the ball out onto Sheffield Ave. Over the last two seasons, Schwarber has driven in just 120 runs in 996 plate appearances despite 56 homers. FanGraphs had an interesting article last September shining a light on Schwarber's historically poor performance in the clutch in 2018.

Schwarber and the Cubs are insistent the "clutch" performance last year was just randomness. After all, this is the guy who tied the overall franchise record for postseason homers in one October (2015) and returned in epic fashion for the 2016 World Series.

If the Cubs are going to get where they want to go in 2019 and fix an offense that "broke" down the stretch, they're going to need a big performance from their left fielder.

Depth chart

1. Kyle Schwarber
2. Ian Happ
3. Ben Zobrist
4. Kris Bryant
5. Daniel Descalso
6. David Bote
7. Mark Zagunis
8. Johnn Field

Left field is Schwarber's for the indefinite future. There's a reason the Cubs haven't traded him yet despite all the rumors surrounding America's Large Adult Son. Theo Epstein's front office clearly hasn't received a package of players or prospects they deem worth the price of getting rid of Schwarber, who they still feel has another level to attain on the field and serves as an important presence in the clubhouse with his work ethic and attitude.

However, the Cubs still may platoon Schwarber in left field, subbing him out against tough lefties (or maybe most lefties if he doesn't start hitting for more power off southpaws). He also dealt with a disc issue in his back that sapped much of the final month of the season, but that's not expected to continue into 2019.

When it's not Schwarber in left, the Cubs will probably turn to Happ first, as he's looking more and more like a full-time outfielder as time goes on. Zobrist and Bryant will also see some time out in left, especially if Bote is able to carry over the defensive skills he flashed in limited time last year.

Descalso has some experience in left, but made just three starts there last year for the Diamondbacks. Bote has played outfield in the minors and Zagunis and Field represent depth in Triple-A if disaster strikes the Cubs outfield.

What's next?

That depends on Schwarber. Assuming he can stay healthy, he needs to continue along the path he started last season making significant strides as a hitter and defender.

Even if he's never able to hit lefties well, Schwarber still needs to find a way to avoid the quiet stretches where he disappears for a couple series in a row. Other teams still fear him as a hitter, but not on an everyday basis.

As the Cubs lineup works to remake its image, a thriving Schwarber hitting 4th or 5th and cleaning up the likes of Bryant, Anthony Rizzo and Javy Baez on base in front of him would be a huge step in the right direction.

The bottom line

The Cubs have enough depth if Schwarber takes a step backward or injury hits. Unless there's a surprise Bryce Harper signing, the Cubs feel very good about their outfield depth heading into spring training.

State of the Cubs: SP
State of the Cubs: RP
State of the Cubs: C
State of the Cubs: 1B
State of the Cubs: 2B
State of the Cubs: 3B
State of the Cubs: SS

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SportsTalk Live Podcast: MLB and NFL Commotion

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USA TODAY

SportsTalk Live Podcast: MLB and NFL Commotion

Anthony Herron, Scott King and Jason Goch join Kap on Tuesday's SportsTalk Live panel.

0:00 - Mariano Rivera, Edgar Martinez, Mike Mussina and Roy Halladay get elected into the Baseball Hall of Fame while Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens remain out. Will they get in next year? Do they deserve to get in at all?

12:00 - Yadier Molina is still mad that Kris Bryant called St. Louis "boring." Why can't The Best Fans in Baseball let it go?

15:00 - Yu Darvish posts a throwing video on Instagram. Who's excited?

16:30 - Saints fans are suing the NFL. But will they have to settle for the league changing its instant replay guidelines or is that too much video review?

22:30 - Patrick Mahomes watches from the bench as Tom Brady drives down the field in overtime. Does the league need to adopt college style OT?

29:00 - The Bears get two more players in the Pro Bowl pushing their total to 8. Is making the Pro Bowl still a big deal?

Listen to the entire podcast here or in the embedded player below.

Sports Talk Live Podcast

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