Cubs

Projecting what Cubs September roster might look like with reinforcements

Projecting what Cubs September roster might look like with reinforcements

Get ready for long games, messy box scores and plenty of pitching changes.

It's that time of year again, as MLB rosters expand Sept. 1, allowing teams to add as many as 15 extra guys to the big-league roster.

In the Cubs' case, the expanded roster gives manager Joe Maddon a plethora of different options, namely out of the bullpen.

The Cubs will have some some moving and shaking coming on their 40-man roster ahead of Saturday's big day, but here's an idea of what the roster could look like in the heat of the pennant race in the season's final month:

The sick bay

Most of the Cubs' roster reinforcements will come in the form of regular players returning from injury. The team's current disabled list is very long and that's not even including Yu Darvish, who is out for the season.

Kris Bryant (shoulder) began his rehab assignment Monday in Iowa, serving as the designated hitter. He's mere days away from returning to the big-league club, possibly making an appearance even before Sept. 1.

Tyler Chatwood (hip) made a rehab start in Iowa Monday night, too, but walked five batters and it would be shocking to see him called back up before Saturday. Even when he does return, his role on the team is murky at best as control issues have plagued him from the get-go.

Brandon Morrow (biceps) played catch Sunday and there is still no timetable for his return. At some point in September, he figures to slot back in at the tail end of the Cubs bullpen — it's just that nobody knows exactly when that will be.

Addison Russell (hand) is still resting and hasn't resumed baseball activities. He won't get a chance to go on a rehab assignment as the minor-league season ends this week and the Cubs shortstop definitely won't be back up with the club this weekend.

Mike Montgomery (shoulder) is slated to come off the disabled list this week and penciled in to start Thursday in Atlanta. He should be fine physically as the Cubs have given him an extended break from the rotation in an effort to monitor his innings.

Brian Duensing (shoulder) just gave up 3 runs and recorded only two outs Sunday with Iowa as he rehabs his own shoulder issue. The 35-year-old southpaw carries a 7.34 and 1.84 WHIP in 43 appearances in the big leagues this year, so unless he's able to right the ship soon, he probably won't play a huge role down the stretch.

Drew Smyly (elbow) is recovering from Tommy John surgery and has yet to pitch in a game at any level this season. He threw some live batting practice to Bryant over the weekend, but the chances of seeing Smyly on the mound in a Cubs uniform this season becomes less and less likely by the day.

The sure things

Anthony Bass was outrighted to Triple-A Iowa a couple weeks ago after returning from a thoracic strain and he figures to slot right back in as a low-leverage bullpen arm with the Cubs, where he sports a 2.93 ERA and 1.37 WHIP during his time in Chicago.

Terrance Gore is not on the Cubs' 40-man roster (which is full at 40 at the moment), so somebody will have to be bumped in favor of this speedster. Maddon has said he wants speed to supplement his bench and Gore is the best — and one of the only — pinch-running specialist in the game today.

Chris Gimenez has the same issue as Gore — he fulfills a position Maddon and the Cubs want to augment at the big-league level yet the player is not the 40-man roster. Gimenez spent time up in Chicago earlier this summer and will bring another backstop option to Maddon's disposal, allowing him to utilize Victor Caratini more as a pinch-hitter if he so chooses.

The Cubs may opt to designate pitcher Jen-Ho Tseng for assignment to clear a spot on the 40-man roster, but that only takes care of either Gore or Gimenez, not both. Any other cuts from the roster would be more difficult decisions.

Rob Zastryzny already has a spot on the 40-man roster and will serve as another left-handed option or potential long man out of the Cubs bullpen.

Dillon Maples is the dynamic 26-year-old right-hander who can touch 100 mph with his fastball and make hitters look foolish with his slider. He has a 1.59 WHIP and walks are a major issue — he's doled out 30 free passes in only 38.1 minor-league innings — but he also would bring swing-and-miss stuff (17.4 K/9) to a Cubs bullpen that could use a jolt like that. 

Luke Farrell has already accounted for 31.1 innings in the majors, making 18 relief appearances and a pair of spot starts. He's a surefire choice to add more depth in the bullpen.

Cory Mazzoni has also tasted life in the bigs, sporting a 1.04 ERA in 8.2 innings across 8 appearances earlier this season.

Pitcher James Norwood, 24, began the year in Double-A before blasting his way to Chicago for four appearances this summer. He figures to be back as well.

The possibles

Duane Underwood Jr. is still only 24 and should get to experience life in the majors more. He had a nice spot start for the Cubs in Los Angeles this summer, but probably won't be in the Chicago rotation in September unless somebody else gets hurt.

Outfielder Mark Zagunis is the only other player on the 40-man roster. He has posted a .771 OPS in 110 games in the minors, but probably won't see much playing time.

Chris Coghlan headlines a group of others who aren't on the 40-man roster, including Mike Freeman (shortstop depth), Taylor Davis (catching depth), Dakota Mekkes (bullpen depth), Ryan Court (infield depth) and Jacob Hanneman (speed).

If the Cubs give any one of these guys a shot in the bigs, it would mean releasing or designated another player from the 40-man roster to create room.

With that said and done, here's what the Cubs' September roster may look like 7-10 days into the month: (With this, we're taking some liberties and assuming both Addison Russell and Brandon Morrow will be healthy.)

Rotation

Cole Hamels
Kyle Hendricks
Jon Lester
Jose Quintana
Alec Mills (will slide to the bullpen if he is bumped from rotation)
Mike Montgomery

Bullpen

Brandon Morrow
Pedro Strop
Carl Edwards Jr.
Steve Cishek
Jesse Chavez
Justin Wilson
Jorge De La Rosa
Brandon Kintzler
Randy Rosario
Dillon Maples
Rob Zastryzny
Anthony Bass
Luke Farrell
Cory Mazzoni
James Norwood
Duane Underwood Jr.
Tyler Chatwood
Brian Duensing

(Note: That is one hell of a deep bullpen with 18 options at Maddon's disposal, and that's not even including Justin Hancock, who is on the 60-day DL.)

Catcher

Willson Contreras
Victor Caratini
Chris Gimenez

Infield

Kris Bryant
Anthony Rizzo
Javy Baez
Daniel Murphy
Addison Russell
David Bote
Tommy La Stella

Outfield

Jason Heyward
Albert Almora Jr.
Kyle Schwarber
Ben Zobrist
Ian Happ
Terrance Gore
Mark Zagunis

Gore, in particular, will be a fun watch, as he will get some opportunities to pinch-run, play the outfield as a defensive replacement later and maybe make a start here or there. The Cubs don't have a ton of speed currently, so Gore will bring a different dynamic to this team.

This roster expansion couldn't come at a better time for the Cubs, who are in the midst of a stretch of 23 straight games without an off-day.

Cubs ride unconventional pitching performances to 8-6 win over the Reds

Cubs ride unconventional pitching performances to 8-6 win over the Reds

Before Thursday’s game against the Phillies, Cubs’ manager Joe Maddon was asked if, given the current state of their bullpen, Tyler Chatwood could see some innings as the closer. 

“I think he’s amenable to it...” Maddon responded. “... the big thing with him is throwing strikes. If he does that -- his stuff is that electric -- we’ll use him any time. As he gets well from [throwing 4 innings on Wednesday night] it’ll probably a solid two days, maybe three, before he’s ready to go again. We’ll see - we’ll see that night needs. I’m not afraid of it by any means.

“I would say that the first time he got a chance with us, it would be because the other guys aren’t available that night.”

48 hours later, with the Cubs white knuckling a two-run lead, it was Chatwood coming out of the ‘pen in the top of the 9th. Two singles, a double-play, and a Yasiel Puig flyout later, Chatwood had closed out one of the Cubs’ more unconventional wins of the season, a 8-6 nail-biter that featured a little bit of everything.  

“It was a little bit [surprising],” Chatwood said. “But I kept myself ready. I was able to get loose in the pen and luckily I got that double play right there, and we won. So it’s good.” 

On a day when the Cubs’ cobbled together their pitching performance, it was Yu Darvish’s 7 innings -- the first time he’s gotten that deep into a game since 2017 -- that kept Chicago in punching distance. The line itself isn’t particularly flattering; six runs on 12 hits is an eyesore. His performance may not have played well on Cubs Twitter, but those inside the clubhouse could not stop talking about it. 

“That was huge. I thought he was really good today,” Albert Almora, who already surpassed his 2018 home run total (5) with a solo homer in the 2nd inning, said. “I didn’t think he was going to come back out, so I said ‘good job’ to him in the 7th. I saw him back out in the 8th and was like ‘all right, he wanted it.’” 

“It looked like he emptied the tank against Puig in the 7th with a big strikeout,” Chatwood added. “But he still went back out there and battled and pitched into the 8th. That’s huge. We didn’t have many people available today, and I think he knew that. I thought that was one of the best games he’s thrown the ball.”

Darvish managed to strand eight base runners, though, and only walked two. He’s now gone three straight games while walking three batters or less, something he’d failed to do at any point prior. 

“I knew that the bullpen was going through a little struggle, and didn’t have much rest,” Darvish said. “So my main goal was to go more than 7 innings today.” 

On a warm day, with the wind blowing straight out at 16 miles per hour, Wrigley played as small as it has all year. The Cubs (and the Reds, for that matter) went deep three times, which brings their homestand total to 11. 

“The wind was a friend to both sides today,” Maddon said. “But really, you’ve got to give Yu a ton of credit for getting deeply into the game today. He still had his good stuff in the end. The stuff was still there, but it’s 107 pitches, and it’s just deflating when all that happens.” 

Not to be outdone by the guy who started the game or the guy who finished it, recently-called up pitcher Dylan Maples was the winning pitcher of record. He and Tim Collins came in from Triple-A Iowa that morning, and Maddon wasted no time throwing Maples into the fire. After walking his first batter, Maples got Reds’ rookie Nick Senzel to strikeout on a 91mph fastball to end the 8th. 

If it hasn't seemed easy of late, that's because it hasn't been. Of the Cubs’ first 50 games, 16 have been decided by one run (9-7). Over their last 12 games, eight have been decided by two or less runs. 

“They seem to all be like that,” Maddon said with a laugh. “Especially recently. We’re seeing a lot of good pitching. 

“That’s entertainment, guys. Woah.” 

Joe Maddon on MLB's absurd home run rate: 'The wind’s being broken here. It’s really weird'

Joe Maddon on MLB's absurd home run rate: 'The wind’s being broken here. It’s really weird'

Cubs manager Joe Maddon usually isn’t one for conspiracy theories, but even he’s wondering what’s going on. MLB teams are hitting home runs at an absurd rate, including the Cubs, who are hitting them at a historic rate for the franchise’s standards.

Entering Saturday, here’s where MLB teams stand in average home run rate and total home runs in 2019 compared to recent seasons:

2017: 1.26/game, 6,105 total
2018: 1.15/game, 5,585 total
2019: 1.33/game, 2,009 total

While the MLB season is just over 30 percent finished, teams are on pace to hit a combined 6,483 long balls in 2019. This would absolutely obliterate the 2017 total, which, like the 1.33 home runs per game figure, would be an MLB record.

The Cubs are no exception to this home run wave. Including Saturday (game No. 50 of the season), the team has hit 80 home runs (and counting) in 2019. Only the 2000 Cubs (83) hit more home runs in their first 50 games in franchise history.

“We’re having home runs hit here into some firm breezes, which has not happened before,” Cubs manager Joe Maddon said to reporters before Saturday’s game against the Reds. “That’s the thing that stands out to me. It’s been crazy.

“Even [Kyle] Schwarber’s home run, I know that was hit well, but dang, that wind was blowing pretty firmly across at that point.”

Schwarber absolutely crushed his home run yesterday, a 449-foot blast that needed little help getting into the bleachers. However, Maddon has a valid point regarding home runs being hit despite the wind. Entering Saturday, 54 total home runs have been hit at Wrigley Field this season, 29 of which have come with the wind blowing in.

By the eighth inning of Saturday’s game, the Cubs and Reds had hit a combined six home runs, one of which appeared to be a routine fly ball hit by Jason Heyward that wound up in the left field basket thanks to the wind. At the same time, Yasiel Puig hit one 416 feet onto Waveland Ave. that had a 109 mph exit velocity. The wind blowing out at Wrigley Field helps, but it isn’t everything.

MLB players have questioned time and time again if baseballs are “juiced,” including Cubs starting pitcher Jon Lester. And while Maddon didn’t flat out say that he thinks the baseballs are juiced, he notices a difference in how they're flying off the bat.

“I don’t know, I’m normally not into the subplot component of all of this and the conspiracy theorists, but I’m telling you right now, it’s jumping,” he said. “It’s absolutely jumping.

“Nobody is ever going to admit to it. The wind’s being broken here. It’s really weird.”

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