PITTSBURGH — As the Cubs tried to wrap their heads around how the homestand — and this season — got away from them, they at least were able to get a day off to recover physically and mentally Monday.
The physical part is key, particularly with the list of Walking Wounded growing larger by the day.
The Cubs are not yet mathematically eliminated from postseason play and they showed up at PNC Park Tuesday afternoon keeping that hope alive.
Even though they were without stars Kris Bryant and Javy Baez in the lineup, the Cubs at least had the luxury a fresh bullpen to face the Pirates. Cubs relievers had to account for 19.2 innings of work over a five-day span from Wednesday through Saturday before Yu Darvish's inspired effort Sunday and the off-day Monday gave them a breather.
Given where they are in the standings, Bryant is not expected to pull an Anthony Rizzo and play again this season on his injured right ankle, but he isn't ready yet to rule out a return.
"We definitely still have a chance here," Bryant said. "Everybody here is believing that. I'm believing it. I want to do everything I can to get back out there."
At the moment, the Cubs are calling their star third baseman day-to-day, but they could be ousted from the playoff race as soon as Wednesday and if that's the case, there's no need for him to try to join Rizzo in the Willis Reed Hall of Fame.
He said the swelling has gone down a lot already in what the Cubs are calling a "moderate" ankle sprain suffered while slipping on first base during Sunday's rainy game.
It was a nasty-looking injury and Bryant is actually relieved it was nothing more serious than an ankle sprain, especially given he's been hampered by right knee inflammation the last two months.
"I'm happy my knee's good," Bryant said. "Watching the replay back, it was tough to watch, but all in all, I felt pretty fortunate that it wasn't anything else that could've been way serious.
"I felt the knee went back, the ankle roll. It actually might have been a good thing the ankle rolled because it took some of the pressure off the knee. Just looking for positives here, but kind of an unfortunate way to end that series for me."
Bryant called the play at first base a "freak accident" and hoped Major League Baseball would find a way to fix the issue, considering we've seen several star players injured in a similar fashion over the last few seasons.
For him, it's just the most recent malady — and likely the last for this season, at least. Add the right ankle to the right knee, the left shoulder, all 32 hit-by-pitches (including the one to the head in Colorado last April) and some other aches and pains over the past two seasons.
"That's what this game kinda brings to you," Bryant said. "You never know what to expect. You're gonna have your bumps and bruises along the way. Some of them are more head-scratchers along the way, especially this one — slipping on a wet bag. I think we see that a couple times a year — Bryce [Harper] did it, I think [Manny] Machado did it. It's just one of those things where I don't know how I could've avoided that."
Baez had initially hoped to be able to start Tuesday's ballgame, but he is still having issues with his left thumb while trying to close his glove and play defense. He was on the field with Cubs infield coach Brian Butterfield Tuesday afternoon, but is still at least a day away from rejoining the starting lineup.
Joe Maddon didn't know pregame if he would be able to rely on Baez again as a pinch-hitter after the slugger took an at-bat to end Saturday's game — his first game action other than pinch-running since he suffered the injury on Sept. 1.
As for Rizzo, he was still in the lineup Tuesday in his usual role as a leadoff hitter and playing first base. His ankle has been progressing steadily since he made a surprise return to the lineup last Thursday, but he's still not running hard on the bases or in the field. Victor Caratini replaced Rizzo defensively in the bottom of the seventh inning.
The Cubs skipped Cole Hamels' last start over the weekend with a shoulder injury, but he threw a bullpen Tuesday and reported feeling good.
At the moment, the Cubs are planning to start Jose Quintana Thursday for the series finale in Pittsburgh and may roll out Hamels for Friday if all goes well the next couple days.