Willson Contreras injured his right hamstring yesterday while hustling to first on a ground out. Needless to say this is a significant loss. Cementing his presence as an offensive force, he has been the best player for the Cubs in the second half. His bat for the year has been terrific (.274/.342/.519 with 21 HR and 70 RBI), and the passion and energy he brings defensively – coupled with a terrific and aggressive arm behind the dish – will be sorely missed.
Losing Willson also comes at a rather tenuous juncture in the season. The Cubs are fresh off a series loss in San Francisco, following series losses to both Arizona and Washington. At 4-6 in their last 10 games, an also-struggling Milwaukee and a resurgent St. Louis team sit merely 1.5 games back for the division lead.
We’re entering the final stretch of the season, and this Cubs team has come back down to earth after their dominant start to the second half. It’s completely understandable to be concerned.
Thankfully, however, the Cubs already have an answer. While you can’t replace the presence and production of Contreras, the trade for Alex Avila has proven prescient. A veteran with loads of playoff experience, Avila has more than held his own offensively this season (.268/.387/.474) while providing solid (if not spectacular) defense. The Cubs don’t need Avila to become Willson offensively; they simply need him to do what he’s been doing all year.
We’ll also almost certainly see Victor Caratini recalled from Triple-A, who in his brief time with the Cubs showed glimpses of being ready for the bigs. That Caratini is a switch-hitter alleviates the loss of Contreras, as Joe Maddon can start him against lefties – a preferred match-up since Avila hits left-handed.
An MRI has been scheduled for today, and while the timetable for the injury is not yet certain, we do know a DL stint will be happening. Theo suggested the expectation for a hamstring injury is 4 to 6 weeks, so we’re looking at a significant chunk of time without Contreras at a pivotal moment in the season.
Injuries happen to every team, and playoff teams (Dodgers, Nationals, etc.) have all experienced their fair share of them. I can’t guarantee the Cubs will magically perform well in spite of such a big loss; I do, however, suspect it will galvanize the team, and we’ll see them playing inspired baseball down the stretch.
That said, let’s hope Willson’s injury isn’t dire. He’s a joy to watch play, and frankly, baseball needs more players like him.