Injuries in sports, they just happen right? I mean there’s not much you can do about injuries in sports so you could say they go together like PB&J, cold beers in the Wrigley bleachers, or to quote the infamous delivery man from Big Daddy; “like lamb and tuna fish.” Well, for the Cubs of 2018, injuries and this team go together like Joe Maddon and fine wine, some 70’s lingo and the infamous Ray-Band sunglasses.
As Cub fans know, the year of the 2016 World Series champion Cubs was one where the injury bug didn’t seem to bite this team like the rest of the league. The Cubs were particularly healthy and avoided that pesky injury bug for much of the season. It’s almost as if they were using Dwight Schrute’s concoction of sunscreen and bug repellent which he claimed had an absurd level of deet so much so that the FDA wouldn’t allow it. Whatever they were doing, it worked, they were healthy, and they won.
Fast forward to 2018 and as we are just two weeks away from the regular season coming to a close, the Cubs seem to be crossing the finish line of this marathon of a MLB season with more of a reluctant brisk walk rather than a confident stride. Even though, they could very well be the first across the finish line and break the ribbon atop the National League.
This team has been bit with the injury bug across all positions on their roster and despite all that, still find themselves with some of the best hitting stats in the NL, a MVP candidate in Javy Baez, arms a plenty taking their turn coming out of the bullpen to pick up saves and wins, position players slotting in and putting the bats on the ball and making their presences known to fans of the team who inhabit the Friendly Confines on Chicago’s north side. At the time of writing this piece, the Cubs currently sit with a NL best record of 89-62 and have a plus-121 run differential. Not bad when considering your 2016 MVP has only found himself playing in 93 games so far this season.
With all that being said, allow me to illustrate for you the resiliency of this roster, the depth of the team, and why #EverybodyIn couldn’t have been a more appropriate motto for the 2018 Cubs.
The Injury Report
Now, to save you the amount of time it took me to go through this injury report for the Cubs this season, I will hit the high points (spoiler, it’s still pretty damn long).
4/9-4/17- Rizzo to 10-day DL – Back – (not sure which thing in Cincy you can trust LESS, the mattresses, Marvin Lewis, or the skyline chili).
Insert Zobrist, Bryant, Caratini and Efren Navarro to play first baseduring this absence. Cubs go 4-3 during that time. #EverybodyIn.
5/8-5/19 – Jason Heyward to DL – Concussion
Insert Albert Almora and Ian Happ to shuffle around in the outfield. The Cubs went 5-3 against the Reds, Marlins, White Sox and Braves during Heyward’s absence. Almora in the month of May played in 25 games, had 25 hits, batted .338 with a wRC+ of 131. Happ played in 24 games in May, slugged .581 with 11 RBI and had a wRC+ of 149. #EverybodyIn.
Here’s where we really started to see the variety of options the Cubs have and begun utilizing as a result of injuries, etc…. in the bullpen. This is interesting…..
6/11 – Eddie Butler to 60-day DL (groin)
6/20 – Brandon Morrow to 10-day DL (lower back tightness)
6/25 – Yu Darvish to South Bend (rehab assignment) – we all know how this ends
6/26 – Kris Bryant to 10-day DL (left shoulder)
David Bote up again for third time this season.
6/29 – Carl Edwards Jr. to Iowa (rehab)
6/30 – Eddie Butler to Iowa (rehab)
Butler would eventually be traded after pitching just 17.2 innings for the Cubs this season but, going into this season, he was supposed to be a relied upon arm in set-up and middle relief situations. Same could be said about Edwards as well. Edwards was supposed to be the Cubs’ closer this season, but has managed to put up the fourth highest ERA on the team among bullpen arms to throw more than 30 innings.
Continuing with the bullpen for the Cubs – and I promise there is a positive nugget coming in all this just keep reading – this bullpen has featured 20 different arms this season. Compare that with the Astros and Brewers to name a few teams who have had just eight different arms come out of their pens (among relief pitchers who aren’t also position players). So, the question we now ask ourselves is probably along the lines of “how in the hell are the Cubs where they are with all these bullpen injuries and roster turnover?!” – WELL…. A HA! This is where I call on Typical Chicago Fan’s good buddy, the Director of Morale for the Chicago Cubs, Frederic, to make things all better.
Part of the problem with what I previously mentioned about the bullpen is you get these fans that see their (Cubs pitchers) failures in such small sample sizes – blown save here, bad timing to give up a home run there, etc… – and don’t research the plethora of data that makes up the bigger sample size used to evaluate baseball players. For example, Justin Wilson, Edwards and Steve Cishek are the top-three arms in the Cubs pen when it comes to K/9 (all average 10-plus) while all sporting sub 3.00 ERA’s. Couple that with Pedro Strop’s second highest WAR on the team among relievers and you start seeing the positives out-weighing the negatives. #EverybodyIn.
The month of July saw the emergence of one Victor Caratini to take some catching relief duties off Willson Contreras, Cole Hamels come to the Cubs and be Cole Freakin’ Hamels and David Bote become the folk hero for the dog days of summer.
July 4 – Caratini called up – played in 16 games in July, had a BABIP of .357, wOBA of .343 and a WRC+ of 114 (14 percent better than league average that month).
David Bote saw more game action than Kris Bryant in July and made it count. Bote in July (12 games) slashed .458/.563/.792.
When your MVP goes down, you find other ways to get it done. #EverybodyIn.
August saw the official conclusion of Yu Darvish’s season (we all knew it was over way before that though), Montgomery, Duensing, Chatwood, Russell and Kris Bryant all remain on/sent to DL. But quite possibly the biggest news out of this month came in the form of the Cubs acquiring Daniel Murphy from the Washington Nationals. Murphy exploded onto the scene in helping the Cubs win the first six games he played in for his new team. The veteran played in just nine games during the month of August but did he ever make them all count. Murphy hit two homers, had five total RBI, slugged .512 and touted a wRC+ of (131) which was the fourth highest on the team that month behind Rizzo, Baez and Zobrist. #EverybodyIn.
This month was again frustrating for the arms in the pen. We all know what happened to Strop who was really killing it out of the bullpen and if I type anymore about this I might go into a rage stroke so I won’t…..
Also, Brandon Morrow– Cubs saves leader – will not be a bullpen presence anymore this year leaving it up to Justin Wilson and Edwards to get it done in the eighth and ninth for at least the next two weeks.
The Cubs need to close out strong and keep a firm grasp on this 3.5 game lead they have in the division now that their top-two save leaders are done for the remainder of the regular season. If they can get deeper outings from their starters like the absolute GEM Kyle Hendricks put on Monday night in Arizona, that shouldn’t be a problem (8.2 innings, one earned run, eight strikeouts and one walk).
The Cubs will need to ride their workhorses now that the race for the NL is passing the final turn. Baez and Zobrist are the two most consistent players on the team with Zobrist leading the team in OBP (.385), ranking third in wRC+ (128) and second in WAR (trailing only Baez while playing in 20 fewer games).
You can get a feeling that these players can sense the run they are about to go on and the roster depth they possess. The “next man up” mentality that has come full force this season should lessen the sense of urgency when the nerves start to arise late in the season. Everybody that takes the field at Wrigley is “IN”, and they will be ready for October.
Follow Patrick Goy on Twitter-Feature Photo Credit: Chicago Cubs
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