The Rundown: Where There’s No Willson, Is There Still A Way?

If you subscribe to Alanis Morissette’s definition of the word, yesterday’s turn of events was a little too ironic. Don’t you think? But like wet nuptials, a lack of proper utensils, or a distaste for adultery, what went down Wednesday in San Francisco was the culmination of a series of unfortunate events.

Those of you familiar with these daily pieces might notice something a little different with today’s Rundown, namely that there’s only one topic in the title. But given the multifaceted nature of the singular subject, I figured I could get away with it.

A game that had been thoroughly craptastic throughout got far more so when Willson Contreras grounded to third with two outs in the 8th inning. Busting his ass as he’s wont to do, the catcher-cum-first baseman flew out of the box and then literally busted his ass. Okay, it was actually his hamstring, but that’s pretty close to the butt.

Contreras grabbed at the back of his leg — as sure a sign of a popped hammy as ever you’ll see — before he’d even reached the bag and again after he crossed it. Then he went to the ground in pain and had to be helped off the field. It was painful to watch even without considering the ramifications on a first-place team that was just about to go down in flames against a very bad Giants squad for the second time in three games.

It was as brutally awful as Sharknado 5, but without the self-aware campiness that makes it fun. And, you know, without the sharks. Or Tara Reid. So what happens now, since the likelihood of a sequel was just dealt a blow?

The Cubs are off today as they prepare to face the Diamondbacks in Phoenix, where Contreras will have an MRI to determine the severity of the injury. Anthony Rizzo relayed his teammate’s sentiment that “he’s had it worse,” but that could just be an attempt by Contreras to convince himself. And who knows, maybe it was just a really bad cramp. We’ll know for sure when the Cubs’ doctors get a look at him.

Could be worse

A trip to the DL seems inevitable, but even four weeks on the shelf wouldn’t be a clear death knell. A month off would have Contreras back in time to finish the home stretch and give the Cubs that final push. Anything less would still be detrimental to their ability to fend off Milwaukee and St. Louis, though it’d be a relief to hear anything that doesn’t include the word “tear.”

It’s going to be really interesting to see whether and how this galvanizes the Cubs, particularly in light of the way Contreras has been playing. This isn’t really like last season, when Kyle Schwarber was lost three games in with a blown-out knee. It is, however, a crippling blow to a young emotional leader whose presence adds a great deal beyond his statistics.

Schwarber’s injury happened so early that the Cubs were able to recover and move forward. With the season already two-thirds over, anything more than a minimum DL stay for WillCo could really rattle the team’s collective cage. Perhaps I’m making more of this than I should, but I really do see this as the kind of obstacle that could either bring the Cubs together or push them to the brink.

If there’s good news here, it’s that the insurance policy Theo and Co. took out on their stud sophomore is looking smarter all the time.

Savvy move

We knew for about a month before the deadline that the Cubs were in search of a backup catcher, though the identity of their target(s) remained in flux up until the very end. Alex Avila, a starter with more of an offense-first profile, may have seemed like something of a reach, but boy is it ever looking smart at this point.

If we make the very safe assumption that a DL trip is in the future for Contreras, Avila steps right back into a starting role with a staff that he’s already gotten to know to at least to a small extent. It also signals the return of Vic Caratini, who had just hit his first MLB home run prior to being sent back to Iowa, where he immediately resumed his torturous treatment of PCL pitching.

I don’t know about you, but I feel much better about this combo than had the Cubs been rolling with AJ Ellis and Caratini.

Time to step up

The other issue here is that Contreras isn’t the only key player injured. Addison Russell is out with a foot strain, further depleting that vaunted roster depth, and even a short convalescence shaves precious surplus from a margin for error that has already grown paper thin.

I don’t know that anyone needs to get quite as hot as Contreras was, though that’d sure be a nice thing to have happen. Rather than having one or two guys carry the team, it’s going to be on those in the middle to pick up the pace. You know, like Albert Almora hitting a home run against Madison Bumgarner to push across the Cubs’ only run of the game.

Series that the one the Cubs just concluded simply can’t happen if they’re going to keep the train rolling in the right direction. Even with the Brewers doing everything they can to keep themselves from falling back into first place. And the Cardinals, who did nothing at the deadline, have taken advantage of the inability of anyone else in the division to put anything together.

If nothing else, I need a few wins just so I can continue mounting a convincing argument as to why the Cubs are actually capable of big things. It starts to ring kinda hollow when they play the way they have lately.

More news and notes

  • Addison Russell got a new tattoo, a menacing gorilla on his left pec, which I’m sure won’t rile anyone up at all on Facebook. You can check out the fresh ink on Russell’s Instagram story if you are so inclined. I joke about it a little here, but if your first thought — or even your second or third or fifteenth — is that Russell needs to be focused on baseball instead of getting tattooed, maybe reconsider your perspective.
  • Speaking of injured players, Koji Uehara has been placed on the DL with neck stiffness, presumably suffered when he watched another hit fly by. He’s been replaced on the roster by Justin Grimm.
  • The Indians acquired Jay Bruce from the Mets; some folks had thought the Cubs might have had an interest there.
  • Jeimer Candelario was optioned back to AAA by the Tigers, so he’s pretty much in the same spot there as he was in Chicago.
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