The Rundown: Russell’s ‘Return Is Not Imminent,’ Platoon Debates, Enough Already

Addison Russell went to the DL with a foot strain on August 4, but the move was retroactive to two days earlier, which means he could have been activated by now. Even so, the shortstop has only progressed to light running drills and the Cubs are taking a very cautious approach when it comes to getting him back on the field.

“He’s coming along slowly,” Jed Hoyer said prior to Monday’s game. “As cliche as it is, we’ll take it day by day. He’s feeling better. A return is not imminent. [emphasis mine] Hopefully, he just keeps getting better and better and gets on the field.”

I highlighted the titular pull-quote, but that last statement seems a little ominous all on its own. Hoyer is just being coyer, I know, but this leads me to believe the injury is more severe than we’d initially been told. Then again, foot injuries can be real bastards when it comes to healing up. Also in play here is the Cubs’ weak schedule, which allows them to take a little more time than under other circumstances.

Oh, then you’ve got one Ednel Javier Baez, whose play at short on a full-time basis would make nearly every other shortstop in the league expendable. Since assuming the role on August 3, Baez is batting .341/.386/.683 with a .430 wOBA and 166 wRC+ in 44 plate appearances. He’s hit four homers and driven in 11, two and five of which have come in the last two games.

There are still times when you tear your hair out wondering why Javy is swinging at pitches that land in the left-handed batter’s box — or even worse, when he’s pulling off of it so hard that he doesn’t have the coverage to get to the outer third of the plate — and his footwork can get a little wonky on double plays. But Baez is showing that he needs to be out there every day, which isn’t so much a matter of Russell sitting as it is other players.

Who sits?

Among the challenges facing Joe Maddon this season, none has been more trying that having to fill out the lineup card each day knowing that several capable players are going to be left on the bench. Not only that, but he’s had to balance the timing of hot and cold hands, with the latter being in far greater supply all too often.

While the payday and the host of badass automobiles, not to mention the elite wine selection, seem like pretty sweet perks, I do not envy Maddon having to make the choices he does. Not that I agree with all of them or that I’d make the same ones, mind you, just that I’m hesitant to call him out too often knowing how crazy his job must be in that regard.

Take Monday’s game, for example. Jon Jay, Ben Zobrist, and Kyle Schwarber were all listed as starters while Ian Happ, Tommy La Stella, and Albert Almora Jr. rode the pine. The middle names in those respective trios were swapped when Zobrist was scratched with a stiff neck, but the point remains.

Jay is a pretty easy one, given his solid play and the Cubs’ need for a consistent leadoff hitter. But Schwarber came into the game with seven straight strikeouts and whiffed in his first at-bat to put him at 24 K’s in his last 42 plate appearances (57.1%). He would eventually break the streak with a pair of hit by pitches, a walk, and a single, but it’s obvious he hadn’t been seeing the ball well to that point. And Zobrist, well, he just hasn’t been right since hurting his wrist earlier in the season.

Then again, Happ has a mere .644 OPS in his last 95 plate appearances and has not hit as well against righties or at home. In fact, he’s carrying only a .515 OPS in that split of the sample I just listed. Granted, it’s only 38 plate appearances. And we’ve known about Almora’s struggles against righties for some time. So there’s method to Maddon’s madness, though that may come to a head when Russell returns, whenever that is.

La Stella is the easy choice for odd man out, if for no other reason than his defense isn’t spectacular and you love his bat off the bench. Happ is such a streaky player that it’s hard to see Maddon choosing to ride him down the stretch unless he has to. Schwarber has the power potential to change games in the blink of an eye and has a better overall approach than most anyone on the team…when he’s right.

We’ll see what happens with the neck and whether that’s just a temporary issue, but Zobrist hasn’t been 100 percent all season. Like, not even close. And he’s not exactly a young man anymore, which means even the smallest of issues are going to linger like an unwanted house guest. Given his position(s) and his production, I can’t fathom Zobrist playing an everyday role once Russell returns. Not unless he magically snaps out of this season-long funk.

But the moral of the story here, if there really is one, is that you can’t just look at the last week of results or even at the season as a whole. And Maddon’s not just rolling dice in his office, either. There’s a lot that goes into his daily lineups, from the individual matchups to recent and historical performance, to whatever gut notion the skipper might have that day.

Now to get everyone on the same page so those notions all end up looking really smart.

Enough already

I believe it was in the midst of the Cubs’ annihilation of the Reds during Jake Arrieta’s no-hitter last year that former Cubs broadcaster and known salt lick, Thom Brennaman, muttered those now-infamous two words: “Enough already.” Did that maybe follow a Kris Bryant home run?

The exact source of Brennaman’s vexation, other than being born into a disdain for the Cubs, will eventually be lost to time, an esoteric anecdote of baseball lore. The idea, though, of the downtrodden Reds serving as a tomato can for the Chicago sluggers to pound into submission, that will last for a while. So it’s fun to have another game like Monday night in which it seemed like the bats were all going at once.

It didn’t necessarily start that way, what with Jose Quintana throwing a ton of stinkers — oh, sinkers — and biffing a five-foot flip home for a force. But once the Cubs’ bats got hot, it was all over. And with the chance to wipe their feet on the divisional doormats for six of the next nine games, the Cubs have a chance to once again capture the momentum that has been so elusive this season.

More news and notes

  • Devin Mesoraco, who limped off the field Monday, has been diagnosed with a fractured fifth metatarsal in his left foot and has headed back to Cincy to be examined by team doctors. Depending on the severity and type of fracture, treatment could be either surgery or a simple cast. The former generally results in quicker recovery time, but we’re probably looking at a minimum four weeks. I suffered the same injury a few years ago and was in a cast for six or eight weeks. Fun.
  • The Rockies optioned Carlos Estevez to the minors, which is only notable because that’s Charlie Sheen’s real name.
  • Javy Baez apparently broke Diamondbacks pitcher Jake Barrett, who was optioned Monday.
  • Our auction for a Joe Maddon experience (4 tix, 4 field passes, chance to tell the manager who he should put in the lineup when he greets you on the field) is only at $850, so get bidding.
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