The Rundown: Day of Rest for Injured Cubs, Davis Sets Saves Record, Latest on Otani, El Mago’s New Hair

Willson Contreras had a really light day, Addison Russell was not in the lineup for the Iowa Cubs, and Jon Lester was resting after throwing a simulated game yesterday. Oh, and Justin Grimm was also off. Because I’m sure you were worried about that. All in all, not much to report as far as Cubs injuries go.

Lester is set for a side session Wednesday, after which the Cubs will see how he feels before determining the next steps for him. My initial thought was that he’d be able to assume his normal spot in the rotation this Saturday, but now I’m thinking there might be minor-league tune-up in order. Given how well Mike Montgomery has been pitching, there’s no need to rush Lester back.

As for Russell, this still fits with my previous supposition that he’d spend a few days in Iowa before rejoining the Cubs in Chicago on Thursday and then being reactivated Friday when rosters expand. His foot has had plenty of time to heal, but he’s probably going to come back to some sort of a timeshare even if he’s at 100 percent health.

Between the foot, the shoulder, and El Mago, Russell doesn’t need to be out there taking all the first-team snaps. Sticking with that same football theme, it’s kind of fun (but not really, unless you’re kinda masochistic like me) to see all the talk of the Cubs’ shortstop version of a QB controversy. At one point or another this season, both Russell and Javy Baez were considered expendable.

Contreras looks to be on or ahead of schedule in his own rehab, though hamstrings are notoriously fickle (see: Cespedes, Yoenis) and can’t be taken for granted. In light of WillCo’s absence, the acquisition of Alex Avila continues to pay dividends. And to think, he was more or less a throw-in to the Cubs getting Justin Wilson.

Since joining the Cubs, Avila is slashing .271/.368/.458 with a .357 wOBA and 118 wRC+ in 69 plate appearances. That’s more than nice, it’s almost identical to the .274/.342/.519 with a .361 wOBA and 121 wRC+ Contreras has put up to this point. They’re obviously very different players — Avila is a steadying force while Contreras is a dynamic driver — but you can’t ask for a better replacement player.

If there’s a fear with the bearded backstop, it’s that he’s striking out in 37 percent of his plate appearances and his line is the beneficiary of a .464 BABIP that’s 84 points higher than he had posted in Detroit. And that .380 with the Tigers was 61 points higher than his career average. It’s possible that he could keep this up for a while longer, but that mean ol’ regression monster has got its fangs bared.

So the moral of the story here is that the injured Cubs are well on their way to returning and that their fill-ins are acquitting themselves quite well in the meantime. And with the Cardinals doing something good for a change, beating the Broors 10-2 last night, the Cubs have that much more breathing room in the Central.

Davis sets saves record

Wade Davis came on the in top of the 9th to retire the Pirates and set a Cubs record with his 27th consecutive save converted, besting a mark previously held by a guy who does a really good impersonation of Will Ferrell impersonating Harry Caray. Not Rod “Shooter” Beck, not Big Lee Smith, and not Randal K. Myers. Nope, the longest saves streak in club history prior to Tuesday night belonged to Ryan Dempster.

Asked to pontificate on the accomplishment, Davis said…well, he said nothing. Unwilling to talk about himself, the humble closer chose not to address the media after the game. I suppose that could be spun in a couple different ways, but I choose to take it as I’m sure Davis would want me to, which is that I won’t spin it at all.

This is a humble guy who takes the mound whenever he’s called upon and who expects to retire three batters and head back to the clubhouse. It’s not some great feat to do what you’re paid to do, even if you set a club record in the process. If you’ll allow me a bit of conjecture, though, I’d also guess that Davis knows he hasn’t been pitching his best lately.

Consider that he had a WHIP of 1.00 with a 3.58 K/BB ratio and 0.30 HR/9 in the first half, but has seen those numbers shift dramatically since the break. The 1.47 WHIP, 1.25 K/BB, and 1.72 HR/9 he’s put up over the last month and a half are not the results you want to see from your closer. A 6.89 BB/9 mark is particularly troublesome, as are the home runs allowed, though both of those stats are inflated by his performance in a pair of non-save situations against the D-backs earlier this month.

Davis allowed three home runs and walked two men in less than two innings of work, which can significantly impact the numbers when you’re talking about a guy who pitches in short spurts. For instance, those are the only three dingers he’s given up in 15.2 innings of work since July 14. That says nothing for the walks, though he’s gotten much better there since issuing 10 free passes over 9.2 innings (9.31 BB/9) from July 14 to August 13.

Okay, so I think we can feel pretty good about Davis at the end of the game. Now to figure out how to get from the starters to the closer without developing an ulcer.

Latest on Otani

Japanese phenom Shohei Otani will make his second start of the season on Thursday, when it’s expected that at least 15 MLB teams will have personnel in attendance. There’s been a lot of back and forth regarding the two-way star, with questions swirling as to his ability and desire to jump to MLB next season. And the questions of ability are less about his talent and more about how much he’ll be paid to show it off.

Otani wants to hit and pitch in the majors, so his upcoming outing could go a long way toward determining how viable he is as a potential starter. His only other appearance this season resulted in four earned runs in just over an inning of work, but he’s fought through ankle and thigh injuries — the former of which kept him out of this spring’s World Baseball Classic — and is finally back at or near full strength.

Despite the issues, the 23-year-old enigma has hit .342/.402/.548 and would be a coveted prospect even if he didn’t possess a triple-digit fastball. He’s basically Rick Ankiel, but with more power and no yips. According to Jon Morosi, the Yankees and Rangers are the most serious suitors in the race to land Otani. Both have a noted appetite for Japanese pitchers and have been acquiring international bonus pool money in an effort to max out the deal they can offer.

Under the rules of the new CBA, that cap is $6 million, some of which you’d figure a team would want to spend on other international free agents. But even considering the $20 million release fee they’d have to pay to the Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters, Otani’s current team, it’s an insanely small price for such a coveted prospect. And that’s if he was only a pitcher or a hitter.

All things considered, I can’t imagine why Otani would jump to the States next year. I get the whole “love of the game” angle, but he’d be drastically reducing his earning power by not waiting until he can meet the standards for full-blown free agency. Given his youth and talent, Otani might be able to command $200 million in a truly free market.

This is a topic I find utterly fascination and I’m very much looking forward to seeing how Otani pitches Thursday, let alone how things play out moving forward.

El Mago’s spring break hair

Just gonna go ahead and share this without comment, other than to say it reminds me of when girls in high school would go to Jamaica on spring break.

More news and news

  • The Cubs announced Tuesday that all proceeds from today’s 50/50 raffle at Wrigley will go to benefit Hurricane Harvey relief. If you’re headed to the game, maybe throw in a few bucks.
  • Brett Anderson was activated by the Blue Jays yesterday and went 5.2 innings against Chris Sale and the Red Sox, giving up six hits and walking none while striking out three. He took the loss despite allowing only a single run. Ain’t baseball the weirdest?
  • Justin Verlander rumors are still flying around, with Jon Morosi reporting that a team other than Houston is in the mix. It still sounds unlikely that a deal gets done, but you never know.
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