Kyle Schwarber called the Cubs’ three straight losses to the Brewers this weekend the “first little bump in the road.”
It was an apt metaphor for a team that sped down the straightaway to a record start. But that bump has given away to a steady climb: Five games against the Cardinals in three days.
If that wasn’t enough of a challenge, immediately after the Cubs’ 6-5 loss to Milwuakee on Sunday, Cubs manager David Ross said he hadn’t yet decided who would start Game 2 of Monday’s doubleheader. His job had become more complicated in the hours before Sunday’s game.
Tyler Chatwood, who had been tapped to start a game Monday, let the team know that his back had tightened up again. Sunday afternoon, the Cubs placed Chatwood on the 10-day injured list (retroactive to Aug. 13) with a mid-back strain.
Kyle Hendricks remained penciled in for Game 1, but the Cubs needed a second starter for Monday.
“There was a lot going on before the game,” Ross said. “I’m going to talk to these guys after the game and make that decision.”
Let’s count the factors building the hill ahead:
- The mental toll of three straight one-run losses, marking the first time the Cubs have lost consecutive games this season.
- A starting pitcher heading to the IL the day after swingman Colin Rea made his first spot start of the year – reaching the end of the rotation depth on the active roster.
- Playing at least 37 innings (two seven-inning double headers and one regular nine-inning games) in three days, barring any postponements or cancellations.
“I think this is going to be a pretty good test,” Schwarber said.
The Cubs have tools to attack each problem. But how affective those tools will be remains to be seen.
To counter the losing streak, the Cubs have veteran leadership.
“They’ve experienced the ultimate urgency of playoff baseball,” Cubs second baseman Nico Hoerner said, “so in comparison, (a 60-game season) doesn’t quite stack up to that. I think there’s not a sense of panic or anything to change in this locker room.”
To adjust to Chatwood’s injury, the Cubs have options on the South Bend alternate site roster. Teams are allowed to recall an extra player for doubleheaders, per the 2020 Operations Manual.
“If we need an extra position player, then we’ll go grab one from South Bend,” Ross said. “If not, we’ll grab a starter.”
That was before the team placed Chatwood on the IL. Pitching now seems to be at a premium, and the Cubs have options like Adbert Alzolay, Justin Steele, Tyson Miller and Rex Brothers stretched out to multiple innings in South Bend. But between the four of them, they’ve only combined for two major-league starts.
Ross said he’d prefer to use Rea in the bullpen but didn’t rule out starting him on short rest if need be.
On to the question of workload.
“I think the main thing to balance is the health of the players,” Ross said.
Ross identified Javier Báez, Anthony Rizzo and Willson Contreras as players he’s “pushed pretty heavy” since the Cubs’ four-day break last weekend. All three played the next five games straight, although Contreras got the day off from behind the plate Thursday and was the designated hitter. Ross rested Báez on Sunday, and he only appeared as a pinch hitter in the ninth inning.
“I just think you look at the depth on our team, it’s unbelievable,” Schwarber said. “Professional at-bat to professional at-bat.”
With Báez out of the lineup Sunday, Nico Hoerner played shortstop. On days Rizzo needs a break, Kris Bryant can play first base and David Bote third. When Contreras needs a rest, Victor Caratini can fill in.
In all cases, the batting order remains strong.
Still, the hill ahead remains steep.
“When you have 60 games, it’s not like, ‘we’ll get them tomorrow,'” Lester said. “Every game is important, and every game we’re trying to win.”
How Cardinals series will test Cubs’ depth, resilience originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago