California has not been kind to the Cubs this season.
The North-Siders have played nine games in the Golden State this season and have dropped eight of them, including two out of three this week to the Giants at AT&T Park.
The series loss to San Francisco was particularly painful. The Cubs won the first game 5-3 thanks in part to an electrifying inside-the-park home run from Javier Baez.
Baez’s homer was one of the most exciting plays of the season. Unfortunately, the Cubs finished the series with two decidedly unexciting performances on Tuesday and Wednesday.
Tuesday’s game began with a Buster Posey 3-run homer in the first inning, a blast that provided the winning margin in a 6-3 Giants victory.
The Cubs’ bats were silent again on Wednesday against Madison Bumgarner, save for a third-inning laser off the bat of Albert Almora Jr. that cleared the left-field wall to tie the game 1.
Almora Jr. hadn’t gotten much playing time in the weeks leading up to the series in San Francisco, but he started all three games against the Giants. The second-year outfielder went 4-for-9 in the series with the home run, a walk, and zero strikeouts. He continues to be the Cubs’ best hitter against left-handers, having compiled a .342/.429/.544 line in 91 plate appearances against southpaws this season.
The score in the rubber match remained even until the seventh, when the Giants put together three straight soft singles to take a 2-1 lead. They’d go on to win 3-1 and take the series. The Cubs have lost three straight series and will now travel to Arizona to take on the Diamondbacks again starting Friday.
Though the Cubs dropped the series, the biggest loss came near the tail end of Wednesday’s matchup. In the eighth inning, Willson Contreras grounded softly to third and was hustling to try to beat the throw. Two-thirds of the way down the line, he pulled up lame with a hamstring injury.
The 25-year-old Contreras left the game and will be getting an MRI Thursday. A DL stint seems likely for the young catcher, who had to be helped from the field, although he was able to put some weight on the injured leg. Here’s teammate Anthony Rizzo‘s reaction after the game.
— Jesse Rogers (@ESPNChiCubs) August 9, 2017
Contreras himself seems to be in good spirits despite the potential time off coming his way.
On my way! To get the MRI. It’s time to get healthy and come back stronger than before..🔥💪
Thank you all for the support 🙏🏻
— Willson Contreras (@WContreras40) August 10, 2017
Any missed time for Contreras would be a huge loss for the Cubs. As we’ve discussed here in recent weeks, the second-year backstop has been Chicago’s best player since mid-June, both offensively and defensively. He’s third on the team in fWAR for the season at 3.0, behind only Kris Bryant and Rizzo, and the pitching staff has gotten used to his receiving style behind the plate.
It’s ironic that Contreras was hurt on a day that Joe Maddon gave him a break from catching. He started at first base on Wednesday, with Alex Avila behind the dish. The trade for Avila looms much larger now with Contreras likely to go on the shelf. The erstwhile Detroit Tiger will likely get the lion’s share of starts in the coming weeks. How well he handles the pitching staff could be the key to the Cubs’ playoff hopes this season.
Meanwhile, rookie catcher Victor Caratini will probably be summoned back from Triple-A less than two weeks after being sent down. The 23-year-old is hitting .344 at Iowa and slashed .192/.250/.385 in a 28-plate appearance cameo in July.
Banged up Cubs
If Contreras does end up on the DL, he’ll join Addison Russell, who is nursing a right foot strain, and Koji Uehara, who left Tuesday’s game with a neck strain after two batters, on the injured list. The Cubs recalled Justin Grimm from Triple-A to take Uehara’s place in the bullpen.
On Wednesday, The Chicago Tribune’s Mark Gonzales reported that Russell might not return for another week or more. The shortstop hasn’t played since Aug. 2.
Here Come the Cards
Despite losing six of their last eight games, the Cubs have managed to remain in first place in the NL Central. They have the Brewers to thank for that, as Milwaukee has lost four straight and six of ten.
On the other hand, the Cardinals, mostly left for dead after the All-Star Break, have been red hot, winning five straight over the last week. St. Louis has now climbed even with the Brewers, just 1.5 games behind the Cubs.