Posted on September 7, 2019, by Bryan Zarpentine
The Chicago Cubs received a huge hit to their playoff hopes on Saturday. The team learned that shortstop Javier Baez has been diagnosed with a hairline fracture of his left thumb. Baez is set to see a hand specialist on Monday to determine the severity and the timeline for his return. At the moment, his status for the rest of the season remains up in the air.
Baez hurt the thumb last Sunday while sliding into second base on a successful steal attempt. He initially stayed in the game but left a few innings later and has not played since then. Baez underwent X-rays that were negative. But when he was still unable to play a few days after the initial injury, Baez was sent for an MRI that revealed the hairline fracture. Depending on the prognosis from the team’s hand specialist, Baez could be done for the season.
It’s impossible to understate how important Baez is to the Cubs. He was the runner-up in the MVP race last year and has been nearly as good in 2019. At the moment, Baez is hitting .281 with an OPS of .848. He’s mashed 29 home runs and 38 doubles and had a realistic chance to set a new career-high in both categories before the injury. On top of that, Baez also plays spectacular defense at shortstop and brings energy to the Cubs on a daily basis, making him an invaluable part of the team.
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With Baez sidelined for the foreseeable future, Addison Russell will continue to fill in at shortstop. This has been a tumultuous season for Russell, who was preferred over Baez at shortstop earlier in his career. Russell began the season serving a suspension and has been optioned to the minors on two occasions. While he’s steady defensively, Russell is hitting just .226 with an OPS of .677.
“Addison’s a wonderful shortstop in his own right,” Cubs manager Joe Maddon said earlier this week before Baez was diagnosed with a fractured thumb. “He probably doesn’t have the same offensive pedigree that Javy does, but he can play shortstop with anybody, Addison can.”
Right now, the Cubs have little choice but to trust Russell to handle shortstop and try to make up for Baez’s offensive production. David Bote would be an upgrade over Russell offensively, but he is not a natural shortstop. Also, Russell has been seeing most of his time at second base this year. With him sliding to shortstop, the Cubs will rely more on Ben Zobrist, who recently returned from nearly four months away from the team, and Ian Happ, who’s had an up and down 2019.
At the start of the day Saturday, the Cubs were 2.5 games behind the Cardinals in the NL Central. They also hold the second Wild Card spot in the National League but have four teams within four games of that spot. With the playoff race likely to go down to the wire, losing Baez could have massive implications. Even with an exact timeline yet to be determined, the Cubs may not be able to count on Baez returning by the end of the season. In such a tight race, Baez’s status could be the difference between making the playoffs and staying home.