It would be easy to get conspiratorial on this, the 36th anniversary of the frozen envelope that allowed the Knicks to draft Patrick Ewing, but I don’t think there’s any kind of hoodoo or voodoo involved in the Cubs’ center field issues. That said, I won’t try very hard to dissuade you from the notion that the baseball gods have it in for whoever happens to be manning the middle of the outfield these days.
During their slugfest loss to the Reds in Cincinnati 10 days ago, Ian Happ went low to avoid a direct collision with Nico Hoerner and ended up taking the second baseman’s knee to the solar plexus. Exactly one week later, Jake Marisnick fell prey to Wrigley’s sod monster and fell to the ground with a strained hamstring. Both men are on the IL.
Kris Bryant started Tuesday’s game in center and was 1-for-3 with his MLB-leading 14th double before exiting in the bottom of the 6th with what was later described as an illness. ‘Tis the season for allergies and it appears as though KB caught the vapors from Cleveland’s questionable air quality.
“He was having trouble breathing out there,” David Ross told Jordan Bastian and other reporters after the game. “He was dealing with some sinus stuff for a couple innings. And it just wasn’t getting better.”
It’s as though M. Night Shyamalan is directing this season, which I suppose could lead to a surprise ending in which the Cubs end up winning the NL Central and the Cardinals see their annual allotment of competitive balance picks trebled in return. The whole “next-man-up” thing is nice in theory and may end up working out for the best in the end, but the roster is getting as thin as the crotch on a pair of cheap blue jeans.
It doesn’t help that the Cubs had been getting really solid play in center from Marisnick and Bryant after Happ went down. The original primary option there, Happ was hitting just .185 with an 81 wRC+ over 78 plate appearances. Marisnick is batting .282 with a 181 wRC+ over 52 PAs playing center and Bryant is at .383 and 169 over 19 PAs. Their aggregate 102 wRC+ mark isn’t bad by any stretch, it’s just meh.
The good news is that Bryant’s issues are not thought to be COVID-related, so the right meds and a little rest should be able to knock everything out in short order. Even if he’s developed a sinus infection, which I typically suffer from once or twice a year but haven’t in quite a while due to masking and crowd avoidance, having Thursday off should allow the worst symptoms to clear.
The Cubs had better hope that’s the case because Bryant has been playing at an MVP level while basically putting the team on his back as several of the other would-be core producers have been spotty or somewhat absent. So while his respiratory issues may not be transmissible, Bryant’s demeanor is spreading to those around him.
“He’s a lead-by-example guy in this clubhouse. He’s a leader,” Marisnick said recently. “You see him go about his business and put his head down, move around, and do what’s necessary to help this team win. Stuff like that’s contagious.
“You’ve got younger guys looking up to him. They see him do that, and you can’t ask questions and you can’t complain. You’ve just got to go out and do it. He’s setting that example for this team.”
Still, Bryant isn’t a natural center fielder and is only playing there out of necessity so you’d rather see those other guys bounce back and allow him to move back to a position for which he’s better suited. Happ and Hoerner are eligible to return from the IL Friday and both can play the outfield, which will improve the depth significantly provided both are healthy.
In addition to the extra day off, their third in eight days, the Cubs also get the benefit of the DH for this five-game interleague swing. Hey, maybe one of the lesser gods was looking out for them after all. Now if there was just something they could do about plating runners in scoring position.