With a 19-4 record since late July the Cubs are surging, but now they’ve lost a pair of key players to the disabled list in right fielder Jorge Soler and reliever Jason Motte.
Soler has a strained oblique muscle, which figures to sideline him until at least mid-September and could knock him out for the remainder of the regular season. He’s had a disappointing season relative to his excellent 24-game debut last year, hitting .265 with seven homers and a .710 OPS in 90 games. Expect to see Chris Coghlan shift back to the outfield, with Starlin Castro and Tommy La Stella playing second base.
Motte has a strained shoulder, which is expected to keep him out for at least 3-4 weeks. Thanks to injuries Motte is a shell of his former bat-missing self, striking out just 34 hitters in 48 innings, but he has a 3.91 ERA in 57 appearances and has worked a lot of high-leverage spots for the Cubs.
Cincinnati won the first game of the Cubs-Reds twinbill, but not for lack of effort from Chris Coghlan:
Much like Kris Bryant before him, 2014 first-round pick Kyle Schwarber has had his way with minor league pitching since the day the Cubs signed him. After hitting two homers for Double-A Tennessee on Sunday, he’s sitting at .333/.448/.657 with nine homers in 108 at-bats for the season. His career line of .341/.434/.641 in 370 at-bats is nearly a match for Bryant’s .327/.426/.667 line.
Meanwhile, Cubs left fielders have hit .217/.283/.370 in 138 at-bats this season. It’s not a total disaster, but it’s certainly not good. Most of the playing time has gone to Chris Coghlan, who has hit .194/.269/.370 overall. Chris Denorfia was expected to be his platoonmate, but he’s been hurt.
Given that the Cubs are all in, having already called on Bryant and Addison Russell, there’s going to be some point at which it might make sense to add the 22-year-old Schwarber to the mix. One slightly complicating factor: Schwarber isn’t currently a left fielder.
While Schwarber played 36 games in left (and 20 behind the plate) after being selected out of Indiana last year, the Cubs recommitted to him as a catcher over the winter. All of his starts this year have come behind the plate (21) or at DH (eight). He hasn’t excelled defensively — he’s given up 35 steals in 42 attempts over the course of 21 games — but neither has he been such a failure to cause the Cubs to doubt their decision.
The Cubs, though, did pick up Miguel Montero over the winter, committing $40 million to him through 2017. He’s been terrific this year, and there’s every reason to think he’ll be a solid starter through the end of his contract. The Cubs could always trade him when they think Schwarber is ready to play, but given that Montero is a better defender now than Schwarber is ever likely to become, there’s still a good chance Schwarber is going to end up in left field anyway. Unless someone else steps up, it might as well be sooner, rather than later.