Sunday, May 19, 2024
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Cubs’ depth, mettle to be tested with Seiya Suzuki and Cody Bellinger injuries: Can lineup step up on offense?

At 14-9 through their first 25 games, the Chicago Cubs are off to a very nice start. It hasn’t all been positive and it’s possible some of those four blown Adbert Alzolay saves will come back to bite them — remember, they missed the playoffs by just one game last year — but they are now staring at a tall order for the next month-plus, in all likelihood. 

Two of their best position players are out for a bit. Seiya Suzuki was placed on the injured list last Monday with an oblique injury. On Wednesday, the Cubs revealed that Cody Bellinger has two fractured ribs and placed him on the injured list

Suzuki has started “light” baseball activity, but is still weeks from a minor-league rehab assignment. With Bellinger, the average time on the injured list for a fractured rib is 51 days, or more than seven weeks, according to Baseball Prospectus’ recovery database.

Suzuki and Bellinger were the Cubs’ 2-3 hitters in the lineup when healthy and now the team faces the prospect of missing both, concurrently, for multiple weeks.

Through 15 games, Suzuki was looking like a breakout player in the midst of his first MLB All-Star season. He is hitting .305/.368/.525 (147 OPS+) with four doubles, three homers, 13 RBI and 11 runs. Bellinger is only hitting .226, but his .760 OPS is plenty good (111 OPS+) along with his five homers and team-leading 17 RBI. He got the scoring started Tuesday night with a two-run shot and the Cubs never looked back en route to a 7-2 win over the Astros.

The thought process when Suzuki went down was that Bellinger was one of the players who needed to step up. Now with both out, we’ll see what kind of depth and mettle the Cubs can show. 

As far as who needs to step up, when losing two players with the upside of Suzuki and Bellinger, it’s gotta be a collective effort.

  • Veteran fixture Ian Happ missed games over the weekend with a hamstring issue, but he’s already back. The Cubs could sure use the best version of Happ.
  • Mike Tauchman homered twice on Tuesday night and is hitting .283/.397/.491 now. Nothing in the track record of the 33-year-old part-timer suggests he could play like that over a full season, but the Cubs will hope he can be productive here in the short run. 
  • The outfield will be filled with Happ, Tauchman and two kids. Alexander Canario was recalled from the minors when Suzuki was placed on the IL. In only 14 career MLB games, he’s hit .290 with a .613 slugging and two homers in 31 at-bats. He’s shown good upside in the minors, too. Also, Pete Crow-Armstrong has been summoned now with Bellinger’s injury. He’s already a plus defender in center field. He was 0 for 14 with seven strikeouts at the plate during his brief stint in the majors last season, though, and is hitting .203/.241/.392 so far in Triple-A this year. 
  • Offensively, the Cubs could stand to see increased production from Christopher Morel. He’s only hitting .200 with a .353 slugging. There’s a ton of upside in there, as evidenced by the 26 homers in 388 at-bats last year. They need him to get hot pretty quickly now. 
  • There’s also some level of hope that Matt Mervis could get it going at some point in a DH role. After an 0 for 3 night Tuesday, he’s now a career .161/.235/.280 hitter in the majors. In 179 career Triple-A games, he’s hitting .287/.393/.556 with 45 doubles and 42 homers. At 26, he’s dangerously close to being slotted as a Quad-A player. This is his chance to avoid such a fate. 

Nico Hoerner has recently gotten scorching hot and they couldn’t ask for much more from Michael Busch — or catcher Miguel Amaya, really, given his lower-order spot in the lineup. Tauchman has been great and they’ll hope he continues to be helpful. 

With Bellinger and Suzuki out, the rest of the Cubs’ offense needs to show the mettle of a contender. Some combination of Happ, Canario, Crow-Armstrong, Morel and/or Mervis need to be the one(s) to step up to replace the lost production. 

If not, what has started out as a promising season could well end up just like last year. 

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