After losing closer Craig Kimbrel indefinitely with elbow inflammation and suffering a 7-1 beating at the hands of the Brewers within the last 48 hours, the Cubs got more bad news on Saturday afternoon, as the team announced that All-Star shortstop Javier Báez has a hairline fracture in his left thumb, with a recovery plan yet to be determined:
MRI on SS Javier Baez’s left thumb revealed a hairline fracture. He will see Cubs’ hand specialist on Monday to determine a plan/timeline.— Jordan Bastian (@MLBastian) September 7, 2019
Báez suffered the injury while stealing second base in Sunday’s game against the Brewers. Since he bats and throws right-handed, this obviously isn’t a worst-case scenario, but it’s still a development that will cause him to miss some time and could affect him at the plate for the remainder of the season. That’s not good for the Cubs, as they’re fighting to stay alive in the NL Central — they currently sit 2.5 games behind the Cardinals for first place — and Báez is very arguably their best player, having posted a team-best 4.7 bWAR with a .281/.316/.532 slash line, 29 homers, and 85 RBI over 560 plate appearances this season while also playing Gold Glove caliber defense (15 defensive runs saved) at shortstop.
The Cubs have a pair of former All-Stars, Ben Zobrist and Addison Russell, who are forming the primary middle-infield duo in Báez’s absence, but both have struggled this season, with Zobrist slashing .258/.366/.269 with no homers (but hitting .400 in three games since returning from a nearly-four-month personal leave of absence) and Russell hitting .226/.300/.377. Chicago has a host of other middle infielders — David Bote, Daniel Descalso, Robel Garcia, Tony Kemp, and Ian Happ — who will be in line for more starts in Báez’s absence, but Russell is now the only healthy player on their roster who most would consider a legitimate major-league shortstop from a defensive standpoint.