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Cubs Tue Aug 25 2015
Long-term injuries suck at any time during a competitive season, but they hurt even more when the Cubs are weeks away from potentially securing their first playoff appearance since 2008.
I've been in the extreme minority believing that Jorge Soler will eventually be the best hitter out of the Soler, Kris Bryant, Kyle Schwarber and Addison Russell group. And who knows, ten years from now we may be laughing at how we ever thought the other youngsters were better than him, but it's going to be awfully difficult for Soler to eclipse his teammates when he's on the disabled all the time.
The oblique injury Soler suffered on a throw during Sunday's series finale against Atlanta will lay him up for at least a month, and possibly for the season depending on the severity. Tommy La Stella suffered the same injury in April, and he's now just returning to the majors after a major setback during rehab.
During the Cubs' 17-4 streak concluding with Sunday afternoon's win, Soler was solid in the batter's box, slashing .280/.360/.373 with 14 RBI's. He did most of the damage out of the sixth and seventh spots in the lineup, so he wasn't being heavily leaned on, but he was contributing nonetheless. Unfortunately, his defense was about the same as it had been much of the season: lousy.
With Soler hitting the DL, Tommy La Stella gets the call back to Wrigley for the first time since he went down with his own oblique issue. The swap of another right-handed bat for a lefty might look a little scary if this was May, but with roster expansion just a week away, the Cubs can get away being tilted one direction for a few days. In fact, it may even improve their recently robust offense.
La Stella is known for his on-base and contact skills. He'll slide in as the every day second basemen against righties, with Starlin Castro platooning when a southpaw is on the mound. La Stella will likely man the ninth spot in the order when Russell returns from his groin injury that's left him day-to-day, and it fits the skill set that Joe Maddon likes having in the "second leadoff" position.
It also allows Chris Coghlan to move back to the outfield without having to remove Kyle Schwarber from the lineup. Coghlan playing right field every day might scare some people, but he's actually ranked as one of the best left fielders defensively in 2015, which is a huge leap from what he's done in the outfield in past seasons. He won't be Jason Heyward out in right, but he'll do a far better job than Soler in keeping base runners from taking extra bases on balls that get past him.
Coghlan wasn't great at second base, and it was never intended to be the long-term solution. It was Maddon's way of keeping his best hitting lineup on the field for the majority of the game, and then make defensive substitutions late. Tally that up as a major success for the mad scientist.
La Stella was a middle-of-the-pack defender at second base last year, and that's just fine if he can get on base at a .350 clip like the Cubs are hoping for. His defense will be a significant upgrade over Coghlan, and that's all you can ask for.
As for the lineup being too heavily left-handed, it's actually a good thing against right-handed starters. Against righties, the Cubs are 16th in the league with a .312 weighted on-base average. If you narrow the results down to how left-handed hitting Cubs are faring against righties, they jump to seventh with a .337 wOBA. But what about when teams turn to those dreaded left-handed relievers, won't that neutralize what the Cubs are doing? Not so fast. Cubs lefties are third in the league with a .349 wOBA against southpaw hurlers.
Even if that becomes an issue, the Cubs will have plenty of right-handed firepower off the bench in the coming days. Javier Baez has mashed lefties to the tune of .329/.397/.586 in Triple-A this year, Matt Sczcur has a .794 OPS against lefties in his major league career (albeit, in 56 plate appearances). And don't forget about Chris Denorfia, who was specifically signed to platoon with Coghlan in left field and sports a career 341 wOBA against lefties. The rarely discussed Christian Villanueva rakes against them too.
The Cubs will be improved defensively with their refurbished lineup minus Soler, and they might even benefit from stacking a sixth lefty in the starting lineup against right-handers. Hopefully Soler can recover in time for a possible playoff berth, but in the meantime, the Cubs should be able to hold the fort down while he recovers.