CHICAGO -- If nothing else, Thursday's off-day for the Chicago Cubs will give rookie Kyle Schwarber some extra time to rest his sore ribs. His late scratch from Wednesday's lineup, before the Cubs' 7-4 loss to the Cincinnati Reds, surprised everyone as Schwarber seemed fine earlier in the day.
"In the batting cage he felt something in his side," manager Joe Maddon said. "We shut it down."
Schwarber left Wrigley Field, presumably to get an MRI, but side/rib/oblique injuries are always tricky. The Cubs will undoubtedly err on the side of caution, as even if they didn't have a cushion in the wild-card race there's no rushing a player back from those kinds of injuries. Just ask Tommy La Stella, who finally returned to the lineup recently after being out since the third game of the season.
La Stella homered for the first time this year on Wednesday but it wasn't enough as the Cubs dropped their third straight series. But unlike some other playoff pretenders, the Cubs managed to keep themselves above water even while going through a rough patch. They followed up a six-game win streak with a 3-6 stretch; it's not great by any means but it's surviving. And right now, that's all they have to do.
The San Francisco Giants haven't made much of a push and the days on the calendar are ticking off. The Cubs are down to 30 games left starting Friday and have one tough road trip to navigate -- 11 games in 11 days starting next week -- but even a .500 record would probably do. Not that probabilities mean all that much but Baseball Prospectus says the Cubs have a 95.9 percent chance of making the postseason. We're not quite at the point of setting up their pitching rotation but they can at least take some time to heal the walking wounded. Jorge Soler (oblique) should start swinging a bat this weekend, but like Schwarber, his timetable is unclear.
In the meantime, Maddon was pleased with the play of newcomer Austin Jackson as he got the late start in place of Schwarber on Wednesday. He looked smooth in right field -- not always an easy place to navigate -- and went 2-for-4 at the plate.
"Austin walked right out there and had some really good at-bats," Maddon said. "Looked really good in the outfield also. He's going to really help us down the stretch. His at-bats the whole game were outstanding. He played really well, and that's against a right-handed pitcher that's tough on right-handed hitters."
That's high praise for a player picked up at the second trade deadline, but you get the feeling Jackson might be one of those sly Theo Epstein trades we look back on with a smile. With injuries to Soler and possibly Schwarber, as well as his ability to track down a baseball, it could make him as valuable as any July or August pickup.
"Outfield depth was an area we wanted to address a little bit," Epstein said Tuesday afternoon. "At this time of year you get in the position trying to figure out if any one player or combination of players gets hurt how do you backfill? Dexter Fowler is one guy we didn't have great insurance for per se on the roster. It seemed like a no-brainer for us."
Epstein mentioned corner outfield for Jackson as well and that's exactly where he played in his first two days as a Cub. His splits against lefty pitching this year are important as the Cubs have struggled recently taking on left-handers. Schwarber has slowed down against them, as has Chris Denorfia. In fact, even with a healthy outfield it wouldn't be a shock if Jackson played ahead of Denorfia, who has been starting all year against lefties. Jackson is hitting .294 with a .327 on-base percentage off left-handers this year.
Defense is still the most important aspect Jackson might bring to the Cubs. The latest road trip exposed the Cubs' lack of outfield depth, as spacious AT&T Park and Dodger Stadium created some havoc, especially when Fowler missed games. Jackson will undoubtedly enter in the late innings on a nightly basis if the Cubs are winning, unless he's already in the starting lineup. That's how valuable he could become.
"I like this guy," Maddon said. "He can play."
He might not be Schwarber or Soler, but he'll do until either or both are back on the field.