An MRI today revealed that Cubs shortstop Javier Baez has a hairline fracture in his left thumb, per Jesse Rogers of ESPN. He’ll visit a specialist on Monday for further evaluation. Though the Cubs have yet to release a timeline for his return, it’s possible that this could mean the end of the season for the star infielder.
Baez has missed the last four games after suffering the injury while sliding into second base on September 1. Initial X-rays came back negative and Baez sought to return to the lineup on Thursday, but the persistence of discomfort during batting practice forced him to sit out as the team scheduled a follow-up MRI. Saturday night’s matchup with the Brewers will mark the fifth consecutive game without Baez in the lineup.
Though any injury this late in the season spells trouble for a playoff-hopeful club, this feels especially devastating for the Cubs. Baez has rightfully garnered a reputation as the lifeblood of the Cubs, not only as a mainstay in the middle of the batting order, but as one of the finest defensive infielders in baseball. By Baseball-Reference’s measure of WAR, he has been the most valuable Cub this season, a repeat of last year’s breakout.
Without Baez, Addison Russell is next in line to man the shortstop position. While his defensive talent at the position rivals that of Baez, it’s undebatable that his offensive production leaves much to be desired. If the Cubs, who find themselves in the heat of a contested playoff race, are to overtake the first-place Cardinals, Russell and the rest of the Cubs will need to pick up the slack. If indeed Baez is forced to miss the remainder of the season, it’s an injury that could have a significant impact on the National League Wild-Card chase.
This season, Baez has slashed .281/.316/.532 and has slugged 29 home runs, doubling down on the power surge that carried him to a second-place MVP finish a year ago. On defense, he’s tallied 15 DRS and earned a 9.6 Ultimate Zone Rating, both of which place him among the three best defensive shortstops in baseball.