Nearly five years ago, the Padres and Braves shocked the baseball world with a trade of star closer Craig Kimbrel. MLBTR’s Jeff Todd looks back at the blockbuster deal and its many tentacles in today’s video.
The Cubs have activated closer Craig Kimbrel from the 10-day injured list, the team announced. Kimbrel is set to pitch for the first time since September 1 (with an IL placement on September 5), after being sidelined with right elbow inflammation.
Reinforcements couldn’t come at a more welcome time for the Cubs, who are locked in a pitched battle with the Cardinals and Brewers for both the NL Central title and an NL wild card berth. Chicago is three games behind St. Louis as the two rivals begin a critical four-game series tonight, and are also set to meet in a three-game series on the final three days of the regular season. The Cubs and Brewers are tied for the second NL wild card spot, and with an increasingly comfortable cushion on other wild card contenders such as the Mets (three games back), Phillies (3.5 games), and Diamondbacks (4.5 games). Chicago and Milwaukee are also both 1.5 games behind the Nationals for the top wild card position.
While missing close to three weeks of this pennant race surely isn’t what Kimbrel had in mind, his injury absence could serve as something of a potential reset on his tenure with the Cubs. Kimbrel’s well-documented free agent sojourn kept him from signing until early June, and the former seven-time All-Star hasn’t shown anything close to that form in Wrigleyville. Over 19 innings this season, Kimbrel has a 5.68 ERA, a number inflated by both walks (5.2 BB/9) and homers (2.8 HR/9, four times’ Kimbrel’s career average).
If Kimbrel can recapture any of his past form, he’ll strengthen a Cubs relief corps that is pitching its best baseball of the season. Cubs relievers have a cumulative 2.35 ERA in September, the best of any team this month.
WEDNESDAY: The Cubs expect Kimbrel to return Thursday or Friday, according to Maddon (via Wittenmyer).
MONDAY: Winners of five consecutive games, the Cubs have sizzled over the past several days as they attempt to earn their fifth straight playoff berth. A few of those victories came in blowout fashion, which means Chicago has largely been able to get by without the services of injured closer Craig Kimbrel. The club probably won’t be able to cruise to all of its wins over the next couple weeks, though, making it imperative for Kimbrel to return. It appears that’s close to happening, as president of baseball operations Theo Epstein and manager Joe Maddon suggested Monday that Kimbrel could be back for the Cubs’ crucial series against the division-rival Cardinals this weekend, per Gordon Wittenmyer of the Chicago Sun-Times. In the meantime, he’ll throw a simulated game Tuesday.
The Cubs have been sans Kimbrel since he landed on the injured list Sept. 5 (retroactive to Sept. 1) with right elbow inflammation. The normally stellar Kimbrel had endured a rough season even before then, as he surrendered 12 earned runs on 18 hits and 11 walks (with 26 strikeouts) over 19 innings.
The 5.68 ERA, 6.64 FIP, 5.21 BB/9 and 2.84 HR/9 Kimbrel have posted this year aren’t the type of numbers the Cubs had in mind when they signed the 31-year-old to a three-year, $43MM guarantee in June, thus ending a long standoff in free agency between him and the league. At that point, Kimbrel was coming off yet another more-than-respectable season. The former Brave, Padre and Red Sox entered 2019 with a 2.04 ERA/2.13 FIP, 14.58 K/9, 3.52 BB/9 and a .67 HR/9 across 551 2/3 lifetime frames.
With the Cubs just a game up on the Brewers for the NL’s second wild-card spot and two back of the Cards in the NL Central, it would be a boon for a wobbly bullpen if Kimbrel were to revisit his vintage form as September nears a conclusion. Otherwise, more blowups from the Cubs’ prized summer signing down the stretch could help lead to a premature ending to their season.
Justin Turner is expected to return to the Dodgers’ lineup on Tuesday, MLB.com’s Ken Gurnick tweets. The third baseman hasn’t played since September 7 due to a left ankle sprain, so it will end up being a seven-game absence for Turner. Still one of the game’s better hitters (.291/.370/.514 with 27 homers in 538 PA) in his age 34 season, Turner is likely to get further rest time over the last couple of weeks if necessary, as the Dodgers obviously want him fully healthy and prepared for the postseason. [UPDATE: Turner’s return on Tuesday isn’t a sure thing, as manager Dave Roberts told the Los Angeles Times’ Jorge Castillo and other media that Turner’s ankle is still bothering him.]
The Dodgers have long since punched their ticket for October, but let’s check in some teams still fighting to reach the playoffs and dealing with some injuries along the way…
- Jason Kipnis will receive an MRI on Monday after leaving today’s game due to discomfort in his right wrist, as per multiple reporters (including MLB.com’s Mandy Bell). Kipnis has been battling tendinitis in the wrist and missed a few games with the ailment earlier this month. If Kipnis is forced to miss time, he’ll be not only miss some of the stretch run of the Indians’ pennant race, but also potentially his last two weeks in a Cleveland uniform. The former All-Star has hit only .245/.304/.410 over 511 plate appearances as the Tribe’s regular second baseman, and after three straight years of subpar batting numbers, it is widely expected that the team will decline its $16.5MM option on Kipnis’ services for 2020.
- Craig Kimbrel had no setbacks during a 20-pitch bullpen session today, Cubs pitching coach Tommy Hottovy told MLB.com’s Jordan Bastian and other reporters. Right elbow inflammation has kept Kimbrel on the shelf since September 1, though he is now tentatively slated to toss a simulated-game scenario against hitters later this week. Theo Epstein said earlier in the weekend that the Cubs are “pretty optimistic” that Kimbrel can return before the end of the season, but nothing is yet certain about the closer’s status.
- Mets manager Mickey Callaway told Deesha Thosar of the New York Daily News and other reporters that there is “no timeline” on a potential return for Robert Gsellman, though they “haven’t ruled out him coming back” in 2019. A partial lat tear seemingly ended Gsellman’s season back in mid-August, though the reliever has been playing toss with no ill effects reported. With less than two weeks remaining in the regular season, the odds are still against Gsellman getting back into New York’s bullpen, though there’s at least some hope now rather than last month’s more grim diagnosis.
The playoff-contending Brewers received terrible news Tuesday when their best player, all-world outfielder Christian Yelich, suffered a season-ending broken kneecap. Fortunately for the club, though, one of its other top players is on the way back from the injured list. Second baseman Keston Hiura, out since Aug. 31 with a left hamstring strain, could get “some at-bats maybe over the weekend and more game action and field action on the home stand, is what it’s looking like,” according to manager Craig Counsell (via Todd Rosiak of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel). The Brewers, who are now tied with division-rival Chicago for the Nl’s second wild-card spot, will open up a seven-game home stand next Monday. They’re in contention thanks in part to the rookie Hiura, who has slashed .301/.369/.571 with 16 home runs and nine stolen bases in his first 295 plate appearances in the majors.
- More unwelcome news for the Cubs, who are in real danger of missing the postseason: They won’t get closer Craig Kimbrel back from the injured list for “at least” another week, Scott Miller of Bleacher Report tweets. The club has been without Kimbrel since Sept. 1 because of right elbow inflammation. Meanwhile, the Cubs will evaluate shortstop Addison Russell when they return home Friday, Jesse Rogers of ESPNChicago.com relays. Russell has been dealing with concussion-like symptoms since last weekend.
- Braves outfielder Ender Inciarte likely won’t return until the last week of September, David O’Brien of The Athletic suggests. Inciarte has been on the shelf since mid-August with a hamstring strain. It’s the second long-term injury of the year for Inciarte, who previously missed two months with a back issue. Inciarte had been amid a hot streak when he suffered his current ailment, as his OPS skyrocketed from .605 to .740 in the month between his IL stints. He and the soon-to-return Nick Markakis could act as a pair of important outfield reinforcements for the Braves as they gear up for the postseason.
- Rockies left-hander Tyler Anderson underwent season-ending left knee surgery back on June 11, but he still won’t be at full strength at the beginning of next year, per manager Bud Black (via Patrick Saunders of the Denver Post). The hope is that Anderson will come back “within the first couple of months” of 2020, Black said. The 29-year-old Anderson’s procedure wrapped up a nightmarish campaign for a hurler who was a respectable member of the Rockies’ rotation from 2016-18. He yielded 27 earned runs on 33 hits, including eight homers, in 20 2/3 innings this season.
- Mariners outfielder Jake Fraley will miss the remainder of the season because of sprained ligaments in his right thumb, Ryan Divish of the Seattle Times reports. Fraley got his first taste of major league action in recent weeks, though he struggled to a .150/.171/.200 line with no home runs in a span of 41 trips to the plate. The 24-year-old offseason acquisition was far better in the minors, though, as he slashed a combined .298/.365/.545 with 19 long balls in 427 plate appearances between the Double-A and Triple-A levels.
Injured Cubs closer Craig Kimbrel is progressing toward a return, but that won’t come until at least the weekend, Jesse Rogers of ESPNChicago.com reports. The big-money in-season signing has been on the injured list with right elbow inflammation since Sept. 1, making him eligible to come back as early as Thursday. Kimbrel’s IL placement came on the heels of yet another disappointing performance, in which he yielded three earned runs on two hits (including a homer) in two-thirds of an inning. He’s one of the greatest closers ever, which is why the Cubs guaranteed him $43MM over three years, yet Kimbrel hasn’t resembled his dominant self this season. While the 31-year-old has converted 13 of 15 save opportunities, he owns a bloated 5.68 ERA with 12.32 K/9 against 5.21 BB/9, and has given up just under three HRs per nine across 19 innings of work.
- The Dodgers clinched their seventh straight NL West title Tuesday, but they’re also dealing with some unwelcome news: Outfielder Alex Verdugo isn’t nearing a return, per Jorge Castillo of the Los Angeles Times. An oblique strain forced the rookie to the IL back on Aug. 6, but he suffered a back injury on a rehab assignment and will sit out “for at least a few days,” Castillo writes. Verdugo has been a valuable contributor this year, having slashed .294/.342/.475 with 2.2 fWAR in 377 plate appearances, but the loaded Dodgers have carried on fine without him thus far.
- Padres manager Andy Green isn’t willing to guarantee that banged up outfielder Hunter Renfroe will play again this season, Kevin Acee of the San Diego Union-Tribune relays. For now, Renfroe’s going to rest on account of right elbow and ankle problems. “Hunter has battled through a lot this second half,” said Green, who added, “There have been a number of days he was unavailable and we’ve managed not to talk about it.” We covered Renfroe’s significant second-half struggles earlier Tuesday, though it now seems possible health problems have been a major cause for his summer slump.
- Injuries have prevented Diamondbacks right-hander Taijuan Walker from taking a big league mound since April 2018, but he said Tuesday (via Nick Piecoro of the Arizona Republic) he’s still hoping to make an appearance this year. The 27-year-old sat out the majority of 2018 after undergoing Tommy John surgery and has dealt with shoulder troubles this season. However, he threw his first bullpen session in four months Tuesday and came out unscathed. Walker’s absence is among the reasons the Diamondbacks’ starting staff has been shaky this year, though the club has nonetheless stayed in the National League wild-card race.
Cubs skipper Joe Maddon provided updates on an important trio of players today, with MLB.com’s Jordan Bastian among those covering the news. (Links to his Twitter account unless otherwise noted.)
- Star infielder Javier Baez is going to undergo an MRI on his thumb tomorrow. There’s still no cause for alarm, but it’s certainly suboptimal to hear that he’s not recovering promptly after getting three games off. Initial x-rays came back negative, but the club is obviously interested in making sure there isn’t some other injury lurking in the digit. Deep as the Cubbies are in position players, Baez — who owns a .281/.316/.532 slash line with 29 home runs on the year — is all but irreplaceable. Baez certainly won’t be in the lineup until Sunday, at the earliest. The organization’s hope is that it won’t be long thereafter before he’s ready to return. Obviously, a significant injury would be devastating at this time of year.
- Issues in or near the elbow are always a red flag for a pitcher, so it was at least somewhat worrisome to learn that righty Yu Darvish has experienced forearm tightness of late. But it seem he isn’t terribly concerned about it, having already managed things since early July — and thrived over that same span. The veteran says he won’t need to miss any further action after being skipped in his last scheduled start. He’ll pitch tomorrow. Maddon said Darvish looked great in his latest pen session and is “ready to roll,” as Mark Gonzales of the Chicago Tribune tweets.
- Speaking of ailments in the elbow region, the Cubs were holding their breath when closer Craig Kimbrel went in for an MRI. He says that the results were quite promising and that he hopes to be ready to return when first eligible on Thursday. That said, the veteran hurler hasn’t yet resumed throwing after spending some time on ice to let his inflammation subside. As he acknowledged, the precise course of action will depend upon how it goes once he does get back on the bump.
The Cubs have placed closer Craig Kimbrel on the injured list due to inflammation in his right elbow, tweets Jesse Rogers of ESPN Chicago. President of baseball operations Theo Epstein told reporters that the team performed a precautionary MRI on Kimbrel, which came back clean and did not reveal any structural damage (Twitter link, with video, via Mark Gonzales of the Chicago Tribune). Kimbrel’s placement is retroactive to Monday, and he’ll be eligible to return next Thursday. The move allows the Cubs to recall David Bote from Triple-A Iowa before the 10-day optional assignment minimum.
It’s been an up-and-down season for the 31-year-old Kimbrel, who sat out the first two months to shed the burden of draft pick compensation before ultimately signing a three-year, $43MM contract with the Cubs. Kimbrel had a rough couple of outings early in his Cubs tenure but rebounded with eight consecutive scoreless appearances. Most of Kimbrel’s outings have been clean, but he’s also allowed three earned runs on three separate occasions, leaving him with a bloated 5.68 ERA in 19 total innings since signing.
Kimbrel’s 96.3 mph average fastball velocity is down from last year’s 97.1 mph average, although his heater has gained some life as the summer has worn on. Like his velocity, Kimbrel’s K/9 rate (12.3) and swinging-strike rate (14.6 percent) are better than the league average but are both down relative to his elite standards. The biggest struggle, though, has been control — or lack thereof. Kimbrel has walked 11 batters and plunked another two in just 19 innings of work (5.2 BB/9), and his ability to locate the ball within the zone has clearly diminished. He’s already served up six home runs in those 19 innings — a mark that is only one shy of last year’s career-high seven homers allowed.
The extent to which the lengthy layoff early in the season has contributed to Kimbrel’s control issues can’t be known, but a return to form will be critical for the Cubs’ immediate playoff chances and their long-term outlook. Kimbrel would hardly be the only free agent who has struggled in the wake of a shortened (or, in his case, completely missed) Spring Training, but he also displayed some red flags late in 2018 — particularly in the postseason. If this proves to be the start of a pronounced decline, Kimbrel’s $16MM salary in each of the next two seasons will become particularly burdensome.
The Cubs have activated closer Craig Kimbrel from the 10-day injured list, according to Jordan Bastian of MLB.com. He will replace Duane Underwood Jr., who has been optioned to Triple-A Iowa, on the active roster.
Kimbrel landed on the injured list with right knee inflammation, which has held him out of action for the Cubs since August 3. Since joining the Cubs, he’s gotten into 14 games with shaky results. He holds a 5.68 ERA, though that mark is certainly volatile, with Kimbrel having tossed just 12 2/3 innings. Notably, 10 of his last 11 appearances have been scoreless, though a number of blowups—largely at the hands of untimely home runs—have inflated his run-prevention numbers.
For the scuffling Cubs, the addition of Kimbrel to the bullpen mix should quell some nerves, especially considering the team’s recent struggles in the late innings. Kimbrel’s Chicago troubles notwithstanding, his extensive track record suggests that he’s a cut above the club’s other late-inning options, which will no doubt come into play as the division race intensifies—with the Cubs no longer pacing the field, for a change.
Underwood, for his part, has flashed some potential as a bullpen piece for the Cubs, having struck out 7 batters in his first 3 1/3 innings of 2019. While that pace is no doubt unsustainable, it may be enough to suggest that Underwood can carve out a role in a Major League bullpen after seven-plus years being groomed as a professional starter.
MLB.com’s Jordan Bastian offers that the “expectation” is that Cubs closer Craig Kimbrel will be activated for Sunday’s contest with the Pirates. Signed this midseason to a 3-year/$43MM contract, Kimbrel got off to a rocky start in Chicago before a knee injury robbed him of participation in the club’s last 13 games. Through his first 14 appearances in blue pinstripes, the bearded hurler holds a 5.68 ERA across 12.2 IP. While the club is yet to announce his activation, Gordon Wittenmeyer points out that Kimbrel was on the team’s travel roster for their charter to Williamsport, Pennsylvania, and is indeed expected to be activated from the injured list in time for the third edition of MLB’s Little League Classic (link).
Wittenmeyer also relays that Steve Cishek appears as though he’ll be ready to return from the IL on Tuesday after throwing another bullpen session Saturday. Both returns would be welcome news for Cubs skipper Joe Maddon, who has been tinkering with troublesome iterations of Pedro Strop, Kyle Ryan, Derek Holland, and Brandon Kintzler in late-game situations.
More news from around the senior circuit…
- Saturday saw sidelined Nationals ace Max Scherzer throwing his second simulated game of the week, and MASN’s Mark Zuckerman reports that the legendary righty is on track to return on Thursday. “He felt good,” manager Dave Martinez told Zuckerman. “He’s a little bit ornery, but that’s a good thing. Now we’ll see how he feels tomorrow.” It hardly counts as high-level baseball journalism to say that the Nationals are going to need Scherzer in peak form in coming weeks. Sitting atop the tightly packed NL Wild Card race, Washington will play 11 games before season’s end against the Brewers, Mets, Cubs, and Phillies–four teams currently chomping at their heels for the right to play in the postseason play-in game. When healthy, the 35-year-old righty has posted typically ridiculous numbers, with a 2.41 ERA, 2.09 FIP, 12.66 K/9, and 1.67 BB/9 in 134.1 innings this year.
- Though the Braves lost Ender Inciarte to injury this weekend, it’s not all doom and gloom out of the Big Peach–as noted in an article from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s Gabriel Burns, sturdy shortstop performer Dansby Swanson is ramping up baseball activities. The 25-year-old infielder has missed 22 games this year due to an incidental heel injury but was seen taking ground balls before Saturday’s game. Before being hurt, Swanson was putting together his most complete full-season at the plate, with 17 home runs and a 102 wRC+ in 100 games. His injury was partly responsible for the team’s signing of defensive specialist Adeiny Hechavarria, but the team would eagerly clear a place for Swanson at the team table if he were able to return by late August as currently expected. Atlanta holds a 4.5 game lead in the race for the NL East pennant.