If you missed it yesterday, Chicago Cubs catcher – and perhaps the hottest hitter on earth – Willson Contreras tried to beat out a dribbler in the 8th inning, and came up lame at the base, clutching at his right hamstring.
It’s the kind of play you’ve seen a dozen times over the years, and you cringe every time, knowing that nothing good will come of it. Contreras was helped off the field, and will get an MRI today. We may not learn the results until the Cubs play again on Friday, but everyone is already assuming a disabled list stint of some length well be required.
Joe Maddon tried to remain optimistic in his post-game comments, saying that maybe it wasn’t as bad as it seems, but we’ll all find out more when the tests are done.
Anthony Rizzo spoke with Contreras after the game, telling CSN: “He’s in good spirits. He said he’s had it worse than this before, so it’ll be fine. Injuries like that – when you see someone grab like that – it’s not very good. But you never know.”
That’s good to hear, but of course we know that a guy can feel all right immediately after a game, and wake up feeling much worse. Again, with the way the injury looked, and having seen that type of hamstring pull so many times before, it would a surprise of the highest order if Contreras does not miss quite a bit more than a minimum DL stint.
Assuming Contreras does go to the DL, Victor Caratini will return from AAA Iowa to once again be the team’s backup catcher, this time behind Alex Avila, whose acquisition at the trade deadline could prove to be a team-saver.
Some positive spin: Unless you believe Contreras was going to continue to hit like the best hitter in baseball for the rest of the season, then it’s entirely possible the offensive drop-off from Contreras to Avila will not be severe. There will be some defensive drop-off, and obvious depth drop-off, but given that a back-up catcher cannot play except on the days he starts, this was one position where losing the starter might not hurt the Cubs quite as much as at other positions (since those “back-ups” routinely get into the game in any case, and don’t necessarily bring the bat the Avila does). Strictly speaking, Avila’s .268/.387/.474 (132 wRC+) line this year is better than Contreras’s (.274/.342/.519, 121 wRC+).
Don’t get me wrong: there is no part of me that is telling you the Cubs are not worse off by losing Contreras for any meaningful length of time. He’s awesome, and he probably won’t be available for a while. That’s a bad thing.
How long will he be out?
Well, we’re not going to know for a while, but I will caution you that even the mildest hamstring strains cost big leaguers about a month of action because of how easily they are re-aggravated if you don’t rehab just right. A guy might feel great again within two weeks, but the process of adding baseball activities back into the schedule is very deliberate, cautious, and overly protective, lest a one month injury become a six month injury (and a recurring issue over the years).
Your realistic hope for the MRI today is that it reveals a mild strain, which Contreras is able to rest and rehab without any setbacks, and he can return to the Cubs at least by the time they host the Cardinals for a big weekend series in mid-September.
Anything earlier than that, as I sit here today, would just be gravy.