One week ago, Kerry Wood received a cortisone shot for the right shoulder that the Cubs finally admitted had been bothering him off and on since the beginning of spring training.Wood, who has declined to speak with the media, threw off the mound on Tuesday and is showing progress, though his return remains unclear.Everythings going good, manager Dale Sveum said before Wednesdays 5-1 loss to the Cardinals. He feels a lot better, so well just keep building that up. Were not putting any timetable on it.Were just going to make sure that hes ready to go when we activate him.The Cubs placed Wood on the disabled list for the 16th time in his career with right shoulder fatigue retroactive to April 14.Wood has made four appearances this season the last one on April 13 and pitched 2.1 innings out of the bullpen. Sveum has mentioned the possibility of a minor-league rehab assignment.In theory, Wood could be available by Sunday in Philadelphia, which would give the Cubs the experienced setup guy their bullpen simply doesnt have right now. But theyre not going to push a 34-year-old reliever with this kind of track record.Itll be close, Sveum said. Im not going to say its going to be that exact day or not. We need to go out (and see him) throw his curveball off the mound and just really make sure that everythings good.
With the chance to book their first trip to the World Series since 1945, the Cubs benched the player with the biggest contract in franchise history and started a 22-year-old rookie who began this season at Triple-A Iowa.
Now that says something about Clayton Kershaw’s overall brilliance and Albert Almora Jr.’s precocious nature, but it also again spotlights Jason Heyward’s offensive spiral during the first year of that $184 million megadeal.
Heyward’s Gold Glove defense in right field, well-rounded skills and clubhouse intangibles certainly helped the Cubs get to this point – up 3-2 on the Los Angeles Dodgers in the National League Championship Series – but manager Joe Maddon wanted to go in a different direction for Saturday’s Game 6 at Wrigley Field.
“Kershaw’s pretty good,” Maddon said. “You look at his numbers, he’s been absurd versus lefties, (so you) get another right-handed bat out there and the way Albert can play defense really makes it a little bit easier.
“If we didn’t have the opportunity to do something differently tonight I wouldn’t have. But we do. Albert just presents well at the plate – and well on defense – to the point where I thought we needed to give it a go.”
Almora – the first player the Theo Epstein regime drafted here with the sixth overall pick in 2012 – could be the 2017 Opening Day starter in center field if Dexter Fowler cashes in elsewhere as a free agent.
After posting career lows in homers (seven) and OPS (.631) during the regular season, Heyward has gone 2-for-28 (.071 average) in the playoffs and will probably need to reboot during the winter.
“I’m sure there’s going to be a lot of internal work done in the offseason with him, no question,” Maddon said. “You know he’s not satisfied with the year. (But) he was a big part of our 100-plus wins this year.
“It is something that he has to work on – and he will work on it – but by no means is anybody giving up on him. He just needs to probably clear his mind a little bit when this is all said and done and get back to the drawing board.”
As if the possibility of clinching their first National League pennant in 71 years didn’t create enough drama and excitement in Wrigleyville, the Cubs have sent Kyle Schwarber to the Arizona Fall League, hoping he can add another chapter to his October legend.
Schwarber earned this chance after beating every expectation in his recovery from major surgery on his left knee in April. The Cubs haven’t ruled anything in or out – and still need to beat the Los Angeles Dodgers one more time this weekend – but they want to see how he responds on Saturday with the Mesa Solar Sox and ultimately decide if he would be a viable designated-hitter option for the World Series.
Schwarber gained clearance on Monday from Dr. Daniel Cooper, the head team physician for the Dallas Cowboys who reconstructed his ACL and repaired his LCL after a devastating outfield collision during the first week of the regular season. Schwarber immediately phoned president of baseball operations Theo Epstein after the six-month checkup.
“I wasn’t expecting the call,” Epstein said. “We got news that was beyond better than we could have expected by any reasonable standard.
“He asked for a chance to do this. And with as hard as Kyle has worked and as much as this means to him – and potentially to us – we wanted to give him that opportunity.”
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Schwarber flew from Dallas to Los Angeles, where he hit in the cage at Dodger Stadium that night. As the Cubs continued with what has been a classic NL Championship Series, Schwarber hit again on Tuesday and then left for Arizona on Wednesday to ramp up his baseball activities and prove whether or not he could again be a difference-maker in October.
Schwarber, the No. 4 overall pick in the 2014 draft out of Indiana University, generated 16 home runs in 69 games last season and then set a franchise record with five homers in the playoffs.
The Cubs still have to deal with Clayton Kershaw on Saturday night in Game 6, and judge whether or not this layoff is too long, even for one of their best young hitters, especially against what would be a dynamic Cleveland Indians pitching staff.
But the Cubs would also never bet against Schwarber.
“We’ll see where this goes,” Epstein said. “We’re not getting ahead of ourselves. We have a lot of work to do here before this becomes pertinent. But it’s a testament to how hard Kyle has worked to even be in this position where it’s a possibility.”