McKnight: Not as easy for Cubs to replace Soler this time

  • Cubs' Jorge Soler watches his RBI single off Milwaukee Brewers starting pitcher Yovani Gallardo, scoring Starlin Castro, during the first inning on Tuesday, Sept. 2, 2014, in Chicago.

    Cubs' Jorge Soler watches his RBI single off Milwaukee Brewers starting pitcher Yovani Gallardo, scoring Starlin Castro, during the first inning on Tuesday, Sept. 2, 2014, in Chicago. Associated Press

 
Updated 8/31/2015 9:02 AM

Despite September's gift -- otherwise known as the expanded roster -- the Cubs need to learn to survive the last month of the season without Jorge Soler. General Manager Jed Hoyer has said oblique injuries are scary ones; the kind that seem to last and linger even after a player has returned to action. The Cubs have survived without Soler once already this season, but that was a different time.

Consider Soler's first trip to the DL. An ankle injury put him on the shelf June 2 and in the 20 games prior, Soler slashed .241/.302/.354. He was nearly an automatic out. When he reached, it was a single. Walks were scarce (six in 86 plate appearances) and strikeouts (25) were the norm.

 

In the 20 games prior to this latest injury, Soler swatted a .296/.378/.394 line. Still, no power produced, especially considering he's playing right field, but the average and on-base percentage were workable.

The bottom line is Joe Maddon must replace a very different player this time around.

The obvious candidates -- the outfielders by trade -- have struggled lately. While Chris Denorfia provided an OK stop-gap during June (.279/.318/.393 in 68 plate appearances over 20 games), August hasn't been so kind to the veteran (.167/.222/.262 in 45 PA over, 22 games).

Thankfully, the return of Tommy LaStella eases some of the burden put on Chris Coghlan. Still, the three-way platoon at second base of Coghlan, LaStella and Castro doesn't promise much (with a caveat to LaStella potentially becoming the on-base/average guy his scouting report and Spring Training projected).

The Cubs offense is an odd one. Their team OBP sits right at league average. Team slugging sits about 10 points below the median while team batting average is worst in baseball.

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Anthony Rizzo and Kris Bryant have been fixtures all year long while, recently, Dexter Fowler and Kyle Schwarber have added stellar production over the last 40 or so games.

The Cubs need someone to step into the void and, at least, provide the on-base threat Soler had become in the 20 games prior to his latest injury.

Help is coming in September and many believe -- expect -- Javier Baez to be one of the reinforcements called. Baez has only been in the outfield a few times in drills while in Iowa this year and has never -- not once -- played there in the minors.

While Maddon is fairly fearless in how he deploys his players defensively, it's more likely that he takes Kris Bryant from third base and gets him time in right field.

Interestingly enough, if that's the case, it won't be the first time a rookie of the year (which is likely for Bryant but not sewn up) makes that kind of move. Albert Pujols and Ryan Braun made a similar switch early in their careers. Time will tell whether Bryant can go from ROY to top-three in the MVP voting the next season as those two did. But that's on Bryant. Finding him, and the rest of the offense help, is on the Maddon and the front office.

• Connor McKnight can be heard regularly on WGN 720-AM. He hosts a weekly sports show, The Beat, from 3-7 p.m. Saturday. Follow him on Twitter @McKnight_WGN

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