Cubs still unsure when they'll get star Javy Baez back from injury

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MILWAUKEE - Javy Baez's left thumb is still not well enough for the star shortstop to suit up as the Cubs continue to try to catch the St. Louis Cardinals in the division.

The 2018 NL MVP runner-up came out of Sunday's game after injuring his thumb on a slide and collision at second base on a stolen base. He has not played since, though he was initially in the lineup for Thursday's game in Milwaukee before ultimately having to be scratched when he couldn't go through a complete batting practice routine.

Baez initially got an X-ray Sunday when the injury happened, which came back negative. He will now go for an MRI Saturday morning in Chicago, after which he and the Cubs hope to have a clearer picture of his status.

"When he came in, he tried to swing a little bit and still didn't feel right," Joe Maddon said Friday. "So as opposed to just continually waiting, we need to find out for sure what we're dealing with and that way it should make him feel better mentally."

It's unlikely Baez will return to the lineup Saturday and the way things are going, it would not be surprising if he did not play at all this weekend in Milwaukee. The Cubs head to San Diego Monday to begin a four-game series on the West Coast and are currently 2.5 games behind the Cardinals in the division.

Whenever the Cubs get Baez back, it will be a massive boost to the lineup, simply as a presence even if he's not going well at that particular moment.

"I know he's been frustrated by not being quite himself at the plate in the second half," Theo Epstein said Thursday. "I always feel like he's one swing away from catching fire and can change the face of our lineup when he gets hot. He contributes in so many different ways and when he's locked in and making good decisions, he tends to drive the ball all over the ballpark and knock in a ton of runs. He's someone pitchers have to work around in an order."

The Cubs have been talking a lot lately about the "length" of their lineup now that Ben Zobrist is back in the leadoff spot (at least on a part-time basis) and Willson Contreras is back from his hamstring injury. Add in the addition of Nicholas Castellanos and the recent emergence of Kyle Schwarber and it certainly has the potential to be a formidable lineup even without Baez.

Imagine how it would look once he returns.

The 26-year-old shortstop had been struggling offensively even before the injury, posting a .264 batting average and .782 OPS since the All-Star Break. Those numbers dip to a .232 average and .647 OPS since Aug. 5, with only 1 homer and 9 RBI in 23 games.

Still, he is second on the team in RBI (85) and homers (29). He also leads the team in WAR (4.7) and is a central part of their run prevention even in games where he's not hitting. But when he is hitting, he has the potential to carry an entire lineup.

So there's a lot riding on this MRI Saturday.

"It's very important, my goodness," Maddon said. "He's been a little bit off with his game offensively and knowing that he's gonna get back on it at the right time, so that's been in the back of my mind throughout this whole moment for him.

"But it is what it is. Addison [Russell] is a wonderful shortstop in his own right. Probably doesn't have the same offensive pedigree that Javy does, but [Russell] can play shortstop with anybody. I'm just gonna wait, see what they say and figure out what the game plan actually is."

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