Sullivan: Chicago Cubs manage to out-Cub themselves with another dumb injury (copy) (2024)

Paul SullivanChicago Tribune

CHICAGO — Craig Counsell knew what he was in for when he agreed to a record five-year, $40 million deal to manage the Chicago Cubs.

Counsell would inherit a team with a high payroll and the financial resources to be able to add at the trade deadline, a farm system ranked as one of the best in baseball and a fan base that showed up whether the team was contending or not.

What he might not have factored into the equation was the Cubs’ innate ability to out-Cub themselves, serving as their own worst enemy at the most inopportune moments.

It happened again last Saturday when right-handed reliever Colten Brewer broke his left hand punching a dugout wall in frustration after pitching poorly and making an error on a potential 1-6-3 double play, forcing the team to dip into the minors for another bullpen option at a crucial juncture of the season.

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It’s a cliche by now to call this kind of incident a “Cubbie Occurrence,” the label former manager Lou Piniella pinned on episodes like Kerry Wood’s hot tub spill in spring training or Ryan Dempster breaking his right toe jumping over the dugout railing to celebrate a win.

That’s not to be confused with the pre-Piniella occurrences, like Kyle Farnsworth injuring his knee kicking an electric fan, Mike Remlinger spraining his pinkie finger by getting it caught between adjacent clubhouse recliners, or Sammy Sosa’s famous sneeze that put him on the injured list.

The list goes on and on. Either way, Brewer’s ill-advised wall punch put him on the 60-day IL earlier this week.

He probably should’ve just thrown his glove into the stands, as teammate Jorge López did with the New York Mets earlier this season, leading to his release and a comeback with the Cubs. Alas, Brewer thought the wall was his best option, and the Cubs are now paying the price.

Counsell treated the injury with empathy instead of agony, knowing Brewer felt worse than anyone.

“Look, when those things happen, you know you screwed up,” Counsell said before Sunday’s 5-0 victory over the Los Angeles Angels. “That was the conversation. And there are consequences for the mistakes you make. So it’s an unfortunate mistake. He let emotions get the best of him. That’s not who he is, but that was a mistake he made. You have to move forward and past that.”

Counsell conceded “You hurt your teammates by doing it, and hurt the team by doing it, and it doesn’t reflect well on you.” But he then added: “You also put yourself in his shoes. This is an emotional game. Competition is emotional, and it happens. It’s something you work hard to train yourself to not let it happen to you. But most of us have done something like that, that hasn’t resulted in that. You try to have a little empathy from that respect.”

Things happen.

I remember a hole in the wall next to Carlos Zambrano’s locker in 2008. Big Z was so proud of that punch the clubbies never plastered over it. Zambrano used a bat to destroy water coolers and other inanimate objects, with the obvious exception of Michael Barrett’s jaw.

Ted Lilly flooded the Dodger Stadium visiting dugout after their 2008 playoff loss, hitting an overhead pipe with a bat and causing massive damage that the Cubs were billed for. He wasn’t nailed as the culprit until Piniella inadvertently spilled the beans on him a couple of years later, but it added to his legend.

The immediate consequence of Brewer’s “mistake” was that the Cubs’ coaching staff instructed PFPs — pitcher fielding practice — before Sunday’s game to remind them how to field their positions. Counsell maintained it wasn’t a “punitive” measure, and that PFPs are needed as a refresher during the long season.

Sure.

The long-term consequences remain to be seen. It’s not as though Brewer was the key to the Cubs’ chances of getting out of their two-month funk. Perhaps his replacement, Triple-A Iowa call-up Hunter Bigge, will be a more reliable middle relief option for Counsell than Brewer, who had a 5.66 ERA.

With Kyle Hendricks’ back injury complicating the rotation picture, and a doubleheader on tap next Saturday in St. Louis, the already depleted Cubs relief corps will be under more pressure than ever, even if Mark Leiter Jr. returns as planned this week.

Hendricks sounded like he’d be back for his next start. Counsell sounded a bit more skeptical.

It probably makes sense to rest Hendricks through the All-Star break and give his back more time to heal. Counsell said Javier Assad could make his return from the IL on the upcoming road trip to Baltimore and St. Louis, so it would be natural to slide him into Hendricks’s spot.

After an off day on Monday, the seven-games-in-six-days stretch before the break could be a fork in the road for the Cubs. If the slide continues, they could be so far out of the wild-card race that president of baseball operations Jed Hoyer has no other option than to deal players who don’t figure to be in their plans in 2025.

Or they could go on a mini-run, like last July, that makes Hoyer’s decision that much harder.

“We don’t have margin for error, for sure,” Counsell said. “That’s just the scope of the season. And frankly, we haven’t strung together a stretch over the last couple of months that’s been good enough. We’ve got to string together a better stretch … and to have a record that could get us in the (playoff) conversation.”

Hoyer was a special guest in the Marquee Sports Network TV booth Saturday during the Cubs’ 7-0 loss to the Angels, where he was asked what he “enjoyed” about the draft and the trade deadline. He was not asked about the possibility of being sellers, which he broached last week in Milwaukee.

Hoyer said, “you have to be super prepared on both sides of the equation,” and you “have to make hard decisions.” That’s about as deep as he got.

When a ground-ball eluded first baseman Michael Busch, Hoyer praised Busch but said, “we haven’t made plays, period. We botched a double-play ball, screwed up a base-stealing play.”

Little did Hoyer know his reliever would soon punch a wall after the botched double play, forcing him to make yet another roster move.

After the loss, Marquee analyst Cliff Floyd said the Cubs might be at the point where “you have to single out guys.” Floyd then singled out Dansby Swanson, who he said was signed to get them “over the hump.”

“At some point, Dansby Swanson has to come through,” Floyd said. “You can’t hang everything on him but I think when you look at the contract … And let’s forget the contract. Look at the numbers.”

At least Floyd is comfortable enough to speak his mind. Hopefully, he doesn’t lose any air time for being honest on the team-owned network, where criticism of Hoyer by local reporters was once edited out of one of their TV shows.

Can the Cubs handle the truth?

We’re about to find out.

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Sullivan: Chicago Cubs manage to out-Cub themselves with another dumb injury (copy) (1)

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Sullivan: Chicago Cubs manage to out-Cub themselves with another dumb injury (copy) (2024)
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