Rare misstep for Chafin, but KB, Tepera sharp

July 25th, 2021

CHICAGO -- Cubs manager David Ross has insisted that his conversations with players behind the scenes have not been about the Trade Deadline this week. There are games to play and strategies to devise.

Maybe, but it is hard to ignore that trades are starting to happen around the league. In recent days, the Rays shipped veteran lefty Rich Hill to the Mets and also acquired slugger Nelson Cruz from the Twins. Ross saw the news, but he allocated his mental energy elsewhere.

"The only feeling that I have," Ross said this weekend, "is like, OK, things are starting to heat up closer to the Trade Deadline. That's probably the only thing on my radar."

Things are also heating up at Wrigley Field, where the Cubs dropped a 7-3 decision to the D-backs on Saturday afternoon. Scouts have been in attendance to monitor the group of players who could be shipped off by the selling North Siders.

Here is a look at how three of Chicago's trade candidates fared on Saturday, which included a one-hour, 39-minute weather delay after the top of the ninth inning:

1. Chafin's scoreless streak ends
's appearance on Saturday was an anomaly. He has been one of baseball's dominant lefty relievers, and he could help any number of contenders looking for bullpen help.

Against Arizona, Chafin just happened to flinch for the first time in months.

“He’s been extremely valuable,” Ross said. “That’s why he’s in that situation -- it’s the right spot.”

With the game caught in a 2-2 deadlock, Chafin's fastball command wavered and he walked Pavin Smith and Nick Ahmed. This came after the southpaw had a 16-to-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio in his previous 20 games combined.

Daulton Varsho (RBI single) and Asdrúbal Cabrera (two-run double) followed with hits, helping the D-backs to a 5-2 lead. Chafin's day was done, with the three runs charged to his line equal to the total he yielded in his previous 37 games combined.

The three-run rally snapped Chafin's scoreless streak at 24 1/3 innings, which had been the longest active run in MLB and the longest by a reliever this year. Still, even with the uncharacteristic outing, the veteran's ERA stood at just 2.06 on the season.

“It just looked like he couldn’t finish today. A lot of balls were just short or down,” Ross said. “It was very uncharacteristic of him. He’s been such a positive for us and a guy that we’ve really leaned on to be in almost every win we’ve gotten.”

2. Bryant's legs look fine
On Tuesday night in St. Louis, exited in the fifth inning, not long after he made a diving catch in left field. The team said Bryant had right hamstring fatigue. Ross went with "heavy legs" to describe the problem.

Whatever the issue, Bryant was out of the starting lineup for the next two games, leading to plenty of social media speculation gone wild. Well, the Cubs star -- one of the trade market's most interesting players -- appears to be just fine.

“He had a really nice game,” Ross said. “I think Kris got his legs back under him in that time. You see how good he feels and how he’s running the bases. It’s definitely nice to see from my vantage point.”

After drawing two walks on Friday, Bryant had two hits and a free pass in Saturday's loss. That included driving a ball to the wall in right-center in the fifth and legging out a triple. Bryant also attempted a diving catch in left in the first, but came up short on Eduardo Escobar’s double.

Needless to say, Bryant's legs hardly looked "heavy" for any concerned scouts taking notes. Per Statcast, the utility man reached a sprint speed of 27.4 feet per second on that triple (just under his season average: 27.6). Bryant also registered a 28.0 sprint speed going from first to third in Friday's game.

3. Tepera's escape
While closer Craig Kimbrel is arguably the Cubs' best trade commodity at the moment, both Chafin and righty should also be drawing plenty of interest.

Chafin and Tepera have formed a strong one-two setup punch for Kimbrel, and both relievers offer short-term solutions for the stretch run. Tepera is a free agent after this season, while Chafin’s deal includes an affordable mutual option ($5.25 million) for 2022.

Entering Saturday, Tepera ranked 11th among relievers in the Majors and fifth in the National League with 1.83 win probability added this year, per Fangraphs. In the loss to Arizona, the righty took over for Chafin following Cabrera’s double and promptly halted the D-backs.

“That was nice,” Ross said. “Those two guys have been a big part of back-to-back a lot. It was nice for Tep to come in and clean up Chafe’s inning without letting anybody score. We had to stop it right there.”

Tepera induced a ground-ball out (Josh Reddick) and struck out two (Kole Calhoun and Eduardo Escobar), giving him 50 strikeouts against 12 walks with a 2.95 ERA in 42 games (42 2/3 innings). Since coming off the 10-day injured list due to a left calf issue earlier this month, he has struck out nine of 18 batters faced in five innings.