In the era of 13-man pitching staffs, every big league club craves versatility. But few teams act on it quite like the Cubs, who boast a left fielder who can catch, a second baseman who would start at short for many teams, a center fielder who plays second and third
In the era of 13-man pitching staffs, every big league club craves versatility. But few teams act on it quite like the Cubs, who boast a left fielder who can catch, a second baseman who would start at short for many teams, a center fielder who plays second and third and a catcher who has started at first base and in left field.
Now they add Daniel Murphy to that mix. And while at first it may seem odd to add a second baseman to a team whose best player this year has manned the keystone, there are multiple ways that manager Joe Maddon can fit him like a puzzle piece into the Cubs' lineup.
Murphy has made starts at first and third base as well as second in recent years (and some outfield much earlier in his career), and of course his left-handed, high-average and (usually) high-OBP bat slots in beautifully at the top of the Cubs order. He's not an elite defender anywhere, but the numbers show he's been a pretty decent first baseman and adequate at the hot corner.
For the short term, the fit is easy. He'll play second, with Javier Baez sliding over to short to fill in for the injured Addison Russell. Should Russell return before Kristopher Bryant, Murphy could bounce over to third base, perhaps sharing time with the right-handed David Bote.
And if everybody's healthy? Well, it's a good problem to have. But one possibility is for Murphy to eat into Russell's playing time, allowing Maddon to use a bit of an "Earl Weaver platoon" -- offense/defense, rather than left-right -- at times if he wants. The Cubs could start Bryant at third, Baez at short and Murphy at second against right-handed pitching, then use Russell as a defensive replacement in the late innings.
Oh, and if the Cubs pull away in the division? Murphy could even be used to give Anthony Rizzo the occasional day off. And if Murphy himself needs a day? Well, don't forget, Benjamin Zobrist is still here to fill in for pretty much anyone.
Award battle of the week: It's so rare that you actually get head-to-head competition for an award, but we did on Thursday. All three contenders for the National League Cy Young Award (all of whom should garner some MVP support as well, but that's neither here nor there) pitched at the same time, two of them against each other.
And it's safe to say that if we didn't have a three-man race at the beginning of the week, we do now. Aaron Nola turned in the best start of the three, going eight shutout innings to deliver a much-needed Phillies win against Max Scherzer and the Nats. And Jacob deGrom, as has become too familiar, pitched a fine game but came up on the losing end against the Giants.
The race is starting to look like one we saw in 2015. Jacob Arrieta had the wins and innings, Clayton Kershaw had the strikeouts (by far) and Zack Greinke had the ERA. That was the first time since 1985 (Doc Gooden, Orel Hershiser and John Tudor) that three pitchers in the same league had ERAs of 2.25 or lower with at least 200 innings, something that Nola, Scherzer and deGrom are on pace to do.
Arrieta won the award in 2015 with more than half the first-place votes. Does that mean Scherzer, with the leads in innings, K's and wins, is the favorite? Not necessarily, but it's worth keeping in mind when you handicap the race.
Stat of the week:Jose Ramirez enters Friday with 37 homers, 84 walks and 60 strikeouts. That puts him on pace to join some very rare company. Since expansion in 1961, there have been 17 seasons in which a player hit at least 40 homers, walked 100 or more times and struck out 80 or fewer times -- six of those by Barry Bonds.
Oh, and Ramirez also has 28 steals (along with Whit Merrifield and Dee Gordon) to pace the American League. Only once has a player combined the hitting stats above with at least 30 steals -- Bonds in 1996 -- and no player has ever done it while leading his league in steals.
Series of the week: There's some fun stuff coming up in the AL West, with the A's taking on both Houston and Seattle next week. But let's look instead at the NL West, which might be a lot clearer by Labor Day.
The Dodgers, currently 4 1/2 games behind Arizona, host the D-backs for four games next weekend. Rosters expand Sept. 1, which may allow Los Angeles to add a little pitching depth, though it's late-inning performance, rather than depth, that's been the issue lately.
Still, if the Dodgers are going to gain ground, they'll need to figure out a way to beat the D-backs. Arizona is 8-4 against L.A. this year and 19-12 since the beginning of last year. A series win for the Snakes, and the West could start looking like a two-team race.
Matthew Leach is the National League executive editor for MLB.com.