Chicago Cubs: Can Contreras save the struggling offense?

CHICAGO, IL - AUGUST 06: Willson Contreras
CHICAGO, IL - AUGUST 06: Willson Contreras /

On Sunday, the Chicago Cubs activated Willson Contreras off the disabled list. The Cubs will be cautious with him, treating the next week as a final rehab assignment. But once he’s good to go, can he save the offense?

Let’s be completely honest here. The last week for the Chicago Cubs offense was dreadful. Completely awful. Can one man save it? The Cubs are hoping so as Willson Contreras will return–sparingly, at first–as he works to get back to playing every day. It’s one guy. Can he really make that much of a difference? You bet he can.

In the second half, before he got hurt, he was a one man wrecking crew. In 101 plate appearances, he slashed .308/.376/.692 with an OPS of 1.069. Add to that his 10 home runs and 29 RBI with just a third of the PA’s he had in the first half (11 HR, 41 RBI)? Now, chances of Contreras coming back as hot as he was before the injury isn’t likely. But being able to slot Contreras in the cleanup spot instead of Ben Zobrist? This changes the entire dynamic of the offense.

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Liking the No. 4 spot

Contreras caught on to batting in the fourth spot, allowing Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo to hit in the second and third spots, respectively. In his 31 games batting cleanup, he’s slashing .305/.374/.686 with 13 HR and 35 RBI. This is by far where he has been most effective in the Cubs lineup, and it’s been a sore spot as of late.

Zobrist has seen many of the at-bats in the fourth spot in recent weeks. And it’s hard to understand the logic of putting Zobrist there. It’s been a rough year for Zo as it is. Injuries have slowed his production. But there’s no excuse for batting a player fourth when his slash line is .192/.284/.308. It’s not working, Joe. This might fall into the same realm as the Kyle Schwarber leadoff experiment. It’s time to abandon ship on both.

Replacements were fine…for a bit

Alex Avila and Rene Rivera have filled in admirably, but it’s not on them for the failure of the offense. And the Cubs have plenty of talent in the lineup, even with out Addison Russell and Contreras. But this year, they just haven’t put it together. And just as they were starting to, Contreras went down with the hamstring injury. And while they pieced it together for a while, it’s catching up with them.

Maddon has caught a lot of flack for his daily lineup changes. I feel some of them are warranted, but having Contreras back will help to alleviate one of the many problems he’s had. A consistent run producer in the lineup. Rizzo carried the torch for a while, but he can’t do this on his own, either. The Cubs are going to need to come together as a team if they want to win this division and keep the dream alive of back-to-back World Series titles.

Next: Cubs playoff odds take a hit

The Cubs are still in first, let’s not forget that. The last series with the Brewers wasn’t pretty. I know that. We all saw what happened. And while the Brewers lined up their top three pitchers for the series, they paid the price for it. They’ve lost Jimmy Nelson for the season. Will that make a difference? Only time will tell. But having Contreras back could be the spark the Cubs need to finish this thing off.