Cubs brace for worst after Willson Contreras suffers hamstring injury
SAN FRANCISCO — In the seconds it took Willson Contreras to grab his right hamstring and hop past first base before collapsing in the outfield grass, the mood in the Cubs’ dugout changed as dramatically — as suddenly — as their fortunes seemingly have.
‘‘It just got quiet,’’ right-hander Kyle Hendricks said.
A second-half surge into first place. A return of their championship swagger. A refocused playoff vision. All of it flashed before the Cubs’ eyes Wednesday at AT&T Park when their closest thing to an irreplaceable player crumpled to the grass.
‘‘He’s been carrying us, really, the last couple of weeks,’’ Hendricks said. ‘‘It’s definitely a blow. We’ve got to wait to hear a timeline on it, but it’s definitely not good.’’
The Cubs are holding out faint hope that the injury Contreras suffered while running out a grounder in the eighth inning of their 3-1 loss to the Giants isn’t as serious as it looked.
But the reigning National League player of the week, who had to be helped from the field, might miss a month or more based on the nature of the injury and the rigors of playing catcher.
‘‘We’ll find out,’’ said manager Joe Maddon, who already was penciling in recently acquired veteran Alex Avila into his daily catching plans.
Contreras, who suffered a pulled hamstring that ended his Arizona Fall League season in 2014, is scheduled to have an MRI exam Thursday in Arizona. The results and prognosis are expected by the time the Cubs open a three-game series Friday against the Diamondbacks.
‘‘He’s in good spirits,’’ first baseman Anthony Rizzo said after the game. ‘‘He said he’s had it worse.’’
The timing couldn’t be worse for the Cubs, who have lost three series in a row. They are clinging to a 1½-game lead over the Cardinals, who have won five consecutive games, and the Brewers, who have lost four in a row, in the National League Central.
The loss of Contreras came on the same day the Cubs put veteran reliever Koji Uehara on the disabled list with a stiff neck and a day after they lost one of the sloppiest games they played since the All-Star break.
‘‘We came out with a lot of energy, played well post-break, and now we’re just getting back into that thing where we have to push ourselves mentally, more than anything, to get over the hump,’’ Maddon said, referring to recent costly mistakes, especially in the field. ‘‘It’s not a lack of guys being mentally involved; they’re there. But we’ve got to somehow almost will ourselves to win.’’
Nobody in the lineup had done more for the Cubs since they went into the break with a losing record and a 5½-game deficit in the division than Contreras, who proclaimed, ‘‘We’re back,’’ when the team swept the Orioles coming out of the break.
‘‘Obviously, he’s been carrying us,’’ Maddon said. ‘‘Any kind of offensive resurgence we’ve had has been primarily centered around him and his contributions.’’
Contreras was 10-for-22 (.455) with five home runs and 13 RBI in six games last week and is hitting .311 with 10 homers and 29 RBI in 22 games since the break. He has been so productive that Maddon has played him in left field and first base in the last week to keep him in the lineup daily.
‘‘All the different things that he does — and his energy — are vital to us,’’ Maddon said.
‘‘He’s turned into one of our horses,’’ Rizzo said. ‘‘We’ve just got to pick him up. What can you do? Guys get hurt; it’s part of the game. It’s upsetting for him and for us, too. But we’ve got to keep playing baseball.’’
Maddon was clinging to the ‘‘galvanizing effect’’ theory.
‘‘Something like this, for as bad as it seems on the surface, actually could galvanize the group,’’ he said. ‘‘I’ve seen it before where your best player in that moment goes down, and all of a sudden everybody else elevates their game a bit.
‘‘That’s what I’m looking to see starting on Friday.’’
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