Whew. If you’re reading this, the Cubs (somehow, barely, and very questionably) did what they needed to do against a great, great Nationals team after a great, great series. And now it’s Friday, and we’re all guzzling coffee, rubbing our eyes, and wondering what’s next.
For the Los Angeles Dodgers, once again the Cubs’ NLCS opponent, the answer is very clear. They haven’t played since Monday night, and they’ll have Clayton Kershaw pitching on seven days’ rest, followed likely by Rich Hill, Yu Darvish, Alex Wood, and then pretty much whoever they want. This year’s best team took care of business easily against Arizona, and they are deservedly in the position that they are in.
Meanwhile, the Cubs are—to put it nicely—in a state of …happy… disarray. Short of sustaining injuries (they’ve once again been pretty lucky in that regard this year), they are in about as bad a situation as possible heading into an NLCS. Here’s the situation as best I can describe it:
- Game One is Saturday night, all the way across the country from where they finished the NLDS on Friday morning.
- Even by Saturday (tomorrow) none of the Cubs’ top four playoff starters could pitch on anything more than two days’ rest…
- …which means that by Sunday (Game Two), none of the Cubs’ top four playoff starters could pitch on anything more than three days’ rest.
- Wade Davis, the Cubs only consistent bullpen piece at the moment, just threw a seven-out, 44-pitch save a day after being used in Game Four. He is almost certainly limited for Game One.
- Everyone else in the bullpen (except the seemingly forgotten Justin Wilson) has been used recently. None of them seem to be pitching particularly well at the moment.
- The offense is fine, though no one seems particularly “hot”.
- Joe Maddon seems bent on confusing Cubs fans with pitching and lineup decisions as much as possible. On the other hand, they have made it this far, so you can only complain so much.
It would be a tall order to beat the Dodgers even if both teams were coming into the series at full strength. The Cubs are nowhere near that, and so the way forward seems even less clear. They have to figure something out, though, so here are some ideas/scenarios ranked in approximate order of likelihood/viability from my perspective:
- Add Héctor Rondón to the NLCS roster in place of Wilson. This seems like it should be a foregone conclusion to me, as Wilson was barely used in the NLDS, the Cubs already have two other lefties in the bullpen, and Rondon actually had a solid September.
- They could decide that José Quintana’s 12-pitch appearance in Game Five was a “bullpen” day between starts, and start him in Game One. John Lackey would be the long man if Quintana gets in trouble early.
- With Game One seeming like the least likely win in the series anyway, they could start Lackey and hope he can get them through five innings or so against Kershaw. If the game is still close in the middle innings, they could use an all-hands-on-deck approach in the bullpen to finish the game off one way or another. If the Cubs are getting blown out, let Leonys Martin finish the game.
- They could let Jon Lester convince them that he is fine, and let him start Game One. This is probably the most ill-advised from a health perspective, but I’d be surprised if Lester doesn’t secretly try this.
- They could call up Jen-Ho Tseng (who made a September start!) and see what happens.
- They could totally punt Game One and let Leonys Martin start and go as deep as possible. The Cubs could follow him up with Tommy La Stella and Alex Avila from the ‘pen.
So, the situation on the pitching side could be better. It seems most likely that the order the Cubs’ top four will pitch in (at some point) will be Quintana, Arrieta, Lester, Hendricks, but that would mean holding back Hendricks until at least Game Four, which seems very restrained. It will, of course, depend on how the series is going.
All that said, there is very little that Cubs fans should complain about. They just beat an excellent team, in an excellent (ugly) series, and they are moving on to the NLCS for the third consecutive year. They’ve delivered once again on their promise of continuous contention and accomplished just about all that can be asked. They’ve even made Nats fans into those who should be pitied—a dramatic about-face from where the Cubs were just two years ago.
And while the odds are clearly stacked against the Cubs in this series, baseball is a goofy and random sport that very rarely makes sense. A struggling Kyle Hendricks batted twice and faced Bryce Harper three times last night, and it kinda worked out. Max Scherzer somehow allowed four runs on a total of one (1) hard-hit ball in the fifth inning. Sometimes in baseball stuff just kind of works out, and this Cubs team seems to be able to finagle their way into wins more often than not. So even though no one has any idea what is going on anymore, I still won’t bet against the 2017 Cubs.
Lead photo courtesy Brad Mills—USA Today Sports