It’s never too early to start thinking about post-season rotation, unless of course you’re responsible for speaking to the media about your plan for October.
Chicago Cubs manager David Ross has yet to name his three postseason Wild Card Series starters once they’ve made it. And it would be insane if Ross did otherwise with 23 games remaining and his team in the middle of both the National League Central race and wildcard pursuit.
The Cubs were 2 1/2 games behind the division-leading Milwaukee Brewers and 3 games ahead of the Cincinnati Reds for the second wildcard spot after Tuesday’s wild 11-8 win over the San Francisco Giants.
Seiya Suzuki’s game-winning two-run home run in game seven got the Cubs in an uproar, and Christopher Morel’s three-run shot from 431 feet down the middle capped a six-run inning.
Suzuki ended up with 3 RBI and four of the Cubs’ 15 hits as they won their third straight win and improved to a season-high 11-game .500 in front of a crowd of 28,684. The series win over the Giants has given them a 12-1-2 record for their last 15 series.
Unless the Cubs secure a spot before last week, Ross may need his best starters in the last two series in Atlanta and Milwaukee to get in.
That doesn’t mean we can’t speculate though, so let’s do it.
There’s no doubt who Ross’ first two starters in the best-of-three series would be. Justin Steele, a National League Cy Young Award nominee, would be practically a Game 1 match suspension if the Cubs didn’t need him.
Kyle Hendricks, who allowed four earned runs over 5 1/3 innings against the Giants, seems like a certainty for Game 2 based on his postseason experience and a strong second half.
But after those two things get a little tricky.
Jameson Taillon, who was selected as the number 2 starting XI last season, endured two bouts of inconsistency in his first year in Chicago. He started poorly with a 6.93 ERA in his first 14 starts before bouncing back in July. He then went 5-0 with a 2.17 ERA in his next six starts and looked like pitcher president Jed Hoyer thought he’d signed when he gave Taillon a four-year, $68 million deal.
But he has since regressed, posting a 7.18 ERA in his last five starts while hitting eight home runs over 26 1/3 innings.
Which waistline will appear on the track? You can’t tell.
If he doesn’t recover, would Hoyer and Ross skip the veteran in favor of a newcomer like Javier Assad or Jordan Wicks? They may not have a choice.
Which brings us to door #3: Does Marcus Stroman still have a shot at a return and a start to the postseason?
The Cubs All-Star and wannabe ace held a second bullpen session at the team complex in Mesa, Arizona on Monday in hopes of returning before the season is over. Stroman hadn’t thrown since he sustained a mysterious injury – a fracture of the right costal cartilage – in Toronto in mid-August while preparing to return from a right hip infection. He went to Tampa to rest and then reported back to Arizona last week.
Ross said he didn’t speak to Stroman to see if the pitcher was pain free, but was told Stroman was “excited” with progress after two bullpen sessions.
“That makes me think he’s building up and looking forward to playing in games,” Ross said. “So that would tell me he can do it.”
Obviously, it would take a lot longer for Stroman to build up his pitch count early on than it would for the relief. So, would the Cubs consider bringing him back as a substitute instead?
Ross replied they’re just building up Stroman’s arm; There is no plan how to use it.
“Things happen and sales can move quickly,” he said, before associating Stroman with the rehab stints of Michael Fulmer and unnamed minor league pitchers, perhaps referring to Triple-A starter Ben Brown from Iowa and left-hander Brandon Hughes.
“We’re just going to see how many people we can get healthy and then move on,” Ross said.
Stroman would likely need to do at least a few minor league rehab spells so the Cubs can see if he’s physically and mentally ready. His last start was July 31 and Stroman has struggled in his last seven starts, posting a 9.00 ERA.
Ross admitted that in rehab he didn’t know “if it made sense to throw him in a pennant race from where he is.” But he didn’t rule out the possibility of Stroman’s return even with the minor league season ending in two and a half weeks.
“A healthy version of him is a good thing for us,” Ross said, repeating that he hasn’t spoken to Stroman yet.
“I don’t want him to listen to an interview and get mad,” he said. “We haven’t made a decision today. We’re going to get him healthy and I think we’re going to stretch him as much as we can and make him a regular again. And when we get to a point that benefits us, that’s great. If not, let’s look at another role.”
The fact that Stroman wants to return bodes well, although bringing him back without proper preparation would be a risk. He could move to free agency in November if he exercises the opt-out option in his contract. Therefore, financially speaking, it would be in Stroman’s best interest to prove to other teams that he is healthy going into the offseason.
Of course, it could all be forfeited if the Cubs lose the wildcard spot and fail to catch the Brewers in the NL Central race. Anything can happen, as most Cubs fans know all too well.
Ross will likely stick with his regulars all the way. He brought Morel off the bench to pinch for Patrick Wisdom in the third inning and the move eventually paid off.
“Look, we’re in a really good position to win,” Ross said. “The guys who brought us here will play, and the guys who are on the bench will have roles.”
As long as it works, Ross sees no need to fix it.
https://www.twincities.com/2023/09/05/column-if-the-chicago-cubs-make-the-postseason-who-will-be-the-no-3-starter/ If the Chicago Cubs make it into the postseason, who will be the No. 3 starter? – Twin Cities