By Mark Grote–
(CBS) Sudden death doesn’t discriminate, home or away.
Since Major League Baseball expanded its playoff format in 2012 to include a second wild-card team in each league, featuring a one-game win-or-go-home format, the road team is 2-1 in both the NL and AL. That’s a small sample size, but Cubs manager Joe Maddon believes it’s a wash either way.
“It’s all about the starting pitchers in that particular game,” Maddon said.
With that in mind, Maddon’s rough draft math shows that Jake Arrieta would line up as the Cubs’ starter in a possible wild-card game. As of Monday afternoon, Chicago leads San Francisco by 7.5 games for the second wild-card spot in the NL and trails Pittsburgh by four games for the right to host that game.
“You want home field for your fans as much as anything, but to say it gives you an advantage or disadvantage when actually playing the game, I don’t know that it does,” Maddon said.
Maddon speaks from experience. His 2013 Tampa Bay Rays won at Texas in Game 163 to earn a berth into the wild-card game in Cleveland, a game in which the Rays also came up victorious to advance to the ALDS against the Red Sox.
In assessing the importance of home field, Cubs pitcher Kyle Hendricks pointed to the Cubs’ road record, which at 39-32 is second-best in the NL behind the St. Louis Cardinals.
“We don’t have a problem playing in hostile environments,” Hendricks said. “We play great on the road with the guys we have in here, so whether it’s home or away, it’s not going to matter much. Obviously, the home crowd at Wrigley is unbelievable, and we’d love to have it there, but at the same time, we are quite capable on the road.”
The last winner-takes-all, one-game bonanza at Wrigley Field was in 1998 between the Cubs and San Francisco Giants in an NL wild-card tiebreaker. The Cubs beat the Giants, 5-3, with Steve Trachsel getting the win and Gary Gaetti homering. Barry Bonds twice came up empty with the bases loaded for the Giants.
As for Cubs catcher Miguel Montero, he didn’t want to hear about any kind of wild-card scenario.
“Hopefully we don’t have to play in that one game,” Montero said.
You can almost hear Cubs fans applauding this point, as Chicago trails St. Louis by 6.5 games in the NL Central. So, still going for the division, Miguel?
“It’s not over until it’s over,” a smiling Montero said.
Mark Grote is the Cubs pregame and postgame host on WBBM. Follow him on Twitter@markgrotesports.