By Matt Spiegel–
(CBS) Before we agree to this task together, let us appreciate the reality and excellence of the moment.
It’s time to construct the Cubs’ playoff roster.
They’re locked and loaded, almost assuredly headed for the one-game wild-card playoff with the Pirates. That coin-flip matchup will be played only by a specifically chosen 25 men, with a separate roster to be created for any series thereafter. Every round, the 25-man roster can be reset.
So, it’s 25 players for one game, probably in Pittsburgh. Barring unforseen change, it will come against power right-hander Gerrit Cole.
Cubs manager Joe Maddon will watch his team these next two weeks and pick the players who are swinging the best. He’ll perhaps make one or two tweaks to the bullpen names, based on usage and utility.
I’m not predicting this is exactly how he’ll map it out for Oct. 7, but here’s how I’d set it up, if the game was set for tomorrow.
SP: Jake Arrieta and Jon Lester
Arrieta gets the nod to start, unquestionably. Maddon made that subtly clear weeks ago when he said Arrieta was “lined up” to make this start. Lester’s on the roster in case Arrieta gets hurt early,or in case the game goes well into extra innings. Even if Lester pitches the season finale on Oct. 4, Oct. 7 would be his side day. Remember, no other starters are needed because the roster resets for the divisional series.
RP: Hector Rondon, Pedro Strop, Justin Grimm, Fernando Rodney, Travis Wood, Clayton Richard, Trevor Cahill, Neil Ramirez and Zach Rosscup
Rondon and Strop are locked in as the closer and high-leverage setup man, respectively. Grimm is still getting his chances at crucial moments, and his stuff hasn’t dropped off even if his effectiveness has. Rodney is that extra right-hander who Maddon has been hunting to trust in late innings, and he’s had moments of dominance. Wood has been incredibly useful as a long or short man; he can get outs on both sides of the plate. Richard has earned a situational lefty spot and could go long if need be. Cahill has been a revelation as a late-season long relief security blanket. Ramirez and Rosscup make the squad because you don’t need to use slots for starters Jason Hammel or Kyle Hendricks.
C: Miguel Montero and David Ross
Montero starts. Ross is available as the best defensive option and replacement. You know pinch-hitters will get used plenty.
IF: Anthony Rizzo, Starlin Castro, Addison Russell and Kris Bryant
Castro has earned a starting spot. He’s hitting absurdly well since his benching and .444 with a 1.258 OPS in September. Defensive replacements will be available late.
OF: Chris Coghlan, Dexter Fowler and Jorge Soler
This was the toughest choice. Coghlan gets the starting nod in left field over Kyle Schwarber for 2 reasons. First, because left field at PNC Park in Pittsburgh is bizarre and demands a highly skilled veteran. Second, because Schwarber becomes one of only two lefties on the bench. He could be the first pinch-hitter and stay for a few innings. Soler’s power gives him a chance even against Cole, and his defense would be replaced mid-game as well.
Bench: Kyle Schwarber, Tommy La Stella, Javier Baez, Chris Denorfia and Austin Jackson
Schwarber and La Stella would be available from the left side. La Stella could play anywhere in the infield if needed. Baez would be a defensive replacement for Castro, if not also used as a pinch-hitter. Denorfia can pinch hit and play all three outfield spots. Jackson can pinch run and play all three outfield spots.
Game on. Soon. And then hopefully, Maddon gets to reset this 25 again for the NLDS.
Matt Spiegel is a host on the Spiegel and Goff Show on 670 The Score from 9 a.m.-1 p.m. on weekdays. Follow him on Twitter @MattSpiegel670.