By Bruce Levine–
CHICAGO (CBS) — The Cubs have begun to makes changes in anticipation of their postseason starting on Oct. 7 in Game 1 of the NLDS. The way it sits now, the Cubs will play the Giants, Cardinals or Mets in that series, as those three teams are tied for the two wild-card spots.
With that in mind, the Cubs front office and coaching staff have started to formulate a plan for the last week-and-a-half of the the regular season. In this weekend’s three-game series against the Cardinals, the Cubs will pitch Jake Arrieta on Friday, Jason Hammel on Saturday and Jon Lester on Sunday.
This tweak in the pitching rotation gives Kyle Hendricks two extra days off this week and could get him in position to pitch the last game of the season, on Oct. 2 in Cincinnati.
Chicago will utilize a “bullpen day” in Pittsburgh on Tuesday after Hendricks goes on Monday. The team can then reset with Lester likely to pitch Oct. 1. That would then give him five days off before the NLDS begins Oct. 7. That premise is assuming that Lester has earned the playoff-opening start, followed by Hendricks in Game 2 on Oct. 8.
The NLDS is scheduled to feature an off day Oct. 9, then switch to the wild-card winner’s ballpark on Oct. 10 and Oct. 11. If a Game 5 is necessary, it’s set to be played at Wrigley Field on Oct. 13. As of now, it appears it will be Arrrieta in Game 3 and Lackey in Game 4, if necessary.
It should be noted this is still speculation at this point, as the Cubs haven’t officially announced their postseason rotation.
“We will be doing a lot of manipulation,” manager Joe Maddon said Wednesday. “We will have a bullpen day next week. There are other things we may do. We haven’t announced or talked to everyone yet. There are other things we may try to do. There will be a lot of manipulation with the pitching staff over the rest of the season.”
The key element to this next week is to keep the starting pitchers fresh. Of course, the idea the staff could be underworked is a concern too.
Simulated games for Arrieta and Lackey may be essential after the regular-season finale because they may have eight or nine days of rest.
“We could potentially look at different people in different roles,” Maddon said. “Next week with the lineups, I want to be creative with getting people involved, treat things a little like spring training moments. Maybe have guys pinch-hit in moments that they don’t normally pinch-hit in. We will have guys prearranged out of the bullpen, just to make sure they get on a regular schedule. We will get a final look at guys, give them a chance to possibly be in a role they will be used in the postseason. All the above.”
Bruce Levine covers the Cubs and White Sox for 670 The Score and CBSChicago.com. Follow him on Twitter @MLBBruceLevine.