By Bruce Levine–

CHICAGO (CBS) — As a collective group, the Chicago Cubs must come up with a way to get their starting pitching rested and ready for postseason play. With 33 games left in the regular season, a plan to keep the four veterans over 30 and Kyle Hendricks game-ready, but not overused, is in place.

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The best teams during the 162-game regular season certainly don’t always make it to the World Series. In 2015, the two hot teams met in the National League Championship Series for the pennant. It was the St Louis Cardinals who were considered the best of the NL clubs going into the playoffs, but the Cubs had the hottest pitcher in the game as Jake Arrieta won the wild-card elimination game with a dominant performance and the New York Mets had the deepest and most game-ready rotation. New York blew out Chicago in the NLCS after the Cubs defeated the Cardinals in the NLDS.

Knowing it’s the most October-ready teams that succeed in the playoffs, Cubs manager Joe Maddon and pitching coach Chris Bosio are working on the innings pare-down and eventual escalation of the starting staff going forward to the playoffs.

Getting injured right-hander John Lackey back into the rotation is a big focus. A determination on his rehab should be forthcoming in the next couple of days. Lackey’s use will get the most attention next month.

The rotation has been nearly invincible in the month of August. The starters are 15-2 with a 2.02 ERA in 25 August games, including 18 quality starts. Hendricks leads the big leagues with a 2.19 ERA. With continued quality play by the Cubs, the NL Central race will be over by mid-September, allowing Maddon to manipulate the pitching rotation.

The Cubs have stretched out left-hander Mike Montgomery and right-hander Trevor Cahill recently, and they can use them in spot starts or a six-man rotation for stretches to get the regular five starters some extra rest.

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“We normally have done that near the end,” Maddon said about his Tampa teams that were playoff-ready in late September. “I have not been in a position where we could control it, maybe like this year, if we can keep it going.”

Maddon was asked if too many innings off could be a detriment to the “rust factor” for certain rotation guys.

“At the end of the day you are trying to preserve their moments for a certain time of the year,” Maddon said. “So, in my mind, no matter what kind of pushback you get from the player himself, I still think you can (control innings) and not worry about the rust component.”

The Cubs’ front office works hand and hand in this type of innings decision with the coaching staff.

“I err on the side of rest,” president of baseball operations Theo Epstein said. “As an example, especially last year, Jake ran out of gas in the sixth inning of that Pittsburgh (wild-card) game and was never the same after that. That was understandable, given how many innings he had thrown. Jon Lester has thrown the second-most pitches than anyone in baseball over the last five years. Lackey, at 37 years old, was fourth in the league in innings pitched before he went on the DL. We are going to do everything we can to make sure our pitchers are at their physical best.”

“Once again, I err on the side of rest, within reason. I believe a reasonable amount of rest will not create rust.”

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Bruce Levine covers the Cubs and White Sox for 670 The Score and CBSChicago.com. Follow him on Twitter @MLBBruceLevine.