Summer is going by way too fast. We are already a few weeks away from September. But in the baseball world, this is what fans, players, and management look forward to. Postseason baseball is right around the corner and the Cubs are going to be in the mix for another title. But what do they need to do to get there? Health is most important. Kris Bryant, Yu Darvish, and Brandon Morrow must be 100% to join the team for a deep playoff run.
In this article, Thomas Gibbons and Alex Patt answer some Q & A’s as the Cubs close in on the home stretch of the season.
Q: With the emergence of Jesse Chavez and the consistency of Steve Cishek, Carl Edwards Jr, Pedro Strop and the addition of Brandon Kintzler, will Justin Wilson be an afterthought come late September and playoff time?
Thomas Gibbons: I liked what I saw from Justin Wilson earlier this season. After a disappointing first impression last season, the Cubs were hopeful Wilson would bounce back. Wilson posted a 0.71 ERA, his best month of the season. But despite 3.20 ERA for the year, he has had some really good outings. Wilson has allowed just one run in 5 August appearances and lefties are only hitting .176 against the former Tiger.
Wilson is one of the few left handed pitchers in the bullpen. We know Maddon is all about the matchup and that he has not given up on Wilson. I think Wilson will not be an afterthought and can be a factor come playoff time. If he can get you a big punch out vs. a lefty then his role is defined. It will be interesting to see how Maddon manages the bullpen. No doubt a storyline of the postseason.
Alex Patt: I still think they keep him in the pen in October. While he has not been perfect overall, the numbers overall are not terrible. Would I trust him in a big situation in the eighth or ninth inning? No. However having a lefty in the pen is important to have especially when majority of the guys currently are right handers. Use him in situations that may call for one out against a lefty batter.
Q: If Cole Hamels continues his impressive run, do you start him in a playoff game?
TG: I think this is a no brainier. Hamels is exceeding expectations. He is 3-0 and has only given up 2 earned runs in four starts. And his 59% ground ball rate is a main part to his success. The Cubs turned seven double plays Friday night on their way to a 1-0 win in Pittsburgh.
I know the Cubs have Kyle Hendricks, Yu Darvish, and Jose Quintana, but Hamels has the playoff experience, one of the main reasons the Cubs acquired him. It would be hard to not give him a game especially if his remarkable second half continues.
AP: Absolutely. He has a very impressive postseason resume and so far has looked mighty impressive in a Cubs uniform. Right now somebody has to be the odd man out, and the health of Yu Darvish can be a big determining factor on that. If the postseason started right now, Jon Lester, Kyle Hendricks and Cole Hamels would be my top three.
Q: What are your expectations for Yu Darvish for the remainder of the year?
TG: Darvish has not started a game since May 20th. That’s a long time on the bench. He’s gone through a lot from aggravation from the fans, rehab stints, and a handful of bullpen sessions and sim games to get him ready to re-join the rotation. He pitched in South Bend on Friday and if everything went well he should be with the team soon.
After the long wait and suspense of where Darvish would sign in the spring, he finally chose the Friendly Confines. The first thing many thought about was the playoff rotation was how dangerous it could be. Lester, Hendricks, Darvish and Quintana? That rotation can get you another World Series title. But back to Darvish, I think expectations at start should be low considering he has missed so much time. Yet come October, he needs to be the dominant performer like he was versus the Cubs in the NLCS last year.
AP: I would be perfectly fine with him pitching decently when he comes back, I do not expect great. It has been a while since he pitched in an MLB game and rust will probably be a factor. If he can get back in the groove after two/three starts, then things will look up for him. October will be the biggest question for him, and hopefully he can be healthy and rebound after last year’s World Series.
Q: What is your Game 1 NLDS lineup?
TG: Almora Jr. CF/ Heyward RF/ Rizzo 1B/ Baez 2B/ Bryant 3B/ Contreras C/ Schwarber LF/ Lester P/ Russell SS
This is the Cubs best lineup. A bench of Ian Happ, Victor Caratini, Ben Zobrist, Tommy LaStella, David Bote is a special group. Each will have a role in October and could even start a game. That is how much trust Maddon has in these guys and there could be a matchup he really likes. To conclude, the lineup puts the best hitters and fielders under the lights at Wrigley Field.
AP: Zobrist 2B/Heyward RF/Rizzo 1B/Bryant 3B/ Schwarber LF/ Baez SS/ Contreras C/ Almora CF/ Lester P