Chicago’s win over the Arizona Diamondbacks on Tuesday night marked the Cubs’ 151st game played this season.
It is only a matter of days until the playoffs are set. While Milwaukee remains relatively hot on Chicago’s tail, the Cubs are extremely close to clinching a playoff berth.
We took a look at how Chicago’s pitching in the playoffs should shape up a few weeks ago. So, without further adieu let’s dive into how the bats will look for the fifth most dangerous offense in the National League.
Play ball! #EverybodyIn pic.twitter.com/wnmkyqhcvH
— Chicago Cubs (@Cubs) September 19, 2018
The Cubs carried a total of 14 position players for the postseason in 2017 and did so for nearly the entire playoffs in 2016 as well.
Doing so again will be the likely option for Joe Maddon.
Some players will be on the fence and up for debate. Others are locked and loaded for the playoffs no matter what happens from here on out (besides an injury). The Cubs have eight locks to be exact.
Javier Baez has been Chicago’s offensive MVP this season and very well could take home NL MVP honors as well. Obviously, Baez’ swing rate is still extremely high. But, this hasn’t proved to be an issue considering he has put together a 30-100 season.
Baez proved he can get over-excited in the postseason. The shortstop hit .077 in 10 postseason games in 2017. He will need to be more disciplined this time around.
As far as other locks go, obviously Anthony Rizzo and Kris Bryant are in. The same goes for Albert Almora Jr, even though he’s having a bit of a slow second half. Willson Contreras has been slumping as well. But, even if the slump continues, Contreras will find himself in Chicago’s lineup because of his outstanding defense behind the plate.
A two-run blast makes it 3-0 #Cubs in the 6th! #EverybodyIn pic.twitter.com/FsOgLgR78F
— Chicago Cubs (@Cubs) September 18, 2018
Jason Heyward has returned from a brief DL stint and in an ideal world the right fielder will pick up right where he left off beforehand.
Before getting injured at the end of August, Heyward bounced back from a slow month of July in which he hit only .237. The Cubs have been underperforming offensively as a team for a few consecutive weeks now. Heyward’s return to the lineup may be able to rejuvenate the bats on the North side. “J-Hey” is hitting .276 overall and has most definitely earned consistent playing time in the postseason.
After a hot start with the Cubs, Daniel Murphy began a rare slump. Murphy has hit just .220 over 50 at-bats in September. Regardless, it is impossible to leave Murphy off of the playoff roster and out of the daily lineup for that matter.
Cubs fans all know what the slugger is capable of doing in the postseason. Murphy was a bit quiet in the playoffs for the Nationals last season. But, he hit a ridiculous .438 over five playoff games in 2016 and .328 in 14 games the season before.
It is only a matter of time before Murphy picks things back up. When he is at his best, Murphy could be the most dangerous hitter the Cubs have. And part of the reason Chicago acquired Murphy is because of the veteran experience he brings to a playoff roster. Expect Murphy to be playing a lot of second base in October.
Murphy also went 2-3 last night with a home run. That could have been what the second baseman needed to right the ship.
In just about as quiet a manner as possible, Ben Zobrist is in strong contention for the NL batting title. Zobrist is hitting .314 and is only three points behind Christian Yelich for the batting lead.
The 37-year old has done more than enough to prove that his off year in 2017 was completely the result of an injury, not age. Zobrist’s keen eye and timely hitting should play a major role in Chicago’s playoff offensive production.
On the Fence
That does it for the assured position players for the Cubs in the 2018 playoffs. Now, this is where it gets interesting.
Still under the assumption that Maddon carries 14 position players, that essentially leaves seven guys to fill six spots.
The seven players being Tommy La Stella, Victor Caratini, Addison Russell, Kyle Schwarber, Ian Happ, David Bote, and Terrance Gore.
Though they won’t start very often, it’s extremely difficult to imagine La Stella and Caratini not making the playoff roster.
Ultimate utility man Tommy La Stella is the best pinch-hitter in Cubs history, statistically speaking. Pinch hitting and coming in as a late inning replacement will be La Stella’s main roles in the playoffs.
Neither should be undervalued. La Stella’s ability to come through in the pinch could be significant. Especially if Chicago is up against a pitcher in a groove. La Stella’s potential to hit top-notch velocity is exceptional.
Considering Maddon tends to carry two catchers, Caratini should be safe too. It is also worth noting that Caratini has looked better than he ever has at the plate recently and is honestly hitting better than Contreras.
It may not be reflected in Caratini’s average, but he is taking confident swings and has come through with base hits in meaningful situations, such as his go-ahead grand slam against Washington on September 8.
As frustrating as watching Addison Russell has become for Cubs fans to watch, it’s tough to imagine him missing the playoff roster. To Russell’s defense, he actually was hitting extremely well before suffering an injury.
Russell hit .329 in June and watched his average climb up to .285. Since then, Russell has been pitiful. He’s hitting .139 in September, after hitting .231 in August and .202 in July. But, I wonder how much of that has to do with the Cubs rushing Russell back and making him play through an injury.
That also could have had negative mental effects in addition to physical ones for the Cubs shortstop. Nevertheless, Maddon has always been confident in Russell and he will give him a shot to bounce back in the postseason. Addy’s defense will mainly be why he’s relevant in the playoffs, though.
At times it’s looked as if Kyle Schwarber was in the midst of breaking out and playing like he did in 2015 and in the 2016 playoffs. But, it hasn’t happened.
Still, Schwarber has hit 25 home runs this season and is expected to recover from his back injury soon. Schwarbs will solely be used against righties in the playoffs, whom he is hitting .245 off of and has clubbed all of his home runs against.
Unless he gets really hot, don’t expect Schwarber to start most postseason games.
This leaves Happ, Gore, and Bote to fill the final two spots. This may come as a surprise to some Cubs fans because he’s become such a fan-favorite. But, I don’t think David Bote should make the cut.
In no way, shape, or form should Bote’s resilience and ridiculously clutch hits be discredited. But, Bote has come back to earth from cloud nine. Bote is hitting .176 since August 1.
This shouldn’t come as that much of a surprise considering how inexperienced Bote is. He’s begun to overswing and lose his patience at the plate.
The third baseman has absolutely proven he has future potential. But, that doesn’t mean he’s ready to contribute in the playoffs. Though Bote has looked great at the hot corner lately while Bryant has been shaky, this isn’t enough to get him on the postseason roster.
Obviously, Bryant knows what it takes to perform in October while Bote has not had the opportunity to do so yet. I don’t believe Maddon should risk playing Bote in the playoffs.
After all, Bryant still seems to be getting readjusted both offensively and defensively. There is no reason to believe Bryant won’t regain his swagger at third base.
The reason Gore makes the roster before Bote does is strictly because of speed. Gore is basically automatic in terms of stealing bases. The Cubs wouldn’t have signed him so late in the season if they weren’t planning on utilizing his speed in the playoffs.
Also, if Chicago’s offense keeps struggling as it has been, there is even more reason to use Gore when given a chance to score a run in late game scenarios.
Even if Happ continues to struggle offensively, his plate discipline and on-base percentage are examples of why he is a better option than Bote.
- Born and raised in the suburbs of Chicago, Eddie Herz is a senior journalism major at Colorado State University. He has been a beat reporter for CSU's newspaper, the Rocky Mountain Collegian, since he was a freshman. Eddie has also contributed to the BTPowerhouse.com, a sister website of SBnation. Eddie will be the CSU Football beat reporter for the Rocky Mountain Collegian this coming Fall.
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