Here are 10 questions to ponder as the Cubs inch closer to the postseason:
Can the Cubs offense be fixed in time for the postseason?
In one of the season’s most perplexing issues, the Cubs are second in the majors with a .259 average, yet the offense is capable of being shut down on a dime, like it was in Tuesday night’s 6-0 loss to the Pirates. They’ll face better pitchers in the postseason, and hit a combined .156 with 8 runs in five games in their 4-1 loss to the Dodgers in last year’s National League Championship Series. Clutch hitting must improve for the Cubs to go far. They’re only .246 with runners in scoring position, ranked 22nd in the majors. The worst offenders with runners in scoring position are Kyle Schwarber (.204), Willson Contreras (.215) and Tommy La Stella (.220).
Who will be the postseason closer?
Manager Joe Maddon won’t name a closer and hasn’t really needed one since Pedro Strop went down with his hamstring injury on Sept. 13 in Washington. Steve Cishek seems to be his best bet though Jesse Chavez has been his most dependable reliever since arriving from Texas. Rest assured we won’t have to see John Lackey pitching in the ninth, as we did in Game 2 of last year’s NLCS, when Lackey served up the game-winning, walk off home run to Justin Turner.
Will Addison Russell be available for the postseason roster?
Russell can return Friday from administrative leave, but that appears unlikely to happen. The Athletic reported late Tuesday MLB has interviewed his former wife and “numerous other witnesses,” and has “additional credible information” to support her allegations. Some speculate Russell’s return would be a distraction the Cubs wouldn’t welcome in October. “I don’t think it would be a distraction, but I have no idea if that is going to happen or not,” manager Joe Maddon said. “I don’t know. I know nothing about it.”
Will Kris Bryant go back to being Kris Bryant in the postseason?
Bryant on Tuesday had a .403 slugging percentage and one home run in 21 games in September since returning from his sore left shoulder. Bryant said the shoulder feels fine, but then was hit in the left wrist Tuesday night and eventually left the game with a wrist contusion. He isn’t the only Cubs lacking power. Anthony Rizzo has two homers and a .389 slugging percentage in September, and Ben Zobrist has none and a .373 slugging percentage in the month. It’s not just Bryant who needs to start driving the ball.
How important is securing homefield advantage throughout the NL playoffs?
“That would be super-nice,” Jason Heyward said. “But there are so many teams that find a way to get it done without having that. Wild-card teams have gone on to win championships. So you can’t get hung up on one thing.” The Cubs have a 47-28 record at Wrigley and get homefield advantage through the NLCS if they finish with the best record. “We have the best record in the National League, but we haven’t clinched yet,” Heyward said. “That shows you how good our division is. That shows you how good this league is. I feel like it’s time to pay respect to how good these other teams have been playing baseball.”
Does Terrance Gore deserve a postseason roster spot?
The greatest pinch-runner in history was Herb Washington, the world-class sprinter the A’s signed in the 1970’s who stole 31 bases in 105 games without a plate appearance. Gore has one hit in 16 at-bats in parts of five seasons, but also has 26 steals in 30 attempts. He’d be a valuable piece on the bench, as he was for the Royals during their postseasons. But he’s no Dave Roberts, who memorably stole a key base for the Red Sox in Game 4 the 2004 ALCS, igniting the epic comeback over the Yankees. Roberts hit .438 for the Padres in the 2006 NLDS.
Who will start Game 1?
Kyle Hendricks has a 1.08 WHIP in the second half, by far the best of the Cubs starters. His second-half WAR is 2.4, ninth among major leaguer starters. He gives the Cubs the best chance to win every time out, and deserves to starter the opener no matter whom they play.
Should you wait for the NLCS to try and buy Cubs playoff tickets?
Unless you’re lucky enough to be related to the Ricketts, you probably can’t afford to go to more than one playoff game. If you want to be sure you see at least one game, better get one to the NLDS, or the wild-card if the Cubs falter this week. The NL teams are so bunched up there will be no overwhelming favorite. But if you have the money and faith in this team, you can wait for a Cubs-Yankees or Cubs-Red Sox World Series, which might be worth the outrageous cost.
Can we blame Joe Maddon if the Cubs don’t win it all?
Why stop now? Maddon has a .598 winning percentage in four years in Chicago, not to mention a championship and two NLCS appearances. But his detractors get louder every postseason whenever one of his moves backfires. (see Lackey). Maddon is the only manager in our lifetime to take the Cubs to championship, but seldom gets credit because of his controversial Game 7 maneuvering. Maybe this is the year?
Would winning it all be a greater accomplishment than in 2016?