Sunday’s regular-season finale doesn’t represent a win-or-go-home scenario for the Cubs, but manager Joe Maddon still has plenty to consider as he tries to avoid a loss that could send them to the National League wild-card game.
For starters, Maddon will have to keep a close watch on left-hander Mike Montgomery, who allowed five runs in four innings in his last start Tuesday against the Pirates. The Cardinals peppered Montgomery for 12 hits and five earned runs in five innings of their 5-2 win in his last appearance against them on July 27.
The Cubs’ bullpen is relatively well-rested, but Maddon may have to weigh how soon and how long he can use Steve Cishek, Jesse Chavez and Justin Willson, especially if they enter with a deficit with the possibility of a tiebreaker game looming.
The Cubs will face Jack Flaherty, 22, who has 16 strikeouts while allowing only one run and four hits in 10 innings against them this season.
The Cubs were interested in drafting Flaherty with their second pick in the 2014 draft (45th overall). The Cardinals, however, took him with the 34th pick and bought him out of his commitment to North Carolina with a $2 million bonus.
Flaherty has thrown a combined 180 innings for the Cardinals and Triple-A Memphis. Since the Cardinals were eliminated Saturday night from postseason contention, they could elect to curb Flaherty’s workload.
Thanks to Miles Mikolas’ impressive performance Saturday, the Cardinals’ bullpen is well-rested. The only late-inning reliever who might not be available is Bud Norris, who injured his hamstring on Friday.
Maddon might need to be careful about when he goes to his bench and whom he uses. But it might not matter, given Flaherty’s dominance this season.
Perhaps the biggest issue for the offense may be whether they can work quality at-bats, as Ben Zobrist, Daniel Murphy and Anthony Rizzo have done — instead of the impatience the offense displayed in the ninth inning of Saturday’s 2-1 loss, when Carlos Martinez needed only five pitches to earn the save.