CHICAGO – In an otherwise meaningless game, there were a couple of interesting developments for the Cubs during Saturday’s 9-0 victory over the Cincinnati Reds at Wrigley Field.
Kyle Schwarber hit his 30th home run of the season, a blast to center field, to give the Cubs a 2-0 lead in the second inning.
Starting pitcher Jon Lester worked five shutout innings as he tuned up for a Game 1 or Game 2 start in the National League division series at Washington.
The Cubs’ playoff rotation became clearer Saturday when manager Joe Maddon said left-hander Jose Quintana and right-hander Jake Arrieta would pitch in a simulated game Wednesday. Game 1 of the NLDS is Friday, and Game 2 is Saturday.
The only thing left to decide now is who pitches Game 1. Maddon has talked up Kyle Hendricks as one the best pitchers in baseball during the second half. Hendricks would be able to handle pitching a Game 5. But with built-in off-days in the series, so would Lester.
“We’re not ready,” Maddon said of announcing the order. “You can draw your conclusions if you like. When it comes to stuff like this, you want to have your meeting. You want to talk to guys specifically. You don’t want guys to read about things like this in the paper before you’ve actually had a chance to speak with them. There’s always a pecking order. So we’ll go with that pecking order. Of course your job is to do what you do. Draw your own conclusions and write your stories. But I don’t want to be in advance of having one-on-one conversations.”
Lester took the team approach.
“I don’t make those decisions,” he said. “I told somebody the other day if they choose to [start] me Game 1, obviously that’s a huge honor, a huge responsibility to put on your shoulders and go out there and try to get your team off to the best start. If I’m in other games, I’m going to go out there and compete just like I will any other start.”
Arrieta will be testing his right hamstring. He injured it on Labor Day in Pittsburgh. He did not pitch again until Sept. 21. This past week at St. Louis, he lasted three innings and said the injury has forced him to change things in his delivery. If he cannot pitch in the NLDS, John Lackey would be ready to go.
As for Schwarber, he has six homers in the past 15 games and is 14 for 44 (. 318) in that span.
“It’s been an up-and-down year,” he said. “I’m happy about [30 homers], but I’m not really too focused on it at all. It’s a cool accomplishment, but I’m more focused on the bigger picture here, which is the postseason coming up.”
Carrying the workload: Kris Bryant has played in 150 games this season. He is the first Cubs player in franchise history to play at least 150 in each of his first three major league seasons. He is only the 11th player in big league history to do so.
Since 2000, three other players to have done it: Ichiro Suzuki (8 seasons), Albert Pujols (5) and Hideki Matsui (3).
“That’s really impressive,” Joe Maddon said. “Most of the time when guys come up, they’re not really able to handle that number of games or are not good enough to be put in the lineup that many times. Just give him credit. I’ve talked about this often, and you really can’t underestimate how difficult it is to be an everyday player in this league. It’s not easy.”
A Maddon milestone: The Cubs are 92-69. Joe Maddon is 292-192 as Cubs manager, making him the fifth manager in club history to have a record of at least 100 games over .500.