Cubs

How the Cubs plan to slow down Nationals speedster Trea Turner

There is so much star power and so many storylines to watch in the Cubs-Nationals NLDS. But 24-year-old Trea Turner - he of 198 career MLB games - could be the biggest game-changer.

Turner has 81 stolen bases while playing parts of the last three seasons with the Nationals, notching an 83.5 percent success rate.

Maybe more importantly, he has seven stolen bases in eight tries in four games against the Cubs this season.

He stole four bases in one game on June 27, swiping second and third off Jake Arrieta and Miguel Montero, prompting the rant that got Montero a one-way ticket out of town.

Against Willson Contreras, however, things are a bit different. Turner has three stolen bases off Contreras in three games, but he's also been caught once and the Cubs catcher also picked Turner off first base.

So yes, Contreras changes the landscape of the running game, even if he is only league average (27 percent) at throwing out would-be basestealers.

Joe Maddon knows game-changing speed is a nice advantage to have, but he wants his pitchers to keep their gameplan and not let their focus wander.

"It's just a matter of how you approach it," Maddon said. "Do you permit people like that to really alter your thinking from the pitching mound? Which I prefer not having happen. And then on top of that, when you have Willson catching, it takes a little bit of the edge off, knowing how well he can throw.

"...So as much as we're talking about [Turner], I know they're talking about Willson also. If you don't have Willson back there or somebody like that, [speed is] a great edge. Great edge. But I think Willson negates that a little bit, or puts some pause in their mind.

"Now from our pitcher's perspective, I prefer them worry about the hitter than the runner. But a major-league pitcher should be able to still do some different items before he delivers a baseball that helps control that part of it, which we will talk about. 

"At the end of the day, my lesson learned is that you really don't want to negatively impact the pitcher's thinking at the expense of a baserunner that maybe get put in a gap or over a wall."

Cubs fans have seen some of those different looks from pitchers over the last few years as Jon Lester has found a way to help slow the opponent's running game despite his "yips" with throwing over to first base.

Turner did steal a pair of bases off Lester and Contreras in June, but there's another factor working in the Cubs' favor: Turner's splits are pretty jarring, especially for a right-handed hitter. 

He is sporting just a .630 OPS against lefties, hitting .245 with a .311 on-base percentage. Against righties, he has hit all 11 of his homers to go along with a .296 average and .837 OPS.

Regardless of how the Cubs line up their NLDS rotation, they will be throwing two lefties out of the first four games (assuming the series is not a sweep for either side) as Jon Lester and Jose Quintana will both get a chance to start. 

The Cubs also will have southpaws Mike Montgomery and Brian Duensing in the bullpen and may choose to keep fellow lefty Justin Wilson on the roster, as well, despite his struggles over the last two months.

The Nationals, as a team, are almost completely neutral against opposing pitchers (.780 OPS vs. RHP, .787 OPS vs. LHP), but Turner's splits alone are intriguing.

If the Cubs keep Turner off base ahead of Bryce Harper, Anthony Rendon, Daniel Murphy and Ryan Zimmerman, their chances at neutralizing the Nationals' high-powered offense goes up.

"He's really good. We saw that earlier in the year," Maddon said. "Always the best method is to keep him off base. That's the best way to corral somebody like him. We've run into that with Hamilton in our division. 

"There's some guys that are difference-makers when they get on the basepaths like he is. We'll have our gameplan and at the end of the day, you still wanna be more concerned with the guy at the plate as opposed to the guy on the base, too. I think the better baserunners split pitcher's concentration and you don't want to split to the point where the hitter gains an advantage."

The baseball world has seen what "speed do" in October with the Kansas City Royals' success in 2014 and 2015.

Maddon knows full well, too. During his time in Tampa Bay, the (Devil) Rays finished in the Top 6 in baseball in stolen bases every year from 2006-12. That includes leading the league in 2008-10 when Carl Crawford, B.J. (Melvin) Upton and Jason Bartlett led the charge, though current Cubs utility man Ben Zobrist (44 steals in those three years) and coach Eric Hinske (10 stolen bases in 2008) also chipped in.

"We tried to take advantage of it," Maddon said. "We pushed it, man. We kinda took pride at that time and I thought that it added to our edge because the other side was worried about us running all the time. And then there comes the edge. 

"So what I've learned is, don't let that happen to you. Don't worry so much about their basestealing that it takes you out of your pitching edge. 

"Listen, it can be very impactful, there's no question; I'm not denying that. But I don't want us to go into override regarding that as opposed to us doing what we do better."