Cubs

Previous playoffs under the new format

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Previous playoffs under the new format

If a one-game wild card playoff existed going all the way back to 1995 -- when the wild card was introduced -- what would've changed?

For one, Boston would've made the playoffs more -- three times, to be exact. But the teams that would've benefited the most from this setup are Seattle, Los Angeles and San Francisco, all of which would've reached the post-season (or a play-in game to the post-season) four times in years they didn't have the best non-division-winning record.

And while the knee-jerk reaction to this system is that it benefits Boston and New York, had it been implemented for the past 17 seasons, both those teams would've stood to lose more than they could've gained. Here's the complete breakdown for both leagues dating back to 1995:

American League

2011: Tampa Bay (91-71) vs. Boston (90-72)
Tampa BayBoston vs. Texas
New York vs. Detroit

2010: New York (95-67) Boston (89-73)
New YorkBoston vs. Minnesota
Tampa Bay vs. Texas

2009: Boston (95-67) vs. Texas (87-75)
If Boston wins: New York vs. Minnesota, Los Angeles vs. Boston
If Texas wins: New York vs. Texas, Los Angeles vs. Minnesota

2008: Boston (95-67) vs. New York (89-73)
BostonNew York vs. Los Angeles
Tampa Bay vs. Chicago

2007: Detroit (88-74) vs. Seattle (88-74); DetroitSeattle vs. New York (94-68)
If Detroit wins: Boston vs. Detroit, Cleveland vs. Los Angeles
If Seattle wins: Boston vs. Seattle, Cleveland vs. Los Angeles
If New York wins: Boston vs. Los Angeles, Cleveland vs. New York

2006: Detroit (95-67) vs. Chicago (90-72)
DetroitChicago vs. New York
Minnesota vs. Oakland

2005: Boston (95-67) vs. Cleveland (93-69)
If Boston wins: White Sox vs. Boston, Los Angeles vs. New York
If Cleveland wins: White Sox vs. New York, Cleveland vs. Los Angeles

2004: Boston (98-64) vs. Oakland (91-71)
If Boston wins: New York vs. Minnesota, Boston vs. Anaheim
If Oakland wins: New York vs. Oakland, Minnesota vs. Anaheim

2003: Boston (95-67) vs. Seattle (93-69)
If Boston wins: New York vs. Minnesota, Boston vs. Oakland
If Seattle wins: New York vs. Seattle, Minnesota vs. Oakland

2002: Boston (93-69) vs. Seattle (93-69), BostonSeattle vs. Anaheim (99-63)
If Boston wins: New York vs. Minnesota, Boston vs. Oakland
If Seattle wins: New York vs. Seattle, Minnesota vs. Oakland
If Anaheim wins: New York vs. Anaheim, Minnesota vs. Oakland

2001: Oakland (102-60) vs. Minnesota (85-77)
If Oakland wins: New York vs. Oakland, Cleveland vs. Seattle
If Minnesota wins: New York vs. Cleveland, Minnesota vs. Seattle

2000: Seattle (91-71) vs. Cleveland (90-72)
If Seattle wins: White Sox vs. Seattle, New York vs. Oakland
If Cleveland wins: White Sox vs. New York, Oakland vs. Cleveland

1999: Boston (94-68) vs. Oakland (87-75)
If Boston wins: New York vs. Texas, Cleveland vs. Boston
If Oakland wins: New York vs. Oakland, Cleveland vs. Texas

1998: Boston (92-70) vs. Toronto (88-74)
New York vs. Texas
Cleveland vs. BostonToronto

1997: New York (96-66) vs. Anaheim (84-78)
If New York wins: Baltimore vs. Cleveland, New York vs. Seattle
If Anaheim wins: Baltimore vs. Anaheim, Cleveland vs. Seattle

1996: Seattle (85-77) vs. White Sox (85-77); SeattleWhite Sox vs. Boston (85-77); SeattleWhite SoxBoston vs. Baltimore (88-74)
If the White Sox win: Cleveland vs. New York, White Sox vs. Texas
If Seattle wins: Cleveland vs. Seattle, New York vs. Texas
If Boston wins: Cleveland vs. Boston, New York vs. Texas
If Baltimore wins: Cleveland vs. Baltimore, New York vs. Texas

1995: New York (79-65) vs. California (78-67)
If California wins: Cleveland vs. California, Boston vs. Seattle
If New York wins: Cleveland vs. New York, Boston vs. Seattle

Oakland went 91-70, but we're assuming they played game 162 and won it.
Seattle went 85-76, to make things fun we're assuming they lost game 162.

National League

2011: St. Louis (90-72) vs. Atlanta (89-73)
If St. Louis wins: Philadelphia vs. St. Louis, Milwaukee vs. Arizona
If Atlanta wins: Milwaukee vs. Atlanta, Philadelphia vs. Arizona

2010: Atlanta (91-71) vs. San Diego (90-72)
If Atlanta wins: Philadelphia vs. Cincinnati, San Francisco vs. Atlanta
If San Diego wins: Philadelphia vs. San Diego, San Francisco vs. Cincinnati

2009: Colorado (92-70) vs. San Francisco (88-74)
ColoradoSan Francisco vs. Philadelphia, St. Louis vs. Los Angeles

2008: Milwaukee (90-72) vs. New York (89-73)
If Milwaukee wins: Chicago vs. Los Angeles, Philadelphia vs. Milwaukee
If New York wins: Chicago vs. New York, Philadelphia vs. Los Angeles

2007: Colorado (89-73) vs. San Diego (89-73) note: this game actually happened
Philadelphia vs. Colorado
Chicago vs. Arizona

2006: San Diego (88-74) vs. Los Angeles (88-74) For west title, loser plays WC play-in, for simplicity's sake we'll say the Padres win; Los Angeles vs. Philadelphia (85-77)
If Los Angeles wins: New York vs. Los Angeles, San Diego vs. St. Louis
If Philadelphia wins: New York vs. St. Louis, San Diego vs. Philadelphia

2005: Houston (89-73) vs. Philadelphia (88-74)
If Houston wins: St. Louis vs. San Diego, Atlanta vs. Houston
If Philadelphia wins: St. Louis vs. Philadelphia, San Diego vs. Atlanta

2004: Houston (92-70) vs. San Francisco (91-71)
If Houston wins: St. Louis vs. Los Angeles, Atlanta vs. Houston
If San Francisco wins: St. Louis vs. San Francisco, Atlanta vs. Los Angeles

2003: Florida (91-71) vs. Houston (87-75)
If Florida wins: Chicago vs. Atlanta, San Francisco vs. Florida
If Houston wins: Atlanta vs. Houston, Chicago vs. San Francisco

2002: San Francisco (95-66) vs. Los Angeles (92-70)
San FranciscoLos Angeles vs. Atlanta
St. Louis vs. Arizona

2001: St. Louis (93-69) vs. San Francisco (90-72)
If St. Louis wins: Houston vs. Atlanta, St. Louis vs. Arizona
If San Francisco wins: Houston vs. San Francisco, Atlanta vs. Arizona

2000: New York (94-68) vs. Los Angeles (86-76)
If New York wins: St. Louis vs. Atlanta, New York vs. San Francisco
If Los Angeles wins: St. Louis vs. Los Angeles, Atlanta vs. San Francisco

1999: New York (96-66) vs. Cincinnati (96-66) note: this game actually happened
Atlanta vs. Houston
New York vs. Arizona

1998: Chicago (89-73) vs. San Francisco (89-73) note: this game actually happened
Atlanta vs. Chicago
Houston vs. San Diego

1997: New York (88-74) vs. Los Angeles (88-74); New YorkLos Angeles vs. Florida (92-70)
If New YorkFlorida wins: Atlanta vs. Houston, San Francisco vs. New YorkFlorida
If Los Angeles wins: Atlanta vs. Los Angeles, San Francisco vs. Houston

1996: Los Angeles (90-72) vs. Montreal (88-74)
If Los Angeles wins: Atlanta vs. Los Angeles, San Diego vs. St. Louis
If Montreal wins: Atlanta vs. St. Louis, San Diego vs. Montreal

1995: Colorado (77-67) vs. Houston (76-68)
If Colorado wins: Cincinnati vs. Los Angeles, Atlanta vs. Colorado
If Houston wins: Atlanta vs. Houston, Cincinnati vs. Los Angeles

By the numbers

The top teams in the American League would've been adversely affected by this policy. Over 17 seasons, the average win disparity between the top two non-division winning teams is 5.53, with gulfs as big as 17 (2002) and 12 (1997).

But in the National League, there's not as much of a disparity. Three of these 17 hypothetical games actually took place in real life, while the average win disparity was only 2.18.

As stated earlier, Seattle, Los Angeles and San Francisco would've stood to benefit the most from this setup. Here's how the additional playoff appearance (or appearance in a play-in game for the playoffs) list shakes out:

4: Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle
3: Boston
2: Anaheim, Chicago (AL), Cleveland, Houston, Oakland, San Diego
1: Atlanta, Cincinnati, Detroit, Minnesota, Montreal, New York (AL), New York (NL), Philadelhpia, Texas, Toronto

As for wild card winners under the old format, Boston would've stood to lose the most under the new system. The Red Sox won the wild card seven times since it was introduced in 1995, while the Yankees took it four times. In the National League, Colorado won it three times while Florida, Houston, Los Angeles and New York won it twice.

So maybe this policy isn't as tailored to the Red Sox and Yankees as much as we think. Sure, Boston could've made an additional three playoff appearances, but there also would've been seven opportunities for them to be knocked out in one game by a lesser team.

MLB.com's Cubs' 2018 Top Prospects list full of potential impact pitchers

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USA TODAY

MLB.com's Cubs' 2018 Top Prospects list full of potential impact pitchers

Could 2018 be the year that the Cubs finally see a top pitching prospect debut with the team? 

Thursday, MLB.com released its list of the Cubs' 2018 Top 30 Prospects, a group that includes six pitchers in the Top 10. The list ranks right-hander Adbert Alzolay as the Cubs' No 1. prospect, projecting him to debut with the team this season. 

Alzolay, 22, went 7-4 with a 2.99 ERA in 22 starts between Single-A Myrtle Beach and Double-A Tennessee last season. He also struck out 108 batters in 114 1/3 innings, using a repertoire that includes a fastball that tops out around 98 MPH (according to MLB.com).

Following Alzolay as the Cubs' No. 2 overall prospect is 19-year-old shortstop Aramis Ademan. Ademan hit .267 in just 68 games between Single-A Eugene and Single-A South Bend, though it should be noted that he has soared from No. 11 in MLB.com's 2017 ranks to his current No. 2 ranking. He is not projected to make his MLB debut until 2020, however.

Following Alzolay and Ademan on the list are five consecutive pitchers ranked 3-7, respectively. Oscar De La Cruz, No. 3 on the list, slides down from his 2017 ranking in which MLB.com listed him as the Cubs' top overall prospect. De La Cruz, 22, finished 2017 with a 3.34 ERA in 13 games (12 starts) between the Arizona League and Single-A Myrtle Beach.

De La Cruz is projected to make his MLB debut in 2019, while Jose Albertos (No. 4), Alex Lange (No. 5), Brendon Little (No. 6) and Thomas Hatch (No. 7) are projected to make their big league debuts in 2019 or 2020. All are right-handed (with the exception of Little) and starting pitchers.

Hatch (third round, 2016) and Lange (30th overall, 2017) and Little (27th overall, 2017) were all top draft picks by the Cubs in recent seasons.

Having numerous starting pitchers on the cusp of the big leagues represents a significant change of pace for the Cubs. 

Since Theo Epstein took over as team president in Oct. 2011, a plethora of top prospects have debuted and enjoyed success with the Cubs. Majority have been position players, though.

The likes of Albert Almora, Javier Báez, Kris Bryant, Willson Contreras, Anthony Rizzo and Addison Russell all contributed to the Cubs winning the World Series in 2016. Similarly, Ian Happ enjoyed a fair amount of success after making his MLB debut last season, hitting 24 home runs in just 115 games.

Ultimately, Alzolay would be the Cubs' first true top pitching prospect to make it to the big leagues in the Theo Epstein era. While him making it to the big leagues in 2018 is no guarantee, one would think a need for pitching will arise for the Cubs at some point, whether it be due to injury or simply for September roster expansion.

The Cubs have enjoyed tremendous success in recent years in terms of their top prospects succeeding in the MLB. If the trend continues, Alzolay should be a force to reckon with on the North Side for years to come.

Even with an entire spring schedule to go, guessing the Cubs' 25-man roster is pretty easy

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USA TODAY

Even with an entire spring schedule to go, guessing the Cubs' 25-man roster is pretty easy

MESA, Ariz. — The frequent mission of spring training is to iron out a 25-man roster.

But at Cubs camp, that mission seems to already be completed.

With an entire Cactus League schedule still to play, the Cubs’ 25-man group that will leave Arizona for the season-opener in Miami seems pretty well set.

The starting rotation: Jon Lester, Yu Darvish, Kyle Hendricks, Jose Quintana and Tyler Chatwood.

The position-player group: Willson Contreras, Victor Caratini, Anthony Rizzo, Javy Baez, Addison Russell, Kris Bryant, Tommy La Stella, Kyle Schwarber, Albert Almora Jr., Ian Happ, Jason Heyward and Ben Zobrist.

The bullpen: Brandon Morrow, Steve Cishek, Pedro Strop, Carl Edwards Jr., Mike Montgomery, Brian Duensing, Justin Wilson and Justin Grimm.

Boom. There’s your 25.

Joe Maddon, do you agree?

“You guys and ladies could probably write down what you’re seeing and be pretty accurate,” Maddon said Thursday. “I can’t deny that, it’s true. Oftentimes, when you’re a pretty good ball club, that is the case. When you’re not so good, you always get auditions during spring training.

“I think what the boys have done is they’ve built up a nice cache in case things were to happen. The depth is outstanding. So you could probably narrow it down, who you think’s going to be the 25, and I won’t argue that.”

It’s the latest example in a camp that to this point has been full of them that the Cubs are one of baseball’s best teams and that only a World Series championship will fulfill expectations. Had the front office stuck with a starting rotation of Lester, Hendricks, Quintana, Chatwood and Montgomery, then there would’ve been a spot open in the bullpen. But the statement-making signing of Darvish jolted the Cubs into “best rotation in the game” status, sent Montgomery back to the bullpen and further locked the roster into place.

Guys like Grimm and La Stella have been forced off the 25-man roster at points in recent seasons, though even their spots seem safe. Maddon even said that a huge spring from someone else wouldn’t mean as much at what guys have done at the major league level in recent memory.

“Spring training performance, for me, it’s not very defining,” Maddon said. “You’re going to be playing against a lot of guys that aren’t going to be here, more Triple-A guys, even some Double-A guys. Some guys come in better shape, they normally look better early. The vibe’s different. You play a couple innings, you don’t get many at-bats, the pitcher doesn’t see hitters three times and vice versa. So I don’t worry about that as much.

“It’s more about, guys that might be fighting for a moment, what do they look like, does it look right, does it look good, how do they fit in? Is there somebody there that you scouted? Because what matters a lot is last year and what you did last year and the last couple months of last year.

“So of course guys that have been here probably have a bit of an upper hand, but we’re very open-minded about stuff. And I think when you look at the guys, you’re right, it’s probably pretty close to being set. But stuff happens.”

Could the recently signed Shae Simmons give Grimm an unexpected challenge for the final relief spot? Maddon said guys who have been with the Cubs in the recent past have a leg up. Could Chris Gimenez turn his experience with Darvish into a win over Caratini for the backup catcher spot? Maddon threw cold water on the "personal catcher" narrative last week.

Of course, Maddon left the door open the possibility of an injury that could open up a roster spot and even shake up the depth chart. But barring the unforeseen, this 25-man group looks locked into place.

That gives the Cubs an edge, perhaps, in that they can specifically find ways to tune up those guys rather than focus on getting enough at-bats for players who are fighting for roster spots. But most of that edge came during the winter, and in winters and summers past, when the front office built this team into a championship contender.

There have been plenty of years when the fans coming to Mesa to watch the Cubs play in spring training saw the blossoming of a big league player thanks to a monster spring or a surprise tear during March. That’s going to be unlikely this spring, a reflection of just how far this team has come.

“It’s easy for me to reflect on this because when I started out with the Rays, wow,” Maddon said. “That was a casting call trying to figure it out. You had very few settled positions when you walked in the door. And then as we got better, it became what we’re talking about. As we moved further along, you were pretty much set by the time (you got to spring training) except for one or two spots.

“So I think the better teams are like that.”

The Cubs are most definitely one of those better teams.