Cubs president Theo Epstein is rooting for chaos, hoping the National League’s wild-card battle spills into a Game 163, setting up another emotionally draining elimination game the next night, leaving the last team standing among the St. Louis Cardinals, San Francisco Giants and New York Mets physically exhausted by the time they get to Wrigley Field.
“Each team presents its own set of challenges,” Epstein said before Monday night’s 5-2 win over the Cincinnati Reds. “It might have roster implications one way or another, too, based on the matchups. But we hope there’s a three-way tie — and then there’s about a 20-inning game to decide who plays on Tuesday (Oct. 4). And then the Tuesday game goes about 30 innings. And rain delays to push (the wild card and) make it a Thursday game.”
Weather permitting, the Cubs won’t know their first-round opponent until the night of Oct. 5, but Epstein’s front office and manager Joe Maddon will meet on Tuesday to discuss the playoff rotation, bubble players on the roster and what they need to see across the final 12 games in the regular season.
The Cubs won’t know their first-round opponent until the night of Oct. 5, but Epstein’s front office and manager Joe Maddon will meet on Tuesday to discuss the playoff rotation, bubble players on the roster and what they need to see across the final 12 games in the regular season.
A strong scouting infrastructure and a detailed game-planning system have been hallmarks of the Epstein administration and a coaching staff led by Dale Sveum-era holdovers Chris Bosio and Mike Borzello, marketing veteran pitchers for trade-deadline deals that rebuilt a fifth-place team into a division champion and helped transform Kyle Hendricks into a Cy Young Award candidate.
“We’re fully into the advance scouting process,” Epstein said. “We got our scouts out watching all the teams that we might face at some point. (We’re) doing a lot of video work as well. That ramps up as you get closer, but it’s already started.”
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With the NL Central title already wrapped up, the Cubs can treat late September like spring training, experimenting, scheduling days off and scripting out their playoff rotation. The hope is outfielder Jorge Soler (right side tightness) will be available to pinch-hit on Tuesday night and reliever Pedro Strop (knee) will throw a simulated game soon.
Meanwhile, the Mets (80-69), Giants (79-70) and Cardinals (78-71) went into Monday night’s games understanding there would only be two postseason spots available, forcing them to channel the adrenaline and sharpen their every-pitch focus.
Then again, the Cubs could also get to see the Mets and Giants burn Noah Syndergaard and Madison Bumgarner in a wild-card game, or if the St. Louis rotation will again be running on fumes by Oct. 7, creating flashbacks to last year’s playoffs.
“It cuts both ways,” Epstein said, “because then you can get run into the ground a little bit, get a little tired, especially with your pitching staff.
“All things being equal, I would rather clinch early and have the ability to rest guys. I don’t think this group is going to lose their edge because we might play games for a short period of time that aren’t quite as important as the ones that came before.
“Everyone knows what this team’s all about, why we’re here, what we’re trying to accomplish. We’ll be ready.”