Cubs

Cubs, Nationals set lineups for NLDS Game 1

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USA TODAY

Cubs, Nationals set lineups for NLDS Game 1

The Cubs released Joe Maddon's lineup for Game 1 of the National League Division Series against the Washington Nationals Friday night.

The 25-man roster was released earlier on Friday and here's how the Cubs will line up behind Kyle Hendricks as they get set for a showdown with Stephen Strasburg:

1. Ben Zobrist - RF
2. Kris Bryant - 3B
3. Anthony Rizzo - 1B
4. Willson Contreras - C
5. Kyle Schwarber - LF
6. Addison Russell - SS
7. Jason Heyward - CF
8. Javy Baez - 2B
9. Kyle Hendricks - P

Of course, the Bryant-Rizzo-Contreras heart of the order was easy to predict. But the rest of the lineup was up for grabs and it makes sense for Maddon to roll with Russell-Baez manning the middle of the infield.

Heyward playing center is not something Cubs fans have seen much of this season, as he's started just 12 games there and played 89.1 innings at the most demanding outfield postion.

But his presence in center allows the Cubs to get Zobrist in the leadoff spot. Zobrist said he feels the best he's felt all year physically and the reigning World Series MVP is aiming to again make an impact in October.

Schwarber has made it an easy choice to insert him into the lineup, hitting .288 with a .954 OPS, 6 homers and 11 RBI in September. He didn't start or play much during some pivotal games against the Brewers or Cardinals down the stretch, but Schwarber gets his chance now to build on his "Mr. October" legacy.

Here's how Dusty Baker will line the Nationals up against Hendricks:

1. Trea Turner - SS
2. Bryce Harper - RF
3. Anthony Rendon - 3B
4. Daniel Murphy - 2B
5. Ryan Zimmerman - 1B
6. Jayson Werth - LF
7. Matt Wieters - C
8. Michael A. Taylor - CF
9. Stephen Strasburg - P

It appears Baker has realized the error of his ways and has Rendon hitting in the first inning. The NL MVP candidate (.301 average, .937 OPS) spent most of the year hitting lower in the lineup, spending 73 games in the 6-hole and 30 games hitting fifth. He made just nine starts in the No. 2 spot, 15 starts in the 3-hole and 14 starts hitting cleanup.

That first inning for Hendricks will be no picnic with Turner, Harper and Rendon and if anybody gets on, you're pitching to noted Cub Killer Murphy with a runner on base.

The puzzling move here is Baker and the Nationals' decision to go with Werth in the starting lineup. The grizzled veteran is an emotional leader for this team, but he hit just .223 with a .691 OPS against right-handed pitching in 2017, with only 15 extra-base hits in 206 at-bats. 

Adam Lind, meanwhile, has drawn a lot of starts against right-handed pitching for Washington this season and for good reason — he hit .303 with an .898 OPS against righties, crushing 14 homers and 52 RBI in only 238 at-bats.

Hendricks is also tough on righties, holding them to a .639 OPS compared to a .706 mark against lefties.

Cubs continue to bolster bullpen by adding another former Rays pitcher

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USA TODAY

Cubs continue to bolster bullpen by adding another former Rays pitcher

The Cubs have clearly made adding to the pitching staff, and especially the bullpen, a priority in the early part of this offseason.

News broke early on Thursday morning that the Cubs reached an agreement with Steve Cishek.

Cishek is a 31-year-old right-hander who throws with a low arm-slot (see the photo above). He joins the Cubs after he was traded to the Rays just before the trade deadline this past season. He pitched under new Cubs pitching coach Jim Hickey while in Florida.

Cishek gives the Cubs another experienced reliever in the bullpen after the previous additions of Brandon Morrow and Drew Smyly. In eight MLB seasons, Cishek has a 2.73 ERA with 449 strikeouts in 421 2/3 innings. His high strikeout rate should be appealing in addition to the fact that 2017 was arguably the best year of his career.

After joining the Rays, Cishek posted a 1.09 ERA while striking out 26 and walking seven in 24 2/3 innings. His 2.01 ERA in 2017, when combining his numbers with the Mariners before the trade, was the lowest of his career.

The Cubs bullpen may lose its best reliever from 2017 in Wade Davis, but is trying to make up for it in depth. Cishek had career-best numbers across the board (ERA, WHIP, BB/9, H/9) in his two-month stint with Tampa, under Hickey. If Hickey saw something in Cishek that he could improve upon and Cishek delivered, the Cubs could be looking at a strong addition to the 'pen.

CubsTalk Podcast: Dreaming on Christian Yelich and how Boras navigates a slow market

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AP

CubsTalk Podcast: Dreaming on Christian Yelich and how Boras navigates a slow market

Kelly Crull and Tony Andracki discuss the impact of the Marlins' trades and daydream on how Christian Yelich would be a perfect fit atop the Cubs order if Miami ever decided to move him. Plus, where do the Cubs stand with free agent pitchers and is a Wade Davis return still possible?

Crull also chats 1-on-1 with MLB super-agent Scott Boras about Jake Arrieta's value and how to navigate a slow-moving free agent market.

Listen to the entire podcast here: