Cubs

Game 4 postponed to Wednesday: Could postseason rain go against the Cubs this time around?

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USA TODAY

Game 4 postponed to Wednesday: Could postseason rain go against the Cubs this time around?

It’s no longer “if the rain comes,” as the Beatles sang. The rain is here.

What is supposed to be a lengthy downpour throughout the Chicagoland area started Tuesday evening and postponed Game 4 of the NLDS, pushing things back to 3:08 p.m. Wednesday at Wrigley Field. So the Cubs, just a win away from advancing to their third straight NLCS, will have to wait another day to go for a clinch.

But while last fall’s postseason rainstorm was a welcome sight for the Cubs, this time around the inclement weather could wind up going the opposite way for the North Siders.

They seemingly dodged a bullet when Washington Nationals manager Dusty Baker announced that Tanner Roark will still be his team’s starting pitcher for the now-rescheduled Game 4, a surprising move considering Stephen Strasburg — who no-hit the Cubs into the sixth inning in Game 1 of this series — would figure to be ready to go on regular rest.

But with Baker making some comments about Strasburg — and much of his team — being “under the weather” due to changing temperatures inside and outside of their Chicago hotel, apparently the guy who struck out 10 Cubs batters this past Friday isn’t as ready as he seems. That means the Cubs get another crack at a pitcher who while still good isn’t the elite arm that Strasburg is.

Still, the nearly 24-hour shift in Game 4’s start time could have drastic effects on the remainder of the series.

The Cubs had seemingly all the momentum after winning Game 3 in thrilling fashion on Tuesday, momentum that now comes to a screeching halt, not all that dissimilar from the ceasing of the Cleveland Indians’ roll during last fall’s World Series. After Rajai Davis’ home run threw a wrench into Game 7, Jason Heyward’s clubhouse speech became a legendary moment in Cubs lore. This time, it’s the Cubs who have to sit and cool off while waiting for weather to pass.

The Nationals, meanwhile, get time to try and warm up their bats. Joe Maddon, like his counterpart in the opposite dugout, is sticking with his scheduled starter and will throw Jake Arrieta in Game 4 on Wednesday as he planned to do Tuesday. An argument could be made that the Cubs could have turned to their Game 1 starter after how magnificent Kyle Hendricks was in Washington. But the Cubs are equally confident in Arrieta to go out and get the job done as he battles back from his hamstring issue.

“Listen, Jake's really primed for this opportunity,” Maddon said before the rains came Tuesday. “He's done a great job of rehabbing his leg. He feels very good arm- and leg-wise right now. I'm real eager to watch him play.

“I just feel good about where Jake is right now physically and mentally, because he is. He's mentioned how great his arm feels, also, based on the rest, too. So you have the combination of resting his arm, resting his leg.”

But if the slowed momentum means the Cubs don’t win Game 4 on Wednesday, this series could dramatically swing, not just because Strasburg would await in Game 5 but because the Cubs could see another unfriendly pitcher on the mound in Max Scherzer. Scherzer took a no-hitter into the seventh in Monday’s Game 3, and he vowed to be available to pitch out of the bullpen in Game 5. So if the Cubs drop Game 4, then Game 5 becomes a tall task with the Nationals’ top two pitchers waiting.

So while rain worked in the Cubs’ favor last postseason, this time around, rain could make things a lot tougher.

The rain has come. And we only have to wait a day to find out what kind of effect it will have.

Cubs Talk Podcast: Discussing 5-man unit and where Montgomery fits into Cubs' plans

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USA TODAY

Cubs Talk Podcast: Discussing 5-man unit and where Montgomery fits into Cubs' plans

Jon Lester has arrived at Cubs camp, and he’s pleased with the new-look rotation full of potential aces. Kelly Crull and Vinnie Duber discuss the 5-man unit, and where Mike Montgomery fits into the Cubs’ plans.

Plus, Kelly and Vinnie talk Jason Heyward and Kyle Schwarber, along with the continuing free agent stalemate surrounding Jake Arrieta.

Listen to the full Cubs Talk Podcast right here:

Jon Lester sounds the alarm baseball's lack of free-agent spending this winter

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USA TODAY

Jon Lester sounds the alarm baseball's lack of free-agent spending this winter

MESA, Ariz. — Spring training is no longer some upcoming deadline. Spring training is here.

And still there are dozens of free agents without jobs, including some of the bigger names in the game, guys like Jake Arrieta, J.D. Martinez, Eric Hosmer and plenty of others.

The reasons behind this inactive offseason have been written about ad nauseam. But to the players themselves, as Jon Lester put it, it’s just alarming.

“It’s crazy,” Lester said, talking at length about the situation Friday at Cubs camp. “I kind of thought once February hit, it would be kind of a mass signing, that guys would sign in that first week and we really wouldn’t talk about it anymore. But obviously that’s not the case.

“I don’t know what’s going on. I don’t know behind closed doors what’s being said, what’s been said. It’s just alarming, that’s kind of how I look at it. We’re not talking about middle relievers with 5.00 ERAs. We’re talking about big guys. We’re talking about guys that need to be playing. It’s alarming. Hopefully we can get this thing figured out and get these guys a team relatively soon.”

The Cubs have made plenty of moves this offseason, making the league-wide situation seem like it might not apply to the North Siders. After all, the Cubs have been the ones to hand out the two biggest pitching contracts of the winter, first to Tyler Chatwood and then to Yu Darvish earlier this week.

But the affected parties are closer to home than it might seem, with Arrieta being perhaps the biggest unsigned name out there. It would be completely unforeseen if Arrieta returned to the Cubs after the Darvish signing locked the rotation into place for the foreseeable future. But the topic of where one of the biggest parts of the team’s three-year playoff stretch might land continues to be a big one in Cub World. Tommy La Stella spoke about it earlier Friday. Then it was Lester’s turn.

“I would imagine (Arrieta is frustrated), yeah. He doesn’t have a job,” Lester said. “This is what we do. So I can only imagine what those guys are going through probably emotionally and physically, too. If they do a free-agent camp, if they don’t, whatever, you’re physically behind the 8-ball when you come back. You’ve got to get to know your new teammates or even just settle into a team that you were with. It’s alarming. I don’t understand it. Selfishly, I’m glad I’m not in that situation. But for those guys, it’s got to be hard.”

Lester continued to hit home that he had no insider information, but he came to the same conclusions many have, that next winter’s free-agent bonanza starring Bryce Harper, Manny Machado, potentially Clayton Kershaw and a host of other All-Star caliber players is having a big effect this winter. And he also made an understated finger-point at the owners, talking about teams’ unwillingness to spend on free agents like they have in every offseason prior.

The caveat with that, of course, is that it’s Lester’s team that has potentially set the trend that player agents have been complaining about. Not the one of refusing to spend — Lester, Jason Heyward, Ben Zobrist and Darvish have big paychecks from the Ricketts family — but the trend of a total teardown rebuild. Theo Epstein’s front office committed to multiple years of losing in order to produce this current team, one of the best in baseball for the past three seasons with no sign of slowing down, using top draft picks to build the core.

“There’s too many good players out there that don’t have teams, you’re kind of scratching your head on why,” Lester said. “I think each individual year is different, it’s just like the season. I know people have kind of downplayed it, but you’ve got next year, as well. Big class that’s coming out. I would imagine that has something to do with it, teams trying to set themselves up to be able to spend next year on those guys. But at the same time, it screws the guys that are going through it now.

“There’s no reason why Jake Arrieta or J.D. Martinez or any of these guys should have to sign a one-year deal. That’s ridiculous. There’s too much money in the game. It’s going up, our game’s not suffering at all. There’s money there to be spent, and for whatever reason it’s not being spent.

“The money that’s being made on the other side in this game, absolutely (I could foresee a $400 million contract next winter). I think people are forgetting where a lot of that money is actually going to. It’s there to be spent, and it’s not being spent right now.”

The unpredictability of the offseason signals that the upcoming months will be unpredictable, as well. Who knows when Arrieta and the other jobless players will sign? As Lester mentioned, those guys are already behind schedule. And while they’re surely working out and keeping their bodies in shape, it’s tough to sign a contract in March or April or May or June and instantly hit the ground running with a new team.

So while baseball season is indeed underway in Arizona and Florida, there’s still a lot of uncertainty about how the season will play out — because some of its main characters have yet to receive their roles.