The state of Jake Arrieta, Max Scherzer and Cubs’ playoff pitching plans


The state of Jake Arrieta, Max Scherzer and Cubs’ playoff pitching plans

WASHINGTON – The Cubs and Washington Nationals spent years building toward this moment, making shrewd draft picks, engineering big trades and signing free-agent stars, but now it could all hinge on two hamstrings.

The Cubs at least know that their lineup won’t face Max Scherzer twice in this best-of-five National League Division Series, with Washington starting lefty Gio Gonzalez in Saturday’s Game 2 at Nationals Park and pushing their two-time Cy Young Award winner back to Monday’s Game 3 at Wrigley Field.

Assuming the “tweak” in Scherzer’s right leg doesn’t completely shackle his violent delivery and drain the power from his push-off leg and turn Washington’s dream season into a nightmare.

Jake Arrieta had a 26-day head start on Scherzer when he suffered a Grade 1 hamstring strain on Labor Day and the Cubs still felt the best move would be holding their Cy Young Award winner back for an if-necessary Game 4 next week.    

“Honestly, he’s feeling really good,” manager Joe Maddon said Friday. “Everything’s coming up nicely, reports from the doctor, reports from Jake, the training staff. He’s ready for that game. There’s no doubt about that. Something would have to happen between now and then, because as of right now, he feels very good.

“Slow-playing that, regarding getting him back out, might be beneficial to us. We’ll see how it all plays out. But he’s feeling very good right now.”

That uncertainty around Arrieta and the left-handed thump in Washington’s lineup shaped this playoff roster. The Cubs went with 11 pitchers, making veteran starter John Lackey available in case of emergency in a Big Boy Game.

Struggling lefty reliever Justin Wilson bumped Hector Rondon – who never seemed to fully regain Maddon’s trust after last year’s playoffs – because of his status as a trade-deadline addition and numbers against Mr. October Daniel Murphy (0-for-6 with three strikeouts and a walk).

This alignment also allows Maddon to used lefty swingman Mike Montgomery for the best matchups and high-leverage moments.

“I do believe he’s well,” Maddon said of Arrieta. “But if something were to go awry, then you have John, who’s totally stretched out. That’s even like a backup-backup kind of a plan. But it’s really based on the handed-ness of the Nationals and the fact that we like Wilson possibly in different situations. And we really like Montgomery in a lot of situations.

“This is our best guess right now.”

Offseason of change begins with Cubs firing pitching coach Chris Bosio


Offseason of change begins with Cubs firing pitching coach Chris Bosio

"Of course," Cubs manager Joe Maddon said in the middle of the National League Championship Series — he would like his coaches back in 2018. Pitching coach Chris Bosio told the team's flagship radio station this week that the staff expected to return next year. President of baseball operations Theo Epstein didn't go that far during Friday afternoon's end-of-season news conference at Wrigley Field, but he did say: "Rest assured, Joe will have every coach back that he wants back."

That's Cub: USA Today columnist Bob Nightengale first reported Saturday morning that Bosio had been fired, a source confirming the team declined a club contract option for next year and made a major influence on the Wrigleyville rebuild a free agent. Epstein and Bosio did not immediately respond to text messages and the club has not officially outlined the shape of the 2018 coaching staff.

Those exit meetings on Friday at Wrigley Field are just the beginning of an offseason that could lead to sweeping changes, with the Cubs looking to replace 40 percent of their rotation, identify an established closer (whether or not that's Wade Davis), find another leadoff option and maybe break up their World Series core of hitters to acquire pitching. 

The obvious candidate to replace Bosio is Jim Hickey, Maddon's longtime pitching coach with the Tampa Bay Rays who has Chicago roots and recently parted ways with the small-market franchise that stayed competitive by consistently developing young arms like David Price and Chris Archer.

Of course, Maddon denied that speculation during an NLCS where the Los Angeles Dodgers dominated the Cubs in every phase of the game and the manager's bullpen decisions kept getting second-guessed.

Bosio has a big personality and strong opinions that rocked the boat at times, but he brought instant credibility as an accomplished big-league pitcher who helped implement the team's sophisticated game-planning system.

Originally a Dale Sveum hire for the 2012 season/Epstein regime Year 1 where the Cubs lost 101 games, Bosio helped coach up and market short-term assets like Ryan Dempster, Scott Feldman, Matt Garza and Jeff Samardzija. 

Those win-later trades combined with Bosio's expertise led to a 2016 major-league ERA leader (Kyle Hendricks) and a 2015 NL Cy Young Award winner (Jake Arrieta) plus setup guys Pedro Strop and Carl Edwards Jr. and All-Star shortstop Addison Russell.

Bosio helped set the foundation for the group that won last year's World Series and has made three consecutive trips to the NLCS. But as the Cubs are going to find out this winter, there is a shelf life to everything, even for those who made their mark during a golden age of baseball on the North Side.

Report: Cubs fire pitching coach Chris Bosio after six seasons with team


Report: Cubs fire pitching coach Chris Bosio after six seasons with team

In Theo Epstein's end of season press conference on Friday he said that any coach Joe Maddon wants back will return in 2018.

Evidently, there's one coach Maddon didn't want back.

According to USA Today's Bob Nightengale, the Cubs have fired longtime pitching coach Chris Bosio.

Bosio served as the Cubs pitching coach from 2012-17. He was the team's pitching coach under former managers' Dale Sveum (2012-13) and Rick Renteria (2014), and was retained when Maddon was hired as manager of the Cubs in 2015.

Bosio, who is one of the most respected pitching coaches in baseball, was instrumental in the career resurgence of Jake Arrieta who captured the Cy Young award in 2015, and the development of 27-year-old starter Kyle Hendricks (MLB's ERA leader in 2016).

One reason that could've led to Bosio's firing was the pitching staff's control issues during both the regular season and postseason, which Epstein mentioned during Friday's press conference. The Cubs issued the fifth-most walks (554) in the National League during the regular season and the highest total (53) during the postseason.

As the Cubs hit the market for a new pitching coach, Nightengale mentioned that one name that could be on the radar is former Tampa Rays pitching coach Jim Hickey, who parted ways with the organization following the 2017 season.

Hickey served as Maddon's pitching coach in Tampa Bay from 2006-2014.