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.”

Scouting the Cubs' competition: Can anybody dethrone the Dodgers?


Scouting the Cubs' competition: Can anybody dethrone the Dodgers?

The expectations couldn't be any higher for the 2018 Chicago Cubs. 

It's 2016 all over again. The goal isn't just a trip to the playoffs or another NL pennant. It's World Series or bust for this group of North Siders.

With that, let's take a look at all of the teams that could stand in the way of the Cubs getting back to the Fall Classic:

Los Angeles Dodgers

2017 record: 104-58, 1st place in NL West

Offseason additions: Matt Kemp, Scott Alexander, Brian Schlitter (former Cub still in the league), Pat Venditte (switch-pitcher), Hamlet Marte (only included because his name is "Hamlet")

Offseason departures: Yu Darvish, Brandon Morrow, Tony Watson, Adrian Gonzalez, Curtis Granderson, Andre Ethier, Franklin Gutierrez, Scott Van Slyke, Brandon McCarthy, Luis Avilan, Scott Kazmir

X-factor: Chris Taylor/Alex Wood

Cheating a bit here and going with two guys.

Wood has been a very good and very underrated pitcher for his entire career, but he also has struggled to stay healthy. He made just 27 appearances (25 starts) last season and has pitched more than 172 innings in a season just once (2015).

Wood has a career 3.20 ERA and led the league in winning percentage last season after going 16-3. We all know Clayton Kershaw is the best pitcher on the planet (again, when healthy), but if Wood can take the ball every fifth day, it takes so much pressure off Kershaw and makes the Dodgers that much more formidable.

Taylor came from out of absolutely nowhere last year to turn in a heck of a season - .288/.354/.496 slash line, 21 HR, 72 RBI, 85 R, 17 SB - and sat atop the Dodgers order as they marched all the way to Game 7 of the World Series. 

The power was a huge surprise, but he's always had speed, hit for a high average and drawn walks, so if the power plays again, he's a huge weapon, especially with Justin Turner down with a wrist injury now. And the power actually looks legit after a swing and philosophy change.

Projected lineup

1. Chris Taylor - CF
2. Corey Seager - SS
3. Cody Bellinger - 1B
4. Yasiel Puig - RF
5. Yasmani Grandal - C
6. Joc Pederson - LF
7. Logan Forsythe - 3B
8. Chase Utley - 2B

Projected rotation

1. Clayton Kershaw
2. Alex Wood
3. Kenta Maeda
4. Rich Hill
5. Hyun-jin Ryu


Turner's broken wrist is a huge blow to the Dodgers before the season has even begun, especially when he's suddenly like the best right-handed hitter on the planet not named Mike Trout or Kris Bryant. 

Turner was always a solid utility player for the Mets but not much of a hitter (.696 OPS in 301 games with the Mets). In L.A., however, Turner has an .881 OPS in four years, including an incredible .945 OPS in 2017.

He's the anchor of their lineup and any time he misses is a big loss. But this Dodgers team is so talented around him that they'll be fine getting into the playoffs. Turner was bound to miss time anyways - he's played in more than 130 games in a season just once in his career.

The only thing that could slow this team down would be more injuries, especially if Kershaw's balky back rears its ugly head again. 

This may be the most talented roster in the National League (once Turner returns), so even in an NL West where four teams may be competing for the division title, the Dodgers should take the cake once again.

But will they have enough left in the tank to get past the Cubs or Nationals to represent the NL in the World Series once again?

Prediction: 1st in NL West

Complete opposition research

Los Angeles Dodgers
San Francisco Giants
Arizona Diamondbacks
Colorado Rockies
San Diego Padres

Here are the sharp holiday and special event uniforms that the Cubs will be rocking this season


Here are the sharp holiday and special event uniforms that the Cubs will be rocking this season

MLB will once again commemorate several holidays and special events during the 2018 season.

Monday, the league revealed the uniforms teams will don on Jackie Robinson Day, Mother's Day, Father's Day, and during Memorial Day weekend and Independence Day weekend.

The Cubs' regular uniforms are great, of course, but their special event uniforms are solid as well. Take a look:

Not too shabby, eh? In addition to the special caps and jerseys, MLB teams will be rocking unique socks and patches for each occasion. A complete collection of the uniforms can be found here.