Cubs

Stephen Strasburg starting for Nationals, here's the Cubs' Game 4 lineup

Stephen Strasburg starting for Nationals, here's the Cubs' Game 4 lineup

It’s official: Stephen Strasburg is starting Game 4.

A win away from advancing to their third straight NLCS, the Cubs put their lineup out shortly after 10 a.m., just about five hours before the scheduled start time of 3:08 p.m. at Wrigley Field.

But then came the reports that the Washington Nationals could be pulling a fast one, swapping out scheduled starter Tanner Roark — who was supposed to pitch Tuesday — in favor of Strasburg, the elite arm who mostly dominated the Cubs in Game 1 of this series and is now on regular rest thanks to Tuesday’s rainout.

The Nationals made the move official right before noon, forcing the Cubs to alter their lineup.

Here’s what it looks like now:

1. Jon Jay, CF
2. Kris Bryant, 3B
3. Anthony Rizzo, 1B
4. Willson Contreras, C
5. Ben Zobrist, LF
6. Addison Russell, SS
7. Jason Heyward, RF
8. Javy Baez, 2B
9. Jake Arrieta, P

Only three Cubs got hits off Strasburg in Game 1. Strasburg took a no-hitter into the sixth inning of that game and wound up striking out 10 batters. Bryant and Rizzo had back-to-back hits to score the game’s first run, and Russell singled in Strasburg’s final inning of work.

Kyle Schwarber was initially announced as a member of Game 4’s starting nine, but he’s out of the lineup against Strasburg. Despite that defensive disaster in left field in Game 3, he turned in a .457 slugging percentage against right-handed pitching during the regular season. But Maddon is opting for Heyward instead with some less-than-ideal field conditions at the Friendly Confines. Heyward has also put up strong numbers in his career against Strasburg, with a slash line of .405/.463/.595 in 37 at-bats. Zobrist, who led off and went hitless against Strasburg in Game 1, is batting fifth, the same place he was when he broke up Max Scherzer’s no-hit bid in game 3 on Monday.

How good Arrieta will be is still a bit of a mystery given his hamstring issues at season's end. How good Scherzer was could help ease concerns, as the Nationals' ace had his own, much more recent hamstring "tweak" and still managed to be nearly unhittable in Game 3. Arrieta hasn't pitched since a brief three-inning outing against the St. Louis Cardinals on Sept. 26 and logged just 10.1 innings of work during the month of September while bothered by the injury.

Of particular interest will be how Arrieta handles the Nationals on the base paths. You'll remember that June start in Washington, a 6-1 loss for the Cubs, when the Nationals stole seven bases — including four alone by shortstop Trea Turner — prompting critical postgame comments from Miguel Montero, who was off the team the following day. Turner hasn't done much of anything in this series, 0-for-12 heading into Game 4, but should he get on base, he could create some headaches for Arrieta.

And, to throw one more wrinkle into this whole thing, it’s possible that Scherzer, who started Game 3 two days ago and is dealing with injury issues, could be available to pitch out of the bullpen with his team’s season on the line.

Here’s what the Nationals’ lineup looks like:

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

Much like he did Tuesday, Dusty Baker mixed up his batting order a bit while keeping the same starting eight position players. Werth gets moved up to the No. 2 spot, while Harper, Zimmerman, Murphy and Rendon get bumped down, Rendon is moved down from third to sixth. That’s the batting order the Nationals had for their most productive portion of the season prior to Harper’s injury.

The Nationals have had a ton of trouble hitting Cubs pitching in this series, getting just one earned run and six hits off the three starters. They're just 11-for-91 in the first three games of this series, and three players — Zimmerman, Harper and Taylor — account for seven of those hits. Zimmerman and Taylor are the only players with NLDS batting averages above .200.

Harper, Murphy and Rendon have had success against Arrieta during their careers, with a combined 14 hits in 53 plate appearances. Murphy, Werth and Adam Lind are the three Nationals with home runs against Arrieta.

The whole dynamic of this series has changed with the Strasburg-related drama Wednesday morning.

Buckle up for Game 4.

Andre Dawson reportedly about to rejoin Cubs organization

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USA TODAY

Andre Dawson reportedly about to rejoin Cubs organization

Andre Dawson is about to get a welcome back to Sweet Home Chicago.

The Hall of Famer is reportedly about to rejoin the Cubs organization in some capacity, according to a Monday-morning tweet from USA Today's Bob Nightengale.

Nightengale didn't specify what Dawson's role will be, but the former Cubs outfielder has plenty of front-office and organizational experience after spending years with the Florida/Miami Marlins.

According to NBC Sports Chicago's Patrick Mooney, Dawson figures to have a role similar to that of Ryne Sandberg, his former teammate, as an ambassador of sorts and that Dawson is not coming back for a coaching job.

Dawson spent 21 seasons in the big leagues, six of those on the North Side. He was named to the National League All-Star team in five of those six seasons and won the NL MVP as a Cub in 1987.

Dawson went into the Hall of Fame in 2010, though he's sporting a Montreal Expos hat on his plaque after playing 11 seasons north of the border.

His longtime ties to the Marlins organization started when he spent the final two seasons of his career in Florida, appearing in 121 games for the Fish in 1995 and 1996. His relationship with that organization lasted until this year's ownership change.

There's no doubt that Dawson will be happily welcomed back to Chicago, both by the Cubs and by Cubs fans, no matter what his new position entails.

Why did Kris Bryant get a first-place vote in this year's National League MVP balloting?

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USA TODAY

Why did Kris Bryant get a first-place vote in this year's National League MVP balloting?

Kris Bryant was the 2016 National League MVP. And despite having what could be considered an even better campaign this past season, he finished seventh in voting for the 2017 edition of the award.

The NL MVP was awarded to Miami Marlins outfielder Giancarlo Stanton on Thursday night, a fine choice, though it was nearly impossible to make a poor choice, that's how many fantastic players there were hitting the baseball in the NL this season.

After Stanton, Cinicinnati Reds first baseman Joey Votto finished second, earning the same amount of first-place votes and losing out to Stanton by just one point. Then came Arizona Diamondbacks first baseman Paul Goldschmidt, Colorado Rockies third baseman Nolan Arenado, Rockies outfielder Charlie Blackmon and Washington Nationals third baseman Anthony Rendon ahead of Bryant.

But there was someone who thought Bryant deserved to repeat as the NL MVP. Yes, Bryant earned a first-place vote — as did everyone else mentioned besides Rendon, for that matter — causing a bit of a social-media stir considering the Cubs third baseman, despite his great season, perhaps wasn't as standout a candidate as some of the other guys who finished higher in the voting.

So the person who cast that first-place vote for Bryant, MLB.com's Mark Bowman, wrote up why he felt Bryant deserved to hoist the Kenesaw Mountain Landis Memorial Baseball Award for the second straight year.

"In the end, I chose Bryant because I believe he made the greatest impact, as his second-half production fueled the successful turnaround the Cubs experienced after the All-Star break," Bowman wrote.

"Though I don't believe the MVP must come from a playoff contender, in an attempt to differentiate the value provided by each of these three players (Bryant, Votto and Stanton), I chose to reward the impact made by Bryant, who produced the NL's fourth-best OPS (.968) after the All-Star break, when the Cubs distanced themselves from a sub-.500 record and produced an NL-best 49 wins."

It's easy for Cubs fans and observers to follow that logic, as the Cubs took off after the All-Star break following a disappointing first half. As good as Bryant was all season long, his second-half numbers, as Bowman pointed out, were especially great. He hit .325 with a .421 on-base percentage and a .548 slugging percentage over his final 69 games of the regular season, hitting 11 home runs, knocking out 21 doubles and driving in 35 runs during that span.

Perhaps the craziest thing about this year's MVP race and Bryant's place in it is that Bryant was just as good if not better than he was in 2016, when he was almost unanimously named the NL MVP. After slashing .292/.385/.554 with 39 homers, 102 RBIs, 35 doubles, 75 walks and 154 strikeouts in 2016, Bryant slashed .295/.409/.537 with 29 homers, 73 RBIs, 38 doubles, 95 walks and 128 strikeouts in 2017.

Of course, the competition was much steeper this time around. But Bryant was given the MVP award in 2016 playing for a 103-win Cubs team that was bursting with offensive firepower, getting great seasons from Anthony Rizzo (who finished third in 2016 NL MVP voting), as well as Dexter Fowler and Ben Zobrist. While the Cubs actually scored more runs this season and undoubtedly turned it on after the All-Star break on a team-wide basis, Bryant was far and away the best hitter on the team in 2017, with many other guys throughout the lineup having notably down years and/or experiencing down stretches throughout the season. Hence, making Bryant more, say it with me, valuable.

So Bowman's argument about Bryant's impact on the Cubs — a team that still scored 822 runs, won 92 games and advanced to the National League Championship Series — is a decently convincing one.

Check out Bowman's full explanation, which dives into some of Bryant's advanced stats.