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Offseason of change begins with Cubs firing pitching coach Chris Bosio

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USA TODAY

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.

Why Max Scherzer is confident he's in good enough shape to throw 100 pitches in Game 3

Why Max Scherzer is confident he's in good enough shape to throw 100 pitches in Game 3

Max Scherzer needed to reach a threshold to feel confident he could pitch deep into Game 3 of the National League Division Series on Monday afternoon.

Despite suffering a right hamstring tweak in his final regular season start on Sept. 30, the Washington Nationals pitcher said Sunday that he’d previously felt good enough to be able to pitch earlier in the series. It was simply a matter of how long he could go.

But after Sunday’s throwing session at Wrigley Field, Scherzer said a modified workout program consisting of endurance exercises has him feeling so good that he’s already considered the possibility of pitching in Game 5 if needed.

“I’m very confident as soon as I toe the rubber that, hey, I’m going to be good on pitch one,” Scherzer said. “It’s how long can I go without re-injuring this.

“That’s where we’ve done everything we can to make sure that I can throw 100 pitches and not have this happen. When I get on the mound (Monday), I’m fully anticipating being able throw 100 pitches.”

“I’m feeling a lot better. I feel strong.”

Scherzer’s confidence about his readiness doesn’t stop at Monday’s critical matchup against Cubs starter Jose Quintana. The five-time All-Star and two-time Cy Young winner said that part of the decision-making process included the possibility about returning in a potential Game 5 relief effort.

[MORE: Jose Quintana has a plan to combat excitement in postseason debut

Rather than push to pitch in Game 2 on Saturday, Scherzer talked to the Nationals training staff about the benefit of a Game 3 appearance. Moving to a Game 3 start allowed for two more days of building up strength. It also still affords him enough time to recuperate in case the Game 5 scenario arose.

“It was a process of going through every scenario and weight the risk versus the reward,” Scherzer said. “We kind of ran down every scenario of what a five-game series looks like and tried to make the best decision possible for the club.”

Scherzer said he and the Nationals training staff identified the weak part of his hamstring and worked to strengthen it. A portion of Scherzer’s recovery program included running distance, pole-to-pole and sprints.

In spite of the pitcher’s confidence, manager Dusty Baker said he’ll keep a close eye on Scherzer.

“I’m going to be looking for any difference or change of arm angles or if he winces or whatever,” Baker said. “We just have to keep an eye on him and you don’t want him to favor that and end up hurting his arm or something. You know, his career is primary to any of this.”

Scherzer identified his hamstring as an “ailment” instead of an injury. He’s had several minor bumps and bruises in what he described as a frustrating season. Still, he’s worked his way into a confident spot. If that weren’t enough, Bryce Harper and Ryan Zimmerman provided a little more motivation with their late-inning thunder on Saturday night.

“That was a crazy eighth inning for us,” Scherzer said. “Guys had a little bounce in their step today.”

Wade Davis is the big-game hunter Cubs need now - and maybe in the future

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USA TODAY

Wade Davis is the big-game hunter Cubs need now - and maybe in the future

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – The origin story of Wade Davis transforming into a dominant closer goes back several years ago and involves a black bear on Canadian hunting grounds about 90 minutes outside of Toronto.

This is the rare animal that didn’t make the video tribute the Tampa Bay Rays cut for Cubs manager Joe Maddon when their ex-zookeeper returned this week to Tropicana Field. But if Davis could stay cool facing a 300-something-pound beast, Maddon reasoned, then a late-inning jam shouldn’t seem so daunting.

“You don’t get much reaction from Wade,” Dave Martinez, Maddon’s longtime bench coach, said on the Cubs Talk podcast. “What you see is what you get. I (asked): ‘Hey, I got a place to go bear hunting, you guys want to go?’

“If you can imagine (Wade) and Jeff Niemann — Jeff Niemann’s 6-10 — they sat up in a tree stand. They saw a black bear come out and he shot it. I wish we had the video. The video’s floating around somewhere.

“We were just talking about it the other day. (Former Rays travel director) Jeff Ziegler went with us, too, and he never did get his bear rug. And he got a little bent out of shape about it.”

Martinez doesn’t know where that trophy wound up. But Davis remains the big-game hunter the Cubs need now — and maybe for the future.

“I’m not thinking past the next two weeks, honestly,” team president Theo Epstein said. “It’s bad form to be talking about offseason stuff at this time of the year.

“He’s had a great year. He’s been perfect in save situations. He’s been a leader out there. Any team would love to have him. But we’re not into the winter yet.”

Are the Cubs willing to pay the price for an All-Star, World-Series-tested closer? Can they afford not to?

Epstein’s front office has been philosophically opposed to making long-term investments in closers. But the Cubs are running out of young hitters to trade for short-term fixes, shipping an elite prospect (Gleyber Torres) to the New York Yankees in last summer’s blockbuster Aroldis Chapman deal and getting Davis by moving a diminishing asset (Jorge Soler) to the Kansas City Royals in a winter-meetings swap.

The Cubs also haven’t seen that alternative ninth-inning solution organically develop this season. It’s hard to picture the Cubs just handing Carl Edwards Jr. the closer’s job heading into his second full season in the big leagues. Pedro Strop also looks more like a very good setup guy than a first-choice candidate to be the 2018 closer.

Justin Wilson (5.79 ERA) hasn’t distinguished himself since coming over from the Detroit Tigers at the July 31 trade deadline, the Cubs now using the lefty reliever in low-leverage/mop-up situations to help restore his game. Hector Rondon — who has 77 saves in a Cubs uniform and a checkered medical history — is dealing with right elbow inflammation.

All those moving pieces make Davis (32-for-32 in save chances) an anchor heading into the four-game showdown against the Milwaukee Brewers that begins Thursday night at Miller Park, where Jake Arrieta will be making his first start since straining his right hamstring on Labor Day and limited to 75-80 pitches.

The Cubs have a 3.5-game lead on a Brewers team that hasn’t gone away yet and a single-digit magic number (eight) to clinch the National League Central. Maddon has already signaled that he will deploy Davis for multiple innings when necessary.

“It’s a good feeling to know that he can do it,” Martinez said. “But all in all, you still have to have these other guys contribute, which they have, and get all the bullpen onboard.

“Now each moment is critical and moving forward they’re going to be put in some pretty tough situations. Each one of them has to step up and do their jobs.

“Do we count on Wade? Absolutely. But we also count on these other guys to go out there and perform.”

During the All-Star festivities in Miami, Davis said “some of that seems unrealistic” when asked about the massive free-agent contracts the Yankees and Los Angeles Dodgers gave Chapman (five years, $86 million) and Kenley Jansen (five years, $80 million) last winter.

But this October will be another huge platform for Davis, who said it already felt like that all season at Wrigley Field.

“Every game, there’s always a constant buzz here,” Davis said. “They’re into it. They’re getting loud. It’s a great atmosphere all year long.”