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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.

Cubs NLCS rotation makes sense, even if it looks weird

Cubs NLCS rotation makes sense, even if it looks weird

The Cubs announced the rest of their rotation for the National League Championship Series during the first couple innings of Game 1 Saturday evening.

While Jose Quintana was dueling against Clayton Kershaw at Dodger Stadium, the Cubs announced Kyle Hendricks would pitch Game 3 and Jake Arrieta will go in Game 4 of the NLCS back at Wrigley Field Tuesday and Wednesday, respectively.

So the NLCS will line up like this:

Game 1: Quintana vs. Kershaw
Game 2: Jon Lester vs. Rich Hill
Game 3: Kyle Hendricks vs. Yu Darvish
Game 4: Jake Arrieta vs. Alex Wood

The Cubs' decision is a bit curious given Arrieta's turn should come after Lester. Hendricks started Game 5 and battled through four innings against the Washington Nationals.

Arrieta also lasted just four innings in his start Wednesday in Game 4 of the NLDS and he looked just a bit off after missing much of the last month with a hamstring issue. 

The move to bump Hendricks over Arrieta makes sense given teams are always trying to find ways to get their best pitchers on the mound as often as possible. It's just foreign to see the only Cy Young Award winner on the staff as the No. 4 starter.

But Tuesday will represent regular rest for Hendricks while Arrieta gets an extra day to give him more time to get back to the guy who went 7-2 with a 1.69 ERA in 11 starts in July and August.

Lester and Quintana are not on regular rest, however, as both pitched in relief in Games 4 and 5 Wednesday and Thursday. Lester tossed 55 pitches out of the bullpen Wednesday but then had Game 5 off to...sit back and relax.

A special bonus of the rotation is Cubs fans are guaranteed to see at least one more Arrieta start at Wrigley Field before he hits free agency this winter.

Swing and a mist: Anthony Rizzo perfectly describes what it's like to hit against Stephen Strasburg

Swing and a mist: Anthony Rizzo perfectly describes what it's like to hit against Stephen Strasburg

Anthony Rizzo's been the king of money quotes so far this postseason.

The face of the franchise can't get no respect, but he certainly has some for Nationals pitcher Stephen Strasburg.

The Washington co-ace absolutely shut down Rizzo and the Cubs offense in Game 4 Wednesday, striking out 12 batters in 7 shutout frames on a windy, wet, frigid night at Wrigley Field.

That ran Strasburg's 2017 NLDS totals to 22 strikeouts in 14 innings, allowing six hits with nary an earned run (both runs in Game 1 were unearned). He also became the third pitcher ever to rack up multiple 10-K appearances in the same Division Series:

That led to an epic response from Rizzo, when a reporter asked this:

"How hard is it to hit Strasburg's change when it's working like that?"

Rizzo paused for a second, collecting his thoughts.

"Probably like you going over to Sluggers and trying to hit," Rizzo smirked. "He throws that fastball and it rises and then that changeup just falls off the planet. It's basically anybody who goes to a batting cage and doesn't know how to hit, that's what it feels like."

Mic. Drop.

Here's how good Strasburg was Wednesday night (courtesy of Baseball Savant):

He generated 22 swings and misses on 106 pitches. Of those, 15 swings and misses came on the 32 changeups he threw.

Strasburg averaged 95.4 mph with his four-seam fastball on the evening, racking up 13 called strikes with that pitch, forcing the Cubs to be aggressive on it.

By comparison, his changeup was coming in at 88.6 mph on average and like Rizzo said, fell off the face of the Earth.

So basically this was Strasburg on a night where gametime temperatures never climbed above 60 degrees and the wind was howling in on a consistent basis:

In the span of just a couple hours, Strasburg went from being called "soft" and having his manhood questioned by Nationals fans in DC to entering the conversation as another Mr. October. 

Strasburg may only have a 1-2 record in his three career postseason starts, but he's surrendered just one earned run in 19 innings (0.47 ERA) with 24 strikeouts and a 0.95 WHIP.