Cubs

Cubs give sneak preview of Game 1 lineup as playoff picture comes into focus

Cubs give sneak preview of Game 1 lineup as playoff picture comes into focus

CINCINNATI – Joe Maddon couldn’t maintain a poker face and hide his smirk when asked if there’s a very good chance that this will be the Game 1 playoff lineup for the Cubs.

“There’s a shot,” Maddon said Saturday afternoon at Great American Ball Park as reporters started laughing. “I’m not a cloak-and-dagger guy.”

Reading the manager’s body language, how the Cubs aligned against the Cincinnati Reds will likely be the group that runs out to thunderous cheers on Oct. 7 at Wrigley Field and faces the National League’s wild-card winner:

1. Dexter Fowler, CF

2. Kris Bryant, LF

3. Anthony Rizzo, 1B

4. Ben Zobrist, 2B

5. Addison Russell, SS

6. Jason Heyward, RF

7. Javier Baez, 3B

8. David Ross, C

9. Jon Lester, P

• The NL playoff picture is coming into focus, with the New York Mets clinching a wild-card spot and home-field advantage while the San Francisco Giants stayed one game ahead of the St. Louis Cardinals. Beat the Los Angeles Dodgers on Sunday at AT&T Park and the even-year Giants are in the playoffs. San Francisco’s worst-case scenario is a Game 163 on Monday at Busch Stadium.

The Cubs upgraded their lineup after getting exposed during the NL Championship Series last October, investing more than $250 million in Fowler, Zobrist and Heyward and seeing tremendous year-over-year improvements from young All-Stars like Bryant, Rizzo and Russell. 

If the Cubs meet the Mets again, they won’t have to face Matt Harvey, Jacob deGrom or Steven Matz, who’ve all undergone season-ending surgeries, perhaps paying the price for last year’s NL pennant.

“It’s an entirely different look for them right now,” Maddon said. “They’re using a lot of young guys right now that are really (working) for them. But any team that’s going to make it in there – the pitching’s going to be pretty good, regardless.

“They were extremely, incredibly hot when we saw them. Their command last year – with the weather conditions on top of it – I was baffled by it, by how well that they threw and what kind of command that they had in really extreme conditions in New York. So you got to give a lot of credit.”

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• Jorge Soler didn’t look comfortable hitting in ice-cold weather – who does? – but he’s a physical presence who made his mark in last year’s playoffs. Two MRIs on his right side have come back clean, yet he’s only felt good enough to have four at-bats within the last two weeks.

Soler took batting practice before Saturday’s 7-4 loss to the Reds and could make an appearance in Game 162. All this makes him an X-factor after he crushed St. Louis pitching last October, setting a major-league record by getting on base in his first nine career postseason plate appearances.

“The lineup presents differently with him in it,” Maddon said. “He’s definitely a force. He’s absolutely an offensive force. You play him for seven innings, grab a lead and get him out on defense. That’s the optimal situation.”

Cubs Talk Podcast: David Bote’s wild ride and a huge test for Cubs pitchers

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USA TODAY

Cubs Talk Podcast: David Bote’s wild ride and a huge test for Cubs pitchers

Kelly Crull and Tony Andracki break down the Cubs’ series win over the Diamondbacks at Wrigley Field, which capped off with yet another David Bote walk-off and a surprising performance from Tyler Chatwood. They also break down where this Cubs team is at as they get set to welcome the high-powered Dodgers offense into Chicago later in the week.

:30 – The Kelly Effect

1:00 – David Bote’s wild ride

2:00 – El Mago’s magic pays off for Cubs yet again

3:30 – Bote’s adjustments

6:40 – Chatwood’s big day

8:50 – What’s next for Chatwood?

10:10 – Lester’s return is right around the corner

11:30 – Cubs pitching firing on all cylinders

12:00 – Did Kap jinx Strop?

13:30 – Dodgers pose a big challenge for Cubs pitching staff

Listen to the full episode in the embedded player below:

Add another chapter to David Bote's incredible story

Add another chapter to David Bote's incredible story

David Bote had to be feeling like the luckiest guy on Earth.

The Cubs were humming along in their quickest game of the season and two outs away from a 1-0 victory on a picture-perfect Easter Sunday at Wrigley Field. That was good news for him, because he had a flight to catch — doctors were inducing his wife, Rachel, and she was going to be giving birth to their third child that night.

Then Bote watched as Arizona's light-hitting outfielder Jarrod Dyson — he of 16 homers in 744 career games coming into the afternoon — sent a Pedro Strop pitch into the right-field bleachers in the top of the ninth inning to extend the game.

So Bote took things into his own hands.

Javy Baez led off the Cubs' half of the ninth with a double down the right field line, advanced to third on an error and then Willson Contreras was plunked by Diamondbacks reliever Archie Bradley.

Up stepped Bote, who watched a curve for Ball 1 and then narrowly got out of the way of a 95 mph fastball ticketed for his left temple. Bradley came back with a curve for a strike and Bote knew what to look for, waiting on another curveball and hammering it through the drawn-in infield for the Cubs' 10th win of the season. 

Minutes later, Bote had bolted out of Wrigley Field, heading back home to Colorado for the birth of Baby No. 3.

Speaking of which, Bote's walk-off hit Sunday came exactly 36 weeks (a little over eight months) after his ultimate grand slam to beat the Washington Nationals...

"It's a grand slam baby and now it's another walk-off for him," teammate Anthony Rizzo joked.

This is just the latest chapter in the incredible story of Bote, an 18th-round draft pick who endured seven seasons in the minor leagues before being called up to the majors. He doesn't even have a full year of service time in "The Show" yet, but he's already proven he belongs and carved out a permanent spot on the roster before signing a 5-year, $15 million extension earlier this month.

"From the homer last year, there was a lot of pressure and he slowed everything down," Baez said. "He just keeps getting better and he knows he's got talent and he can do it. He's got a lot of confidence coming off the bench and he's been huge for this team."

This was Bote's 42nd career RBI and it was already his 4th walk-off RBI. That means nearly 10 percent of his career RBI have come via walk-off situation.

"It's nice. He's had experience early [in those situations]," Rizzo said. "You can't teach that. He's had a lot of situations like that and he's come through. It's fun to watch."

This was only the 10th start of the season for Bote in the Cubs' 20th game, but he's found a way to stay sharp. 

After his 2-hit game Sunday, he's now slashing .295/.380/.455 on the season and showing off the adjustments he's made after hitting just .176 with a .559 OPS after that ultimate grand slam last year.

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