Cubs

Cubs: Joe Maddon believes Pedro Strop can shut down Cardinals

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Cubs: Joe Maddon believes Pedro Strop can shut down Cardinals

ST. LOUIS - Jake Arrieta can't go the distance in every game for the Cubs this postseason.

Joe Maddon and the Cubs aren't going to win it all without relying on the bullpen.

As they proved in the last two head-to-head series in the regular season, this Cubs team can beat the Cardinals.

[RELATED - Heated Cubs-Cardinals rivalry finally gets playoff spotlight]

But can Pedro Strop and the bullpen hold onto leads with the pressure of the playoffs on the line?

Strop's struggles against the Cardinals this season are well-documented; he finished with an 11.05 ERA against St. Louis in 11 games, surrendering nine earned runs in 7.1 innings.

But that doesn't mean Maddon is scared to turn to his top setup man at a time of the year when a bullpen can be the difference between an early exit or an extended run toward a championship.

"I'm not worried [about Strop]," Maddon said Thursday. "I mean that sincerely. The guy's got great stuff. He has had some problems here; I can't deny that.

"But at the end of the day, man, it just takes one really good outing to get you over the top."

Did Strop already have that outing?

The 30-year-old righty posted back-to-back shutout appearances against the Cardinals in mid September, though those games were at Wrigley Field.

[MORE: Showdown with Cardinals: This is why Cubs signed Jon Lester]

At Busch Stadium, Strop has surrendered seven runs and has gotten just six outs in five games.

"There are really good matchups for him vs. this team," Maddon said. "Just gotta go out there and process it slowly and that's what we'll ask him to do.

"But I'm not going to run away from him in this ballpark or against this team if it's the right situation."

Closer Hector Rondon has allowed just one run in eight innings to the Cardinals this season, but Maddon is going to need more than just one guy against the game's only 100-win team and will be without one of the most experienced options out of the bullpen in Jason Motte.

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Motte has been sidelined since late August with a shoulder issue and Maddon said the 33-year-old veteran is not quite ready to return.

"We're still trying to get him ready to be able to pitch for us," Maddon said. "He's not going to be on the roster right now.

"So we're trying to get creative in regards to getting him well and healthy so if we continue, we can make an informed decision whether to use him or get him on the roster or not."

Cubs Talk Podcast: Manny Machado’s value and other Cubs offseason wish list items

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USA TODAY

Cubs Talk Podcast: Manny Machado’s value and other Cubs offseason wish list items

Did Manny Machado’s value take a hit at all after he openly admitted hustling isn’t his “cup of tea”? Our Cubs team (David Kaplan, Kelly Crull, Tony Andracki, Jeff Nelson) debate that, plus the potential fit of Machado or Bryce Harper for the 2019 Cubs and beyond.

The crew also runs down the top items on the Cubs’ offseason wish list – ranging from bullpen help to infield depth to a set leadoff hitter – in what may be the most impactful winter in Theo Epstein’s tenure in Chicago.

Listen to the podcast here or via the embedded player below:

The most underrated storyline of the Cubs offseason

The most underrated storyline of the Cubs offseason

There are plenty of intriguing Cubs storylines to monitor this offseason from their potential pursuit of the big free agents to any other changes that may come to the coaching staff or roster after a disappointing finish to the 2018 campaign.

But there's one question simmering under the radar in Cubs circles when it comes to this winter: How will the team solve the shortstop conundrum?

Just a few years ago, the Cubs had "too many" shortstops. Now, there are several different factors at play here that makes it a convoluted mess.

First: What will the Cubs do with Addison Russell? The embattled shortstop is in the midst of a suspension for domestic violence that will keep him off an MLB diamond for at least the first month of 2019.

Has Russell already played his last game with the Cubs? Will they trade him or send him packing in any other fashion this winter?

Theo Epstein mentioned several times he felt the organization needs to show support to the victim in the matter (Russell's ex-wife, Melisa) but also support for Russell. Does that mean they would keep him a part of the team at least through the early part of 2019?

Either way, Russell's days in Chicago are numbered and his play on the field took another big step back in 2018 as he fought through a hand injury and experienced a major dip in power. With his performance on the field and the off-field issues, it will be hard to justify a contract worth somewhere in the neighborhood of $4 million in his second year of arbitration (prorated, with a month's worth of pay taken out for the suspension).

Even if Russell is on the roster in 2019, Javy Baez is unquestionably the shortstop for at least the first month while Russell is on suspension. 

But what about beyond Baez if the Cubs want to give him a breather or disaster strikes and he's forced to miss time with an injury?

At the moment, there's nothing but question marks on the current Cubs shortstop depth chart throughout the entire organization and they're certainly going to need other options at the most important defensive position (outside of pitcher/catcher). 

There's David Bote, who subbed in for Baez at short once in September when Baez needed a break and Russell was on the disabled list. But while Bote's defense at third base and second base has opened eyes around the Cubs, he has only played 45 games at short across seven minor-league seasons, including 15 games in 2018. There's also the offensive question marks with the rookie, who hit just .176 with a .559 OPS and 40 strikeouts in 108 at-bats after that epic ultimate grand slam on Aug. 12.

The Cubs' other current shortstop options include Mike Freeman (a 31-year-old career minor-leaguer), Ben Zobrist (who will be 38 in 2019 and has played all of 13 innings at shortstop since 2014), Ryan Court (a 30-year-old career minor leaguer) and Chesny Young (a 26-year-old minor-leaguer who has posted a .616 OPS in 201 Triple-A games).

Maybe Joe Maddon would actually deploy Kris Bryant at shortstop in case of emergency like a Baez injury ("necessity is the mother of invention," as Maddon loves to say), but that seems a lot more like a fun talking point than a legit option at this current juncture.

So even if Russell sticks around, there's no way the Cubs can go into the first month of the season with just Baez and Bote as the only shortstop options on a team that with World Series or bust expectations.

The Cubs will need to acquire some shortstop depth this winter in some capacity, whether it's adding to the Triple-A Iowa roster or getting a veteran who can also back up other positions. Right now, the free agent pool of potential shortstops is pretty slim beyond Manny Machado.

Epstein always says he and his front office look to try to mitigate risk and analyze where things could go wrong to sink the Cubs' season and through that lense, shortstop is suddenly right up there behind adding more bullpen help this winter.