Cubs-Pirates: Maddon, Hurdle love the drama of one-game playoff


Cubs-Pirates: Maddon, Hurdle love the drama of one-game playoff

PITTSBURGH — One and done?

After 162 games, the fact the second-best team in baseball is hosting the third-best team in a winner-take-all one-game playoff is unfair, objectively speaking.

Teams with 98 and 97 wins should have earned more than just one night to showcase their team.

But that's the world we live in with Major League Baseball's current wild-card format, and both Cubs manager Joe Maddon and Pittsburgh Pirates manager Clint Hurdle can at least agree to appreciate the drama the one-game playoff brings, even if they wish they had a chance to play in a complete postseason series.

"It's great TV," Hurdle said during his press conference Tuesday. "There'll be a lot of people watching. It's probably a great revenue-maker. You gotta love the concept. It's great sport.

"It's been drawn up; we knew the rules coming in. ... It's the postseason. Only a few teams are in. A lot of teams are going to be left watching."

[MORE CUBS: Joe Maddon is perfect manager at perfect time for Cubs]

Maddon would rather MLB hold a three-game series between the two wild-card teams because he thinks that's the most fair way to do it, but he can still enjoy the do-or-die format.

"The only time you like one and done is when you win that first game," Maddon said. "Then you absolutely love it. ... It's the most fun and no fun at the same time."

Both Maddon and Hurdle acknowledged it would be tough for MLB to keep a division winner waiting for five, six or even seven days in order to play a three-game series between the wild-card teams.

Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein shared his idea with reporters at Wrigley Field earlier this season — a three-game series but the first two games come in the form of a doubleheader to help save time.

Most Cubs players have yet to experience the thrill — and pressure — of a one-game playoff, but the Pirates understand what this is all about, having played in the last two National League wild-card games.

[SHOP CUBS: Buy Cubs playoff gear]

The Pirates beat the Reds in 2013 to advance to the NLDS but lost to Madison Bumgarner and the San Francisco Giants last season.

"The definition of this game is a 'wild-card' game," Hurdle said. "There are some things we're looking at that we need to do differently than we did in the past.

"Maybe there's a little bit of a 'wild-card' mentality for us as well."

Maddon has been in this one-game playoff situation before, too, as manager of the Tampa Bay Rays in 2013.

He refused to share his ideas for the Cubs' lineup against Pirates ace Gerrit Cole, but a reasonable expectation is to have Kris Bryant in left field, Kyle Schwarber in right and Tommy La Stella at third base. That's how they lined up behind Jake Arrieta on Friday in Milwaukee, and both Schwarber and La Stella saw extra work in the field during Tuesday's team workout.

Either way, a Cubs lineup packed with young, inexperienced talent will have to avoid letting the pressure get to them with a Game 7-type atmosphere.

"You're thrown right into the fire," Bryant said. "I really wouldn't have it any other way."

As he decides what's next, it's clear Ben Zobrist has something left in the tank

As he decides what's next, it's clear Ben Zobrist has something left in the tank

When Ben Zobrist rejoined the Cubs active roster on Sept. 1, it was fair to wonder how much he could provide offensively. After all, he spent the previous four months on the restricted list while tending to a family matter, last playing a big-league game on May 6.

Zobrist did no baseball activities from May to mid-July, only working out to stay in shape. Although he eventually ramped things up, he played in just 12 minor league rehab games in August before returning to the Cubs, a small number compared to the length of his absence.

Even Zobrist admitted upon his big-league return that his timing at the plate wasn’t where he wanted it to be. And yet, what he did in September was nothing short of impressive. In 21 games, he posted a .284/.377/.388 slash line, performing at a level many couldn’t have expected, considering the circumstances.

Zobrist's impact on the Cubs' lineup goes beyond what you see in the box score, however. Not only is he a switch hitter with some pop, but he has a keen eye for the strike zone and frequently puts together professional at-bats.

On a Cubs team that tends to expand the zone, Zobrist’s presence mattered. In his second game back, for example, he went 3-for-3 with two walks, helping the Cubs beat the Brewers 10-5. After the game, Brewers starter Chase Anderson pointed out how different the Cubs' lineup looks with Zobrist in it.

"They play the matchups really well and Zobrist makes that team so much better," Anderson said on Sept. 5. "Just bringing his presence to the top of the lineup, it changes their dynamic a little bit."

Where Zobrist stands entering 2020, though, is currently unclear.

Zobrist is set to hit free agency after the World Series and will turn 39 next May. Therefore, it’s possible that he’s played his last game in the big leagues, as he has little, if anything, left to prove at this stage in his career.

Ahead of the Cubs’ season finale on Sept. 29, Zobrist told reporters in St. Louis that he hasn’t thought about how much time he’ll take before deciding what’s next for him. His family situation will obviously play a big role in his decision, but if September showed anything, it's that he still has something left in the tank.

“I’m 38 but I got that feeling all over again,” Zobrist said following the Cubs’ season finale, a 9-0 loss to the Cardinals in which he pitched a scoreless inning. “Just really fun, you know? It’s a fun game. Sometimes you don’t come out on the winning end, but you still gotta have fun with it and enjoy it. I enjoyed it today."

The Cubs roster is expected to undergo changes this offseason, with center field, second base and the leadoff spot being just a few areas the team will look to address. The latter two spots became revolving doors during Zobrist’s absence, as the Cubs struggled to replace what he brought offensively.

Zobrist is past the point in his career of being an everyday player. However, he still could be a useful asset for the Cubs in a supporting role, bringing his veteran approach to the lineup when he plays while still offering an experienced voice in the clubhouse.

“I take a lot of joy in that role, just being a supporting guy and being a part of winning clubs and part of winning atmospheres and cultures,” Zobrist said on Sept. 29. “The Chicago Cubs have been that since I’ve been around. This year we didn’t make the playoffs — we still have a winning record — (but) the kind of relationships that are built here and the culture that’s been built here is definitely a winning one.”

After the Cubs announced that they wouldn’t retain Joe Maddon for 2020, Zobrist acknowledged that more changes were likely coming in the offseason. Only time will tell what that means for the veteran utilityman — should he continue playing.

Whether he retires or joins a different team for 2020, though, Zobrist will look back on his four seasons with the Cubs fondly.

“(They’re) just the most passionate fans I’ve ever met,” he said of Cubs fans. “They’re very loyal, very passionate and it’s been such a pleasure to be a part of that team that beat the curse back in ’16, so I feel that still, when I see Cubs fans, there’s a lot of them that hug me and thank me for being a part of that.

“I’ll always look back at [my] time here — I don’t know what’s going to happen in the offseason — but look back at these four years and [be] very grateful to be able to be part of a group like this and be able to do what we did while I was here.”

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Cubs Talk Podcast: An ode to Joe Maddon and looking to the next era

USA Today

Cubs Talk Podcast: An ode to Joe Maddon and looking to the next era

On the latest Cubs Talk Podcast, Tony Andracki, Kelly Crull, Scott Changnon and Jeff Nelson give us their memories of Joe Maddon's time with the Cubs and discuss David Ross and Joe Espada's candidacy to be the next manager.

01:30 Kelly's memories of Joe from the perspective of a reporter

06:00 Going back to Hazleton with Joe

07:45 Joe's legacy as manager of the Cubs

16:00 How Joe impacted Javy Baez' career

18:00 David Ross and Joe Espada may be the leaders to replace Joe Maddon.

Listen here or via the embedded player below:


Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream Cubs games easily on your device.