CINCINNATI – The best-case scenario for the Cubs is Jake Arrieta throwing nine innings and shutting down the Pittsburgh Pirates in a one-game playoff.
Arrieta has emerged as a leading candidate for the National League Cy Young Award, going 15-1 with a 0.89 ERA while putting together 19 consecutive quality starts. The Pirates have scored three earned runs against Arrieta in 36 innings this year.
But the Cubs have to prepare for a worst-case scenario on Oct. 7, which means Jon Lester could be on the wild-card roster for a next-man-up situation.
“Of course,” manager Joe Maddon said before Tuesday’s 4-1 win over the Cincinnati Reds at Great American Ball Park. “We haven’t decided (anything yet). It depends on when this thing happens. Like say if – God forbid – a line drive or even warming up something happens, then you would want somebody like (Jon).
“If something happened like in the fourth or the fifth inning, then you had talked about Travis (Wood), you had talked about (Trevor) Cahill, guys like that (who) have actually already done that.
“They may be more comfortable with that than a starter that’s going to need more time. You probably have to fill in a slot there with a regular relief pitcher while this starter got hot.”
The Cubs had preliminary discussions about their wild-card roster during a meeting on Monday in Chicago, outlining general ideas for the coaching staff to consider, weighing the breakdown of position players/pitchers – 16/9 or 15/10 – and what special skills will be needed (presumably pinch-runner Quintin Berry).
Maddon wants to use the final week of the season to audition relievers and see if anyone else – Neil Ramirez? Carl Edwards Jr.? – shows they can be trusted in October.
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Arrieta’s unreal hot streak – his 0.80 ERA since the All-Star break would be the lowest in major-league history – made it an even easier decision. But the Cubs had reservations about Lester in a one-game playoff because of his well-documented issues with throwing over to first base and controlling the running game.
Still, Lester won two World Series rings with the Boston Red Sox and has a 2.57 ERA in 84 postseason innings. The Cubs would love to see their $155 million lefty starting Game 1 of a division series against the St. Louis Cardinals two days later. But you can’t assume Arrieta will pitch like Superman again.
“There’s all those different things to consider,” Maddon said. “But a guy like Jon would be really important if something happened really early.”