Cubs

Previous playoffs under the new format

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Previous playoffs under the new format

If a one-game wild card playoff existed going all the way back to 1995 -- when the wild card was introduced -- what would've changed?

For one, Boston would've made the playoffs more -- three times, to be exact. But the teams that would've benefited the most from this setup are Seattle, Los Angeles and San Francisco, all of which would've reached the post-season (or a play-in game to the post-season) four times in years they didn't have the best non-division-winning record.

And while the knee-jerk reaction to this system is that it benefits Boston and New York, had it been implemented for the past 17 seasons, both those teams would've stood to lose more than they could've gained. Here's the complete breakdown for both leagues dating back to 1995:

American League

2011: Tampa Bay (91-71) vs. Boston (90-72)
Tampa BayBoston vs. Texas
New York vs. Detroit

2010: New York (95-67) Boston (89-73)
New YorkBoston vs. Minnesota
Tampa Bay vs. Texas

2009: Boston (95-67) vs. Texas (87-75)
If Boston wins: New York vs. Minnesota, Los Angeles vs. Boston
If Texas wins: New York vs. Texas, Los Angeles vs. Minnesota

2008: Boston (95-67) vs. New York (89-73)
BostonNew York vs. Los Angeles
Tampa Bay vs. Chicago

2007: Detroit (88-74) vs. Seattle (88-74); DetroitSeattle vs. New York (94-68)
If Detroit wins: Boston vs. Detroit, Cleveland vs. Los Angeles
If Seattle wins: Boston vs. Seattle, Cleveland vs. Los Angeles
If New York wins: Boston vs. Los Angeles, Cleveland vs. New York

2006: Detroit (95-67) vs. Chicago (90-72)
DetroitChicago vs. New York
Minnesota vs. Oakland

2005: Boston (95-67) vs. Cleveland (93-69)
If Boston wins: White Sox vs. Boston, Los Angeles vs. New York
If Cleveland wins: White Sox vs. New York, Cleveland vs. Los Angeles

2004: Boston (98-64) vs. Oakland (91-71)
If Boston wins: New York vs. Minnesota, Boston vs. Anaheim
If Oakland wins: New York vs. Oakland, Minnesota vs. Anaheim

2003: Boston (95-67) vs. Seattle (93-69)
If Boston wins: New York vs. Minnesota, Boston vs. Oakland
If Seattle wins: New York vs. Seattle, Minnesota vs. Oakland

2002: Boston (93-69) vs. Seattle (93-69), BostonSeattle vs. Anaheim (99-63)
If Boston wins: New York vs. Minnesota, Boston vs. Oakland
If Seattle wins: New York vs. Seattle, Minnesota vs. Oakland
If Anaheim wins: New York vs. Anaheim, Minnesota vs. Oakland

2001: Oakland (102-60) vs. Minnesota (85-77)
If Oakland wins: New York vs. Oakland, Cleveland vs. Seattle
If Minnesota wins: New York vs. Cleveland, Minnesota vs. Seattle

2000: Seattle (91-71) vs. Cleveland (90-72)
If Seattle wins: White Sox vs. Seattle, New York vs. Oakland
If Cleveland wins: White Sox vs. New York, Oakland vs. Cleveland

1999: Boston (94-68) vs. Oakland (87-75)
If Boston wins: New York vs. Texas, Cleveland vs. Boston
If Oakland wins: New York vs. Oakland, Cleveland vs. Texas

1998: Boston (92-70) vs. Toronto (88-74)
New York vs. Texas
Cleveland vs. BostonToronto

1997: New York (96-66) vs. Anaheim (84-78)
If New York wins: Baltimore vs. Cleveland, New York vs. Seattle
If Anaheim wins: Baltimore vs. Anaheim, Cleveland vs. Seattle

1996: Seattle (85-77) vs. White Sox (85-77); SeattleWhite Sox vs. Boston (85-77); SeattleWhite SoxBoston vs. Baltimore (88-74)
If the White Sox win: Cleveland vs. New York, White Sox vs. Texas
If Seattle wins: Cleveland vs. Seattle, New York vs. Texas
If Boston wins: Cleveland vs. Boston, New York vs. Texas
If Baltimore wins: Cleveland vs. Baltimore, New York vs. Texas

1995: New York (79-65) vs. California (78-67)
If California wins: Cleveland vs. California, Boston vs. Seattle
If New York wins: Cleveland vs. New York, Boston vs. Seattle

Oakland went 91-70, but we're assuming they played game 162 and won it.
Seattle went 85-76, to make things fun we're assuming they lost game 162.

National League

2011: St. Louis (90-72) vs. Atlanta (89-73)
If St. Louis wins: Philadelphia vs. St. Louis, Milwaukee vs. Arizona
If Atlanta wins: Milwaukee vs. Atlanta, Philadelphia vs. Arizona

2010: Atlanta (91-71) vs. San Diego (90-72)
If Atlanta wins: Philadelphia vs. Cincinnati, San Francisco vs. Atlanta
If San Diego wins: Philadelphia vs. San Diego, San Francisco vs. Cincinnati

2009: Colorado (92-70) vs. San Francisco (88-74)
ColoradoSan Francisco vs. Philadelphia, St. Louis vs. Los Angeles

2008: Milwaukee (90-72) vs. New York (89-73)
If Milwaukee wins: Chicago vs. Los Angeles, Philadelphia vs. Milwaukee
If New York wins: Chicago vs. New York, Philadelphia vs. Los Angeles

2007: Colorado (89-73) vs. San Diego (89-73) note: this game actually happened
Philadelphia vs. Colorado
Chicago vs. Arizona

2006: San Diego (88-74) vs. Los Angeles (88-74) For west title, loser plays WC play-in, for simplicity's sake we'll say the Padres win; Los Angeles vs. Philadelphia (85-77)
If Los Angeles wins: New York vs. Los Angeles, San Diego vs. St. Louis
If Philadelphia wins: New York vs. St. Louis, San Diego vs. Philadelphia

2005: Houston (89-73) vs. Philadelphia (88-74)
If Houston wins: St. Louis vs. San Diego, Atlanta vs. Houston
If Philadelphia wins: St. Louis vs. Philadelphia, San Diego vs. Atlanta

2004: Houston (92-70) vs. San Francisco (91-71)
If Houston wins: St. Louis vs. Los Angeles, Atlanta vs. Houston
If San Francisco wins: St. Louis vs. San Francisco, Atlanta vs. Los Angeles

2003: Florida (91-71) vs. Houston (87-75)
If Florida wins: Chicago vs. Atlanta, San Francisco vs. Florida
If Houston wins: Atlanta vs. Houston, Chicago vs. San Francisco

2002: San Francisco (95-66) vs. Los Angeles (92-70)
San FranciscoLos Angeles vs. Atlanta
St. Louis vs. Arizona

2001: St. Louis (93-69) vs. San Francisco (90-72)
If St. Louis wins: Houston vs. Atlanta, St. Louis vs. Arizona
If San Francisco wins: Houston vs. San Francisco, Atlanta vs. Arizona

2000: New York (94-68) vs. Los Angeles (86-76)
If New York wins: St. Louis vs. Atlanta, New York vs. San Francisco
If Los Angeles wins: St. Louis vs. Los Angeles, Atlanta vs. San Francisco

1999: New York (96-66) vs. Cincinnati (96-66) note: this game actually happened
Atlanta vs. Houston
New York vs. Arizona

1998: Chicago (89-73) vs. San Francisco (89-73) note: this game actually happened
Atlanta vs. Chicago
Houston vs. San Diego

1997: New York (88-74) vs. Los Angeles (88-74); New YorkLos Angeles vs. Florida (92-70)
If New YorkFlorida wins: Atlanta vs. Houston, San Francisco vs. New YorkFlorida
If Los Angeles wins: Atlanta vs. Los Angeles, San Francisco vs. Houston

1996: Los Angeles (90-72) vs. Montreal (88-74)
If Los Angeles wins: Atlanta vs. Los Angeles, San Diego vs. St. Louis
If Montreal wins: Atlanta vs. St. Louis, San Diego vs. Montreal

1995: Colorado (77-67) vs. Houston (76-68)
If Colorado wins: Cincinnati vs. Los Angeles, Atlanta vs. Colorado
If Houston wins: Atlanta vs. Houston, Cincinnati vs. Los Angeles

By the numbers

The top teams in the American League would've been adversely affected by this policy. Over 17 seasons, the average win disparity between the top two non-division winning teams is 5.53, with gulfs as big as 17 (2002) and 12 (1997).

But in the National League, there's not as much of a disparity. Three of these 17 hypothetical games actually took place in real life, while the average win disparity was only 2.18.

As stated earlier, Seattle, Los Angeles and San Francisco would've stood to benefit the most from this setup. Here's how the additional playoff appearance (or appearance in a play-in game for the playoffs) list shakes out:

4: Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle
3: Boston
2: Anaheim, Chicago (AL), Cleveland, Houston, Oakland, San Diego
1: Atlanta, Cincinnati, Detroit, Minnesota, Montreal, New York (AL), New York (NL), Philadelhpia, Texas, Toronto

As for wild card winners under the old format, Boston would've stood to lose the most under the new system. The Red Sox won the wild card seven times since it was introduced in 1995, while the Yankees took it four times. In the National League, Colorado won it three times while Florida, Houston, Los Angeles and New York won it twice.

So maybe this policy isn't as tailored to the Red Sox and Yankees as much as we think. Sure, Boston could've made an additional three playoff appearances, but there also would've been seven opportunities for them to be knocked out in one game by a lesser team.

The curious ripple effects of the Cubs' trade for Martin Maldonado

The curious ripple effects of the Cubs' trade for Martin Maldonado

While the Cubs put the finishing touches on a lackluster loss to the Reds Monday night at Wrigley Field, the game quickly took a backseat as reports of a trade filtered through Baseball Twitter.

In came a veteran catcher — Martin Maldonado — from the Kansas City Royals in exchange for Mike Montgomery, who will live on in Cubs history books forever as the guy who threw the curveball that notched the final out in the 2016 World Series to break a 108-year championship drought.

There are many layers to this move, including the corresponding aspect of Cubs All-Star catcher Willson Contreras hitting the 10-day injured list with a strain in the arch of his right foot. Contreras had an MRI Monday afternoon/evening, which revealed the issue. 

Contreras felt like he could play through it and passionately pleaded his case, but the Cubs want to exercise an abundance of caution with one of their most important players.

"Our medical staff feels like if he were to try to play on it, that he'd be risking exacerbating the injury and turning it into something long-term," Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein said. "So we have to get ahead of it, take it out of Willy's hands and take him off his feet. 

"We don't expect it to be longer than 10 days — that's what we hope for, anyways."

But even before the severity of Contreras' injury was known, Epstein said the team was already in talks with the Royals front office.

"We've been having discussions with Kansas City and they had an opening in their rotation after trading [Homer] Bailey and they'd been talking to a couple teams about Maldonado and we knew that," Epstein said. "We'd actually been working on a version of the deal beforehand and it was something we wanted to quickly finalize once it became clear that Willson was gonna miss some time."

That's interesting.

So the Cubs' interest in Maldonado is not solely based on Contreras' injury, which means they value the veteran catcher as more than just a short-term, couple-week insurance policy to pair with Victor Caratini. 

On the one hand, that leaves the Cubs free to trade Caratini over the next couple weeks if a deal developed.

But the move for Maldonado also shores up a major area of depth for the Cubs, which is exactly what Epstein talked about before Monday's game, referencing the change in MLB rules that eliminated the August waiver wire deadline. Now, every team has to make their moves ahead of the July 31 deadline and that's it.

"Teams need to keep depth in mind a little bit more, that you have to anticipate where you might be vulnerable to an injury and try to build that depth up in advance — preemptively, really — knowing that there's no escape valve in August," Epstein said. "So you gotta really do all your work this month as much as possible and really take a hard look at your organizational depth."

Well, despite fantastic seasons from Contreras and Caratini, the Cubs actually have very little in the way of catching depth beyond those two. Taylor Davis is the only other backstop on the 40-man roster and he has almost no big-league experience. When Caratini was on the IL earlier this year with a hand injury, Davis rarely played in the month-plus he was on the roster.

Even if Contreras' injury is as minor as it appears, it underscores the point that the Cubs' depth is very fragile at the most physically demanding position on the field. What would the team do if Contreras or Caratini suffered an injury in August or September?

Now, they can add Maldonado into the mix — a veteran catcher who draves rave remarks for his defense and game-calling. 

The right-handed-hitting catcher is due to turn 33 next month and is in his ninth big-league season. He hasn't done much with the bat in his career (.289 on-base percentage, .351 slugging) and that hasn't changed this year (.647 OPS), but his work behind the plate was enticing to the Cubs and their veteran-laden pitching staff.

"He's an established catcher in the league who does a lot of great things behind the plate," Epstein said. "He can really receive, he can really throw. He's caught playoff games. He's handled some of the best pitchers in the game; he's a favorite for pitchers to throw to.

"He's very calm back there, very prepared, calls a great game, really soft hands, lot of experience, lot of savvy and someone who we think can step in and share the job with Vic and get up to speed really quickly in what we hope is a brief absence from Willson."

The Cubs haven't yet shared a plan for how they plan to manage the roster crunch for all three catchers when Contreras returns from injury in a week or two, but that might be because they don't yet have a plan. That's more of a "cross that bridge when it comes" type of situation.

When everybody is healthy — if everybody is ever healthy all at the same time — the Cubs could carry three catchers and utilize Contreras' ability to play the outfield and Caratini's first/third base versatility. They could also option Caratini to the minors for a couple weeks and bring him back up when rosters expand in September or if another injury strikes.

Either way, the Cubs front office, coaching staff and pitching staff can rest easier knowing they have another experienced backstop on the roster. 

The other aspect to all this, obviously, is in the Cubs bullpen and starting depth. Montgomery is out, which means there is an easy open spot on the roster for Alec Mills, who is making a spot start Tuesday while Cole Hamels continues to rehab his oblique injury.

In the longer term, this could be a good thing for the Cubs bullpen, as Montgomery was miscast and rarely used as a short-inning reliever. The 30-year-old southpaw last threw on July 2 and has only made five appearances in the last month. 

Montgomery was slowed by injury in spring training and then again in the first couple weeks of the season, but he had been building up his workload of late - throwing at least 2.1 innings in each of his last three outings. Still, the Cubs opted to go with Mills Tuesday against the Reds instead of Montgomery and they also had Tyler Chatwood and Adbert Alzolay in the rotation at various points earlier this season.

Montgomery hasn't started once in 2019, but he made 28 starts in a Cubs uniform, including 19 last year while filling in for the injured Yu Darvish.

The Cubs clearly feel good enough with their rotation depth as is (Mills, Chatwood, Alzolay) and Hamels' return looks to be right around the corner, so the writing was on the wall that Montgomery wouldn't get many chances to start in the short or long term in Chicago.

It's also good for Montgomery, a guy who got the last out in the World Series and did everything asked of him in his three-plus years in Chicago, bouncing between the rotation and bullpen. 

Now he gets an opportunity to start, which he's been vocal about wanting to do, and he'll be thrown right into the fire — the Royals have him penciled in to start Friday...in Cleveland.

How's that for full circle?

Cubs trade Mike Montgomery to Royals for catcher Martin Maldonado

Cubs trade Mike Montgomery to Royals for catcher Martin Maldonado

It’s not a blockbuster move, but the Cubs have reportedly made a trade with more than two weeks until the trade deadline.

Theo Epstein confirmed previous reports after the game that the Cubs traded left-handed pitcher Mike Montgomery to the Kansas City Royals for catcher Martin Maldonado. Epstein added that Willson Contreras is heading to the 10-day IL with a strain in the arch of his foot, but he didn’t expect Contreras to be out much longer than those 10 days.

Montgomery, 30, joined the Cubs in the middle of the 2016 season, but struggled this season. He had a 5.67 ERA with 18 strikeouts and 13 walks in 27 innings this season.

Maldonado, 32, was hitting .224/.288/.359 with the Royals. Maldonado can fill in at catcher with Victor Caratini while Contreras is out. Maldonado is known for his defensive ability behind the plate.

Meanwhile, Montgomery's exit means the pitcher who recorded the last out of the 2016 World Series is no longer in the organization. Epstein addressed that to reporters after the game.

"Obviously you can't talk about his contributions without talking about getting the last out of the World Series that changed everybody's life," Epstein said.

Montgomery talked to reporters from his locker after it was announced that he was traded.

"I look back at that and it's an emotional experience," Montgomery said. "At the time, I didn't realize how much impact it was. Especially now, as I leave this team and the city, it's going to be something I can look back on and really be proud of. I was able to accomplish a lot here and now it's time to move on and see what else I can accomplish somewhere else."

Montgomery may have an opportunity to join the Royals rotation. The Royals traded starting pitcher Homer Bailey to the A's on Sunday. Montgomery didn't make any starts in 2019, but had 38 in his previous two and a half years with the Cubs.

"It's definitely an emotional thing to think of the last three and a half, four years here and obviously the World Series," Montgomery said. "I grew up a lot here. I'm definitely going to miss playing here in the city and with a lot of these guys. It's going to take a little while to settle in."

 

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