In a perfect world, the Cubs wouldn’t need to start Trevor Cahill again, riding arguably baseball’s best rotation into October and then figuring out which pitcher to drop for the playoffs.
But everything hasn’t gone according to The Plan, even as the Cubs pile up the most wins in baseball and the computer simulations on Baseball Prospectus and FanGraphs almost give them a 100-hundred percent chance to win the National League Central.
Whatever the Cubs decide to do with their 25-man roster crunch, Cahill made a strong impression in Game 1 of Tuesday’s doubleheader at Wrigley Field, shutting down the Milwaukee Brewers for five innings during a 4-0 victory.
The 26th man maxed out at 84 pitches and allowed only two hits to a weakened lineup that no longer has Jonathan Lucroy (traded to the Texas Rangers) while Ryan Braun came off the bench to get booed as an eighth-inning pinch-hitter.
“It’s obvious he gave us something to talk about,” Maddon said. “We will discuss that. And we have to have an answer by tomorrow.”
One potential way to keep Cahill around would be putting John Lackey on the disabled list after the veteran right-hander exited Sunday night’s start against the St. Louis Cardinals with a tight shoulder.
“No clarity yet” on Lackey’s health situation, Maddon said. “He felt a little bit sore today, so we’re still talking about it, and we haven’t concluded anything yet.”
Cahill stretched out with six starts at Triple-A Iowa after going on the disabled list with patellar tendinitis in his right knee on July 15, becoming an insurance policy the Cubs hoped they wouldn’t really need, but might have to cash in again if Lackey’s shoulder issue is more serious than first believed.
“We’re absolutely looking at different scenarios,” Maddon said. “Those are different things that are within our purview right now – poom! – Larry David (reference). The fact that (Cahill) pitched as well as he did today – and he’s as stretched out as he is – just opens up possibilities.”
A strong pitching infrastructure helped Cahill revive his career and reinvent himself as a playoff-caliber reliever late last season – after getting released by the Atlanta Braves and Los Angeles Dodgers – and score a one-year, $4.25 million contract to return to Chicago.
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Maybe Cahill can again help stabilize a bullpen filled with questions marks, though Mike Montgomery and Hector Rondon did combine for three scoreless innings before Aroldis Chapman (fifth save in a Cubs uniform) bailed out Joe Smith (two walks) in the ninth.
“Who knows?” Cahill said. “Whatever they want me to do, I’ll do it. I don’t know. I don’t want to speculate. Whenever you speculate, it always seems like it ends up completely different.”
While Cahill, a one-time All-Star, rebooted his game, Matt Garza (4-5, 4.87 ERA) has struggled to find focus and consistency since getting traded from the Cubs to the Rangers in the summer of 2013, one of many win-later deals that transformed this franchise. The Cubs wore down Garza, making him throw 103 pitches across five innings and manufacturing three runs with an Addison Russell sacrifice fly, a wild pitch that scored Dexter Fowler and Cahill’s RBI sacrifice bunt.
For all the contributions they’ve gotten from all over the roster, Cahill is only the eighth starting pitcher the Cubs have used this season. Veteran catcher Miguel Montero – who worked with Cahill extensively on the Arizona Diamondbacks – briefly turned away from some of the reporters at his locker and did the knock-on-wood motion.
“We count on every single individual in the clubhouse,” Montero said. “Everybody has to contribute someway, somehow. Cahill stepped it up.”