Why the Cubs chose Rob Zastryzny over Tommy La Stella for NLCS

Why the Cubs chose Rob Zastryzny over Tommy La Stella for NLCS

If a seemingly out-of-nowhere player helps the Cubs beat the Los Angeles Dodgers, it could be Rob Zastryzny. But it won’t be Tommy La Stella creating that timeless October moment in this National League Championship Series.

The Cubs kept their playoff roster largely unchanged from the divisional round, except for adding a 12th pitcher in Zastryzny, a lefty who can throw multiple innings and neutralize a Los Angeles lineup loaded with left-handed hitters. That decision bumped La Stella, the mercurial bench player/left-handed hitter who initially refused to report to the minors in late July.

“I think Theo or Jed called him last night,” manager Joe Maddon said before Saturday’s Game 1 at Wrigley Field. “I haven’t spoken with him yet.”

Cubs executives Epstein and Hoyer had allowed La Stella to move back home to New Jersey, tolerating a three-week layoff before working his way back to the big leagues. Even Maddon acknowledged La Stella hasn’t been the same hitter before (.295 average/.846 OPS) and after (.209 average/.582 OPS).

[MORE CUBS NLCS COVERAGE: Clayton Kershaw to face Cubs in Game 2 without any restrictions]

“He hasn’t had enough at-bats,” Maddon said. “It’s been hard to give him the number of reps. We tried in September – I tried to get them all out there. I don’t know that we’ve given him enough opportunity to become the same hitter, either.”

But this decision really revolved around a Dodger lineup that ranked last in the majors in batting average (.213) and OPS (.622) against left-handed pitchers during the regular season. Zastryzny made an impression at Dodger Stadium on Aug. 27, allowing only one hit across 3.2 scoreless innings after Maddon gave Jason Hammel the quick hook in a 3-2 loss.

Zastryzny also showed poise and composure for a 24-year-old rookie, allowing only two earned runs through his first 16 innings in The Show (though he hasn’t pitched in a game since Sept. 29).

“We thought Rob Z against this group could be beneficial to us,” Maddon said. “What he had done in L.A. is etched in your mind. And just in general, when you look at the Dodger team and their lineup, the ability to have pitching – everybody knows that. But that doesn’t mean it’s going to work or play. You’re just trying to make your best guesses right now.”

Summer of Sammy: Sosa's 30th homer in 1998

Summer of Sammy: Sosa's 30th homer in 1998

It's the 20th anniversary of the Summer of Sammy, when Sosa and Mark McGwire went toe-to-toe in one of the most exciting seasons in American sports history chasing after Roger Maris' home run record. All year, we're going to go homer-by-homer on Sosa's 66 longballs, with highlights and info about each. Enjoy.

Sosa hit the 30-homer threshold on June 21, 1998 in only his 71st game of the season. For perspective, the 2018 Cubs leader in homers on June 21 is Javy Baez with 14 and Mike Trout leads all of baseball with only 23.

At this point, Mark McGwire was ahead of Sosa, but the Cubs slugger was pulling closer. McGwire had 33 dingers on June 21 while Ken Griffey Jr. had 28 and Greg Vaughn had 25.

Sosa' June 21 homer came off Tyler Green and was his 5th blast of the series against the Philadelphia Phillies at Wrigley Field that year. But the Cubs lost that series, despite Sosa's efforts.

Fun fact: Sosa drove in 10 runs in the three-game series with the Phillies that summer while the rest of his teammates combined for only 9 RBI.

Podcast: Wild week at Wrigley wraps up with Cubs showing what they’re made of


Podcast: Wild week at Wrigley wraps up with Cubs showing what they’re made of

The Cubs have been a different team the last six weeks, looking a lot more like the resilient bunch from 2016 than the sluggish 2017 squad that lacked energy. After some wacky circumstances Monday and a tough loss in Game 1 of Tuesday’s doubleheader, the Cubs came out and showed what they’re made of in the last two games of the series against the Dodgers, a team that knocked them out of postseason play last fall.

Kelly Crull and Tony Andracki sum up the longest short homestand (or shortest long homestand?), updating the status of Yu Darvish, Brandon Morrow, the Cubs pitching staff and how the team is rounding into form as the season’s halfway mark approaches.

Check out the entire podcast here: