Maybe this becomes an even more desperate situation and the Cubs call an audible.
But from manager Joe Maddon to president of baseball operations Theo Epstein, the Cubs don’t sound eager to rush Jon Lester or Jake Arrieta back into the National League Championship Series. That means their two best pitchers might have fired their last bullets in 2015.
The New York Mets beat Lester and Arrieta over the weekend at Citi Field, forcing the Cubs to win four of the next five games in order to advance to the World Series for the first time since 1945.
Kyle Hendricks vs. Jacob deGrom isn’t a great matchup for the Cubs in Game 3 on Tuesday at Wrigley Field, and they won’t publicly commit to their pitching plans for the rest of this series, though it’s probably Jason Hammel on a short leash in Game 4 with Wednesday turning into a bullpen night.
“I don’t think we have to answer that right now,” Epstein said after Monday’s workout. “Unless it’s extraordinary circumstances, we don’t really love the track record of pitchers pitching on short rest. Sometimes there are extraordinary circumstances where it makes sense. But as a rule, it’s not something that we like to do.”
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Lester is a creature of habit who hasn’t quite looked like a two-time World Series champion during this postseason run (0-2, 4.50 ERA), not winning the games the Cubs had in mind when they gave him a six-year, $155 million megadeal.
Arrieta is a leading contender for the Cy Young Award after a brilliant regular season (22-6, 1.77 ERA), and Cubs fans will always remember that complete-game shutout of the Pittsburgh Pirates in an emotional wild-card victory.
But Arrieta hasn’t finished the sixth inning in either of his last two playoff starts, giving up eight runs combined and readjusting expectations that had become unrealistic. He has now accounted for almost 249 innings during this breakthrough season.
“Obviously, we’re aware of how much he’s thrown this year, what he’s done for us and how much has gone into it,” Epstein said. “But as he said, he doesn’t know and he feels fine, so I wouldn’t put it past him to show up next time and dominate.
“He missed April last year (with a shoulder issue). Now he’s getting an additional month on top of the month he missed last year, so there’s a significant tick-up in innings, and that’s something that you monitor and factor in. But we trust Jake as a pitcher and as a person.
“I wouldn’t say that this year I’ve ever used the word ‘concerned’ and ‘Jake Arrieta’ in the same sentence.”