Jake Arrieta or Jon Lester?
All of a sudden it’s the most pressing question about these surging Chicago Cubs – who whose 6-5 victory over the White Sox on Friday was their 14th win in 15 games.
So who will it be: Arrieta or Lester? Which pitching ace gets the call for that all-or-nothing wild-card playoff game against the Pirates?
Manager Joe Maddon: “Let’s just win the division.”
OK, then, who gets the call for Game 1 of that series?
“I don’t want to burst anyone’s bubble,” said Friday’s hero, Chris Coghlan, who hit a go-ahead three-run homer in the third, and then a tying solo shot in the fifth off ex-Cub Jeff Samardzija.
“But we’re not going to just win the rest of these games and lose only one the rest of the year,” Coghlan said.
As heady as this thrill run has been for these young Cubs – does anybody even remember how they lost that one game this month? – seven weeks and 48 games remain in the longest season in professional team sports.
Nothing about what this team has done this year – and has become this month – suggests the Cubs won’t make the playoffs.
But nothing is a lock, by a long shot, for a team that starts four rookies and that even after its remarkable 15-game sprint still trails Pittsburgh (albeit by a slim margin) for the top wild-card spot and that takes no better than a five-game lead for the last spot into Saturday (pending Friday’s late game in San Francisco).
“This is a moment in time right now where we’ve been really hot,” general manager Jed Hoyer said. “We’ve put ourselves in great position. There’s a long way to go. This is a big series, and we’re going to go out on the West coast [in a week] and have big series [in San Francisco and Los Angeles], and we’re going to play six or seven games [each] against the Cardinals and Pirates the rest of the way.”
Yeah, OK, but, Arrieta or Lester?
“To even talk about that kind of stuff is so incredibly premature,” Hoyer said.
That’s why Hoyer’s front office continues to work on potential deals – including pursuing Phillies All-Star second baseman Chase Utley – during the August waiver-trade period.
That’s why Maddon pulled slumping Starlin Castro from his starting shortstop job a week ago and finally rotated him back into the lineup Friday – when Castro had three hits.
It’s why hot-hitting rookie Kyle Schwarber got a breather as the DH Friday, why rookie Jorge Soler (four games shy of his career high in games for a season) got a day off on a 93-degree Friday.
And why it’s so important to try to find a breather at some point soon for Anthony Rizzo – who’s 21-for-51 (.412) with seven homers, 16 RBIs and a 1.450 OPS during the 14-1 surge.
Coghlan and Rizzo went back-to-back with home runs to tie and take the lead in the fifth before the pitching took over for both sides over the final four scoreless innings.
“We’re going to go through a funk, and that’s going to happen because that’s just the ebb and flow of a team,” said Coghlan, the seventh-year veteran who is 18 games over .500 for the first time in his career.
“But if we can control what we can control, that funk won’t be very long, and we’ll win a lot of ballgames because we’re just so talented,” he said. “If we can harness that talent and just really focus on day-by-day, pitch-to-pitch, that talent’s going to play.”