MILWAUKEE – The Cubs’ rotation continues to lead the majors in ERA, with all five guys pitching well, and the nominal No. 5 pitcher has arguably outperformed the four others this season.
So if the playoffs started next week, how tough would it be to decide which four make the playoff rotation?
Believe it or not, a reporter asked that question before the Cubs’ 6-1 loss to rookie Zach Davies and the Brewers Saturday night at Miller Park.
“That’s a nice problem to have,” Maddon said. “I believe we’ll be able to cull it down to whatever we want it to be.”
Besides, as said reporter apparently failed to notice, more than two months remain before the Cubs will face that decision – assuming they face it at all – which is believed to make that a big-league record for earliest in a season that question has been asked.
“We still have to get there first,” said Maddon, whose World Series Clydesdale, John Lackey (7-7), pitched six innings in the loss.
And as well as the Cubs have played out of the All-Star break – 5-3 with a chance Sunday to win a third consecutive series – the rival Cardinals have crept to “just” 6 ½ games back of the first-place Cubs. The Cards won five straight and eight of 10 before their streak was snapped Saturday.
Not that the Cubs are scoreboard watching in July any more than they’re setting playoff rotations.
“You can’t,” first baseman Anthony Rizzo said.
“But they’re playing well,” he added. “They’re a good team. And they know how to win. It’s what they’ve done for a long time.
“It’s not going to be a cakewalk.”
The tone for Saturday’s game might have been set on a first-inning sequence that started with a tough grounder to second baseman Javy Baez with one out that he and shortstop Addison Russell couldn’t turn into a double play.
Jonathan Lucroy then sparred with Lackey for 12 pitches before launching the last one over the wall in left for a 2-0 lead, in what turned into a 31-pitch inning for Lackey.
“I made a lot of good pitches I that AB, and he finally got into one,” Lackey said. “I felt pretty good for the most part. I thought I threw the ball pretty well. Things get magnified in those kinds of games.”
Like the grounder his body language at the time suggested should have gone for two – but that he wouldn’t say much about afterward?
“You couldn’t tell if that was a double play ball,” Lackey said when asked if it should have been two. “You can decide that, I guess. It is the big leagues.”
Kirk Nieuwenhuis drove in the four other runs for the Brewers Saturday, on a solo homer off Lackey in the fourth and a three-run shot off newly acquired lefty Mike Montgomery – who was facing his first batter as a Cub with two out and two on in the eighth.
“That’s just unfortunate,” Maddon said. “For your first moment right there, he kind of beats the hitter, but he keeps the ball fair.
“They just beat us.”