Springtime in September for Cubs after clinching

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Look for Ben Zobrist and other regulars to get plenty of down time as manager Joe Maddon (right) treats the final two weeks like spring training.

Now that the Cubs have clinched their first division title in eight years, they plan to return to spring training.

That includes the kind of lineup manager Joe Maddon figures to run out against the Brewers for much of the rest of the four-game series.

“You’re going to enjoy [Friday’s] lineup,” he said.

“Resting guys more specifically that might have little dings, that’s No. 1 for me,” Maddon said of his first priority after clinching. “I have ideas with that. It would be specific guys to not play even for a couple, three, four days.

“Beyond that, with the bullpen, just to make sure to work them no more than two days in a row,” he said. “Overall, just to treat it like spring training.”

Maddon said he didn’t expect that to get in the way of some of the awards drives for players, with Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo in the MVP race and as many as three pitchers in the Cy Young conversation.

“They’re still going to play a lot,” he said. “But the overarching concept would be to work backwards [from Game 1 of the playoffs in building schedules].

“Try to manipulate the work in the manner that satisfies everybody and gets everybody rest.”

Strop close to return

Setup reliever Pedro Strop said he felt “good” Thursday after throwing his first full-speed bullpen session since suffering a groin strain two weeks ago during rehab for knee surgery.

Strop – the Cubs’ final link to a fully healthy roster – threw 20 pitches and expects to throw another by Sunday before looking at a possible return to game action next week.

That would give the him a chance at the “five or six” appearances Maddon said he hoped to see from the late-inning right-hander before the playoffs start.

Strop, who has been on the DL since Aug. 11, just wants to make sure he doesn’t have a setback before October, he said.

Strop has a 2.89 ERA in 50 games this year. He allowed just one run in six playoff appearances (1.80 ERA) for the Cubs last October.

He went, they went

After losing a series in Milwaukee last week, an important boost to the Cubs’ clinching effort was a weeklong surge by Cubs’ leadoff man Dexter Fowler.

Fowler was 0-for-19 over five games before coming back from an off day last week to go 8-for-20 with two homers and seven walks (.556 on-base percentage) in the next six games – four of them wins – leading up to Thursday’s homestand opener.

“It’s baseball,” said Fowler, who went 1-for-5 Thursday. “You’re going to go through those ruts. It’s a matter of getting out of them as quickly as possible.”

Notes: Right fielder Jason Heyward, who has struggled at the plate all year, hit two doubles Thursday — his first extra-base hits since Aug. 29. … Class A outfielder Eloy Jimenez – the Midwest League MVP – was named the organization’s minor-league player by player development officials. Jimenez, 19, hit .329 with 57 extra-base hits, 81 RBIs and a .901 OPS in 112 games for South Bend. … Right-hander Trevor Clifton, the Cubs’ minor-league pitcher of the year, went 7-7, with a 2.72 ERA in 23 starts with Class A Myrtle Beach, earning Carolina League pitcher of the year honors along the way. He struck out 129 in 119 innings. … Myrtle Beach joined short-season-A Eugene of the Northwest League in winning league championships for the Cubs’ system. It was the second straight title for Myrtle Beach.

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