Just because the Cubs announced their rotation order for the first round of the playoffs doesn’t mean the shape of either team’s pitching staff is especially clear.
Nationals manager Dusty Baker again on Wednesday declined to declare a Game 1 starter, even though ace Max Scherzer’s strained right hamstring kept him from throwing the bullpen session he said he had planned.
When Scherzer merely threw on flat ground Wednesday, it seemed to make clear the Nationals’ intention of pushing him back to a Wrigley Field start in Game 3 or 4 next week – and made it even more obvious that red-hot starter Stephen Strasburg would start Game 1 on Friday against Kyle Hendricks.
That could set up a Game 4 matchup of Scherzer and Jake Arrieta, the former Cy Young winners who might have started the opener if not for their similar hamstring injuries.
And that could put a premium on a sweep for the series winner, getting significant extra rest for its key right-hander.
Meanwhile, for the Cubs, Arrieta’s status also puts an emphasis on the playoff bullpen.
The Cubs have tentatively made their decisions, team president Theo Epstein said, but weren’t ready to unveil a roster.
World Series veteran John Lackey, who was left out of the playoff rotation, has volunteered for bullpen work and could prove an important asset in particular if Arrieta is forced out of his start early.
“We’re looking at him certainly as a viable option out of the pen, but we’re not prepared to announce the roster yet,” Epstein said. “Jake had a great day [throwing Wednesday], but I think you’re always looking for as much depth as possible – but that’s on both sides of the ball.”
Lackey has three World Series rings as a starter for three different organizations. What could he bring out of the bullpen?
Command, experience and aggressiveness for a few things.
“I’ve seen Lack come out of the bullpen and get a hold in a World Series [in 2013],” longtime teammate Jon Lester said. “That’s one person I’m not worried about.”
Notes: The Cubs claimed right-hander Luke Farrell off waivers from the Cincinnati Reds on Wednesday to provide starting depth. The son of Red Sox manager John Farrell and brother of Cubs scout Shane Farrelland Cubs minor-league hitting coach Jeremy Farrell, Luke had a 2.61 ERA in nine relief appearances for the Reds after making his debut in a July start with the Royals. …Cubs manager Joe Maddon on facing Nats second baseman Daniel Murphy in the playoffs for the first time since Murphy’s monster postseason for the Mets in 2015: “I still wish he was a Met. He’s one of the more dangerous hitters playing baseball right now.”
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