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Path of less resistance? NL’s biggest arms clear out of Cubs’ way in October

Could Cole Hamels be the most dangerous starter in the NL playoff field? His ERA in six starts with the Cubs: 0.69.

For much of the Mets-Cubs game Tuesday at Wrigley Field, which was suspended by heavy rain with the score tied 1-1 in the 10th inning and will resume at noon Wednesday before the regularly scheduled game, the Jacob deGrom-Cole Hamels matchup lived up to its electrifying billing.

But don’t be so quick to compare the Cubs’ thrill-ride games against deGrom and the Mets and Hamels’ matchup against Max Scherzer and the Nationals a couple of weeks ago to any kind of playoff atmosphere in August.

That’s because with the final month of the season fast approaching, the National League pennant race and the NL Cy Young race are being held in separate locations, pointing toward a rare October without the most elite pitchers in the league.

DeGrom with his league-leading ERA and eight innings of dominance against the Cubs? The Cubs won’t have to worry about him in the playoffs.

Nor will they have to worry about Scherzer, the other co-favorite in the Cy Young race, whose Nationals still are trying to sell off players.

And the third pitcher in the race with a month to play, Aaron Nola, remains 2½ games out of playoff position after the Phillies lost Tuesday to the Nationals.


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‘‘The landscape’s definitely changed a lot,’’ said right-hander Kyle Hendricks, the Cubs’ Game 1 playoff starter last season. ‘‘I’m sure [the hitters] are always thinking about it. . . . If you run into a guy like [deGrom] in the postseason, that’s all they need — one run — and that could be a ballgame.

‘‘It’s going to be very interesting if all those guys end up missing out.’’

Interesting and rare.

Consider that nine of the last 10 Cy Young winners were in the playoffs. And that in the 23 years of Cy Young voting during the wild-card era, only three times have the top three in voting in a league all missed the postseason.

‘‘That helps us out,’’ said Cubs ace Jon Lester, who lived through the five-game grind against Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg and the Nationals in the first round of the playoffs last season. ‘‘At the same time, you’ve still got [Clayton] Kershaw.’’

Except that Kershaw’s Dodgers also are on the outside looking in right now.

‘‘As soon as I said that, I wanted to take it back,’’ Lester said. ‘‘But you’ve got [Patrick] Corbin and [Zack] Greinke [of the Diamondbacks]. And the Braves, they’ve got that guy — I can’t pronounce his name [Mike Foltynewicz] — and that lefty [Sean Newcomb].’’

The longer Lester broke down the playoff field, the longer he made the case that the NL path to the World Series has been cleared of some of its most dangerous land mines.

‘‘There’s still some really good pitchers out there,’’ Lester said.

<em>No playoff threat in deGrom, who pitched 8 strong innings and drove in a run Tuesday.</em>
No playoff threat in deGrom, who pitched 8 strong innings and drove in a run Tuesday.

If anything, the Cubs suddenly look like a team that could put up a Game 1 starter — and maybe a Game 2 starter — as fearsome as anyone in the playoff field.

Did anyone think that would be the case even a month ago, when the rotation was struggling from top to bottom?

Cubs players aren’t discounting the teams that figure to be in their way in October. But they seem to like their chances with Hamels joining Lester and Hendricks up front in a playoff rotation.

‘‘Obviously, as a hitter, we’re not going to face the Kershaws, we’re not going to face the Scherzers or deGroms,’’ center fielder Albert Almora Jr. said. ‘‘But there’s still some really good pitchers out there that we are going to face.

‘‘And nowadays, all you’ve got to get is five or six [innings] out of the starters, and the bullpen comes in hot. It’s still not going to be an easy path at all.’’