Wild-card game could test what Cubs’ bullpen has left in tank
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Cubs manager Joe Maddon tried to have it both ways with his bullpen Monday. He’ll find out Tuesday if it worked.
Maddon and Brewers manager Craig Counsell were compelled to go to their most reliable relievers when the National League Central tiebreaker went into the late innings tied at 1.
It created a worst-case scenario for two managers who were sensitive to keeping the strength of their bullpens intact with a possible wild-card game looming Tuesday.
The worst case played out for the Cubs when Justin Wilson allowed two hits leading off the eighth, then seasonlong bullpen horse Steve Cishek gave up the go-ahead hit to Lorenzo Cain in the Cubs’ 3-1 loss.
Counsell was able to finish with his bullpen ace, Josh Hader.
The Cubs used Jesse Chavez, a bullpen hero (1.15 ERA) since being acquired in a trade from the Rangers in July, for two innings before bringing in Wilson, Cishek and Randy Rosario for one- and two-batter appearances.
“We actually have a lot of guys [available],” said Maddon, who cited Chavez’s low pitch count (16) and the brief outings by the others to suggest the pen is close to full strength.
Career workhorse Jon Lester starts for the Cubs against the Rockies at the end of a grueling stretch of 42 scheduled games in 43 days for the Cubs.
And Maddon said starter Cole Hamels will join the bullpen for the wild-card game. Carl Edwards Jr. and Jorge De La Rosa are rested, but Edwards has been in a command slump.
Pedro Strop, the Cubs’ second-half closer, told at least one reporter Monday night that he’ll be ready to return Tuesday from a hamstring injury suffered Sept. 13, but that’s anything but certain.
“It’s all arms on deck; it’s October baseball,” said Cishek, who blamed himself for not retiring Cain. “I’m going to say I’m good no matter what.”
He has done that all year, which is a big reason why one of the Cubs’ most valuable players for more than 4½ months finished second in the majors with a career-high 80 appearances.
He had a 2.18 ERA but showed wear at times down the stretch.
“Cishek is the guy I’ve really got to pay attention to,” Maddon said. “But more recently, I’ve just been trying to jab with him as opposed to throwing him out there for a whole inning.”
Cishek, who has pitched the last three days, seemed eager to get the ball back Tuesday.
“I know I’ll have a chip on my shoulder,” he said. “Hopefully, as a team we will. There’s no doubt we will.”
With all due respect to Cubs star Javy Baez, Brewers outfielder Christian Yelich finished off what’s likely an MVP season with a three-hit performance that included a run-scoring single off Jose Quintana. He was 1-for-11 in his career against Quintana before going 3-for-3 against him Monday.
“It’s Khalil Mack on defense: ‘Where is he?’ ’’ Maddon said before the game. “You have to be aware of where he’s at all the time and try to make your best guess in the moment.”
Yelich, who ended the season on a 21-for-43 tear with 14 walks, won the NL batting title (.326) and finished two home runs and one RBI shy of a triple crown.
Baez, who singled in the ninth, is expected to finish in the top three in MVP voting.