In case you have been living under a rock for the last few days, the Cubs clinched! That’s right, the Chicago Cubs are the 2016 NL Central Champions. This is the first time the Cubs have accomplished this feat since 2008 when Sweet Lou Pinella was the manager, Ryan Dempster was the staff ace, Kerry Wood was the closer, and Ryan “The Riot” Theriot led the team with a .307 batting average. Now that that’s over and the Cubs still have a couple of weeks until the playoffs, what do we have to play for now?
Well for one thing, the Cubs still haven’t wrapped up home field advantage in the NL Playoffs, although they are awfully close. The magic number sits at just 2, and it appears quite likely that the Cubs could wrap it up by the end of the week. And with that imminent, the Cubs also need to sort out the playoff rotation and roster.
It seems pretty likely right now that the rotation would be Lester, Hendricks, Arrieta, and Lackey with Hammel being left out and Montgomery being sent back to the bullpen. The big question mark is who will the Cubs keep on their bench. The playoff roster is a 25-man roster that can be reset each round of the playoffs.
Let’s say that the Cubs carry a 12 man pitching staff into the playoffs. Then we can account for the roster locks: Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo, Ben Zobrist, Addison Russell, Javier Baez, Dexter Fowler, Jason Heyward, Jorge Soler, David Ross, Willson Contreras, and probably Miguel Montero. That leaves just 2 open spots on the roster to be filled by Albert Almora, Matt Szczur, Chris Coghlan, and Tommy La Stella. If I had to bet, I would say the final 2 spots would go to Coghlan and Almora. I think Coghlan would get it over Szczur simply because he has a little more experience and he can play both corner outfield spots pretty well, and can even slot into the infield if needed. Then I think the last spot goes to Almora just because of his fantastic defense. Outfield defense was a major liability last year in the playoffs, and it would be pretty great to slide in Almora in the late innings to have an outfield consisting of him, Fowler, and Heyward. This is a scary lineup, and one I would certainly be afraid to face come playoff time.
Luckily for us, Theo, Maddon, and the front office have to make these difficult decisions, not us, and I certainly don’t envy them for that. The Cubs have games remaining against the Reds, Pirates, and a chance to play spoiler in 4 games against the Cardinals. Now we just have to sit back, relax, and wait about 3 weeks for the playoffs to arrive.