CHICAGO -- Predicting the Chicago Cubs' playoff roster for the National League wild-card game is a lot less challenging than forecasting the starting lineup for Wednesday’s elimination contest against the Pittsburgh Pirates. With little need for starting pitchers besides Jake Arrieta and one backup in case of injury, the Cubs can stack their roster with extra position players. It means a deeper team and tougher decisions for Joe Maddon’s starting lineup.
Maddon indicated Sunday that his roster and lineup were all but set, though the Cubs don’t have to submit anything to the league until the morning of the game. The final bullpen spot might still be up in the air, but let’s take a look at what the 25-man roster and potential starting lineup could look like.
Cahill has been primarily used as a multiple-inning guy -- whereas Ramirez or Edwards might be more suited to get one guy out -- but Cahill has thrown the best of the group. The edge for the final spot might go to Ramirez simply because he’s a little more experienced and has been rounding into form the past few weeks. Edwards’ stuff is pretty nasty, so he could also get the nod.
Based on recent playing time, it looks like Jonathan Herrera is the odd man out, as he hasn’t been in a game since Sept. 9. The Cubs aren’t deep in terms of defensive-oriented outfielders, so Szczur could be useful, and he also gives the team a second pinch runner in case Berry is used.
Some believe Friday’s lineup in Milwaukee could be the one Pirates starter Gerrit Cole sees Wednesday night (with career numbers against Cole):
Fowler, CF, 3-for-14 (.214)
Schwarber, RF, 1-for-5 (.200)
Bryant, LF, 4-for-9 (.333)
Rizzo, 1B, 6-for-17 (.353)
Castro, 2B, 6-for-17 (.353)
Montero, C, 3-for-5 (.600)
Russell, SS, 2-for-7 (.286)
La Stella, 3B, 1-for-6 (.167)
The choice for Maddon comes down to La Stella or Coghlan. Coghlan had a big game Saturday (3-for-4), but La Stella has been steady at the plate as well. There is some difference in defense, as Coghlan is more experienced than Bryant in left field, while Bryant has a similar edge at third base over La Stella. Meanwhile, Coghlan is 2-for-13 in his career against Cole, so that difference with La Stella is negligible.
Here’s the thing that could tip the scales: La Stella has been superb as a pinch hitter. He’s 6-for-14 this year with a .467 on-base percentage. Coghlan is 6-for-26 but does have a pinch-hit home run.
Analysis: Coghlan should start. It means he and Bryant would play their natural positions, while La Stella can come off the bench. Starting La Stella at third and Bryant in left weakens two positions defensively, as well as the bench. Coghlan helped get the Cubs to this point, and he deserves the opportunity to start the wild-card game. Baez and Jackson will be the first defensive replacements off the bench if the Cubs take a lead into the middle to late innings.