PITTSBURGH -- Neither Chicago Cubs manager Joe Maddon nor Pittsburgh Pirates skipper Clint Hurdle revealed their wild card roster or starting lineups on Tuesday as that’ll come sometime on Wednesday before the game. But an afternoon workout by the Cubs gave a good indication which way Maddon is leaning.
Infielder Tommy La Stella was seen taking extra ground balls at third base even as the rest of the team was done with its afternoon workout. La Stella started six games at third in the regular season which encompasses all of his career starts there as well. He also started there on Friday when Jake Arrieta last started, against the Brewers.
"With all of our guys, if you've seen them all play different positions during the course of the last two or three weeks, a big part of that was for me to get guys comfortable doing different things," Maddon said Tuesday afternoon.
Starting La Stella at third base means rookie Kris Bryant would be in left field while another rookie, Kyle Schwarber, would play right field. Schwarber started two games in right this season, games No. 160 and 161 over the weekend in Milwaukee. Being new to the outfield the thinking is right field at PNC Park is easier to play then spacious left field.
"I love the fact that we are so versatile," Maddon said. "I love that young players are not just stuck in one position."
The odd man out for the starting lineup looks to be Chris Coghlan who had a .827 OPS in September and October. He wondered over the weekend what his role come Wednesday might be.
"Do I think I give our team the best chance to win in the wild card game against Gerrit Cole?" he asked. "Yeah, I do. I feel like I’m one of the best eight guys out there."
Coghlan is likely to be the first left-handed pinch hitter off the bench but the fact of the matter is Maddon has chosen to play a third baseman in left field, a second baseman at third base and a converted catcher in right field. Of course it might not matter considering who’s on the mound.
"When Jake pitches, it presents differently based on his abilities and what you think the hitters may do against him," Maddon said. "And that's part of the equation. Again, not to get complicated, but that's something that I would look at too."
It sounds like Maddon is choosing offense over defense as Arrieta gives up very light contact anyway, but what does he like about La Stella’s offensive game over Coghlan? La Stella sees 4.29 pitches per plate appearance compared to 4.01 for Coghlan. That could be one factor. They both have good line drive percentages with La Stella at 30 percent and Coghlan at 29 percent but Coghlan’s walk percentage (11.5) is higher than La Stella’s (6.7). According to ESPN Stats and Information, La Stella is better against fastballs while Coghlan handles the off-speed stuff. Pirates starter Gerrit Cole is a power pitcher so than leans La Stella’s way as well.
All things being equal maybe La Stella got the nod for one statistic in particular: Getting runners home from third base with less than two outs. Coghlan ranks last on the team having brought home 4-o- 20 while La Stella is 3-for-6. It’s a small sample size, of course, but remember we’re looking for reasons to start La Stella and getting them home from third is the Cubs' biggest weakness. La Stella’s season was shortened by an oblique injury so all his numbers are in a small sample size.
"I know what I want to do tomorrow (Wednesday)," Maddon said. "I'm not ready to announce it yet because I don't want to do that. But the guys that are going to play tomorrow have been in the positions that they're going to play tomorrow at various moments during the season."
With all this in mind let’s take another stab at the starting lineup:
Dexter Fowler, CF
Kyle Schwarber, RF
Kris Bryant, LF
Anthony Rizzo, 1B
Starlin Castro, 2B
Addison Russell, SS
Jake Arrieta, P
Tommy La Stella, 3B