CHICAGO -- After weeks of evaluating, the Chicago Cubs have some decisions to make regarding who makes the playoff roster for their best-of-five divisional series against either the New York Mets or San Francisco Giants. It’s likely those decisions won’t come until Thursday, or even Friday morning, but we can take another stab at determining who might be on and who might be left off with the caveat a name or two can change based on the opponent.
Here are the likely locks to make the roster, assuming the Cubs take 11 pitchers and 14 position players as they did last year.
Analysis: The pitching staff looks set, whether the Cubs play the Giants or the Mets. Unless Edwards comes up lame after getting hit by a ball on Sunday or somehow Trevor Cahill finds his way into the bullpen, the above 11 names should be in the dugout or pen on Friday.
Having three reliable lefties in the bullpen could be a key. The Mets were just 19-18 when a lefty started against them, while the Giants ranked 11th in OPS in the National League versus left-handed pitching.
The position players are a tougher call and could easily come down to specific arms the opponent will have in the bullpen. It might not just be a righty/lefty thing either, but what kinds of pitches guys throw and how the Cubs’ role players match up against them. For example, one of La Stella’s strengths is hitting off-speed stuff, while Soler is better against fast pitching.
Soler is a bubble guy only because of his recent health; he has played two games over the past several weeks. But Joe Maddon has already said that won’t preclude him from making the roster, so he’s more likely on than not. That leaves two spots for four players.
Both Szczur and La Stella have proven that they can come off the bench and give a good at-bat, while Almora is Chicago's best defensive outfielder, though he has also shown he might be able to handle himself in the batter’s box. Neither La Stella (5-for-28) or Almora (1-for-10) had many hits as pinch hitters, while Szczur ranked fifth in the NL in that category. Kawasaki is probably on the outside looking in, but he showed he can play as well.
With few righties on the bench, expect Szczur to make it, which would leave one spot for La Stella or Almora Jr. In that case, it could come down to the opponents' righty/lefty situation. Looking at the other teams’ best pitcher -- their closer -- both the Mets and Giants employ righties who are much tougher on right-handed batters. Giants closer Santiago Casilla, in particular, is very ordinary against lefties, with a .849 OPS against compared to just .622 against righties. Also, the Giants are a mostly righty-dominated bullpen.
Meanwhile, the Cubs are very familiar with Mets stud closer Jeurys Familia, as he has shut them down several times in the past. His OPS splits differ by about 100 points, with just a .526 mark against righties, so the case could be made, if the Cubs are thinking about pinch hitters in a crucial spot, that La Stella might have the better chance. There’s an old saying in baseball when it comes to hitters: You can never have enough lefties. That could be the driving force behind the final roster decisions; however, Almora was a first-round pick for a reason and has a dangerous skill set.
The Cubs have until Friday morning to make their final decisions.