CHICAGO -- With an eye on October, the Chicago Cubs will continue with a six-man rotation this month as lefty Mike Montgomery will remain a starter despite the return of John Lackey from the disabled list.
"Just trying to keep guys fresh for the rest of the year," manager Joe Maddon said before Sunday's game against the San Francisco Giants. "It's no more complicated than that."
Montgomery will take his next turn in the rotation on Wednesday against the Milwaukee Brewers, giving the starters six days off between outings which includes an off-day on Thursday. The Cubs are taking no chances with their top arms as they prepare for up to three rounds of postseason baseball.
"Last year we saw it right before our eyes with Jake [Arrieta]," Maddon said. "The jump he encountered and what it meant at the end of last season."
It's well documented how Arrieta hit a wall last year in the NLCS against the New York Mets after increasing his workload from the year before. The Cubs can be conservative with their starters as a result of their double-digit lead in their division.
"Right now, throughout the industry you're hearing about fatigue and people being skipped and all that stuff," Maddon said. "Right now our starters are pitching as well as they have all year. I would like to think if we continue along this path we'll keep that freshness about them."
The one obstacle Maddon knows he'll run into is with his veteran pitchers. They don't necessarily like being pushed back extra days. Jon Lester, in particular, judges his season on whether he pitches 200 innings more than any other statistic. He has reached that number seven times in his career, needing 31 innings this year to hit that plateau.
"You run into a lot of regular starters that don't like that because they've been trained not to like that," Maddon said. Under Maddon's plan Lester should have four starts remaining, and he would need to average over seven innings per start to reach 200. That's not likely to happen. Maddon believes preparing for a World Series run will trump individual accomplishments.
"At that point I think they'll pretty happy," the manager stated. "If you have someone you like in the 6-hole it makes it easier ... At the end of the day they've been trained to think a certain way. I get it .I totally get it."