Predicting Cubs postseason roster and Game 1 lineup in the first week of September

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Can the Cubs get to 95 wins?

I was posed this question by a friend over the holiday weekend. He was asking more for betting terms, but it got me thinking how realistic the possibility was.

Conventional wisdom would say "yes" just based on past history. The last time the top seed in the National League had fewer than 95 wins was in 2007, when the Arizona Diamondbacks finished with a 90-72 record.

The NL this year has redefined the word "parity", but the Cubs have still been the leaders of the pack for a while now and entered this week's series in Milwaukee on a roll.

After taking 10 of their last 13 games (after Monday's loss, the Cubs sit at 81-56 with 25 games left to play. 

In order to reach 95 wins, they'd have to fly the "W" flag 14 times in those 25 games.

That doesn't seem altogether difficult, but going 14-11 with this September schedule is going to be tough. 

The only sub-.500 teams the Cubs face in the final month of the regular season are against the Reds and White Sox, both teams that have been playing better than their record indicates of late.

But these Cubs know how important it would be to get that No. 1 seed in the NL and have homefield advantage throughout the playoffs. Even with Monday's loss to the Brewers, they've still been locked in for a couple weeks now.

"You look at the record and it's like — how did we get to this point? It's been laborious," Maddon said Monday. "A lot of things have not clicked like we have, particularly with the starting pitching. That has been the part that is probably maybe hitting its stride at the right time. 

"I thought it would like this earlier in the year. Of course, Cole [Hamels] being here. ... The acquisitions have helped straighten out the bullpen. The acquisitions have helped straighten out the rotation. and then, of course, the acquisition of Daniel [Murphy]. It's almost a different team right now. 

"Javy's been playing short, Addison's been out. Bote's been playing third, KB's out. And the ascension of Zobrist — Comeback Player of the Year. All this stuff has transpired before our very eyes, almost unnoticably. It's just happened. 

"You look up and here you are in September and you're playing pretty good. Yeah, it's where we want it to be, but how we've gotten here, it's a different path than we thought it was gonna be coming out of camp."

So as the Cubs cling to a four-game lead over the Brewers, let's take a look at how the playoff roster and Game 1 lineup might look like coming off Labor Day weekend.

As we did last week, we'll also project the team the Cubs might play in the NLDS — which would be the Brewers if the regular season ended today (they hold a 1.5-game lead on the Cardinals in the wild-card and thus would host the one-game playoff).

The Brewers would likely throw ace Jhoulys Chacin in the wild-card game, which means Chase Anderson might be the guy to start in the first game of the NLDS.

This year, Anderson has actually been a reverse-splits guy, hit harder by righties than lefties.

So a Cubs Game 1 lineup might look like this:

1. Daniel Murphy - 2B
2. Javy Baez - 3B
3. Anthony Rizzo - 1B
4. Kris Bryant - RF
5. Ben Zobrist - LF
6. Willson Contreras - C
7. Albert Almora Jr. - CF
8. Cole Hamels - P
9. Addison Russell - SS

Now, there's a lot at play here. For starters, Hamels has done nothing but further his case to be the Cubs' Game 1 starter in the postseason after another brilliant outing Monday in Milwaukee.

Then there's the Jason Heyward hamstring injury. He hit the disabled list over the weekend in Philadelphia and his current status is still in question. If he's not 100 percent by the first week of October, that would greatly impact what the Cubs do with their lineup in the NLDS.

However, if Heyward were healthy, he'd probably be in the Game 1 lineup, even against a reverse splits guy like Anderson.

Then you have Russell in there hitting ninth and playing shortstop, in part because righties hit Anderson better, but also because it gives the Cubs their best defensive lineup while still keeping Murphy in there for his bat atop the order.

We saw this defense — Russell at short, Baez at third, Bryant in right — in Monday's game against the Brewers and that very well could've been foreshadowing.

Zobrist in left over Schwarber is still a left-handed bat, but it seems more and more likely Zobrist will be in the Cubs starting lineup as much as possible in October. Maddon was talking up the 37-year-old veteran as a possible NL Comeback Player of the Year before Monday's game.

The Cubs' bench would then look like this:

Victor Caratini
David Bote
Tommy La Stella
Jason Heyward
Kyle Schwarber
Ian Happ

The Cubs opted for 14 position players and only 11 pitchers in the 2017 NLDS, as the two off-days in a five-game series allow for plenty of rest for the Game 1 and 2 starters — meaning whoever doesn't start Game 5 would be available out of the bullpen in an emergency situation. And there's no more than back-to-back days with games, so relievers have rest, as well.

Also over the last week, La Stella's bat has started to wake back up, including the all-important first home run of the season last Thursday in Atlanta that boosted the Cubs to a victory. It also tied the Cubs franchise record for pinch hits in a season (20), once again proving La Stella is one of the best in the game in that niche.

Pitching staff

Not much has changed here over the last week. Hamels is still clearly the best starter on the staff at the moment, with Lester and Hendricks both looking strong behind him. Those two will be in some combination after Hamels in an NLDS rotation.

Jose Quintana also still looks like the fourth starter in the Cubs postseason rotation, though he probably would be on such a short leash he may only throw four innings or so. Hard to see Maddon leaving Quintana out there for the third time through the order, even if the veteran southpaw has fantastic career numbers against the Brewers.

That leaves a bullpen that looks like this:

Brandon Morrow
Pedro Strop
Carl Edwards Jr.
Steve Cishek
Jesse Chavez
Justin Wilson
Mike Montgomery

The Cubs have one fewer reliever if they have an extra bench bat, so that means that Brandon Kintzler would be off the roster, in this scenario. 

Also, we haven't really seen much of a change in Morrow's rehab over the last week, so his insertion into a postseason bullpen is still just projection at this point. We haven't heard anything saying he won't return this year, so have to plan on Morrow in the October bullpen at the moment.

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