With NLCS Looming, Cubs Stretching out Four Arms as Potential Bullpen Additions

With their spot in the next round now guaranteed, the Cubs are preparing for the possibility of carrying an extra pitcher when they face either the Dodgers or Nationals in the NLCS. They rostered only 11 arms when facing the Giants, but it makes sense to consider adding reinforcements ahead of what could be a seven-game series. That means one of either Jason Hammel, Trevor Cahill, Rob Zastryzny, or Joe Smith.

Talking with 670 The Score’s Joe Ostrowski and Mike Esposito Wednesday, pitching coach Chris Bosio said that the quartet had been sent to Arizona to stretch out as the team determines whether to tweak things. Nothing will change with the rotation, but seeing Hendricks forced out early by a comebacker off the arm might have gotten the Cubs thinking about carrying another long man.

There’s also that whole 13-inning deal that saw Mike Montgomery pressed into four innings of work. While the days off between travel to and from Chicago and either Washington or LA afford some leeway in the form of additional rest, you can’t be too careful with those three straight road games in the middle. Going into extras or getting short starts in back-to-back days could really tax an 11-man pen.

It may sound like a misnomer to say that Hammel is stretching out, what with his role as a starter and all. But he hasn’t pitched in live action since September 24 and, if he were to be added, would likely only be used in emergency long-relief situations like the ones above. Hammel got in five innings of work in Mesa and seems like the frontrunner to land the spot if it does indeed open up, if only for his experience.

Cahill and Zastryzny each pitched 3 innings, while Smith worked only one. I can’t envision a scenario in which the funky sidewinder makes the roster, though the middle pair pose intriguing options. Cahill has done an excellent job of keeping the ball on the ground and Zastryzny offers another lefty arm that could come in handy in the next round, particularly if the Dodgers make it through.

The Nats have Bryce Harper and Daniel Murphy at the top of the order, but the Dodgers are replete with lefties. Consider that six of their eight starting position players (Utley, Seager, Gonzalez, Reddick, Pederson, Toles) in Game 4 hit from the left side and their .620 team OPS against lefties is last in the majors. Against righties, however, they posted a .772 OPS that ranked sixth. In stark contrast, the Nats have OPS’ed .783 against LHP (fourth in MLB) and only .742 against RHP (12th).

If the Cubs do indeed opt for a bigger bullpen, it’ll come at the expense of a position player. Given their usage thus far in the playoffs, I’d guess that either Tommy La Stella or Chris Coghlan would be the odd man out. Both are lefties and neither has much of a role outside of providing the occasional pinch-hit at-bat. If pressed to make a call right now, I’d say it’s La Stella who’s inactive. Between Ben Zobrist and Javy Baez, not to mention Coghlan’s (limited) history of playing the right side of the infield, TLS isn’t as much of a need.

I don’t want to put this all out there without making a more firm prediction, so I’ll say that the Cubs will indeed go with 12 arms and that the addition will be Hammel if they face the Nats and Zastryzny if it’s the Dodgers. In either case, La Stella would be removed from the active roster. All of which pretty much assures us that there’ll be no changes or that it’ll be Cahill on and Coghlan off.

What do you think, though: Do the Cubs opt to carry 12 pitchers? If so, who do they add and who is removed to make room?

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