Takeaways from Cubs' final playoff tune-up

September 28th, 2020

CHICAGO -- The Cubs already had the National League Central title wrapped up when they took the field on Sunday afternoon. That made the season finale against the White Sox a chance to monitor a few things with October in mind.

In a 10-8 victory, rookie righty was impressive over five innings, making his case for a spot on the Cubs' postseason roster. homered for the second game in a row, showing that his recent injury scare may be behind him. And showed off his impact speed with a steal of home.

The Cubs also learned that their first-round opponent will be the Marlins.

"I've watched them a little bit," manager David Ross said. "They've earned their spot. I know they have a lot of confidence. It seems from afar that they believe in each other when nobody else does, and that's a powerful thing. We'll study them more and we'll get to know them and dive into them a little more."

The win gave the Cubs a 34-26 record to close out this challenging first season for Ross. Chicago will enter the postseason field as the No. 3 seed, setting the team up to face No. 6 Miami in the best-of-three Wild Card Series, beginning Wednesday at Wrigley Field.

Here are three takeaways from Sunday as the Cubs shift their focus to October:

1. Alzolay earns playoff roster spot?
Alzolay showed off a new slider in his previous outing in Pittsburgh, where he struck out seven in a four-inning relief appearance. On Sunday, the rookie righty got the start and limited the South Siders' potent offense to one run.

"You've got some power in that lineup," Ross said. "You see how quickly that team can score some runs. He kept them at bay pretty much the whole day early on. I thought the tempo was great. Really good performance from him."

Over his past two turns, Alzolay has piled up 15 strikeouts with four walks, four hits and two runs allowed in nine innings. If the right-hander cracks a postseason roster, it would likely be as a reliever.

"I can say it's pretty high right now," Alzolay said of his confidence level. "To me, it will mean a lot if I get the opportunity to be part of the 28-man roster for the postseason."

2. Hamilton shows October potential
What kind of weapon could Hamilton be in the postseason?

"The kind that wins you a World Series," Ross said. "That's the potential he has."

When the Cubs claimed Hamilton off waivers from the Mets on Sept. 7, the idea was to give Chicago a dynamic bench player for late-game situations. He could tighten up the defense in center in the final few frames, or come in as a pinch-runner and create some havoc.

"For some reason," Hamilton said, "I feel like in these playoffs I'm going to come up big, in whatever situation it is. Whether it's at the plate or doing something defensively or offensively. That's something we talk about every single day."

In the second inning on Sunday, Hamilton stole home as part of a double steal with Cameron Maybin, who drew a throw to first from the pitcher when he broke for second base. Ross also pointed out that even when Hamilton does not run, he can influence the kind of pitch a batter sees.

On Friday night, Hamilton pinch-ran for Kyle Schwarber and Victor Caratini followed with a two-run homer. Back on Sept. 12, Hamilton entered as a pinch-runner with runners on the corners against the Brewers, and then Jason Heyward launched a go-ahead, three-run blast off Josh Hader.

"He's a real threat and a real impact for this club," Ross said. "I think it was a great pickup. That's the kind of difference-maker that can win you a close ballgame, especially in a postseason format."

3. Bryant finding swing at right time
Bryant returned from a right oblique setback in a big way on Saturday night, launching a grand slam as part of a two-hit showing. The third baseman kept his foot on the gas on Sunday, when he ignited a six-run second inning with a leadoff shot that soared a Statcast-projected 446 feet.

"He looks great," Ross said. "That was loud and long. He looks like he feels really good. The at-bats are great. It's nice to see that. It looks like he's in a really good place."

That would be a huge lift for a Cubs' offense that ended the season with a .220/.318/.387 slash line.

Much of the team-wide struggles can be attributed to the subpar seasons from Bryant, Anthony Rizzo, Javier Báez and Schwarber. All four of those hitters have cleared the fence within the past five games. In the weekend series against the White Sox, the Cubs as a whole belted nine homers and scored 25 runs.

"I think this series was big," Cubs second baseman Jason Kipnis said. "All of them had good at-bats."