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Cubs may face familiar foes in postseason

Maddon knows score as 3 teams from NL Central could qualify
Chicago Cubs manager Joe Maddon looks out from his dugout during warmups before a baseball game against the San Diego Padres in San Diego, Friday, July 13, 2018. (AP Photo/Alex Gallardo) (Alex Gallardo/AP)
September 24, 2018

CHICAGO -- There could be three teams from the National League Central in the postseason if the Cubs, Brewers and Cardinals all make it. Chicago manager Joe Maddon knows what it's like to face a familiar foe in the playoffs. He did that when he managed the Rays, having to

CHICAGO -- There could be three teams from the National League Central in the postseason if the Cubs, Brewers and Cardinals all make it. Chicago manager Joe Maddon knows what it's like to face a familiar foe in the playoffs. He did that when he managed the Rays, having to face the Red Sox in the American League Championship Series in 2008 and in the AL Division Series in 2013.
"Back with the Rays, we had to beat the Red Sox the 26th time we saw them to advance," Maddon said before Monday night's series opener against the Pirates at Wrigley Field.
The Cubs boast the best record in the NL, while the Brewers and Cardinals were battling in St. Louis to secure Wild Card berths. If the Cubs win the Central, who has the advantage?
"I don't know -- just whoever pitches better that night," Maddon said. "It's hard to do something different or new because both sides know each other pretty well. I've worried about that in the past, but I think I've learned to not.
"If you trust your players and put everybody out there, you have just as good a shot as they do. It's a mental exercise that you have to get beyond. It's the same for both sides. Go out and play your game, pitch well, get 27 outs -- all the baseball talk will help you win the game. It's kind of weird seeing somebody that often."
The Cubs went 11-8 against the Brewers in the regular season and are 7-9 against the Cardinals with three games remaining this weekend.
Bryant back in action
Kristopher Bryant was in the starting lineup on Monday after getting a break on Sunday. The third baseman missed all of August because of a sore left shoulder. He was slashing .275/.346/.406 with 27 strikeouts in 20 games since returning from the disabled list.
"You can't take it for granted that he's 100 percent well after what he had gone through," Maddon said.
Worth noting
• Reliever Pedro Strop (left hamstring) played catch and did some agility drills before Monday's game. The reliever hopes to pitch in a regular season game this week if possible. He's been sidelined since Sept. 13.
"He was pretty upbeat [Sunday] about where he's at," Maddon said.
• Right-hander Kyle Hendricks not only picked up his 13th win on Sunday, but he also set a career high in innings pitched. He's now totaled 191 innings in his 32 starts; his previous best was 190 in 2016.

"The big difference for me with him is the maintenance of his velocity," Maddon said. "No. 2 is that his changeup kept getting better. He's always had a great changeup, but they weren't swinging at it earlier. Earlier, they were taking that pitch. Now there's greater deception. [On Sunday], the curveball was a big pitch. Now when he goes changeup, curveball and 87, 88, 89 [mph] on occasion, that's why he's looking as good as he is.
"He's actually peaking a little now."

Carrie Muskat has covered the Cubs since 1987, and for MLB.com since 2001. You can follow her on Twitter @CarrieMuskat.