ST. LOUIS -- The Cubs may be the defending World Series champs but the Nationals have a better record. Chicago may be the underdog in the best-of-five National League Division Series presented by T-Mobile beginning Oct. 6 in Washington.• Dress for October: Get NL Central champs gear"It's very understandable," Cubs
ST. LOUIS -- The Cubs may be the defending World Series champs but the Nationals have a better record. Chicago may be the underdog in the best-of-five National League Division Series presented by T-Mobile beginning Oct. 6 in Washington.
• Dress for October: Get NL Central champs gear
"It's very understandable," Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. "It's kind of fun. I'm good with that. I never pay attention either way. It doesn't matter. It makes for good conversation and I get it. I understand why they'd say that about us. I feel really good about our guys and where they're at mentally."
The Nationals edged the Cubs, 4-3, in the season series, splitting four games in Washington, June 26-29, and taking a three-game set at Wrigley Field, Aug. 4-6.
"The Nationals are good, they're very good," Maddon said. "I love their pitching, their starters are that good. They really improved their bullpen with those acquisitions, [general manager Mike Rizzo] did a nice job. The team on the field is just solid -- they can play defense, they can run a little bit, they have power. It really is a well-conceived ballclub. There are no holes.
"You have to just play them straight up and play better than them," Maddon said. "You have to pitch better than them, and that's a big part of it, because they're going to pitch good. They're a really wonderful opponent."
• Javier Baez, Victor Caratini and Rene Rivera got together with Maddon to create T-shirts to sell to raise money for relief efforts in Puerto Rico, which was damaged by Hurricane Maria. The shirts say, "Puerto Rico Fuerte," and were available on KorkedBaseball.com. "Fuerte" is Spanish for "strong."
The Cubs also announced that proceeds from Saturday's Cubs Charities 50/50 Raffle at Wrigley Field will be donated to hurricane-relief efforts in Puerto Rico. Fans can purchase the raffle tickets from uniformed sellers starting two hours before the game until the middle of the seventh inning.
Additionally, proceeds from Saturday's sales at the Cubs Authentics kiosk will be combined with the Cubs Charities 50/50 Raffle donation to help the hurricane-relief efforts.
• Cubs outfielder Albert Almora Jr. was not available Thursday because he still felt some soreness in his back from his collision with the outfield wall at Busch Stadium.
"I feel a lot better than [Wednesday], but I don't think it's good enough to put myself out there," Almora said Thursday.
He tried to hit and run, but wasn't comfortable. Throwing is not a problem, which is good because Almora suffered a bruised right shoulder.
Carrie Muskat has covered the Cubs since 1987, and for MLB.com since 2001. She writes a blog, Muskat Ramblings, and you can follow her on Twitter @CarrieMuskat.