Notes: Cubs' Gm. 3 outlook; Bryant update

September 23rd, 2020

Under the playoff format this year, playing Game 3 in the Wild Card Series is a possibility, not a given. The first round is a best-of-three series, and teams will need to have a third-starter contingency plan in place.

For the Cubs, veteran appears to be the likely pick.

"Jon's experience goes a long way for me," Cubs manager David Ross said this week. "Putting somebody out there that can handle the moment, I think is very powerful. I'm going to bet on Jon Lester in a postseason environment."

Ross said that and (order to be announced) would be Chicago's top two starters in the Wild Card Series. Certainly, Ross and his staff will also break down the Cubs' opponent to see if something jumps off the page in terms of matchups.

If Lester is not the pick, right-hander -- he of the no-hitter on Sept. 13 in Milwaukee -- would be the next logical choice. Behind that pair, is still being stretched out, and lacks the kind of experience Ross will want for such a crucial role.

The 36-year-old Lester has three World Series rings and a 2.51 ERA across 154 career innings in the postseason. That includes a 2.44 ERA in 70 career playoff innings with the Cubs. It also helps that the veteran lefty has looked much better of late, turning in a 1.06 ERA and .518 opponents' OPS in his past three starts.

"Jon is still getting to a point where his caliber of pitching is up to the standards he expects," Ross said. "He's going to handle that [postseason] stage -- which is a bigger stage than I think people give it credit for -- better than most, because he's been there. And I think it actually raises his game.

"As many times as I've seen him on that stage, I think it makes him better, where I don't know that I can say that about a lot of people that I've played with in that environment. He definitely takes it to the next level."

Bryant continuing to improve
Ross is still hopeful third baseman (right oblique) can play again before the end of the regular season.

"I'm optimistic," Ross said on Wednesday. "Maybe that's just my personality, so don't take that too far. But, he felt better today."

Ross noted that Bryant, who tweaked his side on a swing during Monday's game against the Pirates, was going through a series of mobility testing on Wednesday. The manager said the goal was to keep introducing "a little more strenuous activity" into the rehab program.

Alzolay shows off new slider
During his time at the South Bend (Ind.) alternate training site this season, Alzolay has worked on a two-seamer and, more recently, a retooled slider. In Tuesday's 3-2 loss to the Pirates, Alzolay showed off his improved breaking ball, generating 10 whiffs (out of 14) and five strikeouts (out of seven) with the slider.


Alzolay -- the Cubs' No. 6 prospect per MLB Pipeline -- credited the South Bend staff, along with Cubs director of pitching Craig Breslow, for helping with the pitch over the past two weeks.

"We got a new grip on the pitch," Alzolay said on Tuesday. "It's more like a cutter grip, so I can just stay behind the ball longer. The velo went up. ... Today it was good, it was working. But, since it's new for me, I know that that pitch can get better."

Worth noting
• Hendricks (Wednesday's starter) will have six or seven days off between outings, leading up to Game 1 or Game 2 in the Wild Card Series. Ross said it's possible Hendricks would get an inning during Sunday's season finale, "depending on what that game means."

• Quintana logged two innings and 34 pitches on Tuesday in his return from the 10-day injured list, and he remains on target to start the Cubs' last game against the White Sox on Sunday.

• Designated hitter José Martínez entered Wednesday mired in an 0-for-20 funk since joining the Cubs. Historian Ed Hartig points out that the last position player to begin a Cubs career 0-for-20 was Hall of Famer Ryne Sandberg in 1982.

"We're going to continue to work on that and continue to try things that can get us going. If I know anything about this group, when the lights shine the brightest, a lot of these guys have been there and have stepped up and risen to the occasion. So, maybe the stage does it." -- Ross, on the team's offensive struggles