Why Cubs' Alec Mills, Jose Quintana Just Became Big Names for October

What MLB playoff format means for Cubs rotation down stretch originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago

Two days after Alec Mills pitched one of baseball’s unlikeliest no-hitters, that pitching performance — along with his previous start and Jon Lester’s scoreless outing Friday — suddenly looked a lot more significant for the Cubs on Tuesday.

That’s when Major League Baseball unveiled a postseason format that not only involves “bubble” sites for most of the postseason but also a schedule that includes no off days during any series until the World Series.

So much for all that talk in the last month about trying to come up with somebody — anybody — on the staff who looked reliable enough to make a playoff start after Yu Darvish and Kyle Hendricks.

Make that multiple somebodies.

The elimination of days off with no need to travel during a series means that dropping the fifth starter during the playoffs (much less the fourth, too, as some teams have tried) will be almost impossible for any of the 16 teams in the expanded postseason.

“When you have these series with no days off it’s going to test the depth of everybody’s team for sure,” Cubs manager David Ross said. “But I’d like to stay on the task of the season right now.”

That task over the final three series suddenly is more important than ever for the Cubs when it comes to Lester backing up Friday’s start after his worst five-start stretch as a Cub (9.26 ERA), Mills continuing to pitch well and — perhaps most importantly — getting Jose Quintana healthy enough to make a start by the end of a potential division series.

And that last part took on bigger significance with the news Tuesday that Tyler Chatwood had a setback while rehabbing his injured forearm/elbow and could be done for the year (Ross hypothesized a best-case scenario in which Chatwood is ready for bullpen work during the World Series).

The Cubs on Tuesday opened a 12-game final stretch during which eight games are against teams in playoff position, with Lester and Mills on track for two more starts each.

“The confidence level is obviously pretty good right now,” Mills said Tuesday. “But at the same time, I think you’re only as good as the next time you pitch. So I need to go out there and just kind of leap-frog off of that and just keep pitching like I know how.”

He said he didn’t want to talk about the playoffs yet, other than to offer to “do whatever they tell me, whether it’s starting or relief.”

The good news for the Cubs as Ross stays on the task of the rest of the season is that his rotation looks much more solid again after spending 25 games on shaky ground (5.65 ERA, despite a 1.04 performance by Darvish in that stretch).

They have as many quality starts in the last eight games (seven) as they did during that 25-game stretch.

“I felt a lot better [about the starters] when they were all healthy,” Ross said of the team’s 13-3 start that was fueled by an impressive-looking, healthy rotation.

“But it’s nice to get these guys back on track,” he said. “Jonny with a good outing, Millsy an amazing outing. Yu’s throwing well. Kyle obviously has pitched well. But we’ve got some really good opponents coming up that we’ve still got a lot of work to do and still some tests moving forward.”

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