Cubs see wild-card change as a golden opportunity
By GORDON WITTENMyER firstname.lastname@example.org March 3, 2012 7:56PM
Chicago Cubs third baseman Ian Stewart stretches before the workout on Tuesday February 28, 2012 at Fitch Park in Mesa, Arizona. | TOM CRUZE~Sun-Times
Updated: April 5, 2012 8:25AM
MESA, Ariz. — Could the addition of a second wild-card playoff team from each league amount to perfect timing for the ‘‘building, not rebuilding’’ Cubs, who believe they can surprise in the National League this year?
‘‘It’s good timing for everybody,’’ Cubs manager Dale Sveum said. ‘‘You might have 10 extra teams that are vying for those spots [in September]. . . . The more teams you can get in the playoffs, the better it is. You can fight longer. And it puts a couple other teams in the running to make a trade at the deadline.’’
Whether it actually comes into play for the Cubs the first time around, the players and staff seem to all like the new format, which means a one-game playoff for the wild-card qualifiers and the potential for third-place teams to reach the postseason.
‘‘I think it’s kind of cool,’’ third baseman Ian Stewart said. ‘‘Some people may think it’s making it kind of crowded, or ‘What’s the point?’ But I think it’s good. There’s a lot of teams that miss out by just a game. This gives them a chance to get in. If I’m one of the teams where I’ve got to play that team and we lose, we’re going to think that sucks.
‘‘But it’s interesting. . . . I’m sure we’ll see a team someday get in and then win that one game and then go on to win a World Series. It should be exciting.’’
If anybody should know, it’s Stewart, whose Colorado Rockies beat the San Diego Padres in a one-game playoff in 2007 in what now would be the wild-card playoff game.
‘‘Exactly,’’ he said.
Right-hander Jay Jackson, a former ninth-round pick who spent the last two seasons at Class AAA Iowa, pitched three perfect innings during Saturday’s intrasquad game.
Top outfield prospect Brett Jackson helped support the effort when he hit his second home run in as many days of intrasquad play — both times in lefty-on-lefty matchups.
‘‘I know I can help this ballclub any way they need me to,’’ said Jay Jackson, whose best shot at breaking camp with the team is the bullpen. ‘‘So anything they want me to do, I’m more than willing to do it.’’
Brett Jackson, a 2009 first-rounder, is trying to change the staff’s mind about sending him to Class AAA to start the season.
The lineup for Sunday’s Cactus League opener against the Oakland Athletics: LF Alfonso Soriano, 3B Stewart, SS Starlin Castro, 1B Bryan LaHair, CF Marlon Byrd, RF David DeJesus, DH Jeff Baker, 2B Darwin Barney, C Welington Castillo. Rodrigo Lopez starts on the mound.
◆ Catcher Geovany Soto, who has been slowed for more than a week by a mild groin strain, is expected to be ready to play by the end of this week.