Piniella Plays It Safe, Keeps Cubs Fresh For Playoffs

Steve RoelandCorrespondent ISeptember 27, 2008

Opposites attract.

That old adage seems to be carrying plenty of weight this weekend in Milwaukee's Miller Park. On one hand, Brew City's Brewers are fighting tooth-and-nail for their playoff lives. Interim manager Dale Sveum is using every available resource he has to claim the National League's wild card. With Brewers ace CC Sabathia pitching on short rest Sunday for the third consecutive time, the Crew will stop at nothing to earn a win in their final game of the season.

On the other hand, the Chicago Cubs have nothing to play for in Sunday's contest between the two rivals. Having locked up the NL Central crown and home-field advantage in the playoffs last week, these final few series have given the Cubs a chance to rest up their regulars and give prospects a shot in the show. Starting pitchers have been put on pitch counts and ailing players have been awarded an opportunity to heal.

Cubs' manager Lou Piniella has played some starters extensively throughout the last several series, making sure his lineup stays sharp. Even using his younger players, Sweet Lou has pulled out wins against teams who are itching and scratching for berths into October.

Piniella's strategy of resting his regulars seems to be the logical thing to do. The fact that he is still giving players like Derek Lee and Aramis Ramirez at-bats will keep them loose and rust-free going into the NLDS next week. And sending his regular rotation out to the mound each game, even putting them on a 75-80-pitch limit, will ensure that thier arms are ready to go.

The starters' pitch limit has allowed for an increase in work for the bullpen. Inexperienced relievers like Jeff Samardzija have been able to work through tough spots, gaining valuable knowledge in games that had no bearing on the Cubs playoff positioning.

With one game remaining in the season, the I-94 series between the Cubs and Brewers features two squads with complely opposite mindsets. While the Brewers hope to take two steps forward and end their 26-year playoff drought, the Cubs are trying not to take two steps back, keeping their lineup fresh for the post-season.

And it's these opposites that bring baseball fans together for one last time this regular season.