Bunting practice reinforces key fundamental

Bunting practice reinforces key fundamental

MILWAUKEE -- Prior to the Cubs' 161st game on Saturday, players and pitchers were working on their bunting. Manager Joe Maddon wanted to make the most out of their batting practice in preparation for Wednesday's National League Wild Card Game presented by Budweiser.

"The thing I love is these are Major League players going to the playoffs, and they're out there paying attention and they're very enthusiastic about it," Maddon said. "That's pretty solid."

One never knows if a little thing like a well-executed bunt can be the difference in a postseason game.

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"We've worked on it all year," Maddon said. "But if you do it like that [prior to the playoffs], what does it tell the players? That it's really important."

This final week of regular-season games has been a little like instructional league, Maddon said.

"You alter your lineups, you try to keep guys fresh," he said. "In instructional league, you give guys the opportunity to play based on things you talked about or taught that morning. It feels like an instructional league moment, and that was my favorite time of year."

Worth noting

• A key moment in the Cubs' season came Aug. 7 when rookie Addison Russell was shifted from second base to shortstop, replacing three-time All-Star Starlin Castro. The move stabilized the defense, Maddon said.

"Now, with the renaissance of Starlin [playing second], it just looks right, and it's gotten so much better," Maddon said. "It was obviously not an easy thing to do in the middle [of the season] based on what Starlin has already done in the game. I want to give [Castro] all the credit in the world the way Starlin has handled it."

Castro accepted the move, and led the National League in batting in September with a .426 average. He was hitting .236 when benched. And Russell has shown his respect for Castro as well. Maddon said one game, Russell was at shortstop and Castro was inserted later in the game. As they took the field, Russell headed toward second base.

"I think he did that out of respect for Starlin," Maddon said.

• On Friday, Cubs pitchers set a National League record with 1,414 team strikeouts, breaking the old mark of 1,404, set in 2003 by the Cubs. Chicago's .235 opponent batting average is the lowest by the Cubs pitching staff since the 1914 team (.233 batting average against).

Jason Motte, on the disabled list with a right shoulder strain, flew to Arizona on Saturday to continue his rehab at the Cubs' complex. He is expected to throw a simulated game there and pitch in an instructional league game. Motte won't be ready for Wednesday's Wild Card Game but wanted to be available if the Cubs advance.

"He said he knows how much experience matters," Maddon said. "He wanted to get ready for down the road."

Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. She writes a blog, Muskat Ramblings. You can follow her on Twitter @CarrieMuskat and listen to her podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.