Cubs not looking beyond September yet

Cubs not looking beyond September yet

ST. LOUIS -- The Cubs may be close to clinching the National League Central for the first time since 2008, and could do so against their biggest rivals, the Cardinals, but getting that postseason berth is all that's on the players' minds, not where they do it or who will be on the playoff roster.

"It doesn't [matter where]," manager Joe Maddon said on Monday. "Honestly, it doesn't. It just matters that we do. You'd always rather have it happen sooner rather than later just to make plans. I have no preference. Just to do it would be my preference."

The Cubs began play on Monday with a 16-game lead in the division and a chance to clinch on Wednesday if they sweep the Cardinals in the three-game series. But St. Louis is still alive in the NL Wild Card race and is also one of three teams with a winning record against Chicago this season.

"Bully for them," Maddon said.

General manager Jed Hoyer said there have been no discussions regarding the potential playoff roster, partly because the Cubs need to know who they'll face.

"We haven't made any decisions, nor do I think we'll make any all that soon," Hoyer said on Monday. "We have some time to make those decisions, and some of the movements we've made with the rotation the last few days aren't linked at all to the way things could line up later on. It's just trying to get guys the right rest, right matchups."

Last year the Cubs won a Wild Card berth, and after beating the Pirates, ousted the Cardinals in the NL Division Series. Did the young Cubs learn anything from last year's NLDS?

"I think the biggest thing is just confidence, especially for the guys who have been here for a long time and have gotten beat up by the Cardinals for a few years," pitcher Jon Lester said. "I felt last year we played them really well, but they always found a way to beat us late in the game [during the regular season]. To do that in the playoffs on a big stage, I think was a big confidence booster for our guys."

But Lester was quick to caution that having the best record in the Major Leagues this year won't mean anything if the Cubs don't complete this journey.

"The Cardinals won 100 games last year," he said. "No matter what you do during the season, it's nice, it's fun, it's the process, but what matters here is another month. That's where we put our handprint on the season. ... What this team will be remembered for is next month, not during the season and how many wins and all that stuff."

Lester said the players have done a good job of not looking too far ahead.

"You can't worry about matchups and the postseason and where we might have to travel to," he said. "We have to worry about right now, today, and I think that's what made our team really good this year."

The Cubs also will be happy to not have to deal with the Wild Card game.

"I feel the one-game playoff last year, we're humble enough to realize that's a crapshoot," Hoyer said. "We had the hottest pitcher in the last 25 years on the mound [in Jake Arrieta], and even still, if [Starling] Marte's ball gets through in the sixth inning, it's a 4-2 game with runners at first and third and one out. We got lucky, and it was a double play.

"You look at that game and that environment, and you don't want to go through that," Hoyer said. "Everyone wants a series to test themselves."

Carrie Muskat has covered the Cubs since 1987, and for MLB.com since 2001. 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.