Three's company: Cubs stick with catcher trio

Three's company: Cubs stick with catcher trio

CHICAGO -- If manager Joe Maddon's regular-season tendencies are a harbinger for his October plans, get ready for a carousel of catchers for the Cubs this postseason.

It's been 14 years since a club last utilized three catchers in a postseason series. But given the way Maddon used his backstops en route to a 103-win season, this National League Division Series against San Francisco (Game 1 on Friday at 9 p.m. ET/8 CT, FS1) sets up for the Cubs to join that rare company.

Miguel Montero has been part of the Cubs' backstop mix since he was acquired in a trade with the D-backs in 2014. David Ross came in as Jon Lester's personal catcher. And Willson Contreras, who was summoned from Triple-A in mid-June, is the rising star.

Game Date Matchup Highlights
Gm 1 Oct. 7 CHC 1, SF 0 video
Gm 2 Oct. 8 CHC 5, SF 2 video
Gm 3 Oct. 10 SF 6, CHC, 5 (13) video
Gm 4 Oct. 11 CHC 6, SF 5 video

Together, the three guided Chicago's pitching staff to the Majors' lowest ERA (3.15) and supplied above-average offensive production from the position. The Cubs' catchers ranked among the Majors' top five in OPS (.756), on-base percentage (.339), home runs (29) and RBIs (90).

Each appeared behind the plate in at least 57 games, marking the eighth time in NL history that's been done by a team.

"It's unusual," Maddon said of the roster construction. "I've been on teams [that] they don't like any of their catchers. And now you like three."

Maddon went on to describe how the pitcher-catcher relationship plays a prominent role in his continued use of a catching trio. The most obvious pairing is Ross and Lester, who worked together in 31 of Lester's 32 starts. It's a relationship that dates back to their time in Boston, and one that helped propel Lester into the Cy Young conversation this year.

Lester on experience with Ross

The two will be batterymates again in Game 1.

"He knows what I'm going to bring, and I think we have a way of communicating to where we can talk each other off a ledge if we need to or pump each other up if we need to," Lester said. "So it's a good working relationship."

Ross likely won't draw another NLDS start -- unless a Game 5 becomes necessary -- which will leave Montero and Contreras as the Cubs' catching options for the rest of the series. Maddon may have telegraphed his plans when, on Thursday, he cited the comfort that Game 2 starter Kyle Hendricks seems to have throwing to Contreras, and the bond built between Game 3 starter Jake Arrieta on Montero.

In his 12 starts with Contreras behind the plate, Hendricks has a 1.51 ERA. As for Montero, he has started 20 of the 31 games Arrieta pitched.

"There's the comfort component of it, and there's real familiarity between the two that speaks to almost this ESP between the two of them," Maddon said. "They're able to really think what the other guy is thinking."

But Maddon's use of three catchers hasn't simply been matchup based. It's especially benefited Contreras, who is navigating through his first big league season. Maddon's use of a catching rotation has helped keep Contreras sharp and also freed the 24-year-old up to be used in left field.

Should all three draw a start against the Giants, the Cubs would join the 1915 Red Sox, the 1927 Yankees, the 1998 Padres and the 2002 D-backs as the only teams to start three catchers in a postseason series.

"It's fun to be a part of this group," Ross said. "One thing I know is I have trust in our catching group."

Jenifer Langosch has been a reporter for MLB.com since 2007. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.