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What a difference a year makes.
Last season, the Cubs put the pedal to the metal in advance of a four-game series with the San Francisco Giants at Wrigley Field in August and never looked back until they ran into the brick wall that was the New York Mets in the NLCS.
This season, with another four-game set with the Giants at the "Friendly Confines" on tap this week, the Cubs are in a completely different position.
There is no need for Joe Maddon to step on the gas and floor it into the postseason.
The Cubs entered play Monday 14 games up in the NL Central and they've already started counting down their magic number before the calendar has even flipped to September.
This year, it's going to be about rest and keeping guys sharp and fresh entering October, which the Cubs learned is key after last season.
Right now, the Cubs don't need to lean on Jake Arrieta to come close to a complete game each time out or utilize relievers on three straight nights in tight ballgames.
"I think our guys understand where we're at and it's going to be important to get where we want to go to be at their best," Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein said Monday at Wrigley. "Last year's stretch and playoffs especially was instructive.
"I think we pushed guys hard during the year and it'd be nice for them to be at their absolute best during the most important time of year down the stretch and hopefully into October."
[SHOP: Gear up, Cubs fans!]
The Cubs also have some reinforcements on the way with rosters expanding to 40 players Thursday.
Tommy La Stella continues to work out in the minor leagues and Epstein acknowledged Monday the left-handed role player could be back in Chicago as soon as this week.
"The guys coming up will get some playing time," Maddon said. "I've always talked about in a bad game or even in a really good game, to get guys off their feet, that's important.
"Whoever we're going to bring up right now, they're going to be pertinent people that are going to help us win also right now."
Hector Rondon (triceps) and Pedro Strop (knee) are progressing "really well," Maddon said, with Rondon nearing a return while Strop threw in Chicago during the Cubs' recent road trip and reported no issues.
"We're just trying to really play it smart, not push them to come back too quickly," Maddon said. "But they're both making great progress."
John Lackey (strained shoulder) is slated to throw a pair of bullpens this week and could return from the disabled list on the current homestand if all goes well.
When Lackey does come back, the Cubs could keep Mike Montgomery as a starter and go with a six-man rotation to keep everybody fresher down the stretch.
With all the rest in mind, Maddon isn't worried about his players getting rusty or losing their edge at all.
Maddon admitted he's never been in a position like this where the Cubs are close to locking up a playoff spot and still have a month to play. But he compared the idea of taking the foot off the gas to the same way teams handle pitchers at the end of spring training before the regular season starts.
"You're trying to conserve their moments for the most important time of the year," Maddon said. "Regardless of any kind of pushback you might get from the players themselves, I still think you can do it and control it and not worry about the rust component.
"I think by this time of year, rest in a more intelligent manner - limiting innings or number of pitches thrown - I don't think that's going to cause a negative downturn in their abilities by the end of September."
Of course, just because the Cubs are prioritizing rest doesn't mean they're going to take their foot off the gas completely.
Epstein, Lackey and Jon Lester saw firsthand how quickly a large lead can evaporate with the 2011 Boston Red Sox
"I think once you go through a year in which you have a double digit lead right before Labor Day and screw it up and don't even get into October, you don't take anything for granted," Epstein said. "I guess that's the only good thing to come out of September 2011 for me - I'll never look too far ahead and I'll never take anything for granted.
"You have to have a broad perspective and look ahead and understand what might lie ahead, but you have to go earn it. That's been our team's approach from the very beginning - not to accept some of the praise that's come our way. It's to go out and try to earn it with our play and that's definitely true in the month of September."
We heard Will Likely would be utilized on the offensive side of the ball this season, but we weren't sure in what fashion.
Well, first-year head coach DJ Durkin apparently has big plans for the All-Big Ten defensive back, who was listed as a starter on both the offensive and defensive sides of the ball when the Terps put out their Week 1 depth chart Monday.
In addition to being the No. 1 starter at nickel back, Likely is also listed as a co-starter at one of the wide receiver positions.
Maryland's 2-deep for Howard has been released. Tyrrell Pigrome and Max Bortenschlager are backing up Perry Hills. pic.twitter.com/Mo2yez2N7Q— Roman Stubbs (@romanstubbs) August 29, 2016
And while Maryland's depth chart didn't list starting return men, you'd have to figure Likely will be the featured player there, as well.
That's quite the workload for the guy who returned to College Park for his senior season.
Of course, there's little doubt that Likely is Maryland's best player. Durkin is going to make sure he gets the most out of Likely this season.
The Terps open their season Saturday against Howard.
DETROIT -- He’d already made out the lineup card for Monday, but Robin Ventura wanted to check in on Adam Eaton.
It’s not often Eaton voluntarily leaves a game as he did Sunday.
So even though the preliminary report was that Eaton was cleared, the White Sox manager held a 60-second conversation with his outfielder before the opener of a three-game series against the Detroit Tigers. As he suspected, Eaton, who left in the fifth inning of Sunday’s win with a bruised right forearm, reported he felt fine.
“I was waiting around to see what he felt like, but yesterday he couldn’t grip anything,” Ventura said. “Today it’s good enough for him to play. He’s been able to battle through some stuff, and he can play with pain, so I’m going to let him do it.
“You know it takes a lot for him to come out of a game, and it takes a lot for him to show up the next day and not be in it. There’s very few times he has come in and said he couldn’t go. It would have to be pretty bad for him to not be in there.”
[SHOP: Gear up, White Sox fans!]
Eaton -- who is hitting .276/.359/.412 with 11 home runs and 45 RBIs -- joked he normally plays at about 75 percent for most games. He suggested that number dropped by one percent after Taijuan Walker hit him with a pitch and caused swelling in the fourth inning. Eaton stayed in the game until the bottom of the fifth and later had X-rays of his forearm taken, which proved negative. He said he didn’t have much strength in the area on Sunday, but it wasn’t an issue on Monday.
“Nothing broke, nothing major just a lot of swelling,” Eaton said. “I don’t like to leave games at all. It’s no offense to anybody else. But if I’m in the game I want to stay in the game. I don’t want to be Wally Pipp’d. It has always been my mindset and still is. I couldn’t really raise the bat up all that efficiently and we had a healthy Shuck. Let him go up there and compete. I hate coming out of the game, but sometimes you have to. I respect (Ventura) for getting me back in there right away and I guess, trusting in me that I’m all right and good enough to play.”
One reason Eaton pressed to play -- he’s not ready to give in. The leadoff man knows the odds are heavily against the possibility of a White Sox postseason berth. But isn’t ready to concede just yet.
“We’re not out of it until they say we’re out of it,” Eaton said. “There’s been teams down seven or 10 games and the last month of September have won 20 something games and forced a one-game playoff and gotten to the playoffs and been hot at the right time and made a good push. We’re not counting ourselves out and we want to continue to play good baseball.”