With three meaningless games left before the Chicago Cubs kick off what they -- and their championship-starved -- fan base hope is a historic playoff run, manager Joe Maddon had to assess some in-house drama as the team prepared to play the Reds in Cincinnati during the final series of the regular season.
Chicago locked down its playoff berth on Sept. 16, and since then, Maddon has been liberal with his rest and substitution patterns.
The changes rankled some of his regulars, most recently Jake Arrieta and Miguel Montero, who made their feelings known after an 8-4 loss to the Pirates on Wednesday night.
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Maddon opted to pull Montero in the fifth inning and replaced with him rookie Willson Contreras. The Pirates scored three runs in the inning, chasing Arrieta.
"It felt like a spring training game from the get-go," said Arrieta, who allowed seven runs on 10 hits, both career highs, in five innings.
Despite the gripes, Maddon plans to employ similar methods this weekend against the Reds, limiting pitches for his starters, pulling position players after a few at-bats but keeping relievers on their usual schedule.
"In regards to feeling that competitive moment, it's almost impossible to replicate that unless you actually are playing to get into the playoffs," Maddon said. "And you're playing against a team that is not playing for anything, either. So these are all mind games you have to play with yourself in order to replicate what you want."
Right-hander Jake Buchanan will make his first Cubs start Friday in the series opener. He has made just one appearance for Chicago since being called up Sept. 1, allowing one run in one inning at Milwaukee on Sept. 5.
He had a 4.35 ERA and 93 strikeouts over 130 1/3 innings in 22 starts for Triple-A Iowa this season.
Buchanan will face the Cubs for the first time in a career that included major league time with the Houston Astros in 2014 and 2015.
Cincinnati, playing out the string on a last-place season, will hand the ball to right-hander Josh Smith, who gets his second start of the season, both against the Cubs.
Smith (3-2, 4.77 ERA) allowed just a run on three hits with two walks and three strikeouts over three innings during a Sept. 20 loss.
In all, he has faced Chicago three times this year, going 0-1 with a 3.86 ERA.
Heading into the final weekend of the season, Cincinnati manager Bryan Price is unsure if will return to the bench in 2017.
"I'm trying to stay in the present, however, I understand that we're building toward the future," said Price, who has a 172-241 record since taking the helm before the 2014 season. "I keep my eye on the future as well. This stuff, it's not a huge, bothersome concern. I know that eventually, it's going to be settled. I'll be back or I won't.
"I don't mind talking about the future at all, I really don't. The future of the players. I really don't want to talk about my future until I have a pretty good grasp on what's going to happen."