Max Scherzer's uncertain status gives Cubs even more lineup options for NLDS

Joe Maddon's use of numerous lineups flustered some Cubs fans. It also kept potential opponents' advance scouts alert.

The uncertain status of Nationals ace Max Scherzer's right hamstring gives the Cubs even more lineup options for the National League Division Series.

From the time the Cubs clinched their third consecutive playoff berth, Maddon has been careful not to rule out any possibilities while hinting past success might not be weighed so heavily as he formulates his lineup.

"I don't want numbers to overemphasize the person, in a sense," Maddon said Sunday. "That's not to say I might not make a decision based on that. I still believe you trust your guys.

"I'm not at the end. I have not concluded anything but permitted myself to think about the things you're talking about. I'll listen."

Maddon was scheduled to take a long bicycle ride Monday along Lake Michigan to formulate some thoughts, but Tuesday's meeting with executives and coaches will give him more to ponder.

If history is any indicator, left-handed hitter Jon Jay could bat leadoff for at least two of the first three games, even against left-hander Gio Gonzalez. In fact, among Cubs likely to make the postseason roster who have faced Gonzalez three or more times, Jay has the best batting average at .267 (4-for-15).

For all the hype surrounding Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg — who could pitch Game 1 if Scherzer needs more time to heal — Gonzalez has limited current Cubs players to a lifetime .191 mark.

For the season, the Cubs batted .273 against left-handed starters and .250 against right-handed starters. Gonzalez held the Cubs to one run and two hits with eight strikeouts and five walks in six innings on June 26 in a game the Cubs came back to win 5-4.

As early as August 27, Maddon started looking ahead and started Gold Glove right fielder Jason Heyward in center field, which could be an option as he tries to fortify his offense against Scherzer and Strasburg.

Throughout the season, Maddon has tempered suggestions that Albert Almora Jr. get more playing time against right-handed pitchers, even after Almora hit a 96 mph pitch from Raisel Iglesias of the Reds for a home run in the ninth inning Sunday.

But Almora is 2-for-6 with two doubles against Strasburg, and an outfield of left fielder Ben Zobrist, Almora and Heyward (15-for-37, .405) against Strasburg is possible, with Jay (1-for-9) coming off the bench.

If there's any benefit for the Nationals to push back Scherzer to Game 3, it's that he's 10-2 with a 1.82 ERA on the road this season.

Scherzer allowed two hits in six innings in a win over the Cubs at Nationals Park on June 27, and he was pulled after only 93 pitches because he threw a season-high 121 pitches six days earlier in Miami.

"When this guy is on, I don't care who you're throwing up to the plate," Maddon said. "I got to know him during the All-Star break and was even more impressed."

mgonzales@chicagotribune.com

Twitter @MDGonzales

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