Power could be priority as Joe Maddon ponders lineups against Nationals

Manager Joe Maddon wasn't afraid to sacrifice some defense for some much-welcomed offense in the 2015 National League wild-card game when he started Kyle Schwarber in right field and Tommy La Stella at third base.

A similar scenario exists this year as the Cubs await whether they will face Max Scherzer or Stephen Strasburg of the Nationals in Game 1 of the National League Division Series on Friday night in Washington.

"That's always a good way to go if you can, if you can beat them up early or grab the lead and hold onto it," Maddon said before the Cubs' simulated game Tuesday at Wrigley Field. "We've done that in the past."

The Cubs were able to beat formidable Gerrit Cole of the Pirates in the wild-card game, partly because Schwarber had an RBI single and a two-run homer in his first two at-bats before he was lifted for defensive purposes in the seventh inning of the 4-0 victory.

This year the Cubs could start Schwarber, who hit 30 home runs despite batting .211, or Ian Happ in the outfield before juggling the lineup to insert Albert Almora Jr. — one of their best defensive outfielders — in the latter innings to protect a lead.

"It's somewhat better normally if you have those options," Maddon said. "But you think the hitter and the offense has a chance to gain an advantage for you, go ahead and (substitute) as the game gets deeper."

This option could come to the fore after Maddon, front office executives and selected staff members finalize the makeup of the roster and the rotation during a meeting Wednesday morning.

The Cubs haven't decided whether to carry 14 position players and 11 pitchers or opt for one fewer position player and one more pitcher.

Schwarber, who said he came close to being inserted at third base in a game two years ago, is ready for whatever Maddon decides.

"Whatever skipper (Maddon) runs out there is what we're going to back him with," Schwarber said. "We always have his back 100 percent whatever he does, if he wants to do that or something else, we got his back."

One consideration is that Schwarber doesn't have much pinch-hitting experience, while fellow left-handed hitter Jon Jay is more versatile and was 14-for-41 (.341) as a pinch-hitter this season.

Schwarber also could serve as an emergency catcher, which could lessen the need to carry a third catcher.

Schwarber was the first of 11 players used at the leadoff spot this season, and right fielder Jason Heyward played three innings in center field in Sunday's regular season finale. So the players shouldn't be surprised when Maddon informs them of his intentions.

"Every guy in our lineup does a great job of being flexible and doing what the club needs," Ben Zobrist said. "That's the mark of team players. We have a lot of team players, great guys who are willing to do whatever it takes.

"There are guys who don't feel comfortable (pinch hitting). But it doesn't matter. We have some guys who have done it well, and we'll figure it out. Whatever (our lineup) is, we'll be confident."

mgonzales@chicagotribune.com

Twitter @MDGonzales

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