Carlos Zambrano will start Friday in the Cubs' series opener against Cincinnati, followed by Rich Hill and Ted Lilly. Lilly could be skipped if the Cubs do clinch the National League Central before Sunday's game, which is the regular-season finale.
"The big thing is letting Zambrano pitch on his fifth day, and that being the case, he can pitch on his fifth day for the first game of the playoffs, which makes perfect sense," Piniella said Wednesday. "Hill, every time we've given him a little more time, he's actually pitched better."
The National League Division Series opens in one week, on Oct. 3. But don't ask Piniella if he's been working on picking a postseason roster. Cubs general manager Jim Hendry touched on the subject on the trip to Miami on Monday.
"I think Jim was a little superstitious," Piniella said. "I haven't thought about [picking the playoff roster] much at all. The number of pitchers, I think that will be the biggest decision. That will dictate what we can or can't do.
"We're going to wait. We have plenty of time to make those decisions. The season is over on Sunday, and the playoffs don't start until Wednesday."
The Cubs, who began Wednesday with a two-game lead over the Milwaukee Brewers in the Central, need to clinch first.
"The only conversation we had was on the airplane Monday, and [Hendry] said, 'Let's wait,' and that's fine," Piniella said.
Party time: There's no protocol as to how to celebrate clinching a division.
"You want to let your emotions go, let 'em go," Piniella said. "If you don't, you don't. I think this team will let them go. We've been at it hot and heavy since the middle of August. This is not a one-week pennant race. It's been six weeks of back and forth, back and forth. It's been fun, but I'll tell you what, it takes its toll."
When a reporter tried to explain that the Cubs, whose magic number is four, could clinch as early as Thursday, Piniella stopped him.
"Let's wait until Friday to clinch," he said. "That will be good enough for us."
Hangover: Mark DeRosa was just as animated but not as mad on Wednesday after being called out on strikes leading off the ninth inning Tuesday.
"It's over now, and there's nothing you can do about it," DeRosa said of home-plate umpire Andy Fletcher's call. "It's frustrating because it's a big situation for us. If I'm able to get on base, anything can happen with Derrek [Lee] and Aramis [Ramirez] hitting behind me."
The Cubs lost, 4-2, and DeRosa was upset at the call because the pitch was outside. Way outside.
"I'm a guy who prides myself on knowing the strike zone pretty good," he said. "Even though my strikeouts are up there, I feel I do know the strike zone. It's funny, you'll take pitches you think are balls, and you look at video and realize they're are lot closer than you give the umpire credit for. In that case, I knew that pitch was off the plate.
"When you get to two strikes, you cover away. If a guy can paint the fastball in or drop a front-door slider with two strikes, you tip your hat. For him to throw a cutter away and get at least six inches off the outside part in the top of the ninth in a 4-2 game is frustrating.
"Sometimes human error plays a part. We make mistakes, the umpire makes mistakes, coaches make mistakes. It was frustrating for a minute. You get the leadoff guy on in a tight game, and not only does it make the pitcher start thinking a little or the infielders think a little -- we've all been in that position."
But the bad feelings don't carry over, and nothing will be said.
Panic attack: Ryan Dempster knows every loss is magnified in the final week of play, and he can recognize there was probably some angst after Tuesday's loss to the Marlins. But he doesn't blame any of this on the Cubs' long history of futility.
"I know it's hard for people to understand, but we don't think about it," he said. "We think about winning a ballgame today. There's something different about this team. This is something special, good things are happening."
Yes, there are five games remaining, counting Wednesday.
"I'm not a mathematician," Dempster said. "I did see in the paper that we're two up, and we're in first place with five to go. If we win one today, maybe one the next day, one the next day, I think our chances are good of getting in.
"We just have to worry about ourselves. We just have to worry about going out and winning a ballgame."
Quote of the day: "We started out yesterday with three mulligans in our pocket, and we hit one out of bounds. Now we're down to two. Let's hope we don't have to use these other two." -- Piniella
Extra bases: Expect Jason Kendall to get the majority of starts behind the plate for the remaining games. "This is experience time," Piniella said. "This is when you use experience people, and you go with them. This is not time to experiment too much or get too cute." ... Saturday's game at Cincinnati will start at 2:55 p.m. CT to accommodate a national television broadcast. The game will still be shown on WGN in Chicago. ... Sam Fuld is supposed to report to Arizona on Sunday to start the Arizona Fall League. He can wait. Former Cubs player Dave Clark will be the Mesa team's manager. ... Kudos to the visiting clubhouse staff at Dolphin Stadium. They had framed photos from Tuesday's game on the wall in the entry way, and will update those photos from Wednesday's game as well.
On deck: Steve Trachsel will make his first start since Sept. 13 in the series finale against Scott Olsen and the Marlins on Friday. First pitch will be 3:05 p.m. CT, and the game will be broadcast on WGN.
Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.Less