There aren’t many questions left for the Chicago Cubs to answer this season. At this point, with roughly two months remaining in the regular season, the main quandary observers have is whether this team is good enough to win in October. Piling up wins in the summer is great, but the playoffs will be the victories that really matter, especially for this franchise with this roster.
Everyone knows the lineup is great. It is so deep from top to bottom that Chicago is forced to push good hitters to the bench each and every day. There aren’t enough spots open in the batting order. But what about the pitching staff? The bullpen hasn’t been great, but some small acquisitions can change that for the better. All it will take is one superior arm to push everyone down a spot in responsibility and balance out the entire group.
The rotation is where Chicago will make its bones in the postseason. With the way the schedule shakes out in October, a brilliant rotation is the best tool a World Series hopeful can have. The interesting thing for the Cubs is whether their five-man rotation can whittle its way down to a four- or three-man unit that is more reliable.
As of July 21, only six Cubs have started a game this season, and one, Adam Warren, started just one time. That means 93 of the team’s 94 games have been started by the quintet of Jake Arrieta, Jon Lester, Kyle Hendricks, Jason Hammel and John Lackey. It’s rather remarkable.
Perhaps even more remarkable is the fact that all five guys have been pretty good to this point. They have all already surpassed the 100-innings mark and all have at least 10 quality starts to their name. But whether that reliability of depth can continue through the postseason is the question. Teams don’t often turn to a full five-man rotation each round of the playoffs with more off-days and tougher competition on the other side.
Obviously Arrieta and Lester are studs who will remain in the rotation no matter how slim it gets. Though each had a blip of struggles during June, the numbers for the pair are incredible. The biggest knock against Arrieta is he walks too many batters, but with his strikeout totals and general unhittable-ness, it’s hard to complain. This year, he is most likely going to fly past his walk totals from the past couple seasons and may set a new career-high, but again, Cubs fans will live with it. With Lester, home runs are the problem. He has allowed a team-high 17 already, which is already more than he allowed each of the past two seasons. But Lester allows so few baserunners that it isn’t a game-changer.
Based on ERA and WHIP, Hendricks has actually been the team’s best starter to this point, which is unbelievable. No one expects that to continue. He has received some schedule luck, having already faced the likes of Cincinnati, Philadelphia and Milwaukee multiple times apiece. Since he’s not a big strikeout pitcher, he may find success harder to come by in the postseason. He also has very little previous postseason experience.
The team will never turn away from Hendricks’ spot in the rotation if he continues to pitch like this through the remainder of the regular season. However, both Hammel and Lackey have much more experience in the postseason during their careers. That is not something to be dismissed and could come up when considering a shortening of the rotation. None of the three have much in the way of experience pitching out of the bullpen, at least in the past few years. Hammel has the largest sample size but hasn’t done so for an extended time since back in 2008 with Tampa Bay, so it remains to be seen if that will even come into play.
Chicago has the horses to make it to the World Series with this fivesome. The key could be figuring out whom to pass over when the time comes to maximize the team’s best starters.