Commentary: The ideal Cubs' playoff rotation
|Friday, September 29, 2017, 9:25 AM- -|
With another decisive victory in St. Louis over the Cardinals, the Cubs have taken command of the National League Central crown for the second consecutive year. It has been a much longer journey for this team who spent much of the season just treading water. The Cubs picked it up in the second half of the season, leading the National League in wins and being widely considered the second-best team in baseball behind the Cleveland Indians. The past week has seen the Cubs go into full playoff mode and take care of business in Milwaukee and St. Louis. With the division wrapped up, the Cubs can now move onto focusing on carrying this momentum into October. As the champagne dries in St. Louis, the Cubs will have some more questions to answer.
The starting pitching for the Cubs has had an up and down season. At times the rotation has looked similar to the way it did last season, and other times it has struggled mightily. If the Cubs have aspirations to repeat as champions, they will require their starters to pitch to their full potential. Much of the load this season has been carried by Jon Lester, Jake Arrieta, John Lackey, Kyle Hendricks and trade-acquisition Jose Quintana. Mike Montgomery has also left the bullpen to make some key starts due to injuries. Each Cubs pitcher has suffered some injury issues this year but have bounced back later in the year. The Cubs hope they have a healthy arsenal of pitchers going into October, although only four will start playoff games. With the added off days and demand to win each game, the playoffs typically require teams to drop to four man pitching rotations. So that asks the question for the Cubs, who’s the odd man out? Who can you ride into October? Cubs manager Joe Maddon told reporters after Thursday night's win that he has decided on a rotation.
"Everybody’s in play," Maddon said. "We haven’t decided anything yet." The Cubs will have one more look at Lester and Arrieta before having to make a decision on the rotation.
Jon Lester has struggled late in the season for the Cubs. He has looked tired throughout the entire year, and the extended workload seems to have taken its toll. Despite all that, Jon Lester is still the Cubs ace. If the Cubs are going to make a deep run again, much of it depends on the left arm of Jon Lester. Lester has shown time and time again he is a guy you can turn to in the postseason. For his entire career, Lester has done his best pitching when the money’s on the table. There is a reason Jon Lester has three World Series Championship rings, and that is why he will probably be the one to face Max Scherzer in game one.
Jake Arrieta is getting healthy, and that is huge for the Cubs. Arrieta has looked good in the second half of the year. Arrieta hasn’t quite been able to find his 2015 dominance but has still been very productive lately for the Cubs. He stepped up hugely in last year’s World Series and will need to do so again this year. In what will likely be Arrieta’s swan song in Chicago, he will be motivated and ready for one last fight with his team.
Kyle Hendricks could likely be the best pitcher on this roster when he is on his game. He had a tremendous year last season and looked like that pitcher again lately. He as well has already built up a strong postseason resume. Hendricks’ calm demeanor on the mound makes him a guy you want to have the ball in high-leverage situations. Hendricks started two of the most important games in the history of the Chicago Cubs organization, game six of the NLCS and game seven of the World Series. Hendricks was great in both games as he combined to throw 21.2 innings and allowed just two earned runs. Hendricks has been particularly dominant at home, so look for him to start later in the series when the series comes back to Wrigley.
Jose Quintana was the Cubs prize acquisition from the trade deadline. Quintana has been solid for the Cubs, with his last start in Milwaukee being his best. He is the one Cub pitcher who has no postseason experience. He will be a lock to make the rotation due to the fact the Cubs would love another lefty to slot behind Lester. Many of the best hitters on National League competitors are left handed including Bryce Harper, Daniel Murphy, Corey Seager, and Cody Bellinger. This will make it paramount for the Cubs to have plenty of lefties ready to go and makes Quintana’s role vital to the Cubs success.
John Lackey is the one who may see himself as the odd man out. Lackey has been very inconsistent this season and been plagued by home runs. He is a fierce competitor with postseason pedigree, but ultimately he may not make the cut to pitch in the playoffs. Although it is doubtful he would start any games; Lackey should still be on the active roster. With the struggles the bullpen has had, a reliable veteran sitting in the pen could be a huge boost. Lackey scoffed at the idea of being in the bullpen earlier this season, but as a veteran who may be playing his last season, he should do anything he can to get another ring.
Mike Montgomery has been the Cubs swiss army knife this season. He’s done everything from being a starter to closer. He performed well as a starter but will not serve as a starter in the playoffs. He is best suited coming out of the bullpen and will be an asset to the Cubs that way. He could come in as a long reliever or just pitch to one batter. He is one of the few Cubs relievers who could be relied on all season, and that will be his role in the playoffs.
The Cubs best playoff rotation is Jon Lester, Jake Arrieta, Jose Quintana, and then Kyle Hendricks. The Cubs will go left-right-left-right to make it harder on teams to adjust their lineup each game. They have the horses to put out a quality starter each game. While the Cubs may have a difficult time matching front-end starters such as Clayton Kershaw and Yu Darvish or Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg, their back-end starters are better than most. Quintana and Hendricks are good enough to be most teams first or second starters. With them pitching third and fourth, the Cubs will be a tough team to beat. The Cubs playoff rotation is built off its depth, and that depth will hopefully bring another banner to Wrigley.