How Long Will the Cubs Continue to Be a Force in the National League? Part 2: Pitching Staff

In this portion of the article, I will take a deep look into the Cubs pitching staff and their potential prospects coming up through the minor leagues. Comparing them to the young core that mans the field, the rotation and bullpen are not as strong or talented. Their pitching staff was ultimately their downfall in this postseason and is definitely an issue Theo Epstein is going to be looking to fix in this upcoming offseason.

Epstein’s first move this offseason has already occurred and it was to dismiss pitching coach Chris Bosio after six seasons on the North Side. This move seems to stem from the Cubs rotation and bullpen’s under performance in the playoffs and year-long control issues.  This came after Joe Maddon hinted that the staff would staff together with this following quote: “Listen, the staff’s done a great job. Our staff’s been awesome. It’s a tightly knit group. Really, there’s a lot of synergy involved.” According to reports, it was Maddon who made the decision for the Cubs to part ways with Bosio as their relationship had become soured by the end of the season.

Bosio was considered by many to instrumental in the rebuild. He revived Jake Arietta’s career and accelerated the rebuild by a couple of years. Under Bosio’s tutelage, Jake Arrieta won the Cy Young in 2015 and Kyle Hendricks in 2016 had an ERA of 2.13 which led all of the major leagues. Bosio has been connected to Cardinals as a possible replacement for Derek Lilliquist.

 

Starting Rotation

 

Looking into their starting rotation, there are some strong pieces but there are also some big question marks. Kyle Hendricks has taken over as the new ace of this pitching staff. When looking at the numbers, he has been the best Cubs pitcher in the 2nd half and in the postseason. In the 2nd half, he posted a dominant 2.19 ERA and a WHIP of 1.18. In the postseason, he started 2 games of NLDS against the Nationals, in those 2 starts he had a 1-0 record with a 1.36 WHIP and 3.27 ERA. He did struggle in his one start in the NLCS against the Dodgers but so did the whole Cubs team.

Hendricks will only continue to grow into his new found ace role. He is under team control for the next 3 seasons as he enters into arbitration. I think that Hendricks will be successful for a long time because of how he pitches. He does not rely on his velocity and really works the zone well, a lot like Greg Maddux, which he has been compared to by many.

Jon Lester is the leader of this pitching staff as it stands right now but he may not be the ace in the upcoming season. In 2017, Lester struck out 180 batters, with a 13-8 record, and hurled a WHIP and ERA of 1.32 and 4.33, respectively. Lester is under contract through the 2021 season and looks to be main stay in the Cubs rotation for the foreseeable future.

Jake Arrieta is a un upcoming free agent in this offseason, in which he will be the top pitcher on the market. The Cubs must be willing to pay the market average for an ace, 100 million dollars plus. Arrieta was quoted by Bob Nightengale in August stating: “It’s completely business, so I get it. [The Cubs] haven’t offered me anything because they know if they do, it’s probably not something I would accept, so why make the offer? I get it.”  Which to me sounds like he is okay with moving to another city and setting up shop there for the rest of career. We will have to wait and see what the Cubs do to make a further assessment on Arrieta, but if the Cubs lose him that will be a significant blow to their rotation.

Another pitcher that seems to have pitched his last game in the windy city is John Lackey. The former Cardinal, had a pretty effective 2016 but in 2017 his age began to show. It is most likely that he will decide to retire but if he does want to continue pitching it won’t be on the North Side. Mike Montgomery made some spot starts throughout the season and struggled when he was put in the bullpen for the postseason. He is looking like to be the fifth starter for the Cubs in 2018.

 

Projected Cubs Rotation in 2018:

  1. Jon Lester
  2. Kyle Hendrix
  3. Jose Quintana
  4. Free Agent or Trade Acquisition
  5. Mike Montgomery

 

This is what I project the Cubs rotation in 2018. From first look this is a strong rotation. A rotation that definitely could keep them atop the NL Central, especially with the lineup up they are going to roll out every day, but I do not think it is enough for them to go deep into the postseason, depending on what that free agent acquisition is. Personally, I think the Cubs will look to bring in a guy to be a 3 or 4 starter, as they will need to free up money to please their young core in the future and sure up their bullpen.

 

Bullpen

 

            As we can see from this postseason and the last, bullpens are very important to a team’s success. If you can put together a collection of horses that you can roll out on a nightly basis it will give your team a great chance to win ball games. Just look at what the Indians did last year with a guy like Andrew Miller.

The Cubs closer, and only consist arm in the bullpen this postseason, Wade Davis is up for free agency this offseason. The North Siders would love to reach a deal with him and keep him on their roster heading into the 2018 season. Carl Edwards Jr. looks to be the go-to arm of the future for the Cubs but I do not think he’s ready for the closer role, but he could definitely be a great set-up guy or someone you bring in high leverage situations.

Other than those two guys, there is not much in this Cubs bullpen and it is definitely their biggest weakness coming into the 2018 offseason. Cubs fans are going to have to put their faith in the front office to make changes to this rotation and bullpen to help them become a contender once again in 2018.

In the next piece I will look into the Cubs prospects and then compare and contrast their roster with Cardinals.

Thanks for your time….

Nick Bonastia

@nbonastia35

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