After 30 games into the season, the Chicago Cubs sit with a record of 15-15. Compared to the starts of recent seasons, we will certainly take it. That being said, with so many young and talented players on the roster, the Cubs are in a position to make some serious noise in the National League Central this season.
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Led by incredible young talents like Anthony Rizzo, Kris Bryant, Jorge Soler and Starlin Castro, the Cubs’ offense has a tremendous amount of upside this season. While their inexperience will lead to a lot of strikeouts and inconsistency, the Cubs’ offense certainly has the ability to lead them into the postseason.
That being said, they simply must get better production out of their pitching staff. Through the first 30 games, the Cubs’ team ERA of 4.24 is the 10th worst in all of baseball. Their inconsistent bullpen (4.56 combined bullpen ERA is fifth worst in the MLB) has cost them many games, and while they have plenty of upside in the pen, they must find a way to get more consistent. The recent return of Justin Grimm should certainly help their cause, as will whenever Neil Ramirez returns from injury.
The bullpen is a major concern, but the starting rotation is something that must be addressed as well. The top three in the Cubs’ rotation seem to be pretty solid. Jon Lester had a rough start to the year, but he has gotten on track recently and appears to be ready to get back to his dominant way going forward.
Jake Arrieta has struggled in his few most recent starts, but he was absolutely dominant early in the season. With a season ERA of 3.41 (2.53 FIP), and a 4.22 strikeout to walk-ratio, I fully expect Arrieta to get back on track sooner rather than later. Jason Hammel has probably been the Cubs’ most consistent starting pitcher with a 3.52 ERA and an incredible 7.00 strikeout-to-walk ratio. Hammel is a solid mid-rotation starter who the Cubs can count on.
When it comes to the fourth and fifth options in the Cubs’ rotation, things get much murkier. Kyle Hendricks brought his ERA down to 4.65 after a 5.1 inning shutout performance on Sunday. That was his best performance of the season, but Hendricks still struggled to work deep into the game. He is a finesse pitcher who relies on near perfect control and command. If his command is off in the slightest, Hendricks has the tendency to give up a lot of hard hit balls.
He is a very smart pitcher who can be a solid fifth starter option, but Hendricks does not represent much upside going forward and has very little room for error. When he is on, Hendricks is very good, but when he is off, it gets ugly in a hurry.
Travis Wood is another very shaky starting pitcher for the Cubs. Wood had a tremendous 2013 season (3.11 ERA in 200 innings pitched), but he has yet to find that magic sense. Wood has had a tendency to leave his pitches up in the zone this season, which has led to a lot of hard contact. He is striking out more batters than ever before (9.4 per nine innings), but Wood just seems to be consistently getting shelled recently.
His 4.96 ERA would not kill you as a fifth starter, and Wood has shown the ability to get outs in the past. That being said, his 2013 performance certainly seems to be the outlier, and it is completely irrational to expect him to get back to that form.
Basically, the Cubs could probably get by with having one of Wood or Hendricks in the rotation, but having both is hurting this team. Can the Cubs fix their rotation woes internally?
Tsuyoshi Wada seems to be the most likely candidate to get the first shot. Wada was very good for the Cubs down the stretch last season, posting a 3.25 ERA in 13 starts. His 3.75 FIP suggests that he did get a little bit lucky, but Wada simply did a nice job of getting outs. He is far from a fireballer, but Wada is a very polished pitcher who usually shows nice command and movement on his pitches.
Sep 5, 2014; Chicago, IL, USA; Chicago Cubs starting pitcher Tsuyoshi Wada (67) delivers in the third inning against the Pittsburgh Pirates at Wrigley Field. Mandatory Credit: Matt Marton-USA TODAY Sports
Journeyman Donn Roach may be better suited as a bullpen pitcher at the big league level, but his success as a starter with the Iowa Cubs this season should at least give him consideration. Pitcher win-loss record mean very little, but Roach is 4-0 through six starts in Triple-A thus-far. He has pretty much been lights out with a 2.17 ERA and 1.07 WHIP. Roach is a pitcher who relies heavily on his defense, and does not have a lot of major league success. That being said, his start at Triple-A is very intriguing.
Dallas Beeler would be another player who could be considered for an opportunity to start, but he has struggled mightily at Triple-A in his rehab appearances. His call-up would be very unlikely. Eric Jokisch had some success for the Cubs last season in one start and three appearances out of the bullpen. Jokisch is also pitching nicely as a starter in Triple-A right now, but I imagine the Cubs would take a chance on Wada or Roach before Jokisch.
For the first time in a while, the Cubs could easily be buyers at the trade deadline. Finding a solid starter would certainly be on the wish list, and Scott Kazmir of the Oakland A’s would certainly be a great addition to the Cubs’ rotation. The Cubs definitely have the minor league talent to make a big trade for a guy like Kazmir, but it is up to the front office to decide whether that would be a wise move or not.
With so many years of rebuilding and selling at the trade deadline, it is very hard to predict how aggressive Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer will be with this team at the July 31st trade deadline.
The combination of Hendricks and Wood are simply not getting it done at the back of the rotation. If this continues, I expect the Cubs to give someone else a shot, and Wada seems like the natural first choice.
If they cannot fix these problems internally, and the Cubs decide a trade is not the best route, things could unravel quickly. With serious bullpen issues and a lack of talent at the back of the rotation, pitching is clearly a major concern. Will the Cubs be able to figure out? Stay tuned.