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Chicago Cubs: Shortening the starting rotation an October possibility

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Sep 15, 2015; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Chicago Cubs starting pitcher Jon Lester (34) celebrates with pitcher Jake Arrieta (49) after a complete game against the Pittsburgh Pirates at PNC Park. The Cubs won 2-1. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports
Sep 15, 2015; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Chicago Cubs starting pitcher Jon Lester (34) celebrates with pitcher Jake Arrieta (49) after a complete game against the Pittsburgh Pirates at PNC Park. The Cubs won 2-1. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports /
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Big games are a natural factor of playoff baseball, meaning teams will want their best-starting pitchers on the mound. Could the Chicago Cubs move a starter or two to the bullpen come October?

During the MLB playoffs, choosing to start one player opposed to another can be the difference between winning losing. While baseball is a group effort, starting pitching in October generally is the difference between winning and losing a championship.

In 2016, the Chicago Cubs‘ pitching has been the MLB’s best. As of Sunday night, the team’s pitching staff owns a 3.14 ERA with a BAA of .213. All of the club’s starting pitchers own ERA’s under 4.00, paving the way for a team that soon will clinch a playoff berth.

It seems safe to say the Cubs have locked up a playoff spot, although nothing is guaranteed. With the postseason right around the corner, the organization has important roster moves to consider before the real season starts.

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One key decision the Cubs have to make involves the starting rotation. The team could continue using five starting pitchers but ultimately could decide to cut the rotation to just three players. Pursuing this would lead to more starts for Jake Arrieta and Jon Lester, putting the best starters on the biggest stage more frequently.

Obviously, there are several perks to this move. Arrieta is the reigning Cy Young award winner and leads the NL in wins this season. Lester has 14 wins of his own to go along with a 2.70 ERA (Arrieta has a 2.62 ERA). Simply put, Arrieta and Lester on short rest could be close to as good as they are on normal rest.

Strength in numbers (and rest)

While it’s true Arrieta and Lester are great pitchers, so are the other three in the starting rotation. Moving two pitchers to the bullpen would get Arrieta and Lester back on the mound quicker, but doing so might not be necessary. After all, Kyle Hendricks has the best ERA in baseball (2.19), Jason Hammel has a 3.21 ERA (2.68 post All-Star break) and John Lackey has a 3.41 ERA at 37 years old.

Could the Cubs use just three starters? Of course, but using their entire rotation would mean more rest for their top pitchers. Obviously, short rest can lead to a pitcher feeling fatigued earlier in a game. With regular rest, the pitching staff would presumably perform better when their day to start came.

As seen with Arrieta last postseason, having one of your best pitchers run out of gas is less than ideal. Arrieta pitched a career high 229.0 innings on his way to winning the Cy Young but wound up gassed come the NLDS. If the Cubs can rest their pitchers a good amount between starts, they could carry the team all the way to a championship.

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Cubs pitching should be a strength in October, especially if they figure out how to effectively rest their rotation. All in all, though, a three-man staff should not be out of the question once the five-game NLDS gets underway.

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