Chicago Cubs: Lester, Hendricks headline NLDS starting rotation

Sep 20, 2016; Chicago, IL, USA; Chicago Cubs starting pitcher Jon Lester (34) delivers a pitch during the first inning against the Cincinnati Reds at Wrigley Field. Mandatory Credit: Caylor Arnold-USA TODAY Sports
Sep 20, 2016; Chicago, IL, USA; Chicago Cubs starting pitcher Jon Lester (34) delivers a pitch during the first inning against the Cincinnati Reds at Wrigley Field. Mandatory Credit: Caylor Arnold-USA TODAY Sports /

We’re only a few days away from the Chicago Cubs taking the field against the winner of tomorrow’s N.L. Wild Card game. Now that the regular season is in the books, there is a strong buzz around the Cubbies. Will they be able to break their 100-plus year drought?

Last season, ace right-hander Jake Arrieta took the mound against the Pittsburgh Pirates and clinched a spot in the NLDS. At the time, veteran right-hander John Lackey was leading the way for the St. Louis Cardinals.

Lackey shut down the Cubbies in game one but the Cardinals were unable to control them over the next few games. This resulted in Chicago eliminating the Cardinals and appearing in the National League Championship Series.

Fast forward a year later and the Chicago Cubs are back in the driver’s seat. Only difference is, they are in the same position that St. Louis was in last October. Ahead of the pack, waiting for their opponent to emerge from the shadows.

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In the meantime, Cubs’ skipper, Joe Maddon gave us a look at the starting rotation. A rotation that will look completely different from last season as Jake Arrieta goes from first, to third.

Honestly, are we really that surprised when it comes to this decision by our fearless leader? That leader being Maddon, who won N.L. Manager of the Year in 2015 and is a strong candidate to repeat this year.

Yet while he led Chicago to 103 wins this year, he’ll have some competition with Los Angeles Dodgers’ skipper, Dave Roberts. Roberts took over in L.A. and brought them an N.L. West division title in his first year.

Getting Down To Business

Now, if you haven’t heard, Game 1 of this division series will take place at Wrigley Field on Friday evening. Fans will be able to tune into FS1 and 670 The Score as the Chicago Cubs go to war to begin their postseason run.

Taking the bump for the first game will be southpaw, Jon Lester according to the Cubs official website. Lester (19-5, 2.44 ERA) led the Chicago Cubs in wins, one ahead of Arrieta and three in front of ERA title winner, Kyle Hendricks.

Jon is all too familiar with taking a series opener in the postseason as he was handed this responsibility with the Red Sox and Athletics. His first and only playoff appearance with the Athletics did not go so well.

Nevertheless, Jon has pitched well for the Cubs in 2016. Much improved to his first year as a member of the organization. He appears to be settled in and is even hitting more than usual, which is odd, to say the least.

Following The Leader

Once Game 1 has wrapped, Hendricks (16-8, 2.13 ERA) will be called upon in what hopefully will be an opportunity to go up 2-0. Kyle has been the workhorse for this Cubs rotation in 2016, surpassing a handful of elite pitchers for the lowest earned run average.

In addition, he could very well end up winning his first ever N.L. Cy Young honors. How cool would that be for Chicago’s 26-year-old? Come Monday, it’ll be Arrieta’s (18-8, 3.10 ERA) turn as the Cubs hit the road for the next two games of the series.

Jake showed signs of last year’s dominant pitcher but hit a brick wall along the way. Signs that he is, after all, human and not a robot. Despite struggling here and there, Arrieta is still a leader in this rotation. Don’t let the No. 3 spot fool you.

Jumping Ship

Last but not least, you have John Lackey. Lackey’s (11-8, 3.35 ERA) performance against the Cubs in last year’s postseason match-up was an eye-opener for Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer. Both men made it a point to lock him in a contract for what should be the remainder of his career.

Having him on this roster is important as it gives this club, especially the young bucks, another player with postseason experience. John has been there before along with Lester and catcher David Ross. So there will be plenty of advice to go around for those who got a little taste of October baseball in 2015.

Next: Cubs considering a position for Grandpa Rossy

Right now, it doesn’t look like Jason Hammel will have an opportunity to pitch in the postseason depending on his elbow. Hammel was scratched from his regular season finale due to tightness in his right elbow.

Chicago scratched him as a precautionary move in case he was needed during the postseason but will that happen? We’ll just have to wait and find out.