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Chicago Cubs: Six-man staff could help lessen staff workload

Sep 7, 2016; Milwaukee, WI, USA; Chicago Cubs pitcher Mike Montgomery (38) throws a pitch in the first inning during the game against the Milwaukee Brewers at Miller Park. Mandatory Credit: Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports
Sep 7, 2016; Milwaukee, WI, USA; Chicago Cubs pitcher Mike Montgomery (38) throws a pitch in the first inning during the game against the Milwaukee Brewers at Miller Park. Mandatory Credit: Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports /
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The Chicago Cubs could employ a six-man starting rotation this season, in an effort to keep both Brett Anderson and Mike Montgomery healthy all year long.

The fact the Chicago Cubs like the idea of a six-man starting rotation isn’t a surprise to anyone. Reports surfaced as early as January regarding the team’s pitching plans, when the front office was still looking to shore up the staff.

At that point in time, Tyson Ross appeared to be the club’s top target. Of course, Ross wound up in Texas and the Cubs moved on to left-hander Brett Anderson, who inked a one-year, incentive-laden deal.

Anderson will pair up with fellow lefty Mike Montgomery to fill the team’s fifth starting spot – in what Joe Maddon calls a ‘hybrid’ model for the rotation entering the season.

"“Maybe fold one back into the bullpen for a bit while the other one starts, or vice versa,” Maddon told the Chicago Tribune this weekend. “Or just jump a sixth guy in there now and then just to keep the other guys from being overworked too early while you’re giving these guys some work.”"

Anderson has yet to prove he can stay healthy at the big league level. Just twice in his career, he exceeded 150 innings pitched. The lefty needs to prove he can be healthy after losing almost all of 2016 to injury.

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Montgomery, on the other hand, has more experience serving as a starter without issue. He made 23 starts between Chicago and Seattle over the last two seasons.In that time, he pitched to a 4.23 earned run average as a starter.

Heavy workloads could take a toll

Over the last two seasons, Chicago starters have racked up high inning counts. Jake Arrieta (468 1/3) and Jon Lester (457 1/3) carried the staff through playoff runs in both 2015 and 2016. Kyle Hendricks threw 35 more innings last year (total) than his previous career-high, as well.

Assuming the health of the team’s three-headed monster, the back of the rotation remains critical down the stretch. John Lackey isn’t getting any younger heading into what is likely his last season.

After missing time with a shoulder strain late last season, Lackey has to be considered a potential injury risk heading into the season. Having two alternative options in Montgomery and Anderson who could step in and fill a traditional five-man rotation gives the Cubs an added layer of security.

Chicago built to overcome key pitching injury

There’s no reason to suggest the Chicago Cubs will fall victim to the injury bug in 2017. Last season, the team was remarkably healthy en route to 103 wins in the regular season.

Still, if Lester or Arrieta were sidelined, the team has the pieces to overcome such a loss. The pieces go further than just Anderson, Montgomery and other swing options in the organization. The team’s offense can put up runs at a staggering pace – giving pitchers more leeway when on the rubber.

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Of course, that’s not how the team won a championship in 2016. It was a dominant combination of pitching, defense and offense. Asking for near-perfect health again this year may be asking too much, but there’s one thing that should give Cubs fans peace of mind.

Unlike most teams, the Chicago Cubs are built for the long-haul. The front office spent the offseason stockpiling arms and adding quality depth pieces. But, in the meantime, Joe Maddon is already thinking big picture, working to lessen the load on his workhorses.

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