Chicago Cubs: Could this rotation match 2016?


Is it possible for the 2018 Chicago Cubs’ pitching staff to match that of the 2016 staff?

Clayton Kershaw, perhaps a future Hall of fame pitcher for the Los Angeles Dodgers, was front and center during the 2016 MLB Playoffs. He dominated the Chicago Cubs in Game 2, and it appeared that the lanky lefty was due for a playoff success story.

He had always been great, but critics still cited his postseason failures. This was his chance to break free of the criticism.

Standing in his way was soft-tossing Kyle Hendricks. It was game 6 of the NLCS and the Chicago Cubs were looking to get to the World Series for the first time since 1945. They had an advantage. Nobody thought Hendricks would out-duel Kershaw, regardless of who had the home field advantage in the matchup.

Nobody knew…yet

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Kershaw was special, and Hendricks was un-established, why would anyone think differently.

They didn’t account for Hendrick’s will, and most importantly, they didn’t respect the year that Kyle Hendricks just had. No one did.

In 2016, Cubs pitchers posted a league-leading 3.15 ERA. Their top-five starters combined for 79 wins. Hendricks leads the group with a 2.13 ERA.

Hendricks would go on to best Kershaw in 7 1/3 masterful innings to get the cubs to the World Series for the first time since 1945. It was a career-defining moment for Hendricks at the end of an incredible season.

For the Cubs to get back to the World Series in 2018, they’re going to need a similar season from Hendricks and the rest of their staff.

Different Faces

The only remaining starters from the 2016 season are Jon Lester and Hendricks. Both had tremendous years in 2016 that ended with Cy Young nominations.

The rest of that rotation of Jake Arrieta, John Lackey, and Jason Hammel are gone. Hammel and  Arrieta are pitching elsewhere, and Lackey has seemingly retired.

They are replaced by Yu Darvish, Jose Quintana, and Tyler Chatwood. Hendricks and Lester remain at the top of the rotation.

On paper, this rotation is more talented than 2016, Darvish and Quintana feature ace-type stuff, and Chatwood has posted very solid numbers when pitching away from Coors Field.

Success is contagious

Watching the Cubs rotation in 2016 was like watching a relay race where each runner was constantly trying to run faster than the last. Every starter put together great starts and positioned a stacked young lineup with every opportunity to win the game day in and day out.

We didn’t see that last season. Hendricks, Lester, and Arrieta saw a dip in their numbers, and it didn’t seem like the team ever found its identity (even though the made it to the NLCS).

The past five starts have reminded me of the things we saw a couple of years ago.

Starting with Chatwood in Cleveland, the Cubs have compiled five straight quality starts. The latest being a gem by Quintana where he had pinpoint control through 7 shutout innings. It was as good as I’ve seen him pitch in a Cubs uniform.

A Little Lucky

While the Cubs rotation in 2016 had a phenomenal ERA, every starter’s FIP was higher than their ERA.

FIP (Fielding Independent Pitching) is a stat meant to predict what a pitchers ERA should be based on contact allowed amongst other things. I think this shows how good the Cubs defense was that year. Through the first month of this season, the Cubs defense has been just as good, and the pitchers are benefitting.

What to expect

I really believe that this Cubs rotation is better than the one in 2016. By that, I mean that the talent level is higher. With that being said, I don’t think it would be fair to expect the same production. It’s not often we get to see multiple Cy Young nominees and four 15 game winners in the same rotation. It’s not likely to repeat.

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While the numbers might not be the same, I think this team could reach similar success and I’d expect the rotation to carry this team.

The league should be on notice. If this rotation gets on a roll, we might have another magical season in the making.