Chicago Cubs: Breaking down the middle of the rotation
This is where seasons are made or broken. For a team to reach the postseason those 2-3 spot guys have to step up and pitch like aces or close to that level. A collapse in one in one of these key spots (see Yu Darvish last season) and a team can find itself in a lot of trouble.
The Cubs could boast the best middle of the order in all of baseball in 2019. Kyle Hendricks fills the two spot in the rotation. Most thought that 2018 would be the year Hendricks broke out. Instead, he struggled in the first half giving up a whopping 17 home runs and 31 walks over 110 1/3 innings while compiling a 3.94 ERA. He rebounded in the second half, allowing just five long balls and 13 walks over 88 2/3 innings with a 2.84 ERA.
The third spot is where you’d expect to find Yu Darvish in the Cubs rotation. But after last season unless Darvish has a spectacular spring, I see this spot going to Cole Hamels. The big question is whether or not Hamels can be the pitcher he was at the end of 2018. If so, that $20 million option will seem like a bargain. In the 12 games after coming to the North Side, Hamels pitched like a man possessed posting a 2.36 ERA and a 1.100 WHIP. Even in his prime, he couldn’t keep going like that all year, but at age 35 if we get something close to 2015 or 2016 Hamels it could make this middle of rotation the best in baseball.
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The Cardinals’ Michael Wacha and Carlos Martinez will push the Cubs’ middle order guys and they certainly have talent and experience to do it. The biggest issue is Martinez’s control. Last year he gave up 60 walks to 117 Ks, leading to a 1.348 WHIP. Even so, gave up just five homers all season and he compiled a 3.11 ERA and 125 ERA+ which is striking given the walks. As for Wacha, it’s not a question of ability but injury. A nagging oblique strain limited him to just 84 1/3 innings in 2018.
The Brewers middle duo is the reason the Brewers need to hit. Depending on his rehab and spring training the aforementioned Nelson would slot into the middle of the order, along with either of Chase Anderson or Zach Davies. And though he appeared in only 19 games Brandon Woodruff could also be a surprise in one of these spots. Nonetheless, neither Anderson or Davies come close to the either Cubs or Cardinals duo in the 2-3 spot. With Wade Miley gone and as yet no additions made to the starting rotation it seems the Brewers are banking on Nelson.
Pirates and Reds. For the Bucks, I gave Tallion the Opening Day role over Trevor Williams though they have very similar numbers. So the Pirates start with a very strong spot in the middle of the rotation with either player. The question is who fills the other spot. While Ivan Nova would seem most likely, I like Joe Musgrove. He had better numbers across the board than Nova, though he suffered an abdominal muscle wall injury that required surgery. This one comes down to whether Musgrove is ready, and if so, who has the better spring training. As for the Reds, I think newly acquired pitchers Tanner Roark and Alex Wood boost their rotation significantly. The Reds could be the sleeper rotation of 2019.
Advantage: Cubs. Hendricks and Hamels are just too potent in terms of talent and performance right now compared to the other four NL Central rotations. And If Darvish returns ready to pitch then the Cubs will essentially have three two-spot pitchers.