The Chicago Cubs may not have a true “ace” or No. 1 starter, but the staff is filled with 2’s and 3’s, and that may be even better throughout the season for a rotation full of veterans.
The Chicago Cubs enter this year with the potential to have a strong starting rotation. Now we know that Jon Lester is taking the ball on Opening Day, which will be his fourth time being the Opening Day starter for the Cubs. The only year that he didn’t get the ball was in 2016 when Jake Arrieta took the mound following his Cy Young season. I doubt Lester was bothered by that.
Now if you ask any Cubs fan who the “ace” of the Cubs is this year, they are all going to answer Lester. That respect has been earned, but Lester, in the eyes of the baseball world, is probably a No. 2 starter and that’s fine. Lester has struggled so far this spring with 9.53 ERA in his four starts. However, it is only Spring Training and, in my opinion, people read way too much into these stats. Lester is a gamer, and he will be ready for Opening Day.
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With Lester getting the ball on Opening Day, the No. 2 spot in the rotation is up for grabs. This should be a pretty easy decision for Joe Maddon to make–Kyle Hendricks. Hendricks was terrific last year going 14-11 with a 3.44 ERA.
On many teams, Hendricks could be their Opening Day starter, and he was probably in the discussion on being the starter this year. Hendricks has proven to be reliable over the duration of his career and has been receiving some well deserved dark horse Cy Young projections for this year. He is perfect for a No. 2 starter for a team with a deep rotation.
Now with two guys out-of-the-way at the top of the rotation, there are some questions on how the rest of the rotation will be filled out. Any of the other three guys in Cole Hamels, Yu Darvish, and Jose Quintana could be put in any order and form a solid rotation. In my opinion, I think they will go with Hamels as the third starter. Hamels, the veteran and the mid-season pick up at the trade deadline last year, was terrific with the Cubs. In 12 games, Hamels had a 2.36 ERA. The Cubs can only hope Hamels can keep that up after picking up his $20 million club option for this season at the age of 35.
Darvish is a real wildcard in the rotation because he is a guy that could be slated anywhere from 1-5. When Darvish is on, he has “ace” potential. But that potential wasn’t seen last year; he had only started eight games and had a 4.95 ERA. Cubs fans have seen firsthand what Darvish can do when he is on. He was the Game 3 starter for the Dodgers during the 2017 NLCS. During that game, he went 6 1/3 innings with seven strikeouts and only allowed one run.
Darvish has been feeling good this spring after being shut down in August last year. During his spring so far, he has appeared in three games and has a 2.45 ERA. Darvish has said that he feels no pain in the elbow that was injured last year. Hopefully, he takes the next step this year and becomes the guy we all thought we got when he was signed as a free agent.
Jose Quintana is a guy that is not the fifth starter on most rotations. He has much better stuff than most fifth starters, but I that’s where I believe he will be slated. So far this spring, Q has appeared in three games with a 2.00 ERA. If this is how the rotation pans out, it will go lefty, righty, lefty, righty, lefty which can be very valuable to keep opposing hitters off-balance.