Chicago Cubs: Starting pitching leads the way
As a group, the starting rotation went into the season with high expectations, similar to past seasons. Their one big question was, of course, was what Yu Darvish could bring to the table if he was healthy.
The first two times through the rotation the Cubs did not get the answers they were looking for. Darvish struggled mightily pitching in just 6 2/3 innings in his two starts, posting an 8.10 ERA while walking 11 batters, the second most among starters in all of baseball.
Darvish, however, was not the only Cubs starter to struggle. Kyle Hendricks had an uncharacteristic start to the season as he allowed 11 runs in his first two starts. He posted a 6.48 ERA and gave up a lot of hard contact, including three home runs.
As a staff, the Cubs gave up 31 earned runs to the tune of a 6.80 ERA, the second worst in baseball among starters. While Darvish accounted for most of it, the starting rotation led the league in walks at a 5.7 walk-per-nine ratio.
A big flaw for the Cubs starters was their inability to pitch deep into ballgames. They tallied just 41 total innings which were the fourth fewest in the majors. In six of their nine starts, they failed to pitch past the fifth inning, which ultimately taxed the bullpen and hurt the team.
To make matters even worse, the Cubs ace Jon Lester was injured during the Cubs home opener and ended up on the 10-day injured list. With Lester, a lone bright spot in the rotation, going down the Cubs rotation looked to be in big trouble.
Instead, the Cubs, most notably Jose Quintana, stepped up in Lester’s absence. In his last five starts, Quintana has a team-best 1.93 ERA and has walked just five batters while striking out 29. In three consecutive starts, the lefty pitched into the seventh inning, twice with a shutout. He has looked like the dominant pitcher the Cubs traded for back in 2017.
Even Tyler Chatwood stepped up in a spot start he made for the injured Lester. Chatwood tossed six shutout innings against the Arizona Diamondbacks while striking out three batters. He only allowed two hits and two walks in an outing that he deserved to win.
The Cubs got their best start of the season from Hendricks who pitched a four-hit, complete game shutout against the rival St. Louis Cardinals. The right-hander was at the top of his game as he didn’t walk a single batter and needed just 81 pitches to go the distance. It was a Greg Maddux-esque game pitched by the professor.
Overall, the Cubs starters have drastically improved and been the best rotation in baseball in the last 22 games. Their 2.62 ERA is the lowest during that stretch, and they’ve allowed just 38 earned runs. They significantly cut back on their walks, allowing just 38 free passes while striking out 127 batters.