If the Chicago Cubs are to compete this year, they’ll need the starting rotation to tap into its immense experience and execute more consistently.
This spring, we’ll get our first glimpse at what will undoubtedly be an interesting dynamic between three-time World Series champion hurler Jon Lester and new manager David Ross. Of course, the two were batterymates with the Chicago Cubs during the 2016 season. Now, they’re manager and player.
Given the professionalism of both men, there’s absolutely no reason to expect it’ll be anything new. Ross will push Lester – knowing exactly how to toe that line of pushing too far. Hopefully, the 36-year-old southpaw can tap into that and return to form in 2020. His experience – both with the Cubs and in general – sums up a theme for this year’s rotation: experience.
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A lot of these guys have been there. They’ve played in October and a few have rings to show for it. Lester, of course, won a pair of rings with Boston and another in Chicago. Kyle Hendricks started two of the biggest games in Cubs postseason history – Game 6 of the 2016 NLCS and Game 7 of the World Series – and he’s got ice in his veins.
Last year, Yu Darvish took the game by storm in the second half, performing like one of the best starters not just in Chicago – but in all of baseball. After the All-Star Break, he was near-unhittable and fans loved to see it, especially after a rocky first year with the club in which he made just eight starts.
If the Cubs are going to win, Darvish has to pitch like an ace. That sounds simplistic and makes it seem like it’s an easily done accomplishment and it’s not – but it’s also the truth. With an aging Lester and an inconsistent Jose Quintana, it’s on Darvish and Hendricks to lead the way in 2020.
Let’s circle back to Lester for a minute. No one seems like they’re betting on him this year. Last year, he was one of the worst starters in the league by some measures – namely ERA. He ran into a few brutal outings that really threw off his game – and he never really settled in. Every time he took the ball, it felt like he was willing his way through the outing rather than executing his craft.
But he’s been here before. In 2017, the left-hander turned in a 4.33 ERA across just over 180 innings of work. He followed that with an 18-win, 3.32 ERA campaign in 2018. Now, some of the overlying metrics weren’t as kind – but he got the job done, as he has for so many years. This guy knows what he’s staring at: potentially his final season with the Chicago Cubs with a chance to get back to the postseason.
This group, along with a yet-to-be-determined fifth name, carry the fate of the 2020 club in their hands. Of course, Ross has other issues to address, including center field and second base and what appears to be a woeful bench – but the rotation will have to tap into its years of experience if the Cubs want to get back to October this year.