Chicago Cubs: Rotation needs to be effective from the jump
Traditionally, the Chicago Cubs’ starting rotation has needed a couple of months to click into high gear. But all five guys need to be raring go when the season gets underway later in July.
After a long and rather ugly labor war, Major League Baseball announced Tuesday it had finalized plans for a 60-game season. Most Chicago Cubs fans are probably just excited to have the issue resolved, with the focus now turning to the diamond.
But there is also the obvious truth: the 2020 season will be unlike one we have ever experienced. The designated hitter will be implemented in the National League for the first time. There will also be new rules for extra-inning games.
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Of course, there is also the question of just how many teams and or players will carry the “dark horse” flag into the season or which contenders could slip and fall early. Remember, the Washington Nationals were 19-31 in their first 50 games before storming back into contention and eventually riding that wave to a World Series title.
One thing is for sure, as it relates to Cubs fans: the starting rotation cannot afford to stumble early.
On the whole, the rotation got off to a decent start in 2019. Chicago ranked ninth in both fWAR and ERA in the first two months, per FanGraphs. But specific individuals struggled.
Yu Darvish had an ERA over 5.00 in his first 12 starts, and Jon Lester’s season began taking a turn for the worse in April. Even Kyle Hendricks struggled early, going 1-4 with a 5.33 ERA in his first five starts before dominating in May.
Chicago’s starting group is old. It would be easy to suggest they need time to hit their stride. But that will not cut it this season.
Aside from the fact, there will only be 60 games, consider the number of issues this roster has to work through this season.
How will David Ross respond to such drastic circumstances in his rookie managerial campaign? Can Chicago’s offense establish more consistency after fluctuating seemingly the entire season in 2019?
Who will emerge as a steady middle relief presence in the bullpen, and can Craig Kimbrel rebound? What about the competition at second base?
For all the question marks, however, the Cubs know they have experience on the mound at the start of games. Plus, there is renewed confidence.
Darvish had seemingly gotten the monkey off his back after a dominant second half last year. He is more comfortable, both on and off the field.
Lester and Jose Quintana have quite a bit to prove in potential walk years. Their respective performances could help determine their value on the open market.
Hendricks is out to show he can be a real ace and, aside from a couple starts where he was peppered, had a pretty great year in 2019 while being a model of consistency.
There are questions at the end of the rotation, though the Cubs feel either Tyler Chatwood or Alec Mills can eat innings and help the team win ballgames.
But while there is a reason for optimism, Chicago’s starting group must be firing on all cylinders, from the first “Play Ball!” right until the end of the year.