Cubs turn to old friend Jake Arrieta to follow Kyle Hendricks

Mandatory Credit: Rick Scuteri-USA TODAY Sports
Mandatory Credit: Rick Scuteri-USA TODAY Sports /

No, it’s not 2016. But it might feel that way for Cubs fans when Opening Day rolls around next week.

Kyle Hendricks will start on Thursday against the Pittsburgh Pirates at Wrigley Field. At least one-fifth (potentially one-quarter) of the seats will be filled, first pitch is set for 1:20 p.m. CT and things should feel at least somewhat normal at the Friendly Confines after a year that’s exacted a harrowing toll on society.

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The anticipation and buzz that accompanied the high expectations of the 2016 team will undoubtedly be in the air – but likely not out of hopes for another championship. Instead, it’ll be the smells, sights and sounds of Wrigleyville on game day.

Two days later, Chicago will turn to former NL Cy Young winner and fan favorite Jake Arrieta in the second game of the season, meaning two members of that World Series-winning staff will open this year’s campaign for second-year manager David Ross.

"“I know those guys are competing right up until I come out there and take the ball from them or they end an inning and I tell them they’re done,” Ross said of his rotation. “I want them to keep that mindset. I don’t ever want them to go out with anything less than being the best version of themselves that day and dominating that lineup across the way and it’s my job to go take the ball when I think it’s right.”"

Arrieta isn’t the same pitcher who was historically good back in 2015. Not even close. His stuff isn’t as good and he’s five, going on six, years older. But he’s looked solid this spring – so much so that fans are cautiously optimistic that his homecoming could help him get his career back on track in his mid-30s.

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From there, newcomer Zach Davies, who’s had a fine spring of his own, will take the rubber in the series finale with another new name, Trevor Williams, likely getting the start against Milwaukee on April 5. From there, it’s anybody’s guess – but Shelby Miller, Adbert Alzolay and Alec Mills could all wind up making starts at the back end of the rotation.

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This Cubs team could change quite a bit between Opening Day and the fall. But early on, it’s a pair of familiar faces in Hendricks and Arrieta, leading the charge into the next season of Cubs baseball.