Chicago Cubs: Expect a very fluid starting rotation this season
By Bill Quinn
While the whole of the offseason and specifically spring training has brought myriad surprises both on and off the field for the Cubs, there was time for yet another on Saturday when the starting rotation was announced to start the season. Now, it’s not that the rotation will be set in stone for the entirety of the season, but at least Cubs fans know what to expect for the first week or two.
Even after a spectacular spring, newcomer Shelby Miller will head to the alternate site to start the year, which may have caused a few eyebrows to raise what with Adbert Alzolays’ rough spring and an option remaining. However, skipper Davis Ross has already stated that Miller will likely impact the team at some point this season, although the role and timeframe for that impact is unknown at this point.
Cubs rotation will have to remain fluid to be successful this season.
What we do know for sure about the rotation and depth options in 2021 is that the back end of the rotation will probably be a bit fluid after proven top-of-the-rotation veterans Kyle Hendricks, Jake Arrieta and Zach Davies. Trevor Williams is slotted to be the fourth starter with Alzolay beginning the season as the number five, but with last year’s no-hit man Alec Mills in a long-man role, as well as Miller and other possibilities waiting-in-the-wings down in the minor leagues, more than five guys are going to start games in 2021.
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Not that anyone thought this was going to be 2016 (where the five Cubs starters made 152 starts), but with the loss of Yu Darvish and the unknown nature of the back-end of the rotation, it’s going to be a different kind of year for the rotation.
Not to mention, we haven’t even discussed the fact that all pitchers will most definitely be watched carefully after so many arm injuries this past summer, in addition to throwing very few innings in 2020.
Add to the mix the Cubs could be sending a guy who has never thrown more than 120 innings in any season (Alzolay) out there, and there’s reason to believe in a rotation-in-flux or even a six man rotation at various points during the season.
The Pittsburgh import Williams hasn’t had a good season since 2018, Miller didn’t even pitch in 2020 due to injury, and Mills threw his MLB career high in innings last season with 62 1/3. Not that all of that shouldn’t inspire confidence amongst Cubs fans, but…
The 2021 rotation has the chance to feature some grand redemption (Arrieta) and reclamation (Miller, Williams) projects, but there will be loads of uncertainty regarding success, consistency, and durability for everyone except for Hendricks. The biggest question regarding the rotation is if Ross and pitching coach Tommy Hottovy can manage the innings, arms, options, and schedule correctly in order for this group to be successful.
So far, they’re already managing those issues and keeping all their options open, so don’t sleep on this hodge-podge group turning in a fine season collectively.