Cubs: Revamped rotation in shambles before the season even starts

(Photo by Ron Schwane/Getty Images)
(Photo by Ron Schwane/Getty Images) /

The biggest story last summer was obviously – and rightfully – the trades of Javier Baez, Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo. But heading into the offseason, there was a need that stood head and shoulders above the rest and that was addressing the starting rotation.

In 2021, Chicago Cubs starters put up a 5.27 ERA – the fourth-worst mark in all baseball and second-worst in the Senior Circuit. Their .278 batting average allowed? Only the lowly Baltimore Orioles fared worse. In other words, we knew that a dramatic transformation was in the cards this winter.

Jed Hoyer got the ball rolling with a bit of trickery that allowed him to snag veteran Wade Miley from the Reds – without giving up anything other than just picking up his $10 million salary for 2022. Coming off a 5.9 bWAR performance last year, Miley offered an immediate boost to the staff.

The biggest addition, though, came in the hours leading up to the owner-instituted lockout in the form of right-hander Marcus Stroman. Chicago inked him to a two-year, $50 million deal with a player option for 2024. Last year with the Mets, Stroman racked up 179 innings, working to a 3.02 ERA and 3.49 FIP.

At that point, you felt pretty good with Kyle Hendricks slotted in alongside these two. Down the stretch in 2021, we got some looks at the young arms on the rise in the organization, so you assume that, out of that depth, you can find your final two starters – with others waiting in the wings in case of injury or what have you.

And that might have been the case then, but the last few weeks has seen this scenario toppled by a proverbial wrecking ball. First, it was Adbert Alzolay going down with a shoulder strain. Now, Wade Miley is headed to the IL with left elbow inflammation. As concerning as both these injuries are, they’re both only exacerbated by Hendricks’ continued struggles this spring.

Cubs need Kyle Hendricks to be a reliable presence in the starting rotation

In four Cactus League outings spanning just 11 1/3 innings, the right-hander has served up six long-balls among 17 total hits allowed, culminating in a bloated 9.53 ERA. The longtime anchor of the Chicago rotation spoke with The Athletic (subscription required) after his latest start about what he’s focused on heading into the season – and why fans should worry about the numbers just yet – but it’s hard to not be concerned given his struggles last year.

For the first time in his career last summer, Hendricks was anything but the model of consistency he’s been year-in and year-out. He started the year in a really rough stretch, seemed to figure things out mid-season and then the wheels fell off late. Balls were leaving the yard at a staggering rate in his starts and his struggles left a gaping hole atop the Cubs’ rotation.

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It’s spring – and as we all know, those performances don’t necessarily mean a whole lot, especially for veteran guys. But with two key guys down and Hendricks struggling, it’s hard not to carry at least some degree of uncertainty as a fan into Opening Day next week at Wrigley.