An effective Jameson Taillon could change everything for the Cubs

If Jameson Taillon can sort himself out in the back half of the season, it answers a key question facing the Cubs not only in 2023, but in 2024, as well.
Pittsburgh Pirates v Chicago Cubs
Pittsburgh Pirates v Chicago Cubs / Michael Reaves/GettyImages
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Jameson Taillon's Cubs career is off to a rocky start - and he's the first person to admit as much. Through his first dozen starts, the veteran right-hander is the not-so-proud owner of a 6.71 ERA, 5.18 FIP and 1.547 WHIP, allowing more than 10 H/9.

Taillon represented the team's biggest offseason investment on the pitching side of things and he was supposed to take his game to a new level, taking advantage of playing in the NL Central instead of the powerhouse AL East. That hasn't been how things have played out, though, and with the first half winding down, he's looking to build some momentum heading into the All-Star Break.

He'll take the ball at Wrigley Field against the reigning National League champion Phillies this week, hoping to keep former Cubs Kyle Schwarber and Nick Castellanos from giving the bleacher bums some souvenirs. But for that to happen, Taillon will have to get back to what made him successful prior to coming to Chicago.

As a guy who's big on spin rate - both on his fastball and breaking ball - the former first-rounder lives and dies on location. Gone is the mid-90s heater he showcased early in his career with the Pirates. Now, when he misses his spots, oppoonents make him pay - and we've seen that this year, especially when he falls behind hitters.

Cubs need deeper outings, more consistency from Jameson Taillon

When he's behind in the count, opponents have roughed Taillon up to the tune of a .357/.513/.536 slash line. When he's gotten ahead, he's been far more effective (shocking, I know) - limiting opponents to a .218/.225/.333 mark - nearly halving their OPS. The problem is he's not getting ahead regularly and when he has to throw a strike, hitters are all over it.

Left-handed hitters have proven particularly problematic for Taillon, slugging .632 against him this season. That makes someone like Schwarber particularly worrisome in this matchup against Philadelphia, despite his sub-.200 average on the season. If you lay one in there down in the count, this is a guy who went deep 46 times last year - and has done so 20 times again this year, even amidst his struggles.

Looking past what Taillon could provide down the stretch: a deeper rotation mix that allows David Ross to slot in guys like Hayden Wesneski or potentially Ben Brown into the bullpen in the second half, the team's offseason plans could be impacted by how he finishes the year, as well.

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Marcus Stroman, Drew Smyly and Kyle Hendricks could both hit free agency at season's end. That leaves Justin Steele and Taillon as the carryovers heading into 2024. How Taillon is viewed after this year could go a long way toward how Jed Hoyer attacks an offseason where the free agent class is deep with starting pitching. It all starts this week at Wrigley where, hopefully, he can start to turn his season around.