Chicago Cubs can take unique approach to solve biggest weakness

The Chicago Cubs have the ability to be trendsetters due to their incredible surplus of exceptional starting pitching options.
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The Chicago Cubs are one of the most interesting teams in Major League Baseball this season. Prior to Friday’s game against the Pirates, the Cubs' starting rotation had pitched to a 3.07 combined ERA. However, the bullpen has been truly dreadful with a combined 4.64 ERA. 

In 2023 it was frustrating because the bullpen seemed like an afterthought. It legitimately felt like the team had built the roster and forgotten about the bullpen and had to piece it together with scraps.

This season, however, the front office put an emphasis on bringing in quality arms.

They traded their best pitching prospect since Mark Prior to bring in Yency Almonte (along with Rookie of the Year candidate, Michael Busch). They also gave an eight-figure, multi-year deal (potentially) to a reliever for the first time in recent memory when they brought in Hector Neris and they had a closer they felt comfortable leaning on.

Unfortunately, the bullpen hasn’t lived up to expectations and it’s time to do something drastic in order to solve the problem before it derails the season. There have been discussions about trading for guys, but the problem is that teams with a legitimate closer are still in a playoff race and they’re unlikely to move on from a player that could help them. So what can the Cubs do?

The Cubs need to lean on their phenomenal starting pitching surplus in a creative way.

Right now, the Cubs have ten guys that could enter a game and fans would feel more comfortable with them than if a reliever were to enter the game. 

Justin Steele, Shota Imanaga, Jameson Taillon, Javier Assad, Ben Brown, and Hayden Wesneski are all healthy and have pitched phenomenally so far this season.

Jordan Wicks, Kyle Hendricks and Drew Smyly should all be returning soon and Cade Horton shouldn’t be too far off in the minor leagues.

The idea behind using a bullpen is to give the batters something different from what they’ve been seeing in their first couple of plate appearances. That can be done while utilizing long-relievers rather than a handful of shorter-term relievers and the Cubs have ten guys that are perfectly built for it.

Top of the rotation pairings:

Justin Steele LHP and Hayden Wesneski RHP

Shota Imanaga LHP and Ben Brown RHP

The idea here is pretty similar for both pairings. The Cubs would take their two best starting pitchers and pair them with their two highest upside long-relief options. In both scenarios, the hitters would go from facing a finesse-based, left-handed starter, to a power-righty that should keep them off balance. 

Middle rotation pairings:

Jameson Taillon RHP and Jordan Wicks LHP

Javier Assad RHP and Drew Smyly LHP

We’d be looking at an inverse of the top of the rotation pairings with the middle of the rotation. The Cubs would still be swapping the handedness of the starter by going from the hard-throwing righties to the more finesse lefties out of the bullpen, but these games would have the potential to require longer stints from the piggyback guys if the starters run up their pitch counts early in the game. 

Back of the rotation pairing:

Kyle Hendricks RHP and Cade Horton RHP

This would be the most interesting pairing and would represent a true passing of the torch each time that Hendricks turned the ball over to Horton. While both guys are right-handed, their pitching styles could not be anymore different with one glaring exception: neither of these guys walk many hitters. Hendricks could start the game and assuming he’s able to place his pitches on the corners and be the 2023 version of himself, he could hand the ball off to Horton in the fifth or sixth inning and watch him dominate hitters in a completely different manner. 

The Cubs can have thirteen pitchers on the roster and in this scenario they would have the ten starters/piggyback guys and then an additional three bullpen pieces. 

The most likely scenario for those last three spots would be to use Mark Leiter Jr. against lefties, and keep Hector Neris and Adbert Alzolay going for high-leverage moments.