Chicago Cubs reveal a starting rotation that has a lot to prove

The Cubs' starting rotation plan has been confirmed, but there is a lot to prove for the inexperienced group

Chicago Cubs v Atlanta Braves
Chicago Cubs v Atlanta Braves / Matt Dirksen/GettyImages

Chicago Cubs' manager Craig Counsell has announced his plan for the team's starting rotation, but the five starters have a lot to prove in a season where the team is looking to take a big step forward. Andy Martinez from Marquee Sports Network first reported the plan on X on Thursday morning.

There was little question that Justin Steele would be leading this staff. He was far and away the team's most capable pitcher last season, where he made his first All-Star team and set career highs in starts (30), innings pitched (173.1) and strikeouts (176). The Cubs' ace was even in the National League Cy Young conversation into September.

Behind him is Kyle Hendricks, who is the de facto elder Jedi Master of the team. The 34-year-old is the last remaining member of the 2016 World Series team and he needs to turn in a respectable season for this staff to thrive. Although his overall numbers weren't horrible last year (3.74 ERA), Hendricks seems to struggle the deeper he goes into ball games. Especially when he faces elite lineups like the Atlanta Braves, the New York Yankees, and Arizona Diamondbacks. It wouldn't hurt to make adjustments to his repertoire, but perhaps Hendricks' greatest asset is his years of experience that he can pass on to younger guys like Jordan Wicks.

Like Hendricks, Wicks is a finesse pitcher who heavily relies on his changeup. The Cubs are asking for a lot out of Wicks as a former first-round pick. He got a taste of the majors last year where he only had two bad outings in his small sample size. But there is a legitimate workload concern surrounding Wicks because he has never even come close to a full MLB season's workload. He was able to eclipse 90+ innings in his first two professional seasons, but facing MLB lineups every time you take the mound and doing it successfully is an entirely different task.

Similar workload concerns can be brought up about the rest of the rotation. Of the five starters, only Steele and Hendricks have turned in a full season's worth of games and Steele has only done it once. Javier Assad touched the 100-inning mark in 2023 after shifting in and out of the bullpen but he only started 10 games. The reassuring thing is that Assad rarely looked tired and there were several occasions where he was able to go deep into ballgames.

The initial starting rotation of the Chicago Cubs is set.

Shota Imanaga is penciled in at number three and there is no telling how well he will be able to handle MLB hitters. Couple that with the fact that pitchers in Japan routinely get six days of rest, and you have yet another workload challenge for Counsell to figure out. The thing is, if anyone can navigate this stuff properly, it's Craig Counsell. The guy spent years getting good results out of unproven arms on his staff. A recent report from The Athletic's Sahadev Sharma delved into Counsell's bullpen philosophy where it's pretty clear that he knows how to set expectations for his pitchers and utilize them in situations where they will succeed.

“They’re supporting each other,” Counsell said about the bullpen. “How they work together is really important. But as long as you can get the pieces all working together, that’s all we’re trying to find. Finding routines I think is the ideal way. But you can have a great bullpen and not really know roles too. Being open to that I think is important.”

Let's hope this philosophy translates to the Cubs' starting rotation because they are seemingly one more injury away from this looking pretty ugly. It may be time for the front office to seriously think about signing Jordan Montgomery just to bolster things up.

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