The three-headed monster of Justin Steele, Marcus Stroman and Drew Smyly the Cubs rode early in the season while the offense searched for consistent answers is now in shambles, with only Steele continuing his strong performance from the first half.
That's left the Cubs leaning more on the likes of a resurgent Jameson Taillon, who has turned his season around in dramatic fashion, and Kyle Hendricks, who is 15 starts deep into his comeback tour after working his way back from 2022 shoulder surgery. Both have been solid, especially Taillon, who boasts a 2.17 ERA since July 7.
His turnaround lined up almost perfectly with the steep downturn from Stroman, who has a 9.00 ERA in seven starts since June 25. The right-hander had been the team's stopper for much of the year and looked poised to cash in on a big-time payday should he exercise his opt-out at season's end. Now, he will need to prove he's healthy (he's currently on the IL with a hip injury) and effective to close out the year.
Cubs need either Drew Smyly or Marcus Stroman to get back on track
An ineffective Stroman, like I said, has at least been somewhat offset by Taillon figuring things out. But Smyly's struggles have really hurt the pitching staff's depth - forcing David Ross to tap guys like Javier Assad and Hayden Wesneski in his stead. That pulls those guys out of the bullpen, shortening the list of reliable options out there.
Smyly started the year, picking right up where he left off last summer with Chicago, with a 3.27 ERA and .680 opponent OPS in his first 13 starts of the year. But since June 14, he's been a mess, with his ERA more than doubling (7.83 ERA in that span) and opponents posting a 1.003 OPS. His struggles forced Ross to move him to the pen after his last start, again, forcing Ross and the front office to recalibrate a relief corps that had really found its rhythm as the season's progressed.
If the Cubs are going to not only make the postseason but emerge as a legitimate threat in October, they'll need one of these guys to get back on track. Ideally, that's Stroman given he's your highest-priced arm in that rotation, but regardless, starting pitching depth is a huge question mark with both of these guys struggling.