Drew Smyly continues to be key Cubs rotation cog

Chicago Cubs v Minnesota Twins
Chicago Cubs v Minnesota Twins / David Berding/GettyImages

In 11 second-half starts last year, Drew Smyly was dominant, working to a 2.83 ERA across 57 1/3 innings of work. That strong run played a role in the Cubs bringing back the veteran left-hander in free agency, signing him to a one-year, $8 million deal with a mutual option for 2024.

So far in 2023, Smyly has proven his performance down the stretch last summer was no fluke and he has a lot more to offer Chicago than rotation depth. On Friday, went toe-to-toe with MLB ERA leader Sonny Gray in Minnesota, doing his part to keep the Cubs in the game until the bats broke through late.

"I think he continues to pitch his game. The breaking ball showed up later. A couple hits here and there, but not a lot of hard contact. I thought we could have done a couple things better defensively early on that gave up the two runs. I don’t think he ever really looked like he was in too much trouble."

David Ross, via MLB.com

After a clunker in his first start of the season against Cincinnati, Smyly has quietly been essentially as good at Justin Steele and Marcus Stroman numbers-wise: seven starts spanning 39 2/3 innings, putting up a 2.03 ERA, 3.12 FIP and .171 opponent batting average.

As rookie Hayden Wesneski gets his feet under him and Jameson Taillon looks to settle in with his new team, Smyly's continued consistency has been critical for a Cubs team whose record feels like a disappointment given some of their numbers, including a +52 run differential and a 3.35 starter ERA - both of which rank second in the National League.

Cubs have gotten more than they could have hoped for from Drew Smyly in his second year in Chicago

Of course, the highlight of Smyly's season to this point was his near-perfect game in late April at Wrigley against the Dodgers. But he's been more than one stellar start; evidenced by some of his Statcast metrics on the year.

The 33-year-old southpaw ranks in the 89th percentile in hard-hit percentage and 93rd in average exit velocity. He pounds the zone and has been great at inducing weak contact, as was the case on Friday night.

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He might not have the overbearing stuff of Steele or the swagger of Stroman, but make no mistake. Drew Smyly deserves just as much praise as they do as he continues to lead by example every five days.