The tough thing about an ideal is that it can never be achieved, which I suppose is all too fitting when looking at the best possible Cubs rotation. I mean, the best five-man group would see a handful of healthy pitchers taking the bump and performing well each time.
In 2015, that was a matter of Jake Arrieta being a demigod while the others pretty much fell in line behind him. Last year saw Jon Lester and Kyle Hendricks make up two-thirds of the Cy Young race as Arrieta, John Lackey, and Jason Hammel ate innings. This year, though, that desire for steady performance and good health has gone wanting in a big way.
Ideally, you’d get more performances like the one Arrieta put up Sunday in Cincinnati. His seven shutout innings of one-hit ball may be the best he’s thrown all year and his 4th inning was some of the best work he’s ever done. I know it’s just the Reds, but he made the heart of that order look like little kids. He was able to locate the two- and four-seam fastballs, bend the curve for strikes, and wiffle the changeup to confound all three hitters that frame.
Cool, so we’ve got one spot locked down. Though he’s not been quite up to par with the last couple seasons, Lester is as close to automatic as they come. Hendricks can been excellent as well, and a couple pain-free throwing sessions should see him back on the active roster for the start of the second half. Awesome, now we’re up to three. But that’s where the easy part ends.
I’m still not completely sold on Mike Montgomery as a starter, mainly due to concerns with his ability to turn a lineup over more than once. But he’s easily the best in-house option the Cubs have outside of the three I just mentioned. Thing is, they might try to land an even better arm on the trade market. And even if we’re not talking about someone with the cachet — or the price tag — of Chris Archer or Sonny Gray, we’re probably looking at a mid-rotation guy.
Acquiring another pitcher would mean moving Eddie Butler, who has been like the Ferris Bueller of pitching this season. Perhaps he will be able to rely on good fortune for another dozen starts, but I just don’t see how he can be a reliable part of the rotation without the ability to command his pitches. Hitters seem to know what’s coming, or at least know that they can handle it. If, that is, it’s over the plate.
And can we all agree that Brett Anderson isn’t really a viable piece? I could see the Cubs giving him another shot or two at a starting gig, or even trying to work him into the mix in middle relief, but I don’t see how he comes back and performs well.
That leads us to John Lackey, who has been nothing short of terrible this year. I mean, he did have those consecutive quality starts and you figure the HR/FB percentage comes back to earth at some point, so maybe he can yet be serviceable down the stretch. Or maybe they need him to mouth off about his catcher not being able to throw out baserunners and we can have a reenactment of the fun from last week.
I just know that I wouldn’t want to be the one delivering the news to Big John.
What we’re left with then, is a five-man rotation of Lester, Arrieta, Hendricks, Montgomery, and a trade acquisition, which is entirely doable. And in terms of what they’ve got on hand and what makes sense as far as who might be available and who the Cubs are willing to part with, I think any acquisition will end up being a mid-tier guy. Which means they’ll now go in another direction.
Cubs have no All-Star starters
After dominating the lineup last season, the Cubs have exactly zero All-Star starters. And I can’t really think of anything to say about that so I’ll just channel the late Smokin’ Jay Cutler with a hearty, “Doooon’t caaaaare.”
I have to admit that I did once care about which and how many Cubs were playing in the Midsummer Classic, but those days are long gone. It’s a fake game no longer imbued with the home-field contrivance that was supposed to have made it matter.
Looking at it from a more pragmatic angle, Cubs fans shouldn’t want their favorite players in this thing at this point anyway. Given how these guys have been playing, do you really want them caught up in all the rigmarole of the All-Star Game? Or would you rather they take some time to get their isht together?
Happ Here to Stay
There’s really no way to put this other than to say I was wrong about Ian Happ. I honestly thought he’d be dealt prior to making an impact at the highest level. And even once he did make The Show, I never expected that impact to be as big as it’s been. I was convinced that he’d be overmatched and would require more seasoning in the minors.
While that still may be the case (see: Schwarber, Kyle) the former Bearcat’s ability to adjust, not to mention his most recent show in Cincinnati, has me convinced that he’s in Chicago to stay.
Ian Happ: first #Cubs player with 2 HR & a Stolen Base in a game within first 45 career games since Ryne Sandberg 4/23/1982
— Christopher Kamka (@ckamka) July 2, 2017
That’s part of what factors into my thoughts on the rotation, since Happ would have been one of the key pieces leveraged to acquire a big-time, cost-controlled starter. But would a top-end arm provide more value going every fifth day than Happ brings as an everyday player? I suppose he might if we’re talking about Archer over Lackey.
Besides, the name most associated with Archer or other top-flight arms has been…
Jimenez knocked out another light
Lol Eloy Jimenez just knocked out another light at batting practice!!!!
— Scott Kornberg (@ScottKornberg) July 2, 2017
You can’t hold onto a guy just because he one-ups Roy Hobbs, but it’s kinda clear that this young man has something special. Which is to say that I don’t think the Cubs are going to part with him for anything short of Archer. Which is also to say that I don’t think the Cubs get super splashy in free agency.
More news and notes
- Blake Parker — yes, that Blake Parker — has emerged as one of MLB’s best relievers in Anaheim
- MLB says its balls aren’t juiced
- Starling Marte started prepping for his July 18 activation from an 80-game PED suspension with a minor league rehab stint Sunday
- MLB Trade Rumors has updated it’s Top 10 Free Agents list and Jake Arrieta is still way up there