With about one month and less than 30 games until postseason baseball, it seems appropriate to start predicting how things will shape up for the first-place Chicago Cubs.
The Cubs have reached a season-high 25 games over .500. ESPN gives Chicago a 99.4% chance of making the playoffs. So, since the playoffs seem basically a guarantee at this point, let’s start speculating how Chicago’s roster will look. Specifically the pitching.
Last season the Cubs sported a four-man starting rotation with eight relievers in the bullpen during the postseason. I expect a similar makeup, as there really is no need to have five starters in the playoffs. Chicago flirted with five in 2016. But, after all, the rotation was performing much better at the time.
No one would have anticipated this going into the season, but as of now Joe Maddon’s game one starter has to be Cole Hamels. The veteran has been basically untouchable since joining the Cubs.
— Chicago Cubs (@Cubs) August 29, 2018
Hamels has a 0.69 ERA in six starters with Chicago. He has allowed only three earned runs over 39 innings. Hamels has oo struck out 38 batters while walking 11.
With how inconsistent the rotation has been, Hamels has provided some desperately-needed stability. Maddon has been extremely careful with Hamels, which is a smart move. You wouldn’t want to see the 34-year old burn out before or in October.
After throwing 114 pitches against the Reds two starts ago, Maddon pulled Hamels after five shutout innings on Tuesday. Chicago will need a fresh Cole Hamels in the playoffs and that is what Maddon is trying to maintain.
If the season ended today, Cole Hamels is Chicago’s postseason ace.
It is less cut and dry as to who will be the Cubs’ second rotation arm. Even though Lester has been better than Hendricks this season, the dynamic looks better when you send Lester out for game three.
Lester is a great postseason pitcher. Not that Hendricks isn’t, but the Cubs don’t trust anyone more than Lester in the playoffs. This is why I think you put Lester out in game three, which will be more significant than game two.
If Chicago wins game one, Lester either goes out to try and earn a sweep or bring home a pivotal victory to give the Cubs a 2-1 series lead. Say Chicago loses both games one and two. Wouldn’t you rather have Lester on the mound for your last resort in game three than Hendricks?
Remember Lester kept the 2016 World Series alive with a stellar performance in game five.
So, there you go. Hamels then Hendricks then Lester. And, of course, game four will have to be Jose Quintana.
Q has been excellent when he’s on and really, really, bad when he’s off. This is a little scary in terms of playoff baseball. Quintana just doesn’t seem to have the command he did last season or throughout his career. Chicago fans have to hold their breath and hope they see the dominant Quintana in October.
Within the anticipated eight bullpen arms to begin the playoffs, six of them are absolute locks barring any injuries.
Montgomery, who will work as a long reliever out of the pen and not a starter, is one of these guys. Since “Monty” has the ability to throw a lot of innings, he will be huge for the Cubs in the playoffs. Especially if a starter has to exit after four innings or so.
Maddon loves using arms like that in the playoffs. Montgomery, Trevor Cahill, and Clayton Richard were all clutch in this aspect for the Cubs during the 2016 season.
Of course, Morrow, Strop, Cishek, and Edwards are locks in the backend. Besides Morrow who is currently injured, the previously mentioned pitchers have been great lately. The Cubs have lethal seventh to ninth-inning options.
— Chicago Cubs (@Cubs) August 26, 2018
Add Jesse Chavez to the mix as well. Chavez has quietly performed exceptionally since being acquired on July 21. Chavez has a 1.29 ERA in 21 innings for the Cubs. He will undoubtedly make the postseason 25-man roster. Chicago is two for two on acquisitions from the Texas Rangers this season.
This leaves two bullpen slots to be filled. The Cubs obviously need at least one lefty in the pen. So, if not both, either Randy Rosario or Justin Wilson will make the cut. Both have been good at times but have also been unreliable.
24-year old Rosario has a 2.65 ERA over 37.1 innings. His overall numbers are solid. But, Rosario’s ERA in August is 6.75.
Wilson has struggled with consistency since joining the Cubs last season. Wilson has a 3.06 ERA in 47 innings. Again, solid overall numbers at first glance. But, Wilson has shown us time and time again that he lets the pressure get to him in crucial situations.
A lot of Wilson’s quality outings come in mop-up roles. He really can’t be trusted with the game on the line. And I guess that is fine, you need mop-up guys. But, if he is going to be the only lefty in the pen, he will definitely be needed in key moments. This is where problems arise.
Nevertheless, Wilson has been much better than Rosario lately. I think Wilson makes the initial cut and Rosario doesn’t. But, Rosario will have the chance to pitch in the playoffs if the Cubs make it past the NLDS.
That leaves one more spot, and though he hasn’t done great since the Cubs got him, I think Brandon Kintzler earns it. After all, Chicago didn’t acquire him for anything. He has been solid this season and maybe just needs some time to settle in.
But, say Kintzler really cannot adjust and he is horrible in the last month of the season. Then things get a little more interesting.
Besides having the option of putting Rosario on the roster and having two lefty relievers, maybe lefty Drew Smyly will be ready to pitch. Smyly has been recovering from an injury all season but seems to be close to healthy. Smyly is set to throw an inning for Single-A South Bend on Thursday.
If the 29-year old really shows he can pitch, this is more realistic of an option than one might think. Especially because the Cubs haven’t seen great things from their lefty bullpen arms this season.
Other than that, the only guy with somewhat of a shot to make the cut is righty, Alec Mills. Mills got called up for a spot start against Cincinnati and performed well. Mills tossed 84 pitches over five and ⅔ innings, which is pretty efficient. The righty only allowed one run while striking out eight and walking one batter.
However, Mills’ performance against the Mets on Wednesday in another spot start does not help his case. Mills allowed a grand slam in the first inning.
- Born and raised in the suburbs of Chicago, Eddie Herz is a senior journalism major at Colorado State University. He has been a beat reporter for CSU's newspaper, the Rocky Mountain Collegian, since he was a freshman. Eddie has also contributed to the BTPowerhouse.com, a sister website of SBnation. Eddie will be the CSU Football beat reporter for the Rocky Mountain Collegian this coming Fall.