The Chicago Cubs came into the 2018 season with high expectations. The team still returns a large core of players that won the World Series in 2016 and reached the NLCS in 2017. Young players like Javier Baez, Addison Russell, Kris Bryant, and Willson Contreras are all reaching their prime years alongside other key players. Chicago boasts a predominantly young, talented, and powerful lineup that should play well into October. Additionally, the Cubs paid Yu Darvish $126 million this winter to bolster the rotation and replace Jake Arrieta. Unfortunately, Darvish, and the rotation as a whole is the one area where Chicago is really struggling early in the season.
Chicago Cubs Rotation in Trouble
Chicago’s rotation is led by lefty Jon Lester and Kyle Hendricks. Both pitchers battled struggles at various points last season. Hendricks’ struggles were mainly due to injury while Lester endured one of his worst seasons in terms of ERA. Each pitcher is hoping for a bounce-back performance in 2018, and both are off to a solid start in April.
Hendricks does carry a 4.09 ERA over four starts, largely due to surrendering five home runs, but the ERA alone does not paint a full picture. He has two quality starts under his belt, one poor outing where he surrendered four runs over five innings to Milwaukee and picked up his first win despite giving up three runs in a game against the Rockies. It should be noted that start came in Coors Field, and Hendricks managed to surrender just one home run and did not allow a walk while striking out six. His ERA should settle in just fine as settles into the season.
Lester is off to a strong start and looks to have put 2017 in his rearview. He currently carries a 3.10 ERA and 20.1 innings pitched over four starts. In his most recent outing against the St. Louis Cardinals, Lester yielded one unearned run over six strong innings to pick up the win. He has also surrendered just one home run on the early season.
Darvish and lefty Jose Quintana are making more than $33 million combined this season, but both players are looking to climb out of an early-season slump. Darvish carries a 6.86 ERA over four starts while Quintana’s ERA is up to 7.78. Both pitchers were victims of Coors Field recently, combining for nine earned runs over 10 innings pitched there, but their struggles run deeper.
Darvish has surrendered four or more earned runs in all but one of his starts. The runs alone are not always worrisome, but the rest of Darvish’s stats paint a troubling picture. He does have a nine-strikeout performance already, but he has yet to eclipse four strikeouts in any of his other starts. He is also walking batters at a 5.0 per nine innings rate.
Quintana is having similar issues. He has surrendered four or more earned runs in three starts and six or more in two of those outings. Quintana does have 16 strikeouts, but he also has 11 walks for an identical walk rate as Darvish. The simple truth is that no starter can last too long with that many walks.
Chicago has been bailed out by a solid bullpen on more than one occasion, but the underlying problem for the Cubs remains walks. Chicago’s fifth starter, Tyler Chatwood, carries a 4.60 ERA and is in danger of that number climbing higher thanks to an 8.0 walks per nine innings mark. The Cubs currently rank 17th in team ERA, thanks in large part to the bullpen, but they must be careful. Their team walks per nine innings of 4.7 is third-worst in all of MLB behind the Atlanta Braves and Chicago White Sox.
MLB teams can overcome a lot of things, but most teams cannot overcome that many walks over the course of a 162-game season. Though the Cubs are supremely talented, the starting rotation must improve if Chicago hopes to play deep into October.
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