Chicago Cubs: Looking at a potential starting rotation for the postseason

(Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
(Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images) /

The Chicago Cubs have officially clinched the NL Central for the second consecutive season. They will be facing the No.2 seed and NL East Champion, the Washington Nationals in the NLDS. Who will Joe Maddon roll with in each game?

Pitcher No. 1- Jake Arrieta

As much as I trust Jon Lester to return back to his form, it’s Arrieta that has been more consistent throughout the year. Arrieta has been strong against the Nationals in his career, posting a .246 average in 142 at-bats faced. He also has only allowed two home runs to the Nats in those 142 at-bats.

(Photo by Jason O. Watson/Getty Images)
(Photo by Jason O. Watson/Getty Images) /

When you look at Arrieta’s stats against the Nats and then at the way he’s pitched in the second half, it makes sense to throw him out against most likely Max Scherzer. According to ESPN, the Cubs are 6-5 in Arrieta’s last 11 starts . The actual wins for the Cubs might not be there, but Arrieta’s ERA is what is important to look at. Since the All-Star Break, Arrieta has a 1.45 ERA. In addition to that, he has kept opposing teams battering averages very low, posting a .206 AVG since the break.

Pitcher No. 2- Jon Lester

Lester has not been the same as he was in the 2016 season. According to ESPN, his season ERA stands at 4.46 and has been even worse in September with an ERA of 4.94. These numbers are not we have come to see from Lester as Cub. He has always been able to keep his ERA down, which is important because he’s not a pitcher that can throw a 95 MPH fastball.

However, Lester still owns some of the best playoff experience in the Cubs rotation. He was magnificent in the playoffs last year, posting a 2.02 ERA and only allowing three home runs in six starts.

(Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
(Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images) /

In addition to his strong play last year, Lester has been a lockdown pitcher against the Nationals. In 220 at-bats, Lester has allowed only one home run and a .232 batting average against Washington. However, he has only faced Bryce Harper seven times. Harper is 1-7 against Lester, that one hit being a home run.

Pitcher No. 3- Kyle Hendricks

Hendricks was the designated home picture throughout the postseason last year and delivered. Ironically, he pitched Game 7 on the road in Cleveland and pitched an absolute gem despite only going 4.2 innings. He’s been the No.3 man this season and has been very consistent when healthy. Like Lester, he’s not going to dazzle you with his fastball, but he should make the right pitches. Since the All-Star Break and his return from injury, Hendricks has a 1.67 ERA.

While he hasn’t been extremely successful in the win column, he’s been pitching well.  Since his first start in August, he has only had one outing where he hasn’t gone at least six innings. This is important because it gives the Cubs’ bullpen a better chance to rest when he starts. Ideally, you have Hendricks go seven full innings and potentially use Wade Davis in the eighth and ninth.

(Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
(Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images) /

Hendricks, like the other two Cub starters before him, has been strong against the Nationals roster. In 92 at-bats, the Nationals have a .217 batting average against “The Professor”. Bryce Harper is 4-13 with one home run against Hendricks.

Looking at what Harper has done against the Cubs starting pitching is so important because of the role he plays for Washington offensively.

Pitcher No.4- Jose Quintana

Quintana certainly hasn’t been the stud talent the Cubs had brought him in for, but he’s still good enough to go out and perform. For example, “Q” was able to record a three-hit shutout against the Brewers on Sept. 24. He has been much better in September, posting a 1.63 ERA and leading the Cubs to four wins in his four starts.

I’m not the biggest fan of the “he’s getting hot at the right time” argument but you can certainly make the case for Quintana. The Cubs are 7-3 in his last 10 outings, which tells us that Q is doing his best to give the Cubs a chance to win.

This is honestly all you can really ask for out of your No.4 and (if you choose to you them) No.5 pitchers in the playoffs. You shouldn’t go in with the expectation that your No.4 is going to throw a complete game, let alone a shutout. You are looking for five innings where the starter is just giving you a chance.

(Photo by Jon Durr/Getty Images)
(Photo by Jon Durr/Getty Images) /

Quintana’s sample size is much smaller than any starting pitcher on the Cubs roster due to his time in the AL. In 52 at-bats, no Nationals players have hit home runs off the lefty and are batting .250. These numbers aren’t as convincing when you try and stack Quintana against the Nats because the sample size isn’t as large. Quintana has never faced Bryce Harper.

If you think that Quintana should be left off the rotation, you have to think of why he was brought to the Cubs. He is supposed to be that missing piece in the Cubs rotation that puts them back into World Series contention. He’s got the talent and I believe that at the back end of the rotation he can perform well.

Pitchers 5A/B- John Lackey and Mike Montgomery

Lackey’s Case

This situation deals with the thought that the Cubs go with a full starting five in the playoffs, which they may not do.

Lackey has turned things around in the second of the season and has been said that he will never come out of the bullpen. However, he’s been more of a liability than an asset at this point. He could certainly go out at any given point and give you seven strong innings and keep the runs to a minimum. In fact, the Cubs have only lost twice since the All-Star break when the Big Texan is on the mound.

However, my worry with Lackey (outside of his inconsistency) is that he has struggled against the Nationals players.

He is the only Cubs starter to surrender a career batting average of above .300 to Nats’ players. Ironically, he has been dominant against Bryce Harper, allowing only two hits in 14 at-bats on the slugger.

Montgomery’s Case

This is more of a longshot than anything but if the Cubs use a fifth starter in the playoffs, Montgomery has an argument. Whether it was filling in for Jake Arrieta or Jon Lester, Montgomery was serviceable in his spot starts. It would take a large amount of courage on Joe Maddon’s part to start Montgomery in a potential Game 5 in Washington, but we’ve seen crazier things happen.

A Fan’s Perspective

As a fan of the Cubs, I hope that they stick to four starters. Quintana already has some concerns for what could potentially be an elimination game. The five-game series is as much a chess match as it is an actual game. It’s going to be another exciting ride in the playoffs, which is something a Cubs fan can’t say too often.