Chicago Cubs

New-Look Rotation Is The Key To Chicago Cubs’ Playoff Ambitions

MLB: JUL 01 Cubs at Pirates

PITTSBURGH, PA – JULY 01: Chicago Cubs Pitcher Adbert Alzolay (73) throws a pitch during the MLB … [+] baseball game between the Chicago Cubs and the Pittsburgh Pirates on July 01, 2019 at PNC Park in Pittsburgh, PA. (Photo by Mark Alberti/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Icon Sportswire via Getty Images   <p>According to the <em>Baseball Prospectus</em> PECOTA projections released on Monday, the Cubs will finish in second place in the National League Central with 85 wins. That would be a win better than 2019 when they failed to reach the playoffs and a slight decrease in winning percentage from the group that won the division last year.</p>  <p>Understanding that any projection system is not meant to be viewed as an actual prediction, PECOTA still seems like it is being generous to the Cubs. Chiefly because of the loss of pitching depth in Chicago this winter.</p>  <p>The Cubs starting rotation going into spring training this year is almost unrecognizable from the group of last season. Jon Lester, José Quintana, and Tyler Chatwood are all gone via free agency, and Yu Darvish was traded to the Padres in December.</p>    <p>That means that after Kyle Hendricks, the only other vaguely familiar face in the Chicago rotation will be Alec Mills. Otherwise, they will be depending on veteran Zach Davies — brought over from San Diego in the Darvish trade — and the depth of the Cubs farm system.</p>  <p>It may also mean that they have to extend beyond the traditional five-man rotation group.</p>  <p>“This year we’re probably looking at it a little more like 7-8 guys,” team president Jed Hoyer said in a conference call with reporters on Monday. “We’re going to continue to look to add to the rotation.”</p>    <p>Last week, the Cubs added another veteran to the group and one who comes with a lot of experience in their division. On February 5, the Cubs signed Trevor Williams to a one-year, $2.5 million deal. He had previously spent five seasons with the Pittsburgh Pirates.</p>  <p>“We’ve had some success with pitchers like him,” Hoyer said Monday.</p>  <p>Williams joins a rotation that is going to be heavy on pitchers with good command and control but not necessarily much velocity, but that’s the type of pitcher the Cubs have succeeded with, according to Hoyer. </p>  <p>“Our infrastructure has done well with control/command guys,” Hoyer said.</p>  <p>That could be the case, but there still remains the reality that the Cubs will need a lot of innings from a group of other starters that is mostly inexperienced. Mills may have pitched a no-hitter last September, but he has only 17 career starts under his belt. </p>  <p>After Mills, the Cubs will probably be asking the corps of Adbert Alzolay, Tyson Miller, and Brailyn Márquez to fill out the rotation. Alzolay and Miller have just over half a dozen starts between them, and Marquez made one short-lived and disastrous appearance in 2020 (two-thirds of an inning, five runs allowed).</p>  <p>“Pitching, yes, that's a concern. We’re going to need to add,” Hoyer said. “We have a little bit less depth, and we’re going to have to add. That's an area that keeps me up at night.”</p>  <p>Each of the above-mentioned pitchers has the potential to make a positive impact on the Cubs rotation this year if the Cubs do decide to stand pat. </p>  <p>Márquez is the 60th-ranked prospect in baseball, according to MLB Pipeline, and Alzolay and Miller both have prospect pedigree. One potential problem that might prevent these three from contributing is a governor on their number of innings this season. Hoyer said Monday that his younger starters will be under an innings restriction in 2021.</p>  <p>Still, in order to be competitive in 2021, Hoyer will almost certainly need to pad his rotation further. The Williams signing was a fine first step in that direction, but the Cubs need more. Hoyer spoke on Monday as though the payroll restrictions he is under have loosened some, so he may have the flexibility to add where there wasn’t before.</p>  <p>One place to look could be a reunion with Jake Arrieta. Though if they aren’t careful, <a href="" target="_blank" rel="noopener">the Mets</a> might beat Hoyer to the punch. Arrieta is not the pitcher he was when he helped lead the Cubs to the playoffs in 2015-2017, but he can still round out a rotation that could be good enough to help them get close to those PECOTA projections.</p>  <p>Without an addition like Arrieta, the Cubs will be leaning pretty heavily on several inexperienced arms. Across a full 162-game season, that is a gamble.</p>

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