The Cubs entered Tuesday raked 23rd in MLB in team ERA and sit 28th in the league since the All-Star break.
If there’s one glaring area of need throughout the Cubs’ 2021 season, it’s been the team’s lack of quality starting pitching. Even before the team’s mass selloff at the trade deadline, the pitching was the Cubs’ biggest hole.
President Jed Hoyer said following the team’s trades at the deadline that the Cubs will sit down and form a plan on how to get the team back on track. Whatever that plan is, starting pitching will have to be at the top of it.
No team is going to be able to compete allowing six runs per game. Too many times this season, manager David Ross has had to turn to his bullpen to cover 10, 12 and even 15 outs in a game. No team can sustain that over a long season and the Cubs have been no exception.
Entering Tuesday’s game against the Reds, Cubs starters had a combined 5.12 ERA this season, which ranks 26th in MLB.
Even in the season’s early going, both Hoyer and Ross spoke about the team’s need of length from its starters and how taxing the bullpen so much would ultimately hurt the team in the long run. And that’s exactly what happened.
But after seeing how things have worked out this season and with the team having money to spend this offseason, it’s hard to believe the Cubs are going to make that mistake twice.
The first thing that will have to be done to help fix the team’s issues would be acquiring another frontline starter.
Just like the shortstop market, there’ll be no shortage of starting pitching on the free-agent market this winter. The Cubs will have options with names like Robbie Ray, Marcus Stroman, Carlos Rodon, Noah Syndergaard and Jon Gray all available.
When the Cubs saw what it was like to have a solid duo leading the staff in 2019-20 with Yu Darvish and Kyle Hendricks at the top of their rotation. But after the trade of Darvish, it left the team with a large hole that they’ve been unable to fill since.
For a large portion of the season, it had been Hendricks or bust in the rotation and the Cubs’ longest-tenured player was able to carry the staff on his back. But as the season has come to a close, he hasn’t looked nearly as sharp.
Hendricks has been a staple in the team’s rotation since 2014 and giving him a running mate at the top would give the team a solid foundation to work with as they build their next playoff roster.
But once the Cubs figure out the front of their rotation, the next step will be figuring out the back of it.
Right-hander Alec Mills is often left out of the Cubs’ rotation mix, but he shouldn’t be. Aside from Hendricks, Mills has been the Cubs’ most consistent pitcher this season. Mills isn’t flashy and might not have the electric stuff that has infatuated the game, but over the last two seasons, he’s proven that he can start in the big leagues. It should play in his favor next season.
Finally, the Cubs’ will have to decide which of their young arms will stick in the rotation. Right-hander Adbert Alzolay showed lots of promise, but had some struggles in his first year in the rotation before the team moved him to the bullpen to monitor his workload.
Left-hander Justin Steele is showing growth during his first stint in the rotation and has put together back-to-back solid outings. Right-hander Keegan Thompson struggled with his command in his first opportunity before landing on the 10-day injured list with right shoulder inflammation.
All signs point to Alzolay being in next season’s rotation, but Steele and Thompson will continue to audition as the season closes and will likely do the same during spring training.
If the Cubs want to turn things around quickly, getting their pitching back on track is the fastest way to do it. But like many of the team’s plans this winter, it’s contingent on an ownership group being willing to spend. If they aren’t, the idea of this rebuild being quick is merely a pipe dream.