Last Game: Cubs 1, Twins 0
Up Next: Twins (31-22) @ Cubs (31-20) 7:15 CST
Another Cubs win, another great effort by the pitching staff. In a way this past week has felt like the opening week of the season. Sure, the bullpen has been more reliable and the offense more inconsistent, but the Cubs rotation feels... dependable again.
Kyle Hendricks was maybe as good last night as he was in the season opener. His curveball, the pitch he worked on over the offseason, the pitch we all hoped would help re-establish him as a true ace was dynamic. He utilized it early and often, 29 times in all, 10 more times than his changeup. It helped him to a season high 10 Ks.
When Hendricks has the option of throwing all four of his pitches in any count, opposing lineups are in real trouble.
Yu Darvish may be battling a little inconsistency right now, but Hendricks is really finding his groove as we approach the playoffs. And its not like Darvish has been bad his last couple of times out. He's just slipped from great to good. There is every expectation for those two to give the Cubs the necessary one-two punch to start off (and hopefully finish off) the Cubs opening round playoff series.
With that in mind, this week I've been bouncing some ideas around my head for how I think the Cubs Postseason roster will shake out.
Potential Playoff Pitching Staff
Locks: 1. Yu Darvish, 2. Kyle Hendricks, 3. Jon Lester, 4. Alec Mills
Options: Adbert Alzolay, Jose Quintana, Tyler Chatwood,
We know who the two guys at the top are going to be. A four man rotation won't be necessary until round two, but for round one, it is possible only two will be needed. If a Game 3 is played, then Jon Lester will be given the ball. He's been hit or miss this year, but he's looked better lately, and the Cubs will almost certainly count on Big Game Jon to rise to the occasion once again. He's earned the right, and it is not like anyone else has emerged as a clearly better option.
That doesn't mean they can't be creative. Alec Mills ran into a rough patch in the middle of the abbreviated season, but he also has been better of late. You may have heard something about that earlier this week. In a do-or-die Game 3 the Cubs can pull the plug on Lester at any point in order to hand the ball off to Mills. Even that may not be necessary though. If Darvish and Hendricks pitch deep into Games 1 and 2, the Cubs could turn the game over to the suddenly fairly sound bullpen as early as the 4th or 5th inning.
If all seven of the Cubs starting pitchers are healthy, they could all make the postseason roster. Mills, Chatwood, Quintana, and Alzolay have at least limited relief experience. Chatwood and Q won't be fully stretched out, but along with Alzolay, they give the Cubs a ton of flexibility to piggyback a couple of them off Lester and Mills in Round Two, and still leave one avaialble as a long man in case Darvish or Hendricks get bounced early.
RHP locks: Jeremy Jeffress, Craig Kimbrel, Rowan Wick, Ryan Tepera, Jason Adam, Duane Underwood Jr.
Additional Options: Tyler Chatwood, Adbert Alzolay, Dan Winkler, Colin Rea, Dillon Maples, Tyson Miller, Pedro Strop (NR)
These aren't exactly names opposing teams and fans fear, but each guy offers valuable skills if they are locked in come playoff time.
Jeremy Jeffress has veteran wiled his way to being the Cubs most reliable bullpen arm up to this point. He's gotten the job done in high leverage spots, even if it isn't always pretty. Ideally, he will not be the Cubs top option come playoff time though.
Craig Kimbrel is re-establishing himself over the final month. I doesn't necessarily even want him to regain the closer job. The Cubs are better off if he can fill the role C.J. Edwards once did as a 7th or 8th inning guy who can match up against the heart of the opposition's lineup. Use your best guy against the heart of the opposing teams order, regardless of the inning.
Rowan Wick has essentially replaced Steve Cishek. He isn't always dominant, but he suppresses home runs and usually doesn't beat himself. He makes the opposition earn it.
The one guy who has consistently missed bats out of the Cubs pen this year is Ryan Tepera. If Kimbrel regresses, a lot of weight will fall on the right arm of Tepera. He'll likely be tasked with facing situations in the middle innings when the Cubs absolutely need a strikeout.
The good news is, another option has emerged. Jason Adam, he of the elite spin rates and dynamic four-pitch mix, has begun throwing more strikes as the season goes on. If he continues throwing this reliably, he could displace Tepera as the fourth option come the playoffs.
Duane Underwood Jr. has also secured a postseason slot. His fastball velo has returned, but most importantly, he's gotten the feel for his changeup back. And he's begun relying on his secondaries rather than his fastball. That was always his best path to MLB success, and it appears Underwood and the Cubs have finally realized it.
LHP locks: Andrew Chafin, Jose Quintana (assuming both are healthy)
Additional Options: Josh Osich, Kyle Ryan, Rex Brothers, Justin Steele, Brailyn Marquez (NR), Matt Dermody (NR), Danny Hultzen (NR), Burl Carraway (NR)
This is where the real questions lie. If healthy, Chafin and Quintana offer the Cubs their most experienced options, and both still possess enough stuff to deliver the necessary results. If they aren't available for Round 1, things get a little dicey. Kyle Ryan has lost the trust he earned last season. His velo is down and his GB rate up. Josh Osich has been okay, but hardly a reliable option. The same goes for the consistently inconsistent Rex Brothers. If it came down to a choice between those three right now, I'd probably go with Brothers and then cross my fingers he could throw strikes when/if called upon.
The wild card is Brailyn Marquez (and maybe Justin Steele). The White Sox summoned their triple digit throwing lefty prospect last night, and I have to wonder if the Cubs will consider doing the same over the next few days. Their lead in the Division appears safe, and so I hope the Cubs will utilize that advantage to experiment a bit prior to the postseason. Brailyn Marquez doesn't need to be "ready." Even if he can only deliver five some-good-some-bad innings come playoff time, he could bring a missing element to team.
Assuming 14 pitchers, and full health...
Rotation: Darvish, Hendricks, Lester, Mills (BP in Round 1)
RHRP: Jeffress, Kimbrel, Wick, Tepera, Adam, Underwood Jr., Chatwood
LHRP: Chafin, Quintana
That leaves one final spot which IMO should go to Marquez, and if not him, than Alzolay. Get a youngster some playoff experience. Use the expanded roster on a potential game changer. A Dan Winkler, Colin Rea or Josh Osich are not that.
*One or more of Osich/Ryan/Brothers may have to fill in for Chafin and/or Quintana anyway. Alzolay would be my first choice to replace Chatwood.
Filed under: Morning Cubs Roundup