CHICAGO -- They say a baseball team's momentum is only as good as its next day's starting pitcher.The Cubs just might be riding momentum all the way through October and into November, if necessary, if that's true.Jon Lester, Kyle Hendricks, Jake Arrieta and John Lackey will be an edge against
CHICAGO -- They say a baseball team's momentum is only as good as its next day's starting pitcher.
The Cubs just might be riding momentum all the way through October and into November, if necessary, if that's true.
Jon Lester, Kyle Hendricks, Jake Arrieta and John Lackey will be an edge against every opponent the Cubs face.
They're not dependent on any one starter but have four who can frustrate the game's best hitters. They'd still have the best starters in the postseason if you substituted No. 5 starter Jason Hammel for any of the other four.
The Cubs have quality and they have quantity, which along with state-of-the-art fielding is why they've gone 38-16 since July 31, just as Arrieta and Lester were the biggest reasons they went 44-18 after July in 2015.
No team can match this supply of effective, healthy starting pitchers. Manager Joe Maddon has subtly limited their workloads since June, when they first captured a double-digit lead in the National League Central, and they all seem to have plenty of gas in the tank.
Just look around Major League Baseball at all the impact starters who have been sidelined or diminished by health concerns.
The Mets are missing three of the four starters who rolled through the Cubs in the NL Championship Series last season. The Nationals are missing Stephen Strasburg but won't get any sympathy from the Indians, who are deciding whether to replace both Carlos Carrasco and Danny Salazar or try to get by with three starting pitchers.
The Red Sox and Rangers are loaded at the front of the rotation, but things get dicey when they get past the 1-2 combinations of Rick Porcello-David Price and Cole Hamels-Yu Darvish, respectively. The Giants are the only team beyond the Cubs who can go four-deep with quality starters, but they plan to use Madison Bumgarner in the Wild Card Game, if they get there, which thins the rotation a little for a potential trip to the NLDS.
The Cubs, on the other hand, will be playing simulated games to keep their starters in a rhythm. But these are guys who know the drill.
Not that they need another advantage, but here is one: Lester (3-0, 0.43 ERA in three World Series starts) and Lackey (20 starts, 127 1/3 innings in the postseason, tops among active pitchers) both already have won two World Series rings, including one they earned together only three years ago in Boston. They know how to win, and you better believe that matters.
Arrieta and Hendricks gained experience last October that will help them this time around.
Maddon hasn't formally announced how he'll line up his starters for the NLDS, but it appears he's going to lead with Lester, making him the guy for a deciding Game 5, if necessary, and then go Hendricks, Arrieta and Lackey. As strong as these guys are, he could have pulled names out of a hat and not been wrong.
Here's how they look as they wait for the bell to ring:
Lester -- He was the first free agent in years to join the Cubs thinking he could win, and he has. He's had his best season this year as a 32-year-old, compiling a 2.28 ERA that includes a 1.34 mark in 13 starts since the All-Star break. He'll try to finish off his first 20-win season on Saturday in Cincinnati, which would strengthen his chance of beating Max Scherzer and Hendricks in a tough race for Cy Young votes.
Hendricks -- The fifth starter when the season began, Hendricks has used his command and darting, diving changeup to become the first Cub since 1945 to lead the NL in ERA (he'll take a 1.99 mark into a Sunday start, with no one between him and Lester). He's been the most consistent starter in the Majors, allowing no more than four earned runs in any start. He's been a killer at Wrigley Field (1.36) and like Lester has gotten better as he's gone (1.32 ERA in 13 second-half starts).
Arrieta -- The reigning NL Cy Young winner looked off to the races again in April, when he hung up zeros in three of his first four starts, including a no-hitter in Cincinnati, but he's been inconsistent since late June. He's 7-6 with a 4.44 ERA in his last 16 starts, including a seven-run outing at Pittsburgh on Wednesday. The good news is he's thrown only 197 1/3 innings, more than 50 fewer than the regular season and postseason combined last year. He shouldn't hit a wall this October.
Lackey -- He was signed away from the Cardinals with October in mind. He wasn't as effective in the regular season as he was a year ago but still turned in a 3.35 ERA over 188 1/3 innings. He spent time on the DL with a sore shoulder in August but finished fine (4-1, 2.34 ERA in his last nine starts). His slider emerged as a major weapon this season and could be especially effective against anxious hitters in October.
Consider the Cubs ready for a long ride, behind a rotation built for the job.
Phil Rogers is a national columnist for MLB.com.