Coming into this winter, the Cubs were already in the elite tier of baseball teams. As David Schoenfield wrote on ESPN.com, there are seven teams in this tier: the reigning World Champion Astros, the reigning National League Champion Dodgers, the Yankees, the Indians, the Red Sox, the Nationals, and the Cubs. As much as I’d agree with this (as it’s pretty much the truth), it felt like the Cubs weren’t as good as some of the other teams on the list. It’s great having legit championship aspirations every season, because we haven’t had much of that in Chicago in the past 20 years – mostly if you’re not a huge Blackhawks fan like myself. It’s not that I didn’t think they could win the World Series with a Lester-Hendricks-Quintana-Chatwood-Dirty Mike Montgomery rotation, I just thought they needed one more big name… one that they had been linked to all winter.
And then they went out and got that big name. Yu Darvish is a Chicago Cub. No matter the cost, no matter the length, no matter the two shitshows that happened in the World Series – the Cubs just got an(other) elite pitcher. And not only did they do that, but they got the biggest free agent prize on the market for the second time in three years, and if you wanna say Lester was a bigger prize than Scherzer in 2015, I wouldn’t argue with you – we’re the ones with a Commissioner’s Trophy and Washington isn’t.
But the point of this is that the Cubs now have four of the top 25 starting pitchers in baseball, while also adding a guy at the back end who had a 3.49 ERA away from the friendliest ballpark to hitters in either league. If you take a look at Sports Illustrated’s top 100 baseball players for 2018 (https://www.si.com/mlb/2018/02/12/top-100-players-part-1), you will see Darvish at 53, Lester at 70, Hendricks at 72, and Quintana at 80. Do you know how many other teams have that many starting pitchers in the top 100? The answer is as many times as the Nationals have won a playoff series.
In 2016 the Cubs had one of the best rotations of this century. Lester, Arrieta, Hendricks, Lackey, Hammel, and a handful of spot starts (screw you Brian Matusz) put together a 2.96 ERA – which was definitely helped by that all-time great defense, but the point remains. All 5 main guys were in the 19 in ERA. I would not be surprised, nor should you, if that happens again.
If you asked me who this team’s starter should be on Opening Day I don’t think I can give you a confident answer. Personally I think Jon Lester should be getting the ball on March 29. Is he the best pitcher in the rotation? Probably not anymore. But it’s his rotation. After that I think you go Hendricks, Yu, Q, Chatwood. But does it really matter?
Here’s a too long; didn’t read for you: We have arguably the best rotation in baseball. And on top of that we have the desire to win again. You think guys like Lester and Anthony Rizzo are happy with the one title they won in Chicago? I think not.
We are once again the team to beat in the National League and we are angry. Be afraid. Be very afraid.