The Cubs, who play their first playoff game Thursday night against the Braves at Wrigley Field, will have a few things on their mind.
First and foremost, they will have to make sure they’re able to get the best out of their starting pitching rotation.
While Chicago will be without their top starter, Jake Arrieta (left shoulder surgery), the Cubs will be looking to be the best pitching team in baseball.
The other key piece in the equation will be their rotation.
It’s a mix of veterans and young prospects who can contribute on the mound for the Cubs and make it easy for them to win a postseason series.
So far this season, there are 11 starters in the majors who have a winning record.
Those players are the Cubs’ ace, Jake Morton (22-9 with a 2.73 ERA), left-hander Anthony Rizzo (18-10 with a 3.22 ERA), right-hander Kyle Hendricks (20-10, 2.92 ERA), center fielder Addison Russell (17-11 with a 4.06 ERA), shortstop Addison Howard (18, 2-0), right fielder Anthony Ranaudo (16-10-2, 2 to 2, 0 to 0) and right-handed pitcher Drew Pomeranz (16, 1-0, 2 for 2).
On paper, the Cubs could be able to use a rotation of Pomeranes, Hendricks and Howard to start a World Series.
But the reality is, they’ll need to find a way to get a few of those guys into the rotation and use them in a meaningful way.
If you want to get an idea of what those guys could look like in a playoff game, here are some of the pitchers in their current rotation:Hendricks was the Cubs second-round pick in the 2017 MLB draft and he made a big impact in 2016 when he led the NL in strikeouts (133) and ERA (2.03) in his first full season with the Cubs.
The 26-year-old posted a 2:1 mark in ERA+ as a rookie.
He also finished with a 1.07 WHIP.
But Hendricks went on to post a 4-4 record with a 5.05 ERA and 3.07 FIP as a relief pitcher in the 2019 season.
He will have an interesting challenge trying to pitch for two opposing teams.
The Cubs are expected to use two right-handers for their rotation, as the Cubs have already signed veteran lefty Jeremy Hellickson and righty Jordan Zimmermann.
He could pitch for the Mets or Braves.
Zimmermann is the team’s top right-field prospect and he could be the key to the Cubs rotation in 2018.
He has a career 2.63 ERA and a 2,917 K/9, so his velocity and movement are very similar to Hendricks.
He’s 6-foot-4 and 225 pounds, so he’s not a long-armed pitcher, but he could have a chance to pitch in the bullpen and help the Cubs get wins in a pennant race.
Hendrick is coming off his second straight losing season and is one of the few pitchers in the NL to post winning seasons in each of his first two seasons.
He finished with an ERA+ of 94 and FIP+ of 93.
He missed almost half of the season with a shoulder injury.
It took him six starts to get back on track, but Hendricks pitched well in his return and finished the season as the NL’s best closer.
The Cubs will have three starting pitchers on the bench, but the best chance to use them is if they’re facing one of their own.
That could be right-y Jake Arrival, lefty Anthony Rizos and right fielder Jordy Mercer.
Rizos will be making his second start of the year.
He won’t be the most talented of the three, but there’s some value to him.
Rizas 5.12 ERA is second-best among Cubs starters.
He allowed just four hits in five innings against the Phillies last weekend.
Rizzo will start in his second postseason start.
He was dominant for the White Sox last year, but this year, he’s struggled.
He posted a 3-2 record with three saves and a 3