Best- and worst-case scenarios for Cubs' pitching staff in 2019
Best- and worst-case scenarios for Cubs' pitching staff in 2019
Let's take a look at the long list of Cubs hopefuls who could be making an appearance on the mound at Wrigley Field this season, and the best- and worst-case scenarios.
The Cubs have been criticized for not making major additions to their team going into the 2019 season, but that doesn't mean there won't be new faces. On the positional side, things are mostly the same. That could also be said for the starting rotation, but the bullpen could rightly be described as a cast of thousands as competition starts up in spring training. Let's take a look at the long list of Cubs hopefuls who could be making an appearance on the mound at Wrigley Field this season, and the best- and worst-case scenarios. ## The Rotation Barring injuries or implosions, the one-through-five starting rotation is set. The order may change, but Jon Lester, Kyle Hendricks, Cole Hamels, Yu Darvish, and Jose Quintana are your starting rotation. Each comes with his own questions, however, and there's room for unfortunate occurrences. Lester had an excellent rebound season for the Cubs in many ways in 2018, dropping his ERA from 4.33 in 2017 to 3.32 in 2018. But some of Lester's peripherals were actually worse, including his FIP, K/9, and BB/9. He's 35 years old this year and regression is a natural part of aging, so expecting him to be an ace is unrealistic. Hendricks, on the other hand, is still just 29 and by many measures is continuing to get better at his craft. He had some velocity issues in 2017 that were based on a release point change, and Hendricks was able to workshop that fix. Last year, he dealt with a mechanical problem regarding his position on the rubber that resulted in a bad stretch in the middle of the season. Hendricks walks a fine line because he doesn't quite hit 90 mph with his fastball, but his changeup is one of the best in the game. Hamels was absolutely nails with the Cubs last season after being acquired from the Texas Rangers. In 76 1/3 innings over 12 starts, the left-hander had a 2.36 ERA with a 3.42 FIP. He's best remembered for his Sunday night duel against Max Scherzer of the Washington Nationals, which of course culminated in David Bote's walk-off grand slam. But Hamels, like Lester, is 35 this season. In 262 1/3 innings with the Rangers from the start of the 2017 season until he was traded to Chicago, Hamels had a 4.43 ERA and 4.87 FIP. There's some nuance here, involving some changes in pitch usage, but it's hard to know what the Cubs are going to get from him in 2019. Darvish is another question-mark. He signed the six-year, $129 million contract last offseason and never really got going in 2018, starting just eight games for the Cubs and finishing with a 4.95 ERA. He had a 6.00 ERA after a May 2 start against the Colorado Rockies, hit the disabled list, and then was really good in his return (10 innings, two earned runs, 13 strikeouts, and five walks in two games) but went back on the shelf and never returned to the mound in the big leagues. Now the 32-year-old right-hander is healthy and on track once again; however, the question here is whether the Cubs can trust Darvish and his elbow. For now, the answer is no. It's a huge reason why they picked up the $20 million option on Hamels. If Darvish returns to form it's a game-changing addition to the rotation. Quintana could be a game-changer as well, and for him it might be in regards to bringing back his changeup. We've covered [this topic on BetChicago](https://www.betchicago.com/jose-quintana-needs-a-change) before, but Quintana is absolutely a better pitcher when he's throwing more than just his fastball and curveball. According to Sahadev Sharma of The Athletic, there is [hope](https://theathletic.com/821853/2019/02/17/can-jose-quintana-get-off-on-the-right-foot-with-his-changeup-in-2019/) on the horizon for Q and his third pitch. Outside the regular five starters, there are candidates such as Tyler Chatwood, Mike Montgomery and some guys in the minors. Chatwood had a bad 2018 season, to be nice about it, but his problems don't need to be fully rehashed. There's hope that he'll return to his pre-2018 form thanks to some mechanical changes, and it would be huge for him to do so. Even if he's sixth on the depth chart, every team ends up needing more than five starters in a season. Montgomery had a great season as a starter in 2018, posting a 3.69 ERA over 19 starts in place of Darvish. That's despite some diminished velocity on his fastball and stuff that was only truly “good enough.” Montgomery has changed his workout program this winter focusing on flexibility over weight-lifting, and it's possible he could even be throwing a little bit harder. Hopefully the Cubs don't need starters behind Monty, but prospect Adbert Alzolay and a handful of others will be waiting for their chance. __Best-case scenario:__ The rotation is healthy, Lester and Hamels are good, and the Cubs have one of the best (and deepest) starting rotations in the game. __Worst-case scenario:__ Darvish is hurt again, Lester and Hamels regress, and Chatwood can't throw strikes. ## The Bullpen If you think that's a lot of words about a bunch of starting pitchers, check out how many potential arms the Cubs have vying for roles in the bullpen. Brandon Morrow isn't likely to break camp with the team at the end of spring training, but he should be ready to pitch at some point. Steve Cishek, Carl Edwards Jr., and Pedro Strop are back this year, and Strop will likely handle the closer duties to start the season. There will be a spot reserved for Montgomery if he's not in the rotation, and in theory Chatwood should be there as well. Brad Brach was signed as a free agent and will have one of those positions locked down, having a 2.89 ERA over the course of 351 innings since the start of the 2014 season. He'll be 33 years old this year and has experience pitching in just about all situations, including as a closer with the Baltimore Orioles. Assuming eight spots in the bullpen, that leaves two spots remaining for a ton of hopefuls. Brandon Kintzler is a guy the Cubs acquired late in the 2018 season, and he's making $5 million this year. But he allowed 27 hits in 18 innings in his Cubs stint and had a 7.00 ERA. Kintzler won't be guaranteed a job, but the team is really hoping he rebounds. Among the others who will be looking to take one of the final two spots are left-handers Brian Duensing, Xavier Cedeño, Randy Rosario, Ian Clarkin, Mike Zagurski, and Kyle Ryan, in addition to right-handers Tony Barnette, Dillon Maples, Junichi Tazawa, Rob Scahill, George Kontos, Allen Webster, Alec Mills, James Norwood, and Rowan Wick. It's hard to predict what will happen, but Kintzler has a leg-up on one of the jobs and the other probably comes down to one of Duensing, Cedeño, or Barnette. __Best-case scenario:__ The Cubs find eight good relievers out of their massive group of candidates, and Morrow returns to pitch well for the majority of the 2019 season. __Worst-case scenario:__ Morrow never does get fully healthy, Cishek gets over-used by Maddon, and the bullpen has constant turnover as the group struggles to hold late-game leads. __More Cubs:__ [Best- and worst-case scenario for the offense](https://www.betchicago.com/best-worst-case-scenario-cubs-offense-2019)2019-02-20T23:09:52.391Z2019-02-21T05:00-07:00