Full Rotation: The St. Louis Cardinals and starters in the NL-Central

ST. LOUIS, MO - JULY 27: Tyler Lyons
ST. LOUIS, MO - JULY 27: Tyler Lyons /
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CHICAGO, IL – OCTOBER 19: John Lackey
CHICAGO, IL – OCTOBER 19: John Lackey /

We now turn our attention to the dreaded rivals of the St. Louis Cardinas, the Chicago Cubs.

Anticipated Starters: Jon Lester, Kyle Hendricks, Jose Quintana, Tyler Chatwood, Eddie Butler
In the Wings: Mike Montgomery, Jen-Ho Tseng, Drew Smyly (likely recovering til 2019),

Losing the likes of Jake Arrieta and John Lackey is a major issue for any club, and in the Cubs’ case, urgency exists to fill their roles while the position player core remains at its prime. Fortunately for them, the team has some remaining very strong pieces, is a player in the free agent market, and has already made one key acquisition.

The North Siders have had great success the last several years after the hugely successful Theo Epstein/Jed Hoyer rebuild. One of the downsides of that kind of progress is the thinning of minor league ranks, and the Cubs are no exception.

The team still has impressive major leaguers to fill most of the rotation, and by all accounts, they are not done. The Cubs have been mentioned in connection with Yu Darvish and other free agents, so the analysis here is subject to any possible additions.

Lester’s bona fides with both Boston and the Cubs are well known to almost every MLB fan. He had a modestly good year in 2017, but nowhere near some of his previous outstanding years. In fact, his ERA+ was at its worst since 2012. So at 34 as the season starts, it’s not at all career he can handle the ace role at this point in his fine career.

Neither can Kyle Hendricks be considered the number one. You might have thought so after his crazy good 2016, but a strange hand injury shortened this past season, and returned his performance from outstanding to just very good. He can easily be seen as co-equal with Lester at this point, and perhaps ahead, given that he’s only 28. Not bad for a 39th-round pick from 2008.

Just a tad older than Hendricks is Quintana, who came over from the South Side last year as the White Sox continued to purge in anticipation of the massive and successful rebuild of their own. Quintana has almost always been good, You’ll never likely find him among the league leaders in ERA, but other than early 2017, you never saw him above the mid-3s either.

Rarely does a major league rotation have a more solid number three than Jose, and he’d be a true number two for many lesser teams.

Tyler Chatwood just came to the Cubs via free agency, a shrewd and timely grab for the front office. No doubt eager to show his wares outside Coors Field, Chatwood was highly prized by many teams, given his career 3.31 ERA on the road (almost all while with the Rockies).

While Wrigley Field can be super challenging on a “blowing out” day, there are plenty of times there when the wind favors the pticher. For the Cubs, the three-year, $38M contract is a true solidifier for the bottom half of this rotation.

From there the most likely back-ender is Eddie Butler, who also joined the Cubs from Colorado for the 2017 campaign. With double digit starts, Butler began to fulfill the promise of a first-round draft pick. But it’s always possible that Mike Montgomery, another former top pick for the Royals who came to the Cubs via Seattle, could jump Butler, as he too had a fine set of starts for the Cubs in 2017.

It’s a good thing that the Cubs are solid with these six, because while the club has some promising prospects, the situation is kind of in Upside-Down World.

By that I mean that their best pitching youngsters, like Venezuelan Adbert Alzolay, and LSU prospect Alex Lange, both right-handed and 22, are probably realistically a year or two away. While others are closer to ready, like Jen-Ho Tseng, they’re lower-ceiling guys and not likely to play a role in the bigs other than emergency or short-term fill-in.

The Cubs are in some ways the opposite of the St. Louis Cardinals on the rotation front. Their sure-thing quotient is better than that of the Redbirds, but their minor-league, near-term prospects aren’t likely to provide the backup protection that St. Louis’ contingent can provide.

Give the Cubs a B+ on the current rotation, with a chance of improving to an A or A- if a significant free agent comes on board. But ding them on the depth side; right now I’d hand them a B-, though again, if a power arm joins the club, that alone will push the depth to at least a B if not better.