By Bruce Levine–
CHICAGO (CBS) — It’s rare to see five starting pitchers included on a team’s 25-man roster for a playoff series, but the Cubs find themselves in a unique situation that might necessitate it.
With the playoffs starting next week, the Cubs’ top two pitchers aren’t anywhere near top form. Left-hander Jon Lester hit the disabled list in mid-August with shoulder fatigue and has struggled for much of the second half. Right-hander Jake Arrieta strained his right hamstring in early September and has in his second start since returning looked tentative in only going three innings in a loss Tuesday. Arrieta’s schedule start Sunday has been cancelled in favor of a simulated game and more rest.
Because of that, the Cubs are considering including all five of their rotation members — specifically No. 5 starter John Lackey — on the National League Division Series roster. Normally, teams include four starters.
“It is possible,” manager Joe Maddon said Friday. “It is definitely possible to see all of them involved. Of course, somebody would have to be a part of the bullpen, but it is possible.”
Maddon, pitching coach Chris Bosio and executives Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer will meet Monday to determine a rotation configuration. The smart money is on right-hander Kyle Hendricks starting Game 1 against the Nationals next Friday and left-hander Jose Quintana following in Game 2. That would buck conventional wisdom, which would have veterans and big-game performers in Lester and Arrieta getting the ball early in the series.
This doesn’t seem like that kind of year, though. Lester and Arrieta have issues to work through and haven’t proved to be as reliable as Hendricks and Quintana lately. And this is no time for sentimentality. Hendricks has a 2.19 ERA in the second half of the season, while Quintana had a 1.63 ERA in September before his start against the Reds at Wrigley Field on Friday afternoon.
Lackey will also have a decent shot of being on the NLDS roster. The Cubs were 12-2 in his last 14 starts of the regular season, and he could come out of the bullpen as a long reliever — and also serve as insurance should Arrieta have a setback for any reason. Still, there’s some doubt surrounding the effectiveness of Lackey coming out of the bullpen and being fully warmed up. After Maddon utilized Lackey out of the bullpen in the 2016 season, Lackey hit the DL with a sore shoulder.
Left-hander Mike Montgomery was a lifesaver for the Cubs in the 2016 playoffs, and he’ll be ready for any role this October.
“I have not thrown two consecutive days very often this season,” Montgomery said. “I will be ready for whatever they ask me to do. My arm feels fine.”
Wade Davis, Carl Edwards Jr., Pedro Strop, Hector Rondon, Brian Duensing and Montgomery are locks to be in the Cubs bullpen. Lefty reliever Justin Wilson is on the bubble but will be in if the Cubs want three left-handers. If Lackey is included, righty reliever Justin Grimm would most likely be the odd man out.
If Arrieta is healthy, the rotation could look like this, in order; Hendricks, Quintana, Arrieta and then Lester. That would put Hendricks in line to start a win-or-go-home Game 5 with Lackey on standby status for the whole series.
Bruce Levine covers the Cubs and White Sox for 670 The Score and CBSChicago.com. Follow him on Twitter @MLBBruceLevine.