By Bruce Levine–
MESA, Ariz. (670 The Score) — When breaking down which team boasts the most dominant pitching staff in baseball, the Cubs may fall a bit short on top-of-the-rotation firepower.
As for one through five and depth beyond that? The Cubs feel they’re as good as anyone.
“Starting pitching wise, it’s a very talented group,” manager Joe Maddon said. “One through five possibly could be, we have had some good ones here before, but this staff one through five could exceed what we have had here the past three years.”
The Cubs added the best pitcher available in free agency in right-hander Yu Darvish over the weekend after signing right-hander Tyler Chatwood back in December. They’ll join left-hander Jon Lester, left-hander Jose Quintana and right-hander Kyle Hendricks as starters who could all produce 180 to 200 innings. Beyond them, left-hander Mike Montgomery is a valuable swingman plenty capable of filling in the rotation.
The Cubs’ staff will be watched carefully throughout spring training, much like in 2017. Back then, the tender loving care extended into the regular season, as the organization micromanaged pitch counts of starters through the first 100 games. This procedure will be used again during the spring and early this season.
“It is important not to push too hard too early,” Maddon said. “I do expect a better start this year than we had last season. We can do that by not pushing guys to the max. Heavy pitches or innings whatever, we have a really capable bullpen. Keep an eye on the starters, parcel out the time to the relievers and always remember August and September. You want to be really good in those two months leading into the playoffs.”
Quintana is looking former to watching his teammates perform on a daily basis.
“We have five guys who can win every day,” Quintana said. “We have a really good rotation. We are all ready to compete from day one.”
The Cubs are no stranger to outstanding rotations. Back in 2003, the team had three pitchers throwing like aces in Kerry Wood, Mark Prior and Carlos Zambrano. The Lester-Hendricks-Jake Arrieta-John Lackey group led the team to a World Series title in 2016, when the Cubs had the best starting rotation ERA in the game by more than a half-run.
But this rotation has the chance to be the best. The Cubs’ starters had a 4.05 ERA in 2017, which was the fourth-best mark in MLB. And those Cubs dealt with injuries to Lester and Hendricks and only had Quintana for about a half season.
“The difference this year is I see fresh guys coming out of camp,” Maddon said. “Last year, I saw fatigued guys. Let’s go get them out of the shoot. Be mindful not to adding too much of a workload on them early while we are trying to be successful.”
Bruce Levine covers the Cubs and White Sox for 670 The Score and CBSChicago.com. Follow him on Twitter @MLBBruceLevine.