With more than a week of baseball yet to play, the Chicago Cubs have already clinched the National League Central and are almost certain to clinch home-field advantage in the NL playoffs as well.
It’s a great time to be a Cubs fan. It’s a good time to be Cubs’ manager Joe Maddon, too. The delay before the Division Series provides the Cubs an exceptional opportunity to manipulate and tweak their starting rotation to help the team win its first pennant since 1945.
For most teams, this would be an easy task — but Chicago has three pitchers worthy of being the team’s playoff ace.
Who should take the hill for that first game? Who do the Cubs want going three times should a series reach a seventh game? Those are the questions Maddon will have to grapple with in the coming days.
We like Joe, so we’d like to help him out. Here’s our unsolicited suggestion of how the Cubs should set up their playoff rotation:
Getty ImagesJonathan Daniel
Age 37, righty — 117 ERA+, 3.86 FIP, 1.049 WHIP in 27 starts
Lackey is the No. 4 — there’s not really any debate about this. The Cubs won’t start Jason Hammel or Mike Montgomery over Lackey, and Lackey won’t get preference over Kyle Hendricks, Jon Lester or Jake Arrieta, either. This is the easy one.
Getty ImagesDylan Buell
Age 30, righty — 135 ERA+, 3.55 FIP, 1.058 WHIP in 29 starts
Arrieta has come back down to earth a bit since his astounding 2015 Cy Young Award-winning season, but he’s still one of the most lights-out pitchers in baseball when he’s clicking. Unfortunately for him and the Cubs, that click is less frequent in 2016, and given how strong Hendricks and Lester have been, Arrieta has become the best No. 3 starter in baseball.
Getty ImagesJon Durr
Age 26, righty — 194 ERA+, 3.26 FIP, 0.961 WHIP in 28 starts
Hendricks should be the National League Cy Young winner, but that doesn’t mean he should get the No 1 spot in this Cubs playoff rotation.
Getty ImagesDilip Vishwanat
Age 32, lefty — 167 ERA+, 3.45 FIP, 1.016 WHIP in 29 starts
This is why the Cubs gave Lester the largest contract in franchise history in the winter of 2015. Game 7 of the NLDS, at Wrigley Field, you want Lester on the mound. The 11-year veteran has been one of the best pitchers in baseball. <br If you’re into wins, he leads the NL with 17, having lost only four games all year. He’s a big-game pitcher who has been through the fire, having won two World Series championships with Boston. He’s 3-0 with a 0.43 ERA in the World Series, and boasts a 2.85 ERA with a 1.071 WHIP in his 16-game playoff career.
The Cubs put $155 million on the table so Lester could be their ace when they contended for World Series titles. Both ends have held up their end of the bargain to this point — you have to imagine they’ll continue to do so when the playoffs start.