Cubs surviving despite pitching woes

By Michael Urbanec

Cole Hamels’ Cubs debut on Wednesday answered a few questions about whether or not the 34 year old four time all star can still get the job done, but his viability going forward is still in question.

The Cubs sent long-reliever and spot-starter Eddie Butler and two low level prospects to the Texas Rangers for Hamels’ services, hoping he can provide production similar to former Cubs starter John Lackey, whose veteran presence and consistent mediocrity has been sorely missed on a battered and underperforming pitching staff.

For the price they paid, gambling on Hamels was a small price for a potentially huge reward. While his last playoff start for the Rangers resulted in Hamels giving up 7 runs and taking the loss, he is still a veteran arm who knows what it takes to win. His performance for the Phillies in 2008 is legendary, going 4-0 and never giving up more than two runs in a game or pitching less than seven innings for the whole playoffs, and winning the World Series MVP.

While that was ten years ago, Hamels career playoff numbers are still staggering. He is only three years removed from posting a 2.70 postseason ERA; at the very least, his arm will be more dependable than Tyler Chatwood, the Cubs former fifth starter.

Chatwood has electric stuff on a good day, but has struggled to find the strike zone all season, leading the league in base on balls by a large margin and averaging four walks per start. The Cubs have moved him to the bullpen in hopes it can recharge his batteries and make him worth the 3 year, $13M contract they signed him to last season.

The Cubs’ starting pitching rotation has struggled this season, with Kyle Hendricks and Jose Quintana, normally known for their consistency, struggling to keep runs from crossing the plate.

Jon Lester has been as good as ever, with a record of 12-4 and an inflated 3.22 ERA due to a few bad starts lumped in with his brilliance.

The Cubs’ biggest offseason acquisition, starting pitcher Yu Darvish, still remains on the disabled list after an embattled first-half season in Chicago.

Despite all of this doom and gloom, the Cubs currently hold the best record in the National League at 62-45 behind surprising contributions from a next-man-up bullpen and the expected brilliance of a potent offense.

Despite an injury to closer Brandon Morrow, the Cubs have fielded one of the best bullpens in baseball behind former all star Justin Wilson returning to form, Pedro Strop anchoring the final inning, and Steve Cishek becoming a revelation for the squad after bouncing around the league for a couple years. Cishek has a 2.01 ERA in 52 appearances, fooling hitters with his submarine delivery and harsh breaking balls.

Mike Montgomery remains reliable in his spot-starter role, but has come down from his excellence as of late, returning to his career averages after baffling hitters during his short time in the rotation.

The offense is being led by a surprising MVP-like season from second baseman Javier Baez, who is batting .299 and leading the team with 22 home runs, somewhat of a miracle, considering he still swings at anything coming within feet of the strike zone.

Anthony Rizzo and Willson Contreras both having a resurgence from slow starts has been a boon to the Cubs, saving them from the problems that usually arise from a problematic pitching staff.

If that weren’t enough firepower, 37 year old utility man Ben Zobrist has returned to his former all star play, batting a career-high .310, 20 points higher than his previous career-high set in 2009.

There is also Jason Heyward, thea Gold Glove right fielder who has finally picked up his offensive play, batting .287, his first time batting more than .230 since 2015.

Despite the storylines coming from the Cubs: the pitching issues, complaints from fun-haters about Javy being Javy, and the slumping or injured nature of Kris Bryant’s season, the Cubs are still in first place, still the best team in the National League, and the return of injured stars will only make them better from here.