Cubs News

The Cubs pitching staff is seeing early fruits of organizational depth

2 years agoAndy Martinez

PITTSBURGH — The Cubs have had one of the best starting pitching staffs since the All-Star Break.

That’s not hyperbole.

Since the Midsummer Classic, the Cubs rotation has posted a 3.15 ERA, the third best mark in Major League Baseball behind only the Dodgers (2.72) and Astros (2.83). It’s an even more impressive feat when you account for the fact that they’ve suffered injuries to regular starters Kyle Hendricks, Justin Steele, Keegan Thompson, Drew Smyly and Wade Miley in that time.

They’ve been able to count on guys like Adrian Sampson, Hayden Wesneski and Javier Assad to come in and not only provide length, but quality along with it. Couple that with Marcus Stroman, who’s pitched to a 2.87 ERA since he returned from his bout with COVID-19 and it’s created a recipe for success for the Cubs. 

“It shows you how valuable and how important it is for teams to be able to manage the entire season,” pitching coach Tommy Hottovy said prior to Sunday’s series finale against the Pirates. “Early in the year when we had the depth, but they maybe just weren’t ready, it showed how much it affected our team.

“We went through some tough stretches where we didn’t have the ability to have consistent starting pitching.”

It has also shown how much the Cubs’ pitching infrastructure has improved. They’ve been able to plug in starters in the case of Assad, Steele and Thompson being homegrown arms. They’re maximizing the profiles of the starters to their success.

And the pitchers are buying into that role. Sampson, who allowed 1 run on 4 hits in 6 innings of work in the Cubs’ 8-3 win over the Pirates on Sunday, has taken his opportunity and run with it. 

“Guys like me come in there try to fill in the gaps,” Sampson said. “I feel like O’ve done well enough to solidify a role for this year. On a great teams you have 5 starters, [but] you need 10 starters. You need guys that come in and are competitive and keep the team in the games and stuff like that, just kinda take the weight off one another. It’s a huge thing.”

The success, though, doesn’t mean that their rotation is a finished product by any means or that they’re content going into the offseason in the situation they’re in now.

“To expect them to all throw 180 innings next year is probably a little bit lofty of a goal,” Hottovy said. “So, it shows you how important it is to have guys that can come in and eat up innings and be good starting pitchers to build those guys around, you know, instead of making them the focal point of like one of those main spots.”

And it creates flexibility in the staff overall.

Early on this season, Thompson was a highly effective “weapon” — as David Ross called him — pitching in multi-inning stints out of the bullpen. Having players that can function in that role or spot start for them or fill in the rotation for injuries can be an asset for them.

“It definitely gives you a lot of confidence as an organization that going into next year, you’ve got some viable, starting pitching depth, long reliever depth that you know can come up and help through the course of a long season,” Hottovy said. “The credit to the organization, the guys that have been working down there with the minor league coaches and coordinators to be able to help develop these guys so that when they do come up, they have success.”

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