The Cubs’ rotation struggled mightily last month, but things are starting to come together in May and the results are backing it up.
ST. LOUIS — The month of May has been important in the Cubs’ effort to find their identity as a team. No group was more in need of that identity check after the first month of the season than the team’s starting rotation.
The Cubs’ starters struggles to find their rhythm forced them to lean heavily on the bullpen and until May 4, hadn’t had a starter record an out in the seventh inning.
While the team’s relief core was highly successful, having a bullpen carrying that workload isn’t sustainable over 162 games, no matter how good they are.
“I think that the starting pitching has struggled early in the year — there’s no doubt about that,” Cubs president of baseball operations Jed Hoyer said. “We haven’t pitched well enough in the rotation. We haven’t gotten deep enough in games. The bullpen has really sort of kept us afloat in that regard.”
It seems the rotation has gotten the message loud and clear as they’ve looked much more like the cohesive staff that Hoyer and the Cubs envisioned spring training in May and has begun to take some of the pressure off both the offense and the bullpen.
“I think they’re getting back to finding their rhythm and I think that is important, for sure,” manager David Ross said.
The Cubs’ rotation has been led by Jake Arrieta, who has not only pitched well, but carried the group through the month of April, allowing three earned runs or less in six of his eight starts.
After Arrieta, the next best Cubs starting pitcher has been young righty Adbert Alzolay, who continued his strong first half in Saturday’s 2-1 loss by tossing a career-high seven innings while allowing just two earned runs.
Alzolay’s transition from prospect into a major-league starter has been one of the best developments the Cubs have had this season and with each start, he’s flashed what may be top of the rotation stuff.
“I feel that now that we’re getting into that rhythm, it just brings more confidence to everyone in the starting rotation,” Alzolay said. “Just watching the game last night and watching Kyle going about his business the way he was competing. You start getting fired up to go out and do the same thing.”
But where the Cubs have needed significant improvement was from right-handers Kyle Hendricks and Zach Davies, who ironically have been two of the most consistent pitchers in baseball over the last five seasons. Both were horrendous in April with a combined 8.49 ERA over 41 2/3 innings.
Hendricks has found his old form and after throwing 6 2/3 innings of one-run ball in Friday’s win, he has gone at least 6 2/3 innings in three of his four May starts. Davies has also looked like himself with a 2.11 ERA
“I want to be that guy that my team can rely on,” Hendricks said. “They know what they’re going to get when I take the ball out there that day. . . . Today was another step in the right direction.”
There is little margin for error with the Cubs’ rotation with some of the group’s similar characteristics and last month showed how small that margin really is, especially when they aren’t pitching like expected.
Things could have gone off the tracks for veteran group, but they’ve gone from having to two guys carry the load to now the group starting to pitch well together and with the recent surge in offense, the Cubs’ success has followed.
“I think we have a lot of veteran starters outside Adbert that understand how the season goes,” Ross said. “You’re going to have some good starts, you’re going to have some bad ones. They didn’t get off to their best start, but I think they know they’re going to have better days. They trust in their track record. I trust in their track record that each start they’ve got a chance to go as deep as they want.”