Well, it’s hard to believe, but this weekend marks the halfway point of the season. The Cubs are in contention, though most fans would agree that they have not played up to expectations. Here are my midseason grades for pitchers.
Anthony Bass: A. The 30-year-old journeyman has been a nice find, allowing just one earned run in 12.1 innings. Perhaps it’s too early to draw long-term conclusions, but for now he’s earned the right to get more chances.
Randy Rosario: B+. With Mike Montgomery in the rotation and Brian Duensing struggling, Rosario has filled the void as a left-handed option out of the bullpen. He was tremendous early on when he was called up in May, and though he’s looked a little vulnerable in a couple of recent outings, it appears the Cubs may have something here.
Luke Farrell: C. His five inning scoreless performance in the 13-inning win against the Mets on June 2 remains a highlight, but other than that he hasn’t been that impressive. With a couple players hopefully coming back from injuries soon, there likely won’t be room on the roster for him long-term.
Carl Edwards, Jr.: B+. Walks continue to be a bit of an issue, but otherwise Edwards is turning into a solid middle reliever. His 40 strikeouts in 25 innings is particularly impressive. He may still yet become a closer, but for now he doesn’t quite have the necessary command, and thankfully the Cubs have other options.
Brian Duensing: A for first quarter, F for second quarter. What the heck happened? He didn’t give up an earned run until May 13 and had an ERA of 0.54 as late as May 27. Since then, the wheels have completely come off, as he’s allowed multiple runs in six of his last eight outings. The Cubs looked like geniuses for bringing him back early on, but now he suddenly can’t get anyone out. Hopefully Duensing figures it out soon, because the team needs him.
Pedro Strop: A-. How does this guy not get more respect? Since coming over as the “other” guy in the Jake Arrieta trade in 2013, he’s posted an ERA under 3 every year and is on pace to do it again in 2018 at 2.62. He’ll have the occasional rough outing but more often than not gets the job done, including in high pressure situations.
Justin Wilson: B. Wilson wasn’t that great when he came over in a midseason trade last year, but this year he’s bounced back well and provided some nice depth from the left side, which is particularly important with Mike Montgomery in the rotation. Wilson has only allowed more than one run twice; aside from a rough outing in April against the Pirates and a blown save on June 19 against the Dodgers, he’s been solid.
Steve Cishek: A. This has been a great signing. You’d like to see him get the walk rate down a little (4.3 per nine innings), but otherwise there’s been little to complain about: just seven earned runs, including only one home run, in 36 innings pitched. Plus, Joe Maddon seems comfortable putting him into just about any situation.
Brandon Morrow: A. The Cubs under Theo Epstein continue to find unique, inexpensive ways to fill the closer’s role. Despite having only two saves from 2010 to 2017, Morrow has thrived in this role, earning the save in 17 of 18 chances. Of his 28 outings, he has not allowed a run in 26 of them.
Mike Montgomery: B. I split the difference between giving a C+ as a reliever and an A- as a starter. Despite a couple of disappointing outings lately, Montgomery has come to the rescue and provided an underachieving starting rotation with some quality innings. When Yu Darvish comes back, it’s going to be hard to take Montgomery out of the rotation.
Yu Darvish: Incomplete. It’s too early to say that the Darvish signing was a mistake, but it hasn’t exactly gone as planned. Darvish was ineffective before going on the disabled list, and now we’re not sure when he’s coming back. He doesn’t have to be the ace here, but since the Brewers will likely add pitching at the deadline, the Cubs will need Darvish to come back and pitch up to his ability if they are going to win the division.
Tyler Chatwood: F. I almost was at least willing to give him a passing grade because a 4.54 ERA for a #5 starter isn’t horrible. But I ultimately decided I couldn’t do that when he’s issued 66 walks in 73.1 innings. Early in the season, he seemed able to pitch around it, but he’s failed to go more than 5.1 innings in any start since April 29 largely because of command issues. Montgomery has been impressive enough that Chatwood may be the odd man out of the rotation when Darvish returns.
Jose Quintana: D. It’s a little discouraging to think that the Cubs probably could have had Justin Verlander at the deadline last year instead, and for a lot less in return. I still think the Cubs made the right trade; it just simply hasn’t worked out so far. Quintana has never averaged three walks per nine innings in his career, but in 2018 that rate is 4.2, and more often than not he hasn’t been able to pitch around it. Considering the Cubs gave up two of their top prospects to get Quintana, there has to be some worry in the front office that Quintana has had a subpar first half two years in a row now.
Kyle Hendricks: D. Home runs and walks, areas where Hendricks has done well throughout his career, have suddenly become a problem. After giving up 17, 15, and 17 long balls over the past three years, Hendricks has already given up 16 in 2018. His rate of 2.8 walks per nine innings would be the highest rate of his career, while his 6.8 strikeouts per nine innings would be his lowest since his second half call-up of 2014. Let’s see if Hendricks can figure it out and return to form in the second half; the guess here is that he will because he’s better than this.
Jon Lester: A. After a subpar 2017, Lester has rebounded nicely and is having one of the best seasons of his career; indeed, his 2.18 ERA would be his lowest ever. Lester’s early inning struggles were what really hurt him last year, but this year he’s allowed just three first inning runs in 16 starts. If there’s one minor quibble, it’s that he isn’t going as deep into games as you’d like an ace to; he’s only made it to the seventh five times. Otherwise, in a rotation that has underperformed overall, the veteran Lester has stepped up to be the ace that the team needs. Oh, and the fact that he’s not an automatic out at the plate anymore is a bonus.
Brian Johnston is the author of the book The Art of Being a Baseball Fan, his story of following the 2015 Chicago Cubs, available on Amazon. He lives in St. Joseph, Michigan with his wife and two children.