The Chicago Cubs have been linked to the top starting pitchers and relievers of this year’s free agent class all off season. What does it mean for the Milwaukee Brewers if they start the season with their current roster?
The Chicago Cubs have a flawed 25-man roster. They lack a true top of the rotation starter, and their bullpen is oddly constructed at present. The top-heavy nature of their 40-man roster means they won’t get better from within. If they don’t sign a top free agent pitcher, are they still a lock for the NL Central title?
How does the starting pitching stack up?
The Cubs have an odd mix in their rotation. Jon Lester, Jose Quintana, and Kyle Hendricks will need to gobble up 600 innings each. Newly added Tyler Chatwood and ‘5th Starter X’ need to do better than John Lackey and their Three-headed fifth starter monster from last year.
Everything for the Milwaukee Brewers rotation is tied to Jimmy Nelson. If he can pitch at the level he was at before his injury, the Brew Crew are in good shape. If not, they need to find a front line starter yesterday.
Chase Anderson and Zach Davies made strides last year. Brandon Woodruff has the tools to develop into a solid starter, and Jhoulys Chacin may prove to be an excellent value if the advanced metrics are believed.
The Milwaukee Brewers also have questions at their fifth starter spot, and their options are about as exciting as the options the Chicago Cubs have. Brent Suter has the inside track on the job, but Junior Guerra and Yovani Gallardo are also available. The Cubs currently have the duo of Eddie Butler and Mike Montgomery vying for the final slot in their rotation. Neither belong in the starting five of a contending team.
What about the bullpens?
The Milwaukee Brewers have an advantage here in that they have one of the top three closers in the game. When Corey Knebel comes in with a lead, the game is over. The Chicago Cubs have Brandon Morrow penciled in as the closer, but he has 18 saves in a decade at the Major League level. He has the tools to succeed, but has never been in the spotlight as a closer before.
The bridge to Morrow also isn’t great. Pedro Strop and Steve Cishek were both quietly solid last year, but Carl Edwards was a disaster in the playoffs. It’s unclear if his post season struggles will carry over into 2018.
The Milwaukee Brewers bridge to Knebel looks better than it did a month ago. Boone Logan recently signed to feature as a the Brewers LOOGY, while Josh Hader looks poised for a breakout season in a set up role. Jacob Barnes and Jeremy Jeffress will play prominent roles from the right side of the mound for the Brewers in 2018.
Which team should be favored for the NL Central?
Even without an ace or a top closer, the Chicago Cubs are still the favorites to win the division. The Milwaukee Brewers grew up last year. They pushed the Cubs all year, but they also lack a true ace and still have bullpen questions to solve.
The arrow is pointed up for the Milwaukee Brewers as far as the direction of their development. The Chicago Cubs have struggled to develop or sign quality pitchers. With a bare farm system, and free agents looking elsewhere, the Cubs appear to have peaked. Unless they solve their pitching concerns in the next month, they could be vulnerable in 2019 and beyond, while the Brewers continue to build a quality roster.