3. Chicago Cubs (10–8, plus-9, LT: 1)

Publish date:

Last season, the Cubs had not one, not two, but three starting pitchers who performed like aces for much of the season, with Jon Lester and Kyle Hendricks actually outperforming 2015 Cy Young winner Jake Arrieta. Cubs management gambled that the trio could up for an unsettled back of the rotation, with Jason Hammel leaving via free agency and John Lackey coming off a solid year but also entering his age-38 campaign.

So far, the returns have been iffy. Lackey’s striking out more batters than ever before, but he’s also leaving too many pitches over the meat of the plate and getting drilled as a result, with five homers allowed in 24 innings. Brett Anderson has been semi-functional as Hammel fifth-starter replacement, but he’s taxed the Cubs bullpen by soaking up just 14 1/3 innings in his first three starts as a Cub. More puzzling of all, Hendricks has been torched, posting a 6.19 ERA through his first three starts thanks largely to a walk rate that’s nearly twice as high as last year’s, and a ludicrous 26.7% home run-per-flyball rate that’s mercifully won’t last much longer. After getting by with a rotation that worked out great sans the many homegrown stars that you’d find in the lineup, that makeshift approach might be starting to show some cracks.

Just as they did with Ben Zobrist, Aroldis Chapman, Lester, and other veteran acquisitions, the Cubs will do what they have to do to plug holes as needed. A solid mid-rotation starter could end up at the top of the shopping list.

2. Houston Astros (13–6, plus-14, LT: 3)