Carlos Zambrano

Do the 2018 Cubs have the best starting rotation in Chicago baseball history?


Do the 2018 Cubs have the best starting rotation in Chicago baseball history?

Over the next few years, we could be heading into the golden era of Chicago baseball.

The Cubs have won more games than any team over the last three years, they've been to three straight National League Championship Series, and they won the World Series in 2016. On the South Side, the White Sox have compiled one of the top-rated farm systems in game, making the future bright on both sides of town.

But looking back on some of the golden eras of the past, here's a question: Do the 2018 Cubs have the best starting rotation in the history of Chicago's two major league franchises?

Before you start arguing back and forth, we need to look back at the history and base our opinions on some facts. I've been digging into the archives with our stats guru, Chris Kamka. We found six rotations to stack the 2018 Cubs up against for fun: three from the North Side and three from the South Side. The best of the best. Let's start with the old school.

1907 Cubs

For 108 years Cubs fans heard about 1908, but it's the 1907 Cubs rotation that we are focusing on. Jack Pfiester, Carl Lundgren, Mordecai Brown, Orval Overall and Ed Reulbach each won at least 14 games. Pfiester is the only one who didn't win 17 or more games. They led the Cubs to their first World Series win, and all five pitchers in the rotation had an ERA under 2.00. The Cubs were 107-45 on the season.

1920 White Sox

Wins might not be the best way to evaluate pitching performance anymore, but it's still part of the equation. The 1920 White Sox have something that only one other rotation in the history of the game can claim: They had four 20-game winners in Red Faber (23-13), Eddie Cicotte (21-10), Lefty Williams (22-14) and Dickey Kerr (21-9). Here's the knock on the 1920 Sox: They finished in second place while Cicotte and Williams were banned after the season for being part of the Black Sox Scandal of 1919.

1983 White Sox

Yes, '83. "Winning Ugly" was the rally cry, but the Sox had three starters who were just flat-out winning. LaMarr Hoyt, Richard Dotson and Floyd Bannister combined to go 42-5 with an ERA of 2.55 in 53 starts after the All-Star break. That run included 17 complete games. Relievers weren't used nearly as often back then, but it's still eye-popping. Hoyt (24-10, 3.66 ERA) won the Cy Young Award that year, while Dotson (22-7, 3.23) was equally impressive.

2003 Cubs

There's no shortage of accusers who think manager Dusty Baker might have overused his starting pitchers. The 2003 Cubs are one of only two NL teams since 2000 to have four pitchers compile 200 innings or more. The other is Baker's 2012 Cincinnati Reds team. Dusty rode his "horses" because they were good. Kerry Wood (3.20 ERA), Mark Prior (2.43 ERA), Carlos Zambrano (3.11 ERA) and Matt Clement (4.11 ERA) were third in the NL in earned run average. Wood and Prior were just the fourth duo in NL history to each record more than 240 strikeouts in the same season. Don Drysdale and Sandy Koufax and Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling (twice) are the others. The knock on the '03 Cubs? They fell short.

2005 White Sox

If "being the best" only included rotations pitching in the postseason, this debate would be much easier. The 2005 world champion White Sox set the standard. They are the only team ever to have four complete games in an LCS. In fact, they are the only team with four complete games in any postseason series since the Detroit Tigers in the 1968 World Series. Mark Buehrle, Freddy Garcia, Jon Garland, Jose Contreras and Orlando Hernandez ranked fourth in the majors in regular-season ERA. When it counted most, they were historically good.

2016 Cubs

Billy goats be gone. Kyle Hendricks (2.13 ERA), Jon Lester (2.44 ERA), Jake Arrieta (3.10 ERA), John Lackey (3.35 ERA) and Jason Hammel (3.83 ERA). Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer built the world champion Cubs by stockpiling young bats, but when it came time to end the curse, their starting pitching was unmatched in franchise history. Hendricks and Lester were the first pair of Cubs pitchers to finish 1-2 in the majors in ERA since 1938, when Bill Lee and Charlie Root did it. And behind them was Arrieta, the 2015 Cy Young winner. Cubs starters combined to post a 2.96 ERA. The pitcher who led the American League was 0.04 points higher. Good luck trying to top that.

Other Cy Young winners

Awards can help identify greatness. Chicago boasts six more Cy Young Award winners that we have yet to mention: Early Wynn (1959), Fergie Jenkins (1971), Bruce Sutter (1979), Rick Sutcliffe (1984), Greg Maddux (1992) and Jack McDowell (1993). The problem for these six star pitchers is that we are looking for the best full rotation. These pitchers were individually great, but one through five on the staff wasn't as good as some of the others listed above.

2018 Cubs

Where will they fall in Chicago baseball history? For now, all we can do is guess, but it will take some fantastic numbers to make this list.

Dan Plesac from MLB Network joins Luke Stuckmeyer on the latest CubsTalk Podcast to discuss all that and more:

Mixed news for former Cubs on Hall of Fame ballot

Mixed news for former Cubs on Hall of Fame ballot

While four deserving stars will be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame this summer, no Cubs will be among the crowd.

It was a mixed bag for former North Siders on the ballot this winter.

Neither Kerry Wood nor Carlos Zambrano received enough votes (5 percent) to remain on the ballot. In fact, Zambrano did not receive even one vote from any of the 422 Baseball Writers Association of America voters. Wood had two votes, good for 0.5 percent.

Sammy Sosa, however, received just enough votes to remain on the ballot for 2019, as 33 writers included him among their possible entrants into baseball's most prestigious honor. That represents a slight dip for Sosa, who had 38 votes on 2017's ballot.

In the years he's been on the ballot, Sosa has had to sweat it out each time, narrowly hanging on:

2013 - 71 votes (12.5 percent)
2014 - 41 votes (7.2 percent)
2015 - 36 votes (6.6 percent)
2016 - 31 votes (7 percent)
2017 - 38 votes (8.6 percent)
2018 - 33 votes (7.8 percent)

Sosa has 609 career homers and is one of the greatest sluggers in baseball history. While his numbers are surely Hall-worthy, the issue dragging Sosa down in the voters eyes is his alleged link to PEDs.

Sosa also has not been allowed back at Cubs Convention until he comes clean about his past transgressions.

Meanwhile, Wood and Zambrano falling off the ballot don't come as much of a surprise. 

Wood pitched 14 years in the big leagues, but his career was marred by injury, as he made 30 starts in only two seasons and spent the last half of his career as a reliever. He won the Rookie of the Year in 1998 but never finished among the top finalists for the Cy Young. He was an All-Star twice and led baseball in strikeouts in 2003.

Those aren't exactly HOF numbers, but at least he has an awesome sense of humor about it:

Zambrano pitched 12 years in the majors, almost all as a starting pitcher. He won 132 games and pitched 1,959 innings, but only led the league twice in any major category — wins in 2006 (16) and HR/9 in 2003 (0.4). 

"Big Z" was a three-time All-Star and finished fifth in NL Cy Young Voting three times (2004, 2006, 2007) and even found his way among MVP finalists (28th) in 2004 when he went 16-8 with a 2.75 ERA, 1.22 WHIP and 188 strikeouts in 209.2 innings.

Zambrano also won four Silver Slugger Awards, smashing 24 homers in 693 career at-bats.

Overheard at Cubs Convention: The best and funniest moments from the 2018 fan fest

Overheard at Cubs Convention: The best and funniest moments from the 2018 fan fest

What a difference a year makes.

Cubs Convention 2017 brought with it a ton of emotional moments as fans constantly discussed their own personal World Series championship moments and there were many "thank you"s to Cubs players and personnel.

But there was also some negativity, as Cubs fans grilled Joe Maddon about his pitching decisions - why he kept Aroldis Chapman in so long or why he pulled Kyle Hendricks so early, etc.

2018 featured a much more laid-back approach. 

Maddon made it more than 31 minutes into his panel before his pitching decisions were second-guessed. Fans were still appreciative of anybody who contributed to the championship drought, but they're also hungry for more and wanting to know what the organization is doing to win another World Series in 2018.

With that, here are the best sights and sounds from the weekend:

♦♦This was easily the best moment of the Convention (Warning: NSFW language):

And Schwarber's reaction to it was incredible, too:

Apparently Contreras is willing to sign his new catch phrase on a bat, too:

♦♦A young fan won our NBC Sports Chicago contest and got a chance to meet Addison Russell Saturday.

Grace's dad is deployed in Afghanistan for the third time and we surprised her by bringing her and her mom up to meet Russell. While everybody was waiting at the security desk, Kris Bryant walked through one of the side entrances, saw Grace holding a cheer card and asked, "What's an Authentic Fan?" To which Grace responded - "We are!"

Watch the video of her meeting Russell here:

♦♦There were many funny moments from the weekend, but one of the best lines was from chairman Tom Ricketts. 

In talking about the changes to Wrigley Field in 2018, Ricketts said the notoriously cramped and outdated visitor's clubhouse "may have hot water this year."

♦♦Ricketts also told a story Saturday of an interaction he had with FOX staffers after the Cubs won the NLCS in 2016 and received a trophy:

FOX: "There's something for your trophy case."

Ricketts: "We're the Cubs, we don't have a trophy case."

♦♦Todd Ricketts shared a story of an experience he had with a fan following the magical fall of 2016.

Two brothers had Cubs World Series tickets and one of the brothers ended up having a stroke and had to go to the hospital right before the game they were supposed to attend.

Todd: "Sorry you had to miss the game."

Fan: "Oh, I didn't miss it. As soon as I heard he was gonna live, I grabbed a buddy and went to the game!"

♦♦The best shirt seen at Cubs Convention:

♦♦Some of the best moments come from kids getting up to the microphones and asking questions to Cubs players or staff. One young man got up to the mic and first thanked Theo Epstein for his advice to the fan at a previous convention about how to get a job working in baseball.

The fan then asked the front office how they can find a way to finally get some use out of all those pitchers they've drafted over the years with the Cubs who have yet to make an impact in the big leagues.

Epstein joked that the kid really built up the front office's confidence before shutting them down. Newly-promoted assistant GM Scott Harris jokingly got up and offered the kid a seat his own seat on the podium. 

♦♦Another kid asked Theo Epstein when he should get his own Bryce Harper Cubs jersey.

Epstein: "Ask Kris Bryant. He seems to own a bunch of 'em."

♦♦The first question to Epstein and the front office panel also came from a kid keepin' it real: "What happened to all the pitching in the NLCS??"

♦♦Another kid question to Cubs front office: "Are you going after Yu Darvish?

Kid proceeds to list off teams Darvish is reportedly interested in, including the Cubs.

Epstein: "Wow, you're way more on top of it than our writers are."

♦♦Yeah, yeah, Kyle Schwarber is all skinny now. But Albert Almora Jr. looks like he's in great shape, too. It's not like Almora has ever really looked out of shape, but he looks skinnier and has spent the last month or so working out in Arizona in anticipation of playing a much larger role on the 2018 Cubs.

♦♦Maddon loves his coaching staff, calling it right up there with the best coaching staff he's ever been a part of. Now, he says something along those lines every single year, but this time, the entire staff is filled with guys he hand-picked himself. 

If this coaching staff doesn't work out for whatever reason, more blame than ever will fall on Maddon's shoulders. 

That being said, every coach he brought on - particularly hitting coach Chili Davis, pitching coach Jim Hickey and third-base coach Brian Butterfield - is highly, highly respected around the league.

♦♦Cubs catching coach Mike Borzello said his favorite player growing up was Steve Garvey. Assistant hitting coach Andy Haines said his favorite player was Ozzie Smith.

Both were booed roundly by the Chicago faithful.

♦♦Fan asking Cubs president of business operations Crane Kenney said: "Nachos were never harder to find [at Wrigley] than last year." Then proceeded to try to pump up the crowd by asking if there were any nacho fans out there. 

It was weird.

♦♦One of the oddest hot takes from the Convention was a fan saying he hates the baskets in the outfield at Wrigley. Not sure I've heard that one before and other fans there did not appreciate it (he was booed mercilessly).

♦♦Who is Kyle Schwarber's celebrity crush? Well...

♦♦This adorable fan:

♦♦Pretty awesome gender reveal with the help of Kris Bryant, Javy Baez, Kyle Schwarber and Anthony Rizzo:

♦♦An awesome selfie from the Kapman:

♦♦Dillon Maples showing young fan how he holds his slider and arm slot:

♦♦Derrek Lee was asked what homer was most memorable from his career. He said his first one ever, but then also said one in the first couple months he was a Cub. 

He had been traded for Hee Seop Choi and got off to a rough start in Chicago, struggling at the plate. He would hear fans chanting "Hee Seop Choi! Hee Seop Choi!" whenever he came up to the plate. 

Lee finally broke through once at Wrigley and hit a grand slam. He said Saturday he will never forget that curtain call.

♦♦D-Lee and Big Z were an absolute riot. They had a great rapport and could probably work in comedy if they wanted. 

Both players gave each other good-natured crap and Zambrano was hilarious in response to several questions, like a fan asking if he ever had any regrets from his playing career. 
"Next question..." he said to laughs.

♦♦Zambrano also signed a Gatorade bottle for a fan since you know, he loves Gatorade so much...

♦♦Zambrano's dig on Lee was classic:

♦♦How did Lee celebrate the Cubs World Series? Watching with family as they all wore Cubs jerseys. He admitted he was jealous he couldn't be a part of the team that ended the drought, which - I imagine - is a common refrain among former Cubs, especially those that played rather recently.

♦♦In case anybody cares, Ronnie Woo Woo would like to see Ladies Night back at Wrigley Field.

♦♦Let's end on some breaking news: