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.
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.
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.
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.
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: