There’s this really fun thing people like to do on social media where they eschew the concept of nuance and apply their own bias to the interpretation of a word or phrase that didn’t really mean what they wanted it to. Otherwise innocuous statements are given the weight of revolutionary declarations and are argued for or against as everyone scrambles to die on hills less consequential than the ones from which Jay Cutler’s wife rose to fame.
Though I don’t believe any of the warring factions of Cubs Twitter have taken up a call to arms in light of David O’Brien’s offhand remark about the “unimposing” rotation, there have been some murmurs. Nothing too untoward, mind you, though I’ve seen it enough that I felt compelled to turn the thought over a few times myself.
Unrelated to #Braves, but I'd be surprised if #Cubs don't add a frontline starter between now and Opening Day. I just don't think they will be content to start the season with that rather unimposing group.
— David O'Brien (@DOBrienAJC) February 5, 2018
First, let me say that I don’t believe O’Brien’s description is either pejorative or incorrect. In fact, I’d posit that the Cubs rotation might be one of the least imposing groups in recent memory, all things considered. Were I preparing a junior high presentation on the subject, I’d open by telling you that Webster’s dictionary defines “imposing” as “impressive in size, bearing, dignity, or grandeur.”
After marking me down for using such a hackneyed convention in a fruitless attempt to grab your attention, you’d realize that nothing about that description fits the Cubs at this point. Seriously, there’s nothing regal or grandiose about any of these guys. No one would look at that group and say, “Holy hell, that’s the baddest bunch of hombres I’ve seen since the Dirty Dozen or the Magnificent Seven or even Three 6 Mafia.”
But you know what? That’s okay.
It’s not a bad thing that Kyle Hendricks doesn’t strike fear in the hearts of hitters or that Jon Lester isn’t the pitcher he once was. Nor is Jose Quintana’s undervalued consistency a detriment. Is Tyler Chatwood going to have to make good on some esoteric peripherals and an escape from Coors Field? Sure. Then you’ve got Mike Montgomery, who wants to start but is probably better in the ‘pen.
Even without crossing our fingers for a few career-best performances, that group is probably in the top third of the NL. And if the Cubs get a more consistent Lester, an average Quintana, and a resurgent Chatwood, the outlook gets pretty darn rosy.
What it comes down to, and this is what I think O’Brien is really driving at, is that there just isn’t a sense that the Cubs’ current rotation could go toe-to-toe with the best in a playoff series. Adding another starter, particularly one who slots in at the top, would certainly sharpen their edge while also improving their depth.
You know what, though? I’m not sure even Yu Darvish or Jake Arrieta moves the needle all the way to “imposing.” Again, that’s not a bad thing. Hell, it might even be good. Rather than “Abandon all hope, ye who enter here,” the sign might read, “No lifeguard on duty, swim at your own peril.”
The Cubs’ pitchers don’t ace the eye test and they don’t light up the radar gun, they just wear opponents down and frustrate them with command and control. And that’s when they’ll turn it over to a bullpen chock full o’ high-leverage arms that can impose like a mug. Or at least that’s the plan.