Availing themselves of two days of rest before the two-game London Series and another day to travel home afterward, the Cubs will send co-aces Justin Steele and Marcus Stroman to the mound against the Cards. That certainly maximizes their chances of winning those contests, but it's also about the games that follow immediately afterward. Having won enough games to crawl out of the hole they dug themselves in May and early June, the Cubs now have to complete their return to contention by finishing the first half of the season strong.
After London, Jameson Taillon and Drew Smyly will start on eight days' rest. Kyle Hendricks will pitch the third game of the team's return Stateside on seven days' rest. That's to kick off a stretch in which, after three days off in a span of five, the Cubs play 13 straight without a day off before the All-Star break. It's exactly the kind of break the team was surely looking for a chance to give to those three starters, anyway.
Taillon has been better over his last few starts, but as he tries to balance the things that made him successful over the last few seasons and the new ideas the Cubs attempted to implement this spring, an extra bullpen session and a few days to reset could be just what the doctor ordered. If he's still dealing with any residual health stuff (remember, he's spent time on the injured list already this year), then the extra time can only help with that, too.
For Smyly, a half a skipped start couldn't come at a better time. He's been bitten badly by the regression bug over his last several outings, and part of that has been bad luck, but it's looked as though fatigue was also a factor. Smyly is in his mid-30s, and has a lengthy injury history. Any chance to get a full season of consistent work out of him will require extra rest now and then.
Obviously, Hendricks has looked considerably better than either of the other two. His last three starts have been spectacular. Still, this is a guy who had a significant shoulder issue end his 2022, and extra rest has always been friendly for Hendricks. This is probably the perfect moment for him to get a few days more than normal. The timing of this unique schedule disruption is kismet for the Cubs.
In the near-fortnight of games without off days that come after the series, the team could stretch the rotation out even further. If they keep Ben Brown on the same (six-day) schedule they've had him on in Iowa, he'd be in position to start a game the Saturday before the break, in New York. That's a rough potential introduction to the big leagues, but it's an option. Some of what the team does could depend on whether Stroman, Steele, or both are selected for the All-Star Game, but lengthening the rotation one more time before the break would set up the starters (the strength of this club) to stay as fresh as they need them to in the second half.
None of the above will matter if the team doesn't win at least eight of these 15 games, so whether they're open to adding another codon to the sequence could also depend on how well they stay hot over the next week. No matter what, though, this first shakeup of the rotation makes sense. They're both putting their best foot forward on an international stage and positioning themselves to keep getting good work from their starters in the medium term.
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