Cubs pitching staff: Who says age hinders success?

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The Chicago Cubs roster is loaded with fire power, from veterans like Dexter Fowler and Ben Zobrist, to young guns like Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo. The impressive batting lineup from the Northside of Chicago has caught the MLB’s attention by storm over the past couple years.

With focus on their explosive bats, Theo Epstein has soundlessly constructed the MLB’s best starting pitching staff with sound veterans. The squad consists of Cy Young Award winner Jake Arrieta,  Jon Lester, and John Lackey, the group’s ERA has been falling faster than their ages have been rising. With an experienced group, completed by Jason Hammel and Kyle Hendricks, their average age is approaching 32 years old.

A pitcher’s velocity and stamina typically decreases with age, but not with this group. Entering the postseason, the average ERA for pitchers across the MLB is just over 4.00. This group of stellar veterans put together an impressive 2.94 ERA over the course of the regular season.

Steered by a man with two no-hitters in the past year, this group has seemed unhittable. Over the past twenty MLB seasons, hitters have averaged nearly nine hits per nine innings. Chicago’s pitchers have only allowed 6.93 hits per nine. The Cubs pitching staff has put up impressive numbers as an entire staff, but individually, each one is clicking on all cylinders.

Starting with the face of the group, Jake Arrieta. Arrieta put together the most impressive stretch in baseball history at the end of last season, putting up Bob Gibson-like numbers. Following his 2015 Cy Young campaign (22-6), all Arrieta has done is followed it up with an notable 18-8 record and a solid 3.10 ERA in 2016.

Arrieta also built on his success at the plate last year by raising his batting average to .262 while batting in a career-high seven RBIs. If he can continue to control his pitches at the pace he has since coming to Chicago three years ago, Arrieta seems to be in the Cy Young discussion for years to come.

Behind Arrieta follows two World Series Champions, Jon Lester and John Lackey. Former teammates in Boston, the two veterans have reunited to make another championship run. Jon Lester was brought in to be the Cubs ace in 2015 when he signed a huge six year contract, worth $155,000,000.

While the lefty hasn’t had to be the number one pitcher for this staff, the four time all-star has become the team’s ace down the stretch. Lester brings an impressive resume to the staff, sporting over 145 wins, a career 3.44 ERA and a no-hitter himself (2008).

This season will go down as Lester’s best to date, finishing with his best ERA (2.44) and his best record (19-5) of his career. He will look to continue his dominance in the postseason as he will get the first game of the NLDS on Friday.

John Lackey is the latest addition to the group, signing a two-year deal this past off-season, after leaving the Cubs’ rival team, the St. Louis Cardinals. Lackey is the oldest pitcher on staff at 37 years old, and he brings two rings of his own to Chicago. After a rough start to the 2016 campaign, Lackey recovered to finish with a 3.35 ERA and 180 strikeouts, which is his most since 2006.

Heading into the 2016 season, the Cubs top three spots in the rotation were set in stone. Following spring training, Jason Hammel and Kyle Hendricks were given the opportunity to complete the back end of the staff. With familiarity in the back-end of the rotation, these two have exhibited nothing but top-staff performance.

Jason Hammel posted a modest season a year ago (10-7, 3.74 ERA). Hammel got off to a very hot start to this season, starting 6-1 with a 2.17 ERA through his first nine starts.

Hammel cooled off as the summer came to a close, but was still able to finish 19th in the National League with a 3.83 ERA. He also finished with a career-high 15 wins, finishing in the top 10 of the NL.

Rounding out the starting rotation, comes young gun Kyle Hendricks. At age 26, this season marks his third in the big leagues, making his debut with the Cubs two years ago back in July of 2014. He quickly gained respect around the league, winning National League Rookie of the Month that August, just a month after his debut.

Hendricks, who was acquired in the Ryan Dempster trade with the Texas Rangers, finished top ten in the NL Rookie of the Year Award voting, with a 7-2 record. Like Hammel, Hendricks had a pedestrian season a year ago, putting his spot in the rotation into question.

Hendricks, like the rest of this staff, has answered all questions and then some this season. For a pitcher who rarely tops 90 mph, he has been very resourceful with his pitching. Hendricks registered an MLB-best 2.13 ERA and a splendid 0.98 WHIP, solidifying himself as top pitcher in the league. Since the start of July through the end of September, Hendricks has donned a 10-1 record and an incredible 1.24 ERA.

From top to bottom, the starting rotation has been as well as advertised; and better. This group holds combined record of 79-39 and is a huge part of the much talked about +252 run differential for the league’s best team.

While the bats have been making the most noise for the Cubbies, it’s time to start listening to the pop of the glove from this pitching staff.

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Brad Thompson is a Contributing Writer for the Chronicle/NCClinked.

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