Why Adrian Sampson tops Cubs' 2023 Rotation Power Rankings


Don’t look now, but the Cubs have put up some serious starting pitching performances during the second half of the season — the rotation’s 3.01 ERA in those 65 games coinciding with a 36-29 record.

As for the rest of the Cubs season, don’t look now at that, either.

No, seriously.

(Albeit, their 6-1 victory over the Reds Friday was No. 71 this year, matching last season’s total with five to play).

But if you want to start looking ahead (for those of us who didn’t start that exercise in June), keep a mind’s eye on some in-house candidates for a 2023 Cubs rotation that could change dramatically with a key signing or two this winter — or might also have a familiar tone to it by the time next season opens March 30 against the Brewers.

“That’s a long ways away,” said rookie Hayden Wesneski, whose five-game debut since being acquired from the Yankees for Scott Effross at the trade deadline has him right in the middle of the Cubs’ rotation discussion for next year.

“I mean, I’ve got to make the team first,” said the right-hander with a 2.33 ERA in 27 innings — beating the playoff-contending Phillies Tuesday in his most recent start.

“I know how this is going to go, right?” Wesneski added. “I’m going to go into the offseason; the Cubs are going to try to win next year. And I would like to be a part of a winning team.”

And who knows how many starting pitchers the Cubs might add — not to mention how big the name(s) might be (Carlos Rodón anyone?) by the time the dust settles.

But the way guys like Wesneski, Adrian Sampson (1.16 ERA last five starts) and rookie Javier Assad (3.45 ERA in seven starts) have looked of late — and Marcus Stroman and Justin Steele have looked most of the year — the Cubs seem to have at least a nice start on rotation depth for a competitive team next year.

Perhaps none more than Sampson over the last month or so, which is why he debuts at the top of the real-time Cubs’ 2023 Rotation Power Rankings.

“A lot of guys come to mind about being real good in the second half, but his performances night in and night out have stood out to me,” manager David Ross said after Sampson’s seven impressive innings Friday to beat the Reds. “Sampson’s definitely put himself in position to be able to help us next year. I think he knows that. I think he pitches like that.”

Sampson says he’s confident. But he’s also taking nothing for granted — least of all any specific role for next year.

“Whatever they want,” said Sampson, 30, whose last season that included at least 24 starts like this season (18 for Cubs, six for Iowa) came in the KBO League in Korea in 2020.

“On a competitive, winning team you have to be able to sacrifice whatever for the team,” he said. “Whatever the role they want to put me in, whether it’s long relief or spot starts or it be in the rotation, I’m up for whatever. That’s important for a winning team.”

With that in mind, the first real-time Cubs’ 2023 Rotation Power Rankings, with an emphasis on  recent performance/consistency and health (so Kyle Hendricks, who hasn’t started playing catch since getting shut down last month for a capsular tear in his shoulder, doesn’t make the list):

1. RH Adrian Sampson — All this guy has done is produce since the Cubs picked him up off waivers from his hometown Mariners last year. And with a job next season firmly in sight and at stake, all he’s done is put himself in the conversation for National League Pitcher of the Month for September, going 3-1 with a 1.50 ERA in 36 innings over six starts — rivaling ex-Cub Yu Darvish’s big month for the Padres.

“Right now it’s just I’m on a good run. September was really good for me,” Sampson said. “And it’ll be nice to end on a good note for one more start if I have one [in Wednesday’s season finale] and just carry that into the offseason.”

2. RH Hayden Wesneski — When the lanky debuted Sept. 6 with five scoreless relief innings against the Reds he was told to expect to finish the season in the Cubs’ bullpen (though he was kept on a starter’s routine). When the Cubs decided to put him in the rotation two weeks ago, he looked even more impressive — allowing four runs in 18 1/3 innings over three starts (1.96 ERA) against the Rockies, Pirates and Phillies.

The Phillies start might have been the most impressive, coming on a night he admittedly didn’t have his good stuff and yet held the best lineup he’s faced to one run over five innings. “Even when he’s not in cruise control, it feels like he’s got control of the game,” Ross said.

3. RH Marcus Stroman — With one start remaining this season on Sunday, the pitching jewel of the Cubs’ offseason last winter has been the performer the Cubs believed they were getting for their three-year, $71 million commitment since returning from a shoulder issue July 9.

He has a 2.74 ERA in 15 starts since then — 2.50 in his last six starts, going seven innings in three of those. The 2019 All-Star might be the rotation linchpin for the Cubs’ chances to compete in the division next year, assuming they add a frontline piece in free agency.

4. LH Justin Steele — Despite Steele finishing the season on the injured list, his back soreness hasn’t prevented a return as much as discretion and caution represented the better part of valor for a second-year big-leaguer with a career-high 119 innings in 24 starts — who got better as the season wore on to finish with a staff-leading 3.18 ERA.

Case in point: He had a 1.49 ERA in his last 10 starts with 65 strikeouts in 54 1/3 innings (10.8 per nine innings.

5. (tie) LH Drew Smyly and RH Javier Assad — Smyly, the veteran with a $10 million mutual option the club might try to renegotiate into a multiyear extension, has been one of the Cubs’ most consistent starters all season, albeit with six weeks lost to an oblique injury midseason and more recently two weeks lost to shoulder soreness. He also has averaged just under five innings per start, but with a 3.48 season ERA as he returns for a final start Saturday.

Assad has impressed at times since his debut, with a 3.62 ERA in eight games, but also has shown typical youthful tendencies in command and consistency. It’s a big offseason for him as he looks ahead to a 2023 as a likely second-five depth piece to start the season.

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