Who’s going to step up in the Cubs’ rotation?

Who’s going to step up in the Cubs’ rotation?

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LOS ANGELES — If there’s one area that has been under a microscope for the Cubs in the first half of the season, it’s the inconsistency of their rotation. And as they play their toughest stretch of games to date, the importance of quality starting pitching has stood out even more. The Giants, Padres, Mets, Dodgers and Brewers all have strong rotations — crucial to any team’s playoff hopes.

Right-hander Kyle Hendricks has returned to ace level over the last two months, winning his last eight starts and going 8-0 with a 2.25 ERA over that span. He’s the top-of-the-rotation starter the Cubs have needed.

“I really just want to be that consistent guy every day, [where] every time I take the ball, my teammates know what they’re gonna get,” Hendricks said. “Whatever you want to call that, that’s just really my focus.”

Having Hendricks at the top of his game is what the Cubs hoped for when they made their rotation plans over the offseason and spring training. But it’s going to take more than him to make a push at the postseason, and that puts the onus on the rest of their starters.

As the All-Star break approaches, the question is likely to be: Can anyone else step up?

Before going on the injured list with a blister, right-hander Adbert Alzolay was looking like that guy, and given his continued development and repertoire, he still may be the most likely candidate.

As the Cubs wait for Trevor Williams’ return from the IL — with Alec Mills awaiting his next shot at starting and Zach Davies finding his way — the toughest decision is going to be what to do with Jake Arrieta. He has struggled mightily recently, going 1-4 with a 7.22 ERA over his last seven starts. While there’s still hope he can turn things around, there comes a point to be realistic about what’s is best for the team moving forward.

“I know every guy comes in and works and puts in the adjustments they’re making in their bullpens,” manager David Ross said. “I know our pitching group is really happy about the work Jake’s putting in. I hadn’t thought that far ahead about how long you let it go. I think you kind of get to a point when you have to make those tough decisions and assess.”

If any starter’s struggles get to a point where a change needs to be made, the trade market would be a place to find some help. But with many teams searching for depth, that’s easier said than done, especially in a season with many pitchers getting injured.

The Cubs could get creative with two of their young bullpen arms, taking from an area of strength to supplement a weakness. Rookies Keegan Thompson and Justin Steele have made a big impact in the bullpen, which has been one of baseball’s best. They were both starters in the minor leagues. One idea could be to let them get some spot starts and see the results. The Cubs also could use them as openers, allowing one to piggyback the other, with each getting two or three innings.

“I think you just continue to assess your talent and how they’re going to help you out and how they’re going to be best suited to compete that day and win that day,” Ross said. “Health is obviously playing a huge factor for us right now. But we do have to trust these guys and their talent. That’s why they’re on the team and in the big leagues is because they have a proven track record — especially guys who have had success.”

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