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Which Cubs starter should go in Game 1 vs. the Nationals?

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The answer isn’t clear-cut.

Rick Scuteri-USA TODAY Sports

In 2015, it was obvious that Jake Arrieta would start the wild-card game against the Pirates, and Jon Lester would get the nod in Game 1 of the division series following that win.

In 2016, with plenty of time to set up a postseason rotation, it was again obvious that Lester should start Game 1 vs. the Giants, followed by Kyle Hendricks, the two starters who had the best seasons for the Cubs last year.

This year? Not so much. Every member of the Cubs rotation has spent time on the disabled list (except Jake, who missed 2½ weeks in September, when a DL stint was unnecessary due to expanded rosters). All of them have had long stretches of good starts, but also times when they looked pretty bad. No Cubs starter will throw 200 innings this year. Last year Lester did, and two others — Arrieta and Hendricks — had 190 or more. No Cubs starter will even get to 190 this season.

They all seem healthy now, although Jake said after Tuesday’s start that his hamstring isn’t 100 percent:

"I've had to adjust a couple things in my delivery," Arrieta said of the repercussions of the hamstring problem. "It's still there a little bit, but I'm fine. I'm plenty healthy enough to go out there and compete and pitch at a high level. I just wasn't able to do that tonight unfortunately. Like I said, they had some good at-bats and made me work."

What's the difference?

"I don't have the drive that I do at 100 percent," he said, "but there's still plenty enough to be effective. The velocity was really good tonight. Stuff's not an issue. Tonight, what sticks out was a couple pitches I left out over the plate, and they did some damage with it."

Arrieta is scheduled to start Sunday, but he likely won’t throw more than maybe three innings.

Which leads to the questions: Who’s the best choice to start Game 1, and then how would you arrange the rest of the rotation against the Nationals after that?

Here are my thoughts about all five of the Cubs starters, every one of whom might have a claim to starting Game 1. Yes, even John Lackey.

Jake Arrieta

Why he should start Game 1: His performance in the wild-card game shows he’s up for important postseason starts. He’s got a career 3.13 ERA and 1.391 WHIP in Nationals Park.

Why he shouldn’t: The hamstring injury — maybe it’d be better to start him in Game 3 at home. He got hit hard by the Nats in Washington June 27, one of his worst starts of the year.

Jon Lester

Why he should start Game 1: His significant postseason experience (22 appearances, 19 starts). He’s lefthanded and the Nats have a lefthander-heavy lineup. This year vs. the Nats: 2.84 ERA, 1.026 WHIP in two starts.

Why he shouldn’t: He still doesn’t seem 100 percent after “shoulder fatigue” put him on the DL for a time in August, although his last outing against the Cardinals was excellent.

Kyle Hendricks

Why he should start Game 1: He’s been excellent since he returned from the DL, 2.34 ERA and 1.192 WHIP in 12 starts. He started two of the biggest games in Cubs history last year: Game 6 of the NLCS, where he was outstanding in defeating Clayton Kershaw, and Game 7 of the World Series.

Why he shouldn’t: The Nats’ lefthanded-hitting power might not be the best thing for the soft-tossing Hendricks to face. Daniel Murphy homered twice off Kyle in his only start against the Nats this year, August 4 at Wrigley Field.

Jose Quintana

Why he should start Game 1: Again, a lefthander against the Nationals’ lefty-heavy lineup might be a good choice. Quintana has never faced the Nats, so they’d be relying on scouting reports instead of personal experience against him.

Why he shouldn’t: He’s the only starter on the staff without postseason experience. That might or might not matter, but it might seem better to give the Game 1 start to someone who’s been there before.

John Lackey

Why he should start Game 1: He’s got more postseason experience than anyone on the staff (26 games, 23 starts). The Cubs seem to do well when he starts: Their 18-11 record in Lackey starts is the best for any Cubs starter this year.

Why he shouldn’t: It’s an unconventional choice and others seem more qualified. He won’t start again during the regular season and by the time Game 1 happens he’ll have had eight days off.

Who would I pick? It might seem unconventional, but I’m leaning toward Quintana. A lefthander might work better against the Nats lineup, and Lester doesn’t seem 100 percent. I could change my mind tomorrow, or after seeing how these guys do over the weekend. It’s a remarkably fluid situation.

Now it’s your turn.

Poll

Who should start Game 1 against the Nationals?

This poll is closed

  • 10%
    Jake Arrieta
    (293 votes)
  • 28%
    Kyle Hendricks
    (796 votes)
  • 4%
    John Lackey
    (113 votes)
  • 29%
    Jon Lester
    (805 votes)
  • 27%
    Jose Quintana
    (758 votes)
2765 votes total Vote Now