Later today, Jen-Ho Tseng will make his Major League debut at Wrigley Field, starting for the Chicago Cubs in the middle of an extremely tight pennant race.
Naturally, his step into the rotation from Triple-A Iowa signaled a step out of the rotation (and into the bullpen) for Mike Montgomery, who had, in a roundabout way, been filling in for injured starter Jake Arrieta (hamstring).
And while Tseng’s start tonight has frequently been listed as a one-and-done, there’s still not much of a timetable for Jake Arrieta’s return. Which means that if Tseng is going tonight – while John Lackey (Friday), Kyle Hendricks (Saturday), and Jose Quintana (Sunday) are scheduled through the weekend (plus Jon Lester after the off-day Monday) – next Wednesday’s game against the Rays, is without a starter.
Of course, given the off-day, the Cubs could theoretically skip Arrieta’s spot in the rotation and hand the ball to John Lackey on normal rest, but could Arrieta still be a possibility? The short version: maybe, but only maybe.
“How far away, I don’t know right now,” Bosio said on the Mully and Hanley Show on 670 The Score on Wednesday morning. “Right now, it’s really a day-to-day thing. We got good reports from the trainer yesterday, good reports from Jake, had a nice throwing session where he got it up to about 120 feet pretty effort-less. It’s so important that there’s obviously no setbacks.”
Given that the Cubs odds of making the playoffs remain quite high, Arrieta’s health in the medium term (as in, October) remains paramount. And that goes double, given that he was not only the Cubs’ strongest second-half pitcher, but also one of the only top-of-the-rotation members without significant struggles in the past month or so.
Bosio went on to reiterate that Arrieta is doing everything he can – within reason – to make it back. But I’ll be blunt, they sound quite dedicated to not losing him for the rest of the year. So, in the interim, that may mean skipping his spot in the rotation one more time through.
Fortunately, the Cubs have just enough games left to get Arrieta two starts back even if they skip his spot in the rotation and wait for everyone to go one more time. By my count, this would mean he’d open the four-game series in St. Louis on Monday September 25 and make his final regular season start at Wrigley Field agains the Reds on Saturday September 30th.
And although it may seem like a small difference, I’d be far more comfortable leaning on Arrieta in the postseason if he gets more than one start back from this short-term injury before October. Not only is there a necessary and natural ramp up period, meaning he’s more likely to be better after a couple of warm-up starts, but more innings before October will also give the Cubs more opportunities to assess exactly where he’s at.
So, all things considered, this still isn’t the worst case scenario. There’s a chance Arrieta could return as soon as next week, but by the sounds of it, it may be a bit longer than that. In either case, he should get more than one start before the postseason, and that’s the only thing that matters as of now.