The Cubs maintained their 2 1/2 game lead in the NL Central (and the NL as a whole) with a win in Arizona on Monday night. A pair of two-run homers (Javier Baez and Kris Bryant -- the latter's first since returning from the DL) were the sexy highlights, but the biggest player in that game for the Cubs was starting pitcher Kyle Hendricks. He nearly threw a shutout. He got through eight innings having allowed just one hit and zero runs. He would end up giving up just one run on three hits in 8 2/3 innings. 

It was a similar story for the Cubs in their wins of late. The offense has hit just .227/.291/.357 in September, yet the Cubs have still gone 9-7. 

The rotation was once the team's biggest concern, too. In July, Cubs starters collectively posted a 5.36 ERA and 1.61 WHIP and a lot of the bad carried over in the first part of August. 

  • Free-agent signees Yu Darvish (injured) and Tyler Chatwood (awful) have been lost causes. 
  • After giving up four runs on Aug. 15, Kyle Hendricks' ERA sat at 4.11.
  • The Nationals utterly destroyed Jon Lester on Aug. 11, giving him a 10.32 ERA in his last five starts at the time.
  • Jose Quintana was shelled in back-to-back starts by the Royals (yikes) and Brewers through Aug. 14, giving him a 4.46 ERA on the season. 

Notice those dates. It was precisely Aug. 16 when things kicked into gear for the Chicago rotation, which also added Cole Hamels on July 31. 

Well, Hamels had already kicked it into gear. In nine starts for the Cubs, he's 4-0 with a 1.57 ERA, 1.10 WHIP and 55 strikeouts in 57 1/3 innings. 

Everyone else, Aug. 15 was it. 

  • Hendricks has a 1.63 ERA and 0.98 WHIP in 38 2/3 innings since then with the Cubs winning four of his six starts. 
  • Lester has a 1.73 ERA with the Cubs having won five of his six starts. 
  • Quintana has a 2.10 ERA since then. 

Mike Montgomery is fine as a fifth starter here, but the focus is on the top four for a reason, in that it is the playoff rotation. 

The Cubs could certainly stand to see the offense collectively get much better than it has been of late and the bullpen could definitely use healthy and productive versions of Pedro Strop and Brandon Morrow, but for right now, the rotation provides a glimpse of optimism as the Cubs look to make another deep playoff run.