Small move paying extra dividends

After Michael’s post last Thursday, the Cubs didn’t seem to be in any more of a hurry to get things done. They played — and won — another extra-inning game, their fourth extended affair in just 12 games this season.

That makes the Cubs 3-1 when the game goes beyond nine innings, compared to last year’s dismal 2-8 record. It’s been nice to be able to avoid that “What was the point?” feeling with which extra-inning losses always leave you.

It also raises the question as to why the team has fared so much better in the early going. While grinding out wins takes some skill, it also can be a bit of a crapshoot. But are there teams that have a built-in advantage in extra innings?

Perhaps it takes a good bullpen that can work within razor-thin margins. That doesn’t just speak to the closer and setup men but also to having long relievers (Jon Lieber and Kevin Hart, 18.1 IP combined) that can steady the bullpen and prevent the top guys from being stretched out. That’s one area where the minor changes that Lou Piniella and GM Jim Hendry made in the off-season have gone a long way.

Cubs bullpen through first 12 games
2007 0-2 2 35.0 27 11 44 3.34
2008 5-2 6 52.1 50 16 34 3.61

Notice that the bullpen’s 2008 ERA is a quarter-run higher than last year’s through 12 games (a statistically insignificant difference), but the starters have left a lot more on the shoulders of the relief corps. Through just 12 games, the relievers already have factored into the decision seven times (5-2) and saved six of the team’s seven wins. They have had to pitch an additional 17 innings, partly because the starters have thrown a half-inning less per start and also due to all the extra innings.

Lou told Vine Line that Lieber has pitched well and will get some spot starts when the team wants to throw a right-hander. He has earned a rotation spot. But even if Dempster would have remained a solid closer and Lieber a good No. 3 starter, the current setup has allowed this pitching staff to weather the unexpected so far.

Remember, it’s early. The Cubs will play 12 games another 12.5 times this year. Hopefully the starters will settle in, and the hitters will show some early inning explosiveness. But its always nice to get out to a good start and see how some of the winter’s moves may pay off.

— Sean Ahmed

1 Comment

I was skeptical coming into the year about the bullpen. When I heard Jon L. was going to be the long guy and Howry, Marmol, and Woody were going to be at the end, I saw SKY-HIGH potential but was worried about Marmol’s consistency and Woody’s ability to stay healthy and throw strikes. Woody came in last night and was literally LIGHTS OUT. Bye-bye skepitcism! Now, let’s send Wuertz down to find his confidence and give Marshall some more opportunities.

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