Starting rotation a bright spot for Cubs
Carlos Villanueva has been solid in the Cubs rotation. (Photo by Stephen Green)
Offensive woes and fielding mishaps have hijacked the headlines for the Cubs as the baseball season reaches the one-month mark. It’s hard to ignore the fact that the team has scored just 61 runs, 13th in the National League. And considering how much time has been spent reinforcing the basics in the last few years, it’s even more surprising that the defense has committed 17 errors in 18 games, second most in the NL. Those stats will need to improve if the team hopes to do better than the 59 wins they managed last season.
But there is some cause for optimism in Chicago thanks to a surprisingly dominant starting rotation.
The starting five as whole has a 3.11 ERA, .208 opponent batting average, 1.15 WHIP and 98 strikeouts over 110 innings. Those numbers are good for third, first, tied for first and fourth respectively.
The front five has thrown a total of 110 innings, sixth most in the NL. Because of the struggles in the bullpen (4.86 ERA, 12th in the NL), manager Dale Sveum has had his starters throw 68.8 percent of all pitches this season, the fourth highest percentage in the NL. Also, Cubs arms have managed to keep the ball on the ground 52.2 percent of the time, while allowing a home run on just 10 percent of all fly balls, good for second and fifth, respectively.
When you look at how the starters have fared individually, these stats should come as no surprise. Newcomer Carlos Villanueva carries a 1.03 ERA—top 10 for starters in the NL—into Tuesday night’s start. Despite throwing a fastball that clocks in at just 87 mph, the veteran has managed to fan 15 batters over 21 innings, walking just four.
Southpaw Travis Wood has a 2.08 ERA in 26 innings. The 26-year-old has gone at least six innings in all four appearances this year, including solid outings against the offensive-minded Brewers, Rangers and Reds.
After a solid 2012, staff ace Jeff Samardzija is trying to establish himself as one of the game’s elite this season. Though his 3.38 ERA could be lower at this point in the year, his 31 strikeouts over 26.2 innings are good for third in the NL. That puts him in the same company as perennial All-Stars Clayton Kershaw and Adam Wainwright. Add in prized free agent Edwin Jackson and his 24 Ks over 22.1 innings, and it looks like the staff is in good shape.
And let’s not forget that the rotation isn’t even at full strength. Former ace Matt Garza is scheduled to return from a strained lat in early May, and free agent acquisition Scott Baker could be ready to go shortly after the All-Star break. If the offense warms up and the Cubs can find someone to get the last three outs, they have a good chance to improve on last season’s win total.