COMMENTARY | When you are a team like the 2013 Chicago Cubs, you need a lot to go right on a daily basis to win baseball games. The offense has been generally under-powered, the defense inconsistent, and the bullpen is a train-wreck. The lone, consistent bright spot has been the starting pitching.
These realities lead us to a point: When you are a team like the 2013 Chicago Cubs, you can't waste quality starting pitching.
The Cubs have done so in gratuitous fashion. The most recent occurrence happened May 22 against the Pittsburgh Pirates. Jeff Samardzija's line was seven innings, one run, three hits and eight strikeouts. He took the loss.
It only takes a glance at some of the numbers to see just how good the starters have been. The Cubs' starters rank fourth in MLB with a 3.36 ERA. What makes that number even more impressive is that Edwin Jackson is currently sitting at 5.76. No other starter is over 3.93 (Carlos Villanueva -- and he's in the bullpen now). Samardzija (3.25), Travis Wood (2.24) and Scott Feldman (2.19) are all well below that. Even recently activated Matt Garza (0.00) is adding to the stellar overall performance of the starting staff.
The three teams above the Cubs in starter-ERA are the St. Louis Cardinals (30-16), Cincinnati Reds (29-18) and Washington Nationals (24-23). Other than the Nationals' underachievement (they will be there in September), we are looking at three of the best teams in the National League (minus the Atlanta Braves). The Cubs' starting pitching has been, with the exception of the Cardinals' (2.61 ERA -- unbelievable), as good as any other in baseball. When you see the 18-27 record, you have to wonder where the Cubs might be if they had even a passable bullpen.
The Cubs' starting pitchers rank first in opponent batting average (.222), second in WHIP (1.16), and ninth in innings pitched (281). Tragically, all of those numbers have resulted in a combined record of 12-20. In terms of ERA, you have to go all the way to 14th (Kansas City Royals) to find the next starting staff with a record under .500.
To add insult to injury, offensively, the Cubs' starters are also first in the majors in extra-base hits (8) and RBIs (13).
One of the unwritten truths in baseball is that you can't waste those quality outings. Of their 45 games, the Cubs have gotten 28 quality starts from their starters (tied for fifth in the majors). Well-rounded playoff teams can't waste those type of performances, much less the rebuilding Chicago Cubs. And when you have pitchers like Scott Feldman (five out of eight) and Travis Wood (nine out of nine) getting those quality starts, you really have to wonder how many more you are going to get from them.
There is enough blame to go around in terms of how the Cubs have managed to lose all of these games despite excellent starting pitching but if justice rules the day, most of the blame can be placed squarely on the bullpen. Kevin Gregg can be excused here (and James Russell, too), but the rest of the 'pen has been disastrous. So far this season, the Cubs have lost nine games after their starter has left the game in a position to win. The losses are frustrating but for a team that has been long written off as being in the midst of rebuilding, it is disappointing because the Cubs appear closer to being competitive than we might have realized.
But thanks to a dreadful bullpen, it looks like the Cubs will have to wait at least one more year to make that happen.
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Brian is a lifelong Chicago Cubs follower. Living in Illinois his entire life has given him a chance to closely follow and report Chicago sports as a freelance writer through Yahoo! Contributor and Yahoo! Sports. He is also a senior in college majoring in English and Creative Writing.
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