"I'll stack our starting rotation with anybody, really. It's a pretty nice rotation if they live up to their capabilities."
Chicago Cubs manager Dale Sveum made that comment toward the conclusion of spring training. The Cubs were expecting great things from their starting pitchers as they entered the 2012 MLB season. Their rotation included Ryan Dempster, Matt Garza, Paul Maholm, Jeff Samardzija and Chris Volstad. Travis Wood and Randy Wells were also awaiting at Triple-A Iowa.
It's safe to say that those expectations haven't been met. The Cubs rank in the bottom half of MLB in team ERA (24th), team WHIP (24th) and quality starts (20th). Those stats are skewed from Ryan Dempster having the best season of his career. The Cubs traded Dempster to the Texas Rangers on July 31.
The most-frustrating part of their struggles has been the inconsistency from their young pitchers. The performances of Samardzija, Wood and Garza have wildly fluctuated with each month. Here's a brief look at each pitchers' stats as of August 6.
Jeff Samardzija (7-9, 4.37 ERA, 1.32 WHIP)
April: 2-1 record, 4.13 ERA
May: 3-2 record, 2.48 ERA
June: 0-4 record, 10.41 ERA
July: 2-1 record, 1.91 ERA
August (One Start): 0-1 record, 8.44 ERA
Travis Wood (4-7, 4.90 ERA, 1.28 WHIP)
May: 0-1 record, 5.94 ERA
June: 2-2 record, 2.27 ERA
July: 2-3 record, 7.36 ERA
August (One Start): 0-1 record, 3.60 ERA
Matt Garza (5-7, 3.91 ERA, 1.18 WHIP)
April: 2-1 record, 2.67 ERA
May: 0-2 record, 6.86 ERA
June: 2-3 record, 3.72 ERA
July: 1-1 record, 3.21 ERA
Samardzija and Wood have both destroyed their stat-lines after they endured one month of hideous starts. They saw their 3.00 ERAs plummet by approximately two points during these stretches. Each pitcher has had a month where they look like an All-Star. They follow this up with a month where they look like they'd struggle at Triple-A Iowa.
Chris Volstad has a different problem. Volstad has a 0-8 record with a 7.22 ERA. His inconsistency has come from having one bad inning that's mixed with four of five strong innings. Unfortunately, those five strong innings don't mean much when he surrenders four-plus runs in another inning. That's evidenced from a losing streak that extends to July 10, 2011. That's 21 consecutive outings without a victory.
The Cubs need more consistency from their starting pitchers. All these pitchers have shown flashes of brilliance. They must avoid the avalanche effect that comes after a bad start. One bad performance can't lead to a month-long slump. They must improve in the clutch.
Joshua Huffman grew up in Michigan's Upper Peninsula as a Green Bay Packers and Chicago Cubs enthusiast. He immediately gained an admiration for Cubs fans after watching numerous games on WGN during the mid-90s. His favorite Cubs moment was Kerry Wood's(notes) 1-hitter, 20K extravaganza that was only denied of a no-hitter by Kevin Orie's defensive blunder. As a Packers and Cubs fan, he suffered through Steve Bartman and "4th & 26" in a span of three months. He can be found on Twitter HERE.
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