Losing to the Pirates shows how much better the Cubs pitching needs to be
Cubs pitcher Matt Garza fanned 12 Pirates on Sunday. (Jose M. Osorio/Tribune)
The Pirates have been as bad as they come for a generation, not posting a winning season since 1992 when they had Barry Bonds before his head needed it’s own zip code, so the Cubs needed to win this series. At home, we’re talking. The schedule started off soft, most of the NL Central is either disabled or unable, and like that the Cubs had a chance to at least be the kind of team that would beat the opponents it’s supposed to beat.
But no. Not yet, if at all.
The calendar says it’s too early to panic. The calendar, however, has been a laugh track for the last 102 years. And I could make a case that it’s never too early to panic when there’s regret that Blake DeWitt never got an at-bat. Like it was Albert Pujols sitting on the bench. Which reminds me: Does Pujols want to come to a team lamenting a missed DeWitt opportunity?
I’ll hang up and listen for hollow statements of self-confidence.
The Cubs can talk about how they can benefit from flexibility in their lineup and plan to play better defense, but there’s no apparent reason to believe that. The only thing I believed in to start this season is that injuries in Milwaukee, St. Louis and Cincinnati gave the Cubs the best rotation in the division. It would be on the starters, then, to give the Cubs not just a chance to win, but give them no other choice. A quality start such as Matt Garza’s on Sunday and Carlos Zambrano’s on Saturday wouldn’t be good enough for a team that doesn’t look good enough in other important areas.
Garza struck out a career-high 12 hitters, which is a nice way to say hi to Wrigley Field and take a bad defensive team out the equation. Garza also allowed 12 hits, all singles, and I’m thinking, allowing 12 hits to good teams won’t be all singles, they will hurt badly, but the good news is, that would relieve the Cubs of choking in the ninth.
Zambrano, meanwhile, is in midseason cramping. Or midseason aggravation, take your pick of reasons not to trust the guy.
Legs, arms, whatever, the guy can’t seem to follow directions to stay in a game. What part of “drink fluids’’ doesn’t he understand? Gatorade is not just a dugout batting practice target, pal. What’s going to happen when it gets warm? I should know better than to give the guy the benefit of the doubt, but at least I’m not the one forking over $19 million or whatever.
Zambrano was working the second game of the season because Ryan Dempster deserved to pitch the opener. Apparently, he also earned the right to throw a grand slam, according to manager Mike Quade. The manager tried to show faith in his choice as opening day starter. The faith was repaid with an 8.10 ERA. Dempster won’t be that bad all the time time, but then, neither will the competition.
That, see, is what ticks you off: The Cubs had an easy mark all weekend, but got suckered themselves. So frustrating. So Cub.
Today’s start, however, is one of the big reasons I really liked the Cubs’ rotation in this division. I know you can’t believe much of what you see in spring training, but I liked the way Randy Wells pitched and conducted himself after admitting he got a big head last season. No better way to follow through than to beat a Diamondbacks team that appears beatable.
It’s easy to dismiss fifth starters, but you can’t do that if you see the Cubs the way I do. The Cubs’ fifth starter matters. I don’t know what Andrew Cashner will give the Cubs on Tuesday. I’m not sure anybody knows. Cashner is important because he’s one of the pretty, shiny things hanging from their rear-view mirror. He’s an important example of what this farm system is developing. But more than acting as a report card for a Baseball Prospectus piece, Cashner can provide actual depth that I don’t see in the rest of the division.
It has always been about the pitching. It absolutely must be with the Cubs this season. The starters will have to beat the other team and their own, too, a lot more times than a good team should. But that’s the deal for now, and hey, at least they don’t have Will Ohman.