In the early going of the 2012 season, much talk has focused on the Washington Nationals, Baltimore Orioles, Texas Rangers (most of those by me) and, of course, the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox.
Buried deep beneath the St. Louis Cardinals in the National League Central, two pitchers from the Chicago Cubs have quietly put together great starts to their seasons.
After holding the Atlanta Braves to one earned run through seven innings on May 8, Dempster’s ERA shot up to 1.02. It was the first run h allowed in his last 18 innings. In his past three starts, he’s given up just that one run, while only walking four and striking out 21. He’s pitched at least six innings in every start this year and has yet to give up more than two runs in any game.
He obviously leads the league in ERA through five starts and 35.1 innings pitched. The numbers for Dempster are incredible, but what’s even more fascinating is he’s still searching for his first win of the season. He’s currently 0-1 despite the impressive numbers. The Cubs have managed to score eight runs in his starts, and the bullpen has cost him two wins.
Also in the Windy City, Garza is posting great numbers, which I believe was expected by most, and hopefully he can become the future of this ball club. If you take away a bad outing against the Miami Marlins in which he gave up six runs in five innings, he’s posted a 1.27 ERA in his other four starts. Despite that bad outing he still has a respectable 2.67 ERA on the season and, unlike his teammate, has managed to pick up two wins and only has the one loss.
Much like Dempster, and any pitcher who finds success, he’s limited his walks, only allowing 10 in five starts, while striking out 36. In his last start against the Philadelphia Phillies, Garza tossed seven shutout innings allowing one hit, a walk and striking out 10. While he’s had significantly better run support in his starts than Dempster, the bullpen has cost him one game.
Even with the great pitching from Dempster and Garza, the Cubs are an NL Central worst 12-18, seven games back of the division leading Cardinals. And they’ve been relatively decent lately, going 8-6 in their last 14 games.
The Cubs pitching staff ranks 15th in the majors in ERA and is 11th in starter ERA. The starters are seventh in strikeouts with 155 against only 60 walks. The bullpen has posted a 3.93 ERA, walking 49 and striking out 66. A lot of that can be put on Carlos Marmol, who leads the entire team in walks with 15 in 10.2 innings.
Jeff Samardzija has also been great this year with an ERA just over three, while recording a record of 4-1. He leads the team in strikeouts through six starts with 39 in 38.2 innings.
Now for the sad part: The team is 19th in the league in hitting at .243 and 25th in runs with 104 in 30 games, which averages out to 3.5 runs a game.
Bryan LaHair has been a nice surprise for the team, posting a .373 batting average in 83 at-bats, allowing Anthony Rizzo more time to develop in the minors (although I’m not sure any more time is needed). LaHair has also belted eight home runs and driven in 17.
Starlin Castro has been equally impressive hitting .347 with 19 RBIs, 15 runs and 11 stolen bases. The sad part is the next leading hitter on the team is batting nearly 100 points lower at .255.
The team has failed to find someone at the top of the lineup who can consistently get on base for Castro and LaHair. Until this happens, the team will struggle to find runs and, as a result, won’t win games.
Despite that last bit of bad news, this team has a lot of positives going into the offseason. It looks like they could have a nice one-two punch in Garza and Samardzija for the next four or five years. Either LaHair or Rizzo will need to learn how to play a different position because the Cubs need both in their lineup surrounding Castro.
This team is better than its record shows, but not much better. If Dempster can keep up this current pace and remain healthy, he’s going to get interest before the trade deadline, which will help Epstein build the Cubs into a winning team for years to come.