MESA, Ariz. The Cubs think they can make it an interesting summer on the North Side, because they will put a credible starting pitcher on the mound 162 times this season. The six-month marathon will prove them right or wrong.
The day after the Cubs announced their starting five Ryan Dempster, Matt Garza, Jeff Samardzija, Chris Volstad, Paul Maholm manager Dale Sveum was asked how that compares to the rest of the National League Central.
This division has Cy Young winners in Milwaukee (Zack Greinke) and St. Louis (Chris Carpenter, though his neck issues will be monitored). The Reds added Mat Latos to their stable of young pitching. Depth helped the Brewers win 96 games last season, and the Cardinals will welcome back Adam Wainwright as they defend their World Series title.
Ill stack our starting rotation with anybody, Sveum said Friday. Its a pretty nice rotation if they live up to their capability.
(Thats) throwing strikes, keeping the ball on the ground, making quality pitches. We got five guys that can do that. We got guys who can move the ball (and) make (it) go sideways. Its a nice, rounded-out starting staff (where) everybodys a completely different pitcher.
The Cubs used 10 different starters last season. They finished with the worst ERA in the NL (4.79). They accounted for only 931 23 innings (which ranked 14th). It can only get better, and will have to against a brutal early schedule.
The Cubs will face Washingtons Stephen Strasburg on Opening Day, and wont get a breather until late May? Half of their first 42 games are against the Brewers, Cardinals and Phillies, playoff teams in 2011. The balance isnt much easier.
The Cubs will witness the Ozzie GuillenCarlos Zambrano reality show in Miami. They will see the Reds, a trendy division pick, six times. Theres a homestand featuring the Dodgers and Braves, who combined to win 171 games last season. Throw in a White Sox series that usually creates fireworks and that gets you to May 21.
We got the potential, Dempster said. We got a chance (to) really push each other to do well and get the best out of each other, all five of us. Hopefully, we will be right there with any rotation. But we got to go out there and prove it.
Individually, that means Dempster avoiding the bad start (9.58 ERA through six outings) that helped derail last season. And Garza taking a Cy Young leap forward, showing that hes better than his career record (52-54) and worthy of a huge contract extension.
Samardzija got what he wanted and wont be typecast as a reliever. But for all his velocity, athleticism and newfound confidencematurity, he still has only started five games in the big leagues. He should be motivated.
It left a bad taste in my mouth those first couple years, Samardzija said. I definitely didnt want (to) go through that again. You dont know how many of those opportunities youre going to get to start. Once you become a reliever and if you have success, a lot of times thats where you end up for your career.
I wanted to take advantage of this opportunity and jump all over it and really not let that even come to the surface.
The front office has similar faith in Volstad, overlooking his track record 32-39 with a 4.59 ERA in almost 600 major-league innings and seeing a first-round talent whos 6-foot-8 and only 25 years old. He could be much more than the guy traded for Big Z.
They made a point to tell me that they were working hard to get me over here during the offseason, Volstad said. Its a good feeling to (know) that they really wanted me. Through the spring, (they were) saying: Its a big year for you. Youre going to help out a lot. It's definitely a confidence boost.
Maholm who had spent his entire career in the Pirates organization finished last season at 6-14 with a 3.66 ERA after being shut down with a shoulder strain. The left-hander doesnt care if hes the No. 5 starter.
Its a competition where youre trying to outpitch the guy the night before, Maholm said. If a guy has a rough start, you start it over and set the tone for the next guy.
On a lot of teams, the fifth guy just kind of goes five innings or whatever. (But) I expect to make all my starts and go 200 innings. Thats my mindset. Thats whats going to push me and thats whats going to get each and every one of us through the season.
The Cubs will also have emergency depth stashed at Triple-A Iowa (Randy Wells, Travis Wood, Casey Coleman) to weather the inevitable injuries. They have to be prepared for the worst, but arent expecting the disaster predicted by all the experts.
The bottom line is when you got starting pitching like we do, Sveum said, I think you can do a lot of things if the other people live up to half their expectations, (if) you catch the ball and youre getting timely hitting.