This is what personally annoys me more than anything about the Cubs. Since they started their run as National League Central champs in 2007, there has been no consistency in the starting rotation.
Now, the rotation has been good overall, but not as good as it should be, IMO.
In 2007, the Cubs had three starters that could have been considered the staff ace, if you will. Ted Lilly, Rich Hill, and supposed ace Carlos Zambrano were all really neck and neck for this title.
15-8, 3.83 ERA, 207 IP, 174 K, in 34 starts
11-8, 3.92 ERA, 195 IP, 183 K, in 32 starts
18-13, 3.95 ERA, 216.1 IP, 177 K, in 34 starts
Most people would give the nod to Zambrano by default, but I completely disagree.
I myself would have to go with Rich Hill. I remember a handful of games that he lost giving up two or less runs. If I remember correctly (I am not sure how to look it up) he had one of the worst average run support stats in the National League.
Either way, by the end of the year, I thought that he was the Cubs best and most consistant starting pitcher.
It is really too bad that he pulled a Rick Ankiel (no he wasn't a better hitter than pitcher) and lost complete control in early 2008. I really thought this kid was going to be a good starter for the Cubs for a long time.
Going into 2008, Carlos Zambrano was once again labled the Cubs ace. Rich Hill was expected to improve on his solid '07 campaign and Ryan Dempster was a complete mystery after moving from closer to starter.
Rich Hill imploded on to the scene. In his five starts, he walked 18 batters in 19.2 innings of work. It was chalked up to back problems and he never made it back to the team after his demotion.
He was then traded to the Baltimore Orioles, where he is trying to put the pieces of his career back together.
Carlos started the season off strong. For awhile, it looked that he was back to the pitcher he was from 2003-2006. Then, after an injury, it was like he lost everything. He had a very inconsistent second half of the season after making the All-Star team, despite a late season no-hitter.
Zambrano would go on to finish the season with a line of; 14-6, 3.91 ERA, 188.2 innings, with 130 strikeouts in 30 starts. Not what was expected from the Cy Young candidate.
The pleasant surprise was from Ryan Dempster.
After a winter of working hard and getting in shape, Dempster proved all the detractors wrong. He started of the season stellar, yet most critics still expected him to stutter at the end of the year.
He just kept going and going, to a tune of 17-6, 2.96 ERA, 206.2 IP, 187 K, in 33 starts. He ended up finishing fifth among starters in Cy Young voting, and sixth overall.
His season was somewhat diminished with his awful performance in game one of the NLDS. In that game against the Los Angeles Dodgers, he walked seven batters in 4.2 innings and gave up four earned runs.
Playoffs aside, Dempster was still the teams ace in 2008, and they paid him like one entering 2009.It is now 2009. The Cubs entered the year with three out of the four mentioned previously still in their rotation. Zambrano is still considered the club ace, with Dempster and mid-2008 acquisition Rich Harden, who wasn't mentioned for 2008 only because he only pitched half the season here.
With a combo of Zambrano, Dempster, Lilly, and Harden, the Cubs were/are supposed to have one of the best rotations in the majors.
So far they haven't lived up. Lilly is the only one that has pitched consistently well so far. He has a line of; 6-4, 3.50 ERA in his 10 starts. Zambrano comes in second with his 4.22 ERA, followed by Harden at 4.74 ERA and then Dempster at 4.99.
While they all have time to improve their seasons, they look like they could be challenged by a rookie, Randy Wells, who has looked phenomenal in his first four starts. Despite his 0-2 record, he has a 1.80 ERA in his 25 innings. He has had absolutely no run support. He could easily be 4-0 to start his career, but because of the Cubs lack of offense, finds himself with two loses.
While it is not likely that he will finish the season with a 1.80 ERA, it does seem that, for the time being, Wells will be in the Cubs rotation. I think it is plausible that he could end the season with an ERA around 3.50, which could put him right in line for "staff ace 2009."
What would be fantastic is if Zambrano could return to his '03-'06 form, Lilly and Wells continue what they are doing, with Dempster and Harden returning to their 2008 form. Even if this was for a 50 game stretch, it could help put the Cubs above the rest of the Central Division.