Piniella, Cubs Need Deep Pitching For Deep Playoff Run

Jerry BurnesAnalyst IJune 4, 2008

Good pitching beats good hitting. Good pitching also wins championships, which is why the Chicago Cubs need to look to their rotation if they want to make a deep playoff run.

While Carlos Zambrano continues to find himself among the league leaders in innings pitched, the rest of the Cubs rotation has struggled to eat up innings and save the bullpen.

Looking at the innings pitched numbers for the Cubs as of Wednesday afternoon, Zambrano leads the Cubs with 86 innings pitched. Starters Ryan Dempster (75.1), Ted Lilly (65), and Jason Marquis (61) come in behind Big Z.

A closer look at those number reveal the fact that only Zambrano (6.6) and Dempster (6.3) are averaging above six innings per start. Lilly and Marquis come in at just over five innings.

The lack of deep innings from Lou Piniella's starters is a disturbing stat this early in the season. He will need the bullpen to go deep into the season and the playoffs. Relying on them to pitch 3-4 innings a game is just not getting the job done and will tire them out by September.

This forces Piniella to rest bullpen aces Carlos Marmol and Kerry Wood in tight game situations to save their arms, which the Cubs have learned is a good idea with Wood.

What the Cubs need is another quality starter. Dempster transitioned from closer to starter and is a question mark on his ability to start an entire season. Lilly's numbers are jaded from a few very rough starts early in the season, but he has an ERA of 5.54 entering Wednesday, meaning the innings he has appeared in, have been rough.

Marquis is a different story. He has been flat-out ineffective this season for Cubs. Only Lilly has a higher earned run average out of the rotation, but Marquis's strikeout-to-walk ratio is 34:27, compared to Lilly's 61:21.

Rich Hill did not turn out how the Cubs envisioned this year, resulting in a two inning start from Jon Leiber and the promotion of Sean Gallagher. In seven appearances and five starts, Gallagher has only averaged 4.5 innings per game.

Heading into game number 60 on the season, the Cubs are seeing their key bullpen members, Marmol and Wood, appearing in 30 and 31 of those games respectively, with Wood seeing only 20 save opportunities.

To further add to the Cubs need for a rested bullpen, Piniella brought rookie Kevin Hart back to the club on Tuesday, adding a 13th pitcher to roster.

For the Cubs to make a deep playoff run and possibly win a World Series, they will need to provide relief for the relief, in whatever way they can.

As of now, Piniella's rotation of relievers and pitchers being called up and sent back down has worked. Gallagher (3-1) is winning games for the Cubs, but they need to stretch him out, ideally to six or seven innings per game. Marquis (3-3) is not winning and is not trade bait, so a free agent would be a good route to follow.

The problem with that is the lack of quality free agent pitchers available. David Wells is aging and Freddy Garcia is a big risk following surgery.

The best bet for the Cubs to find pitching is to make a deal. They've talked about dealing Matt Murton to give him an opportunity somewhere else. Package a player or two with him and an upgrade from Marquis is not out of the question.

Oakland may still be looking to deal Joe Blanton. If not there will be teams cleaning house by the trade deadline on July 31. Just don't expect the Cubs to pull off a blockbuster deal to land a young arm like an Edinson Volquez or Tim Lincecum. Though scuffling this season, the Reds and Giants do still have their pride and will hang onto their young stars.