Chicago Cubs Pitching Both a Strength and Weakness in Opening Road Trip

Matt PoloniCorrespondent IApril 12, 2010

With their first road trip of the season in the books, the Cubs have a 2-4 record.

The good news is that the Cubs could easily be 5-1 right now if a handful of innings had gone a little differently. The bad news is that the Cubs were denied that 5-1 record because of those innings.

I think it is safe to say that, although the team's first week of games had its share of ups and downs, the poor play has outweighed the good and is at the forefront of Cubs fans' minds.

The performance of the bullpen was a key concern for the Cubs coming into the season.

Beyond that, it was thought that the rotation would need to step up in and eat some innings in order to reduce the exposure of the Cubs' young bullpen.

Up to this point, those concerns have been proven valid with good and bad outings.

Although the poor performances likely stand out a little more, there is still some good to take out of these six games. Trust me.


The Numbers

Just look at what the rotation has done since the disaster that was Opening Day in Atlanta:

●32.1 innings pitched
●22 hits and eight walks (.198 opponent average, 0.928 WHIP)
●29 strikeouts
●five earned runs (1.39 ERA)
●five quality starts
●four games left with the lead, one left while tied

While we're at it, take a look at what James Russell, Sean Marshall, Carlos Marmol, and Justin Berg (the second of his two outings) have combined for coming out of the bullpen:

●10.2 innings pitched
●four hits and one walk (.114 opponent average, 0.469 WHIP)
●15 strikeouts
●no earned runs

Those stats make up 43 of the 51 innings pitched by the Cubs this season. Over those innings, the Cubs managed a .178 opponent average, an 0.814 WHIP, and a 1.05 ERA.

That line might have been extended had Carlos Silva not had to leave his start with shoulder soreness.

The other eight innings weren't so pretty:

●18 hits and 13 walks (.439 opponent average, 3.875 WHIP)
●22 earned runs (24.75 ERA) and two unearned runs
●two blown saves and three losses

Those numbers are the result of the 5.1 innings pitched by Esmailin Caridad and John Grabow and the Opening Day performances of Zambrano, Jeff Samardzija, and Berg.



Since Samardzija hasn't pitched since Opening Day, you can't really project anything out.

Everyone has a bad day every once in a while. Zambrano and Berg have been solid in their respective appearances since then, so it isn't a stretch to think that Samardzija will do the same.

Then there's Esmailin Caridad, the Cubs' right-handed setup man, who did fine in his first two outings. He pitched 1.1 innings, allowed only one hit, and struck out two against Atlanta.

His third outing is where he got into trouble. Caridad walked the first two batters and allowed an accidental base hit on a Chris Dickerson sacrifice bunt.

It was only after giving up a go-ahead grand slam to Drew Stubbs that the righty settled down and got the Reds to go down 1-2-3, with a strike out and two groundouts.

Although his bases loaded walk on Sunday won't make his case any easier, it is important to note that it came on a 3-2 count after battling back from a 2-0 start.

Once again, with only one batter faced since his blown save, it is possible that those struggles might be nothing more than an isolated event.

Grabow, however, has had two pretty bad days.

The first was his April 7 outing against the Braves, in which he gave up a double and a homer to blow the save and earn the loss for the Cubs.

The second came on Sunday, when he allowed two singles and walked Scott Rolen, earning him another loss.

Orlando Cabrera and Brandon Phillips, who got the two hits off of Grabow, came around to score later in the inning and ended up being the difference in the game.

He has had two solid outings to balance it out, but a balance between good and bad outings is not something that's acceptable for a setup man.

If either Marshall or Russell continues to pitch well, there's a good chance that Grabow will have to move out of the role and let one of the Cubs' younger lefties take over.

Meanwhile, Carlos Marmol has been everything that Cubs fans could have hoped for.

He was nearly unhittable after he settled down against the Braves, earning his first save. It was his outing against the Reds on Saturday that was amazing, however. He actually was unhittable, striking out the side, with only a foul tip by Chris Dickerson making any semblance of contact whatsoever.

With an off day on Tuesday, the Cubs shouldn't need a spot starter to fill in before Silva comes back off of a sore shoulder.

That leaves the Cubs with three basic hopes:

1. Carlos Silva will not miss an extended period of time and will have similar production to his last few starts going back to spring training.

2. The rest of the rotation will keep up their most recent performances.

3. The members of the bullpen who have struggled will bounce back while Marshall, Russell, and Marmol continue to have success.

If all that happens, the Cubs could be very dangerous in the National League Central. With home series coming up next against the Brewers and Astros, we'll see what happens.


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