Chicago Cubs: What's Up with Big Z?

Neil FinnellCorrespondent IApril 21, 2009

CHICAGO - APRIL 17: Starting pitcher Carlos Zambrano #38 of the Chicago Cubs delivers the ball against the St. Louis Cardinals on April 17, 2009 at Wrigley Field in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

Before the season began most, if not all, thought if the Cubs were to win their third consecutive Central Division title they would need Carlos Zambrano to step up and lead the starting staff. Zambrano did his part on Opening Day in Houston and pitched a very good game...and more than earned his first career victory on Opening Day.

With the question marks around Rich Harden's health and Ryan Dempster's ability to repeat his performance from a year ago, Lou Piniella and Jim Hendry need a big year from Zambrano. While Big Z has made only three starts, his performances have been inconsistent at best and very reminiscent of the second half he put together last season.

Carlos Zambrano's numbers since his first start after the break last year (July 19 in Houston) send up a huge red flag. Other than his no-hitter in Milwaukee, which came with more than it's fair share of controversy, Zambrano has pitched more like a number five in a big league rotation, not a number one.

Big Z was 4-3 in 12 starts with a 5.80 ERA and a 1.40 WHIP from July 19 of last season on. Zambrano posted only two wins in August and September combined, and one was the no-hitter against the Astros.

  • August - 1-1 in 5 starts with a 7.43 ERA and a 1.73 WHIP, teams hit .284 against him
  • September - 1-1 in 4 starts with a 7.08 ERA and a 1.23 WHIP, teams hit .192 against him
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In five August starts (26 innings) Zambrano struck out 18 but walked 15 and served up seven home runs. The home runs allowed went down in September but his strikeout to walk ratio was very close again to 1:1. Zambrano struck out 16 in 20-1/3 innings but issued 11 walks.

After his eight-inning shutout gem in Milwaukee on July 29 against the Brewers, he completed seven innings just twice...and one was his no-hitter. Zambrano's other win in the final two months of the year came against the Reds at Wrigley.

With the latest drubbing by the Cardinals, it made this writer think that maybe Zambrano is tipping his pitches and the Redbirds are the only team that has figured out what he is doing. In his last three starts (including Friday) Zambrano's line against the Cardinals is unbelievable.

  • August 9 (Wrigley Field) - 4-1/3 innings, nine runs on 10 hits, with a walk, three strikeouts and four home runs allowed - Cubs lost 12-3
  • September 19 (Wrigley Field) - 1-2/3 innings, eight runs on six hits, with three walks, a strikeout and a home run - Cubs lost 12-6
  • April 17 (Wrigley Field) - Seven innings, seven runs on nine hits, with three walks, seven strikeouts and three home runs allowed - Cubs won 8-7
  • Total - 0-2 in three starts, 13 innings, 24 runs on 25 hits, with seven walks, 11 strikeouts and eight home runs allowed (16.61 ERA and a 2.46 WHIP)

With that said, common sense took over and surely one Zambrano's newest teammates, Aaron Miles, would have let him in on what the Cardinals know.

Since July 19 of 2008, Zambrano's line:

5-3 in 14 starts with a 5.69 ERA and a 1.44 WHIP (87 1/3 innings, 83 hits, 56 runs, 56 earned runs, 14 home runs, 43 walks and 72 strikeouts)

But the most important stat line...the Cubs record in Zambrano's last 14 regular season starts, 10-4.

Carlos Zambrano may be getting paid like an ace but he is not performing like one...and his gloving slamming episode on Friday was just further proof that he still needs to grow up.

The Cubs need Carlos Zambrano to pitch more consistently. Will he have bad starts from time to time? Of course he will...but he needs to string together more positive than negative outings.

Lou Piniella needs to know he can count on his number one starter and since Piniella has been in Chicago, Zambrano has been consistent at only two things...inconsistency and immaturity.

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