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updated: 5/5/2011 8:29 PM

Tough teams on the horizon for Cubs

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  • The Cubs will start seeing some tougher competition soon, including Albert Pujols and the Cardinals. St. Louis visits Wrigley Field on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday.

      The Cubs will start seeing some tougher competition soon, including Albert Pujols and the Cardinals. St. Louis visits Wrigley Field on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday.
    Associated Press

 
 

The "easy" part of the schedule is over for the Cubs, at least for the time being.

In the opening weeks of the season, they went 14-16 against seven different teams, only one of which (Colorado) is over .500.

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Of course, there are two ways to look at this.

One is that the Cubs squandered chances to be comfortably above the break-even point by failing to take care of business against teams such as the Pirates and Brewers.

The other is to say the Cubs are fortunate to be where they are considering 40 percent of their starting rotation has been on the the disabled list since April 8.

Traditionally, the first milepost in seeing what kind of team you have is Memorial Day.

With 3 weeks to go before we get to that holiday, the Cubs will face these teams beginning Friday:

• Cincinnati, which won Thursday to improve to 16-16.

• St. Louis, which is 18-14 and leading the NL Central by 1 games over the Reds after Thursday's victory over Florida.

• The Marlins, who are 19-11.

• Boston at Fenway Park. The Red Sox got off to slow start, and they're 14-16 in the rugged American League East after getting crushed Thursday by the Angels.

• The New York Mets and the Pirates. The schedule "eases" May 24 as the Cubs come home from Boston to play the Mets and Pirates before the Astros pay a visit beginning Memorial Day.

Very good Garza:

Matt Garza opens the series against the Reds on Friday, and you can make the case that he's been the Cubs' best pitcher, despite Carlos Zambrano's 4-1 record.

Garza is 1-3 with an ERA of 3.96, while Zambrano's ERA is 4.23. Garza's WHIP (walks plus hits per 1 inning pitched) is a respectable 1.37.

One stat suggests Garza has pitched in some bad luck. His BABIP (or batting average on balls in play) is .400. BABIP excludes walks, strikeouts and home runs, meaning what happens aside from that largely depends on where the ball falls or if fielders can reach batted balls.

Garza's fielding independent pitching, or FIP, stands at a microscopic 1.16. FIP is a stat calibrated to ERA and reflects those things for which the pitcher is solely responsible.

Garza has given up exactly zero home runs. He has struck out 11.87 per 9 innings and walked 2.56 per 9.

His groundball rate is up to 48 percent, from 35.8 percent last year. The flyball rate is down to 26 percent from 44.7 percent last season. And the line-drive rate is up to 26 percent, from 19.5 percent this year.

Garza has been very good, and when the BABIP begins to normalize, his record should get better.

Cubs general manager Jim Hendry took a big chance in January, trading prospects Hak-Ju Lee and Chris Archer, along with current matinee idol Sam Fuld and outfield prospect Brandon Guyer to the Rays to get Garza and minor-league pitcher Zachary Rosscup.

Look past what Fuld is doing; he wasn't the centerpiece for the Rays. We'll be able to judge this trade when and if Lee and Archer make the big leagues and how long the Cubs keep Garza and how effective he ends up being.

Right now, it's way too early to call a winner in this deal.

Minor matters:

Veteran lefty Doug Davis had a nice outing Thursday for Class A Daytona. In a 5-0 win over Tampa, Davis worked 6 shutout innings, giving up 2 hits while walking two and striking out seven.

Davis, whom the Cubs signed last month, could make a start for Class AAA Iowa next week. He's a candidate to take the fifth starter's spot while Randy Wells and Andrew Cashner are on the disabled list.

Another candidate is veteran Ramon Ortiz, pitching at Class AAA Iowa. Ortiz worked 7 innings, giving up 4 hits and 1 run while walking one and striking out five Wednesday in a 3-1 win over Round Rock. Ortiz, also signed last month, is 1-1 with a 3.45 ERA at Iowa.

Another item of interest in the Daytona game was outfield prospect Jae-Hoon Ha hitting his fifth homer of the season Wednesday against Tampa. The homer came off former Cub Carlos Silva, who is trying to pitch his way back into the majors with the Yankees.

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