Five is the new 6 for Cubs starting pitchers these days.
Regular readers of our Daily Herald baseball blog, Chicago's Inside Pitch, know that we talk often about quality starts.
A quality start is when a starter goes at least 6 innings and gives up no more than 3 earned runs. Teams, even bad ones like the Cubs, have overwhelmingly winning records when they get a quality start.
Entering Tuesday night's series opener at Colorado, the Cubs were 41-30 and their starters had an ERA of 1.84 in quality-start games. When the Cubs haven't gotten a quality start, they were 18-64 and the starters had an ERA of 7.41 in those games.
Since the Cubs lost 80 percent of their starting rotation, either through trades, injuries or the shutdown of Jeff Samardzija because of innings pitched, quality starts have been few and far between. That included Tuesday night, when rookie left-hander Chris Rusin lasted only 32⁄3 innings against the Rockies, giving up 7 hits and 6 runs. The game was being delayed at press time with the Cubs trailing 10-5 in the seventh inning.
Starting pitchers have been fortunate to give the Cubs 5 innings since the trades began on July 30.
Beginning with July 31, the Cubs have gotten 18 quality starts compared with 34 non-quality starts. In their last 15 starts overall, only 2 have been quality starts.
Beginning with the July 31 game, the day after the Cubs traded Paul Maholm to the Braves and the day they traded Ryan Dempster to Texas, the Cubs went 16-36 entering Tuesday.
None of this should be surprising. The Cubs are running out a patchwork rotation more fitting of a first-year expansion team than anything resembling a contender.
Travis Wood started the season in the minor leagues, and he's now the de facto ace of the staff with Matt Garza on the disabled list and Samardzija relegated to pinch-running duties. Chris Volstad is 3-10 and a candidate not to have a contract tendered to him this winter. Justin Germano didn't figure into Boston's plans, and Jason Berken was let go by Baltimore. Rusin is a rookie who may or may not start 2013 in the Cubs' starting rotation. The only good thing for the Cubs is that with expanded rosters, there are enough arms in the bullpen to cover the lack of innings by the starters.
"Most of our starters, besides maybe Volstad or Wood, are not really capable of going much more than 5 innings, just because of their velocity," manager Dale Sveum told Keith Moreland on the WGN radio pregame show. "They're not going to get a lot of quick outs and things like that."
Look for team president Theo Epstein and general manager Jed Hoyer to fill the rotation with a couple of Maholm-type veterans next year. But as Epstein pointed out recently, there's no guarantee the Cubs won't trade off 40 percent of their rotation again next July.
So if you're looking for quality starts, you'll have to look for them with other teams.