One of the biggest differences between the Cubs late in 2012 and late in 2013 is the quality of starting pitching.
No longer do they have to rely on fill-ins such as Justin Germano and Jason Berken or a disappointment like Chris Volstad as they did a year ago.
This year lefty Chris Rusin has shown marked improvement from his call-up last year. Another intriguing arm is right-hander Jake Arrieta, who got the win in Sunday's 7-1 victory over the Philadelphia Phillies at Wrigley Field.
In his fifth start with the Cubs since coming in the July 2 trade from Baltimore, Arrieta worked 62⁄3 innings and gave up just 3 hits and 1 run as he improved to 2-1 with a 3.77 ERA. He is holding opponents to a .178 batting average.
The 27-year-old Arrieta figures to be in the rotation mix for next year along with Rusin and established pitchers Jeff Samardzija, Travis Wood and Edwin Jackson. Minor-league pitcher Kyle Hendricks also figures into that mix.
"I think that's what they would love here," Arrieta said. "That's my goal, to be a part of this rotation for many years. I've developed some comfort here.
"The staff has been great with me so far. I look forward to continuing relationships with staff and the players because that's a huge part of every team, the chemistry, the camaraderie in the clubhouse.
"Once that's established, it makes everything on the field a little bit easier."
The key issue for Arrieta has been command and keeping the walks down. He has good velocity on the fastball plus a power breaking pitch. He walked three and struck out four Sunday.
"When his command is going and he's throwing strikes, there's not a whole lot going on (against him)," manager Dale Sveum said. "The only thing that gets him into trouble is getting ahead of guys and then what I call noncompetitive pitches, where he throws them completely out of the zone.
"When he's in the zone, he's pretty tough. When he gets command of that cutter, that thing's going to be a pretty powerful pitch in the league."
Ryan Sweeney contributed in his return from the 60-day disabled list. He singled home a run in the first inning and walked and scored in the eighth after being out two months with a cracked rib.
"Definitely, to get that first hit back was huge," he said. "Nice win for us today."
Dale Sveum said Sweeney would be in an outfield rotation with Brian Bogusevic and Junior Lake, with the three sharing time in left and center with Nate Schierholtz starting in right field against right-handed pitching.
"The outfield will probably be a little bit of a rotation through the last month, with Lake, Sweeney, Bogusevic," Sveum said. "Schierholtz will probably play most of the time, especially against righties. The other guys will kind of rotate."
James Russell worked an inning of relief in his 70th appearance. He became the fifth Cubs lefty to record multiple 70-game seasons (he made 77 appearances last year), joining Paul Assenmacher (1990-92), Sean Marshall (2010-11), Chuck McElroy (1991-92) and Bob Patterson (1996-97).