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updated: 7/21/2014 7:55 PM

No quantity of quality for Cubs starters

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  • Cubs starter Travis Wood has taken a big step backward this season.

    Cubs starter Travis Wood has taken a big step backward this season.
    Associated Press

  • Cubs starter Edwin Jackson has failed to go at least 6 innings in 15 of his 20 starts this year.

    Cubs starter Edwin Jackson has failed to go at least 6 innings in 15 of his 20 starts this year.
    Associated Press


The fall has been fast. The fall has been hard.

Since the Fourth of July trade of pitchers Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel to Oakland, the Cubs have a record of 2-11.

A drop-off was certainly expected after the Cubs traded not only 40 percent of their starting rotation, but arguably their top two pitchers.

But this has been quite something, and the results are easily explainable.

In the 13 games since the July 4 fireworks, the Cubs have exactly 3 quality starts, and they're all by new ace Jake Arrieta.

The Cubs are 1-2 in Arrieta's 3 starts since the trade, largely because they scored a grand total of 3 runs in the pair of losses.

Except for a poor start by last-minute fill-in Carlos Villanueva on July 5, it's hard to blame the replacements in the rotation for the beginning of the Cubs' Third Annual Death Spiral. Tyuoshi Wada, Kyle Hendricks and Dallas Beeler were at least OK in their starts, and we'll see Hendricks and Wada in this week's series at Wrigley Field against San Diego and perhaps for the foreseeable future.

Killing the Cubs are veterans Edwin Jackson and Travis Wood, and we're talking the entire season here.

Jackson, whom team president Theo Epstein and general manager Jed Hoyer signed to a four-year, $52 million contract before last season, has been nothing but a bust.

His season record is 5-10 with a 5.61 ERA following a 2013 campaign in which he went 8-18 with a 4.98 ERA.

Billed as an innings eater, Jackson has only 5 quality starts among his 20 this season. We'll get to the importance of quality starts in a minute.

By definition, a quality start is one in which a pitcher goes at least 6 innings and gives up no more than 3 earned runs. So in 15 starts this season, a full 75 percent, Jackson has failed to go at least 6 innings.

Jackson's performance hasn't been a total shocker, considering what he did last year, but Wood is a different story, and that's why he has been a major disappointment.

After making the National League all-star team last year, Wood owns a 2014 record of 7-9 with a 5.12 ERA. Of his 20 starts, 9 have been quality starts.

There's still time for Wood to turn things around, but it's safe to say he has taken a step backward.

Now a word about quality starts. The stat isn't perfect, but it is instructive. Too much of the focus on the stat is on the minimum requirement: 6 innings and 3 earned runs. That gets you an ERA of 4.50, which hardly screams "quality."

However, most quality starts are much better than that, and even bad teams usually have a winning record in quality-start games.

The Cubs are a good example. They have only 2 minimum-requirement quality-start games, one by Hammel on May 4 and the other by Jackson on May 11.

For the season, Cubs pitchers have turned in 48 quality starts. In those games, the team is 26-22, and the starters' ERA is a sparkling 1.85. That's a little bit better than 4.50, wouldn't you say?

On the flip side, the Cubs have 49 non-quality starts. Care to take a guess at the record and ERA in those games?

Here it is: When the Cubs don't get a quality start, the team is 14-35, and the starters have an ERA of 7.06.

Of the Cubs' 48 quality starts, Samardzija and Hammel left with 12 each, accounting for half the team's total. Rookie Dallas Beeler has 1 quality start. You know the totals for Wood and Jackson.

Arrieta, like Wood, has 9 quality starts, but he has done it in 14 starts compared with Wood's 20.

So all of that explains in large part what has happened this year and what is likely to happen if things continue this way.

In other words, the Cubs will be flirting again with a 100-loss season; they're currently on pace for a record of 67-95 after stepping up the pace to 73-89 on July 4, Hammel's last start with the team.

For those looking at the big picture, that pace ensures another high draft pick next year, the fourth season of the Epstein-Hoyer regime. (In talking about the trade on July 5, Epstein expressed hope this would be the last year the Cubs would have to trade 40 percent of their rotation.)

In the short term, expect a lot more pain. Of the Cubs remaining 65 games, 39 will be at Wrigley Field. The only saving grace is that pitchers such as Hendricks, Wada, Beeler and perhaps Dan Straily (obtained in the Oakland trade) and Eric Jokisch later will be curiosity factors and might provide some hope for the future. And who knows? The Cubs might call up slugging infielder Javier Baez at some point.

Get your tickets now. Plenty of good sections are sure to be available.

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