Starting pitchers responsible for Chicago Cubs' turnaround
On July 10, the Cubs finished the unofficial first half of the season with a 6-5 victory at Pittsburgh.
But clearly, the team was limping into the all-star break.
Heading into that break, the Cubs went 6-15. Their their starting pitchers had just 6 quality in those games, finishing that stretch with 10 straight non-quality starts.
Almost a full month later, things have turned around completely.
Instead of limping, the Cubs have regained the swagger that came with starting the season with a 47-20 record, putting them on pace to win 114 games for the season.
Since play resumed on July 15, the Cubs are 16-6 and riding a current seven-game winning streak. Their overall record of 69-41 has them at a high-water mark for games over .500, and they're on pace for 102 victories.
What turned things around? The same thing that sent the Cubs into their tailspin: starting pitching.
In those 22 games, Cubs starting pitchers are 13-4 with 5 no-decisions. The starters' ERA is 2.49, best in the National League and second in the majors to Tampa Bay's 2.42 ERA since the break. In the 21 games before the all-star break, Cubs starters had an ERA of 6.04.
Contrasting the skid of 10 straight non-quality starts before the break, the Cubs have gotten quality starts in 10 of their last 11 games, with the only non-quality effort coming from spot starter Brian Matusz, who was designated for assignment within 24 hours of his 3-inning, 6-run outing on July 31.
So what has accounted for this turnaround in starting pitching, which has led once again to team success? The main factor probably has been rest. Leading up to the All-Star Game, the Cubs played 24 games in 24 days, and that took a toll on the team.
But during that stretch, the Cubs were able to work in a spot start for Adam Warren on July 6, in effect giving them a six-man rotation, at least temporarily.
The all-star break provided a natural break, and what manager Joe Maddon did coming out of the break no doubt also helped.
Instead of coming back with Nos. 1, 2 and 3 starters Jake Arrieta, Jon Lester and John Lackey, Maddon instead opted to open the unofficial second half with Kyle Hendricks, Jason Hammel, Lackey, Lester and Arrieta in that order.
At the time, Arrieta was looking tired -- he expressed a desire not to pitch in the All-Star Game, and that wish was granted -- so Maddon opened the post-break stretch of games with the only two starters on the staff who had not yet logged 100 innings.
The strategy seems to have worked, as a rejuvenated starting staff has been able to work deep into games again and provide a break to a bullpen that was frayed around the edges before undergoing its own changes in late July.
The emergence of Hendricks has been another story. He beat the Oakland Athletics 3-1 Sunday, improving his record to 11-7 with an ERA of 2.17, second best in the NL. Since May 22, Hendricks' ERA is 1.57, and he's making his push to be among the top three starters once the playoffs begin.
With continued proper care and handling of the staff, a long postseason run isn't out of the question.
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Scouting reportCubs vs. Los Angeles Angels at Wrigley Field
TV: WGN Tuesday; Comcast SportsNet Plus Wednesday
Radio: WSCR 670-AM
Pitching matchups: The Cubs' John Lackey (8-7) vs. Jered Weaver (8-8) Tuesday; Jason Hammel (11-5) vs. Ricky Nolasco (4-8) Wednesday. Both games 7:05 p.m.
At a glance: The Cubs swept two from the Angels in Anaheim to start the season, outscoring the Angels 15-1. The Angels (49-62) are fourth in the American League West. Yunel Escobar was second in the AL in batting average entering Monday. His line is .318/.368/.406. Mike Trout was fourth in the AL in batting, with a line of .316/.427/.555 with 21 homers and 74 RBI. Albert Pujols, a longtime Cubs tormentor while with the Cardinals, has 21 homers and 86 RBI. The Angels obtained Nolasco in an Aug. 1 trade with the Twins. Nolasco was the Cubs' fourth-round draft pick in 2001. This opens a 10-game homestand for the Cubs, who lead the majors with a run differential of plus-182.
Next: St. Louis Cardinals at Wrigley Field, Thursday-Sunday
-- Bruce Miles