Starting pitching continues to be key for Chicago Cubs
On the pitcher's mound Monday night at Dodger Stadium, Duane Underwood made his major-league debut for the Chicago Cubs after coming up from Class AAA Iowa.
About 2,000 miles away on the pitcher's mound at Four Winds Field, Yu Darvish made his first minor-league rehab start for the Cubs, pitching for their Class A South Bend affiliate.
No disrespect to Underwood, but the sooner this type of situation is reversed, the better off the Cubs will be.
The Cubs entered Monday having lost four straight at Cincinnati after taking two of three from the Dodgers last week at Wrigley Field.
In none of the 4 losses did the Cubs get a quality start from one of their pitchers, and this, as much as anything -- Kris Bryant's lack of power or manager Joe Maddon's lineup shuffling -- is the reason the Cubs can't seem to get over the hump this season.
Darvish worked 5 innings for South Bend against West Michigan as he continues his comeback from right-triceps tendinitis. He faced 18 batters and gave up 3 hits and 1 run (a home run) while walking none and striking out five. He threw 57 pitches, 41 strikes. Darvish sounded a cautious note afterward.
"Not necessarily pain, but I can't for sure say there's nothing going on in the triceps," Darvish told reporters in South Bend through a translator. "It's not like anything bad, but I feel like anyone who comes off the DL goes through this. So I think this is more the process."
Underwood became the ninth starting pitcher used by the Cubs this year, and quality starts are down from previous years.
Here is how the Cubs looked in quality starts after 75 games in each of the four years Maddon has managed the team:
• They entered Monday with 33 quality starts and had a record of 25-8 in this those games compared with a record of 17-25 in which they didn't get a quality start.
• That, however, is not the fewest number of quality starts after 75 games in the Maddon era. That happened last year, when the Cubs had 31 quality starts after 75 games. The Cubs were 23-8 in those games.
• During their world-championship season of 2016, the Cubs had a whopping 51 quality starts after 75 games, and they were 38-13 in those games.
• When a young Cubs team was finding it way in 2015, it had 36 quality starts after 75 games, going 29-7 in those games.
The bottom line is that when you get quality starts, you win. When you don't, you generally lose.
Starters failing to go at least 6 innings or more per start eventually will take its toll on a bullpen that has been solid overall. It has helped that the Cubs have made good use of their Iowa shuttle, bringing relievers with minor-league options back and forth from Des Moines to Chicago.
But getting more for the starters will be a must if the Cubs are going to win their third straight National League Central title and make their fourth straight postseason appearance.