When Theo Epstein took over as president of the Chicago Cubs, one of his first objectives was to increase the depth all over the pitching staff, particularly in the starting rotation.
In 2011, the Cubs’ rotation was decimated by injury, forcing the likes of James Russell, Casey Coleman, and Ramon Ortiz into starting duty. The Cubs came into the 2012 season with certainty at the top two, but we really didn’t know what to expect from the rest of the rotation, outside of Ryan Dempster and Matt Garza.
What we’ve got has been much better than expected, as the Cubs have boasted one of the top rotations in the league, at least in four of five starters.
Dempster has rebounded very nicely from his poor 2012, sporting the league’s top ERA, at 1.02. He’s been simply brilliant. He’s struck out 36 hitters against just 10 walks in 35 innings, with opposing hitters batting just .166 off of him. The only thing he doesn’t have at this point is a win.
Garza has also been stellar, which was expected from the Cubs’ top pitcher from 2011. Despite the trade rumors that still surround him, Garza has performed admirably. After a slow start last year, Garza has gotten down to business early, with a 2.67 ERA and opposing hitters going for just .175 against him.
But as great as the two have been, it’s not incredibly surprising that either is currently among the best pitchers in the National League. It is, however, very surprising to see what Jeff Samardzija and Paul Maholm have done in this rotation early on.
Samardzija has been much better than anyone expected in his return to the rotation, having spent the entire 2011 in the bullpen. He hasn’t been without his struggles, but his last two starts have demonstrated the fact that Shark has established himself as a legitimate starter in the National League. Few pitchers have better velocity on their fastball and as long as he continues to mix in the breaking stuff, we should continue to see improvement in Samardzija, which is scary for the rest of the NL.
After a rough start to the season, Paul Maholm has also found himself in a recent trend of success. He allowed six earned runs in each of his first two starts, but has settled down greatly, allowing just three earned in his last four combined. His best performance was his most recent, going for seven innings against the Atlanta Braves on Wednesday, while not allowing a run.
The only damper on the rotation has been Chris Volstad. Volstad still hasn’t recorded a win since last July, and he’s had issues avoiding the big inning this year. While he hasn’t been completely terrible, he has still struggled to maintain consistency over the course of a game. Until he does that, there are going to be questions about whether or not he belongs in this rotation.
Few expected the Cubs’ rotation to be of the quality that it has been to this point. It’s been a pleasant surprise to watch this come together, just as the Cubs have as a team over the past couple of weeks. They have established themselves, at least early on, as one of the best rotations in all of baseball. If Volstad could be at least average, they have a chance to jump into one of the top few groups in the league.
Now if they could only get a little bit of run support.