Monday, April 8, 2013
Rotation providing early signs for optimism
By Jesse Rogers
Travis Wood's success may be the most surprising aspect of the Cubs' first week.
The Chicago Cubs season is one week old and already there's been a month's worth of controversy. There's the closer controversy (it's been resolved for now with Kyuji Fujikawa replacing Carlos Marmol), there's the Wrigley controversy (it's been on-going but an end might be near), and there's the hitting controversy (as in the Cubs can't).
But as another Wrigley Field opener is upon us there is respectability to the first week of the season -- even with the Marmol embarrassment in the ninth inning of three of the first six games. General manager Jed Hoyer admitted, in hindsight, Marmol's poor end to spring training carried over to the regular season. But despite Marmol's 27.00 ERA, the Cubs have proven they can pitch.
And that will always garner respect.
"Could haves and would haves make the world go around," manager Dale Sveum joked. "The fact of the matter is we're going to have to hit to take a little pressure off our starting pitchers who have obviously pitched their hearts out so far."
If progress is what you're looking for then look no further than the starting rotation. Jeff Samardzija has the smell and feel of an ace. His 110-pitch performance on Opening Day was a masterpiece followed by a 13 strikeout performance on Sunday. It's of little concern he wilted and lost the game, 5-1. He's growing, from reliever, to end of the rotation starter, to ace. And a leader.
He's quickly becoming a major voice for the team. When asked about Monday's home opener, he spoke bigger picture than just the exuberant fans and pomp and circumstance.
"Opening day at Wrigley is always a good day," Samardzija said. "We've played some good ball on (the) road trip, to tell you the truth. We were in almost every game. Everyone is excited to come from Arizona and start on the road, everyone has a little chip on their shoulder to get home and get in an atmosphere that's comfortable."
As far as No. 2 guy Edwin Jackson, you get the feeling he'll lose as many games as he'll win in a similar fashion to his first start: good enough to hang in there but not good enough to dominate. A little more of the run support that Sveum spoke of would be nice -- but Jackson isn't going to get it. One-inning lapses -- like he had in his first start -- can't happen on the Cubs. But just as Jackson lost in Pittsburgh in Game 2 he's just as likely to squeak out a win on Monday against the Milwaukee Brewers. That's who he is.
Maybe the most surprising performance so far has come from lefty Travis Wood. Yes, the conditions were ripe for a good performance considering the 35 degree temperatures last Wednesday night in Pittsburgh, but Wood did more than just take advantage -- he pitched with confidence. No hurler deserves more scrutiny than Wood when he takes the mound for his second start. He needs to follow up with another good one to prove he can be consistent.
Scott Feldman is a work in progress. He nearly survived a shaky outing. At some point he'll need to turn the corner or the Cubs will look elsewhere -- to Matt Garza or maybe even Chris Rusin in the minors. But the veteran Feldman deserves a few more chances. Carlos Villanueva is a poor man's Jackson. He won't dominate and he won't get into the seventh inning very often -- but he'll keep the Cubs in the game. He did that in start No. 1 as well. That's about all you can ask right now.
The rotation has given of us a chance to analyze this team; to debate the closer role, to agonize over the lineup and to dream about on offense to compliment a decent staff. After Marmol the bullpen was pretty good as well. And now the 2-4 Cubs come home, to the Wrigley faithful.
"We're a better team at home, most teams are a better team at home," Sveum said. "We proved it last year, after having a tough year we were only a couple games under .500 at home."
While ticket sales haven't been as brisk for this opener as they had been in the past, undoubtedly the bleachers will be full and the rooftops will be busy -- for the moment at least. As unknown as the blueprint to the Wrigley renovation has been, the same can be said of the renovation on the field. We kind of know what's happening with rebuilding but we don't really know how it will play out.
We do know one thing six games into the 2013 season, the Cubs have pitched well, that's always a blueprint to respect.