at least this much, it seems to this page, has not deviated from expectation thusfar in the nascent 2006 season. but this writer, despite his own admonitions to the contrary in the opening lines, feels compelled to use the experience of the last two games to point out what may be a new trend developing in cub pitching.
dusty baker has long been a believer in running starters out for as long as possible; since 2003, no national league bullpen has pitched fewer innings. the utility of that strategy, despite the considerable risk for long-term injury negatives which seem very much to be affecting this team now, was justifiable in the shorter term by the quality and capacity of the starting staff, which has been the best in the nl over that time. but things have clearly changed in this regard, at least for the first half of 2006. and there seems a certain denial of reality in dusty's thoughts in today's tribune:
"I don't want to use [the set-up men] every day," Baker said. "The bullpen is shored up, but we have to do what we can until our big boys get back."
Those big boys are Mark Prior and Kerry Wood, who currently are rehabbing in Arizona with unknown return dates.
the problem with this reasoning is that wood, prior and wade miller will all be rehabilitating injuries for significant lengths of time even after they are cleared to return to the mound. they will in every likelihood be accelerated back into service and tire early for their first few weeks at least. this problem of short starts could be severe for the entire first half, it seems to this page, by which time the bullpen may already be much more heavily used than in seasons past. given the depth-of-quality issues that confront this bullpen, the impact on the cubs' fortunes could be large.
this is something to keep an eye on in coming weeks. if cub starters have trouble getting out of the sixth consistently despite dusty's tendency to leave a starter in, the cub offense may very well not be potent enough to compensate for the runs allowed.