Saturday, April 28, 2007

marquis takes the opener

one of the least imaginable things to transpire in this young year for the 9-13 cubs has actually been a positive -- the quality of the starting pitching. this club, without a healthy mark prior, figured and figures to have a pretty unspectacular rotation. carlos zambrano is what he is and rich hill has promised to shine for some time, but getting the kinds of performances out of ted lilly and -- particularly -- jason marquis that the club has gotten to date was totally unexpected.

marquis flashed that ephemeral quality again yesterday, holding down an underachieving cardinal lineup in the opening game of a critical three-game set at new busch stadium to the tune of 6.2 innings, 5 hits, three walks, and just three runs on 98 pitches -- all despite fanning no one. homers by club engine aramis ramirez and new-kid felix pie -- raising his line to 243/263/459 in his first 37 major league at-bats -- provided the winning difference, despite some frightening moments in the eighth as the redbirds loaded the bases.

of course, such quality is terribly unlikely to last -- these are, after all, not very good pitchers -- one supposes that goes without saying, but this page has said it anyway.

but of course it cannot last. mean reversion may have begun today for the cubs pitching staff. in one day, the cubs team figure for runs allowed moved from 3.53 per game to a round 4.00. but will not be felt in full effect until lilly and marquis come back into their time-proven form -- and rich hill comes back into the solar system, if not to earth itself. he's good, folks, but not this good.

but it should be noted that this lot has been good -- very good -- and as long as they can stay good this club has a chance to make up the ground it frittered away earlier in the year that has left it at this morning writing tied with houston in the cellar, still five games back of division-leader milwaukee. updating the previous team pitching table:


but if that somehow doesn't provide sufficient context for just how blessed has been the fortune of this club, perhaps this will. there are currently 65 pitchers in the national league with over 20 innings pitched. this is how they sort by babip.

1Matt CainSFN29.01.550.833.
2Rich HillCHN28.71.570.844.
3Mark HendricksonLAN10.71.660.694.
4John MaineNYN26.31.711.
5Orlando HernandezNYN32.02.811.
6Braden LooperSLN33.01.911.
7Jason BergmannWAS22.03.681.
8Jason MarquisCHN30.72.641.
9Ted LillyCHN33.02.450.795.
10Tim HudsonATL37.01.220.976.
37Carlos ZambranoCHN27.36.911.799.

that is to say, the cubs have three of the nine luckiest starters in the league at this moment, with zambrano trailing in the middle of the pack (his troubles stemming not from luck but from walks).

however, as they say, it works until it doesn't -- and the cubs have to hope that lucky pitching continues to support a charge at least back to break even before this year gets much older.

this writer has characterized an early violation of the five back rule as a death knell -- and it is.

however -- though nothing would be more surprising to this writer than to see this mediocre club with its mediocre offense (an estimate thus far essentially verified, as it plates 4.63 runs/game with a .313 babip) spontaneously revive -- once in a while folks wake up and pop out of the coffin.

the trick, of course, is to wake up before you're buried. this series is to be followed by a run of nine games -- six against pittsburgh, three against washington -- that must be the smelling salts for this club if it is to regain much hope. chances are, if it isn't the salts, it's probably the myrrh.

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