Last season, starting pitching was all doom and gloom for the Cubs. It was the main reason for their 71-91 record.
Early injuries knocked both Andrew Cashner and Randy Wells out of the rotation after just one start and the Cubs did not have any depth behind them.
As a result, Chicago was 26th in the MLB in quality starts with 76 and had the worst starter's ERA in the National League (4.79).
Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer set out to right that wrong this season. And so far so good in the large scheme of things. But the Cubs are still looking for more from Chris Volstad and Paul Maholm at the back end of the rotation.
Matt Garza (1.23 ERA0.75 WHIP) and Ryan Dempster (1.880.91) have been simply fantastic and have four of the Cubs' six quality starts this year. Jeff Samardzija was brilliant in his first outing, picking up the Cubs' first win of 2012. After the Cubs offense staked him to a big lead in St. Louis on Friday, however, Samardzija got complacent and allowed five runs in the fifth inning.
But Volstad and Maholm have struggled some. Volstad hasn't been bad, he just hasn't necessarily been good. The big right-hander has a 4.91 ERA and 0-1 record in two starts, but a sparkling 1.18 WHIP shows he has pitched better than his numbers indicate. He also had a quality start on Saturday against the Cardinals.
Mahlom, meanwhile, is bringing the whole rotation's numbers down. He has allowed 12 earned runs and three homers in just eight innings pitched. Maholm, whom the Cubs signed as a free agent this offseason, has not gotten more than 12 outs in a start yet this season.
The Cubs will hang their hat on starting pitching this year, as their bullpen is inexperienced and the offense isn't set up to out-slug teams. Even in losses so far this season, the starters have battled enough to keep their team in the game. Maholm has gotten rocked early in his outings, but both times he was able to settle down and at least give the offense a chance.
Maholm has a 4.42 career ERA in more than 1,100 big-league innings. He will rebound and should still wind up with a more manageable ERA.