LOS ANGELES — The Cubs already faced Zack Greinke and Clayton Kershaw at Dodger Stadium and will see Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee this weekend at Wrigley Field.
But the Cubs made Ricky Nolasco look like the Cy Young winner during Wednesday’s 4-0 loss to the Dodgers. They managed only three hits and struck out 11 times against Nolasco, who breezed through eight innings on an 88-degree afternoon.
Dale Sveum says this is the best, most consistent level of pitching he’s ever seen in the game. The Cubs manager didn’t watch this one from the dugout after getting thrown out in the first inning for arguing another check swing call. This time it was leadoff man Yasiel Puig at the plate and first-base umpire Lance Barksdale eyeballing the dugout.
No doubt, this golden age of pitching has something to do with the Triple-A product the Cubs roll out at certain points. But it does create more big-picture questions.
Like can the Cubs develop a shutdown starter for Game 1 of a playoff series? And will Javier Baez/Kris Bryant/Albert Almora/Jorge Soler be able to handle that kind of hard stuff? Assuming they even make it?
For now, it can’t all be written off as simply the struggles of a 56-77 team or tougher testing for performance-enhancing drugs.
“Obviously, that has something to do with it,” Sveum said. “My goodness, there’s no question, but let’s not get confused. There was probably plenty of pitchers that were on ‘em, too, in that same era.
“Now that the drugs are cleaned up, the velocity is still tremendous.”
Check out the major-league average for runs scored per game: It’s 4.20 now, which would be the lowest since 1992 (4.12). Compare that to Mark McGwire/Sammy Sosa years like 1999 (5.08) and 2000 (5.14).
It’s the Tony LaRussa School of Bullpen Management.
“You got plenty of left-handers coming out of bullpens that are not just specialists or side-armers,” Sveum said. “You got left-handers coming out of the bullpens throwing 95, 97, 98 miles an hour.”
It’s Big Data.
“They have all this computer stuff,” Sveum said. “They have the ability to pitch to weaknesses. Twenty years ago, nobody really knew what a guy’s weakness really was, and now it’s blatant right on the computer. ‘OK, you throw this, he’s out. If you execute your game plan or you execute that pitch, he will be out.’
“That’s black and white right on the video. (Look at defensive) positioning — it’s harder to get hits.”
It’s Moneyball and looking at batter vs. pitcher a different way.
“There’s no fastball counts anymore,” Sveum said. “Guys just don’t give in, and that’s why we see so many more walks, too.”
So the Cubs packed up for the flight back to Chicago after a 2-4 road trip knowing it wouldn’t get any easier with Ryne Sandberg’s Phillies and those big-time arms coming to Clark and Addison.
As outfielder Brian Bogusevic said: “There’s no days off, no comfortable at-bats.”