Does minor improvement in Cubs' record mean anything?

Does minor improvement in Cubs' record mean anything?
September 8, 2013, 2:15 pm
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Tony Andracki

"If you ain't first, you're last."

Ricky Bobby's life motto from "Talladega Nights" can apply to Dale Sveum's Cubs, too.

The 2013 Cubs are just one win away from tying 2012's total and still have 20 games left to play.

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But does an improvement over last season really matter? Either way, they're still going home at the end of September while three teams from the division duke it out in the postseason.

"Yeah, [there's some satisfaction in improving the record]," Sveum said Sunday. "You're mixing apples and oranges with a couple wins and losses...Yeah, there's satisfaction, but we're still a long way away from where we want to be."

Adding six to 10 more wins on to 2012's 61-101 record won't mean much in the large scheme of things. Keep in mind another motto, that of Cubs president Theo Epstein: "Progress isn't linear."

There are positive signs to point to as Epstein's front office adds more pieces to "The Core." The Cubs have seen a marked improvement in starting pitching over last season, especially late in the year.

"The difference between this year and last year is coming down the stretch here, we have a lot better pitching going out there every day," Sveum said. "On a consistent basis all year, our starting pitching has been pretty good."

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Even though Jeff Samardzija hasn't been pitching like an ace recently (6.38 ERA since the start of July), he still provides a better option than the Cubs had last season.

With Samardzija shut down in September, Matt Garza on the disabled list and veterans Ryan Dempster and Paul Maholm dealt at the trade deadline, Sveum was forced to trot out waiver claims Justin Germano (6.75 ERA in 12 starts) and Jason Berken (4.82 ERA in four starts) as well as a pair of young lefties getting their first big-league action in Chris Rusin (6.37 ERA in seven starts) and Brooks Raley (8.14 ERA in five starts) to close out the 2012 campaign.

In the final month of 2013, the Cubs actually may have too many starting options.

Rusin has had a great sophomore campaign (2.89 ERA in 10 starts), joining Samardzija, $52 million man Edwin Jackson and breakout star Travis Wood. Jake Arrieta, acquired in the deal that sent veteran Scott Feldman to Baltimore, has been serviceable as he auditions for a spot in the Cubs' 2014 rotation.

Scott Baker, making his first big-league start Sunday in more than two years, could join the rotation for the final three weeks if all goes well.

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But even with six solid options (plus swingman Carlos Villanueva in the bullpen), the Cubs rotation doesn't stack up to the Reds, Cardinals or Pirates, who trail only the Los Angeles Dodgers in National League starter's ERA.

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At the end of the day, those teams will be vying for the NL pennant while the Cubs will be watching the World Series from their couches, waiting for the next wave of young talent coming through the system.

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