Sergio Mitre came up from the minors, giving up five hits and a walk in seven innings while striking out five.

Nice to see, but before we say “put Woody in the bullpen” let’s remember that he faced the team ranked 30 out of 30 in runs scored. The Astros have scored 162 runs in 45 games while posting a .310 OBP.

(The Cubs? 183 R in 43 G with a .321 OBP. Currently #26 in runs scored…)

Okay, so Sergio benefitted from a Globetrotter-Generals matchup. We’ll take it. Give Dusty (I guess) credit for using Meat on this day.

OPEN UP THE PEN AND LET ‘EM ALL ESCAPE
Baseball Prospectus runs some really cool stats. The one that applies here is Bullpen Support Statistics for starting pitchers. Here it is broken down by team, and it shows something interesting. The stat gives a positive or negative number showing whether a starter has benefitted (positive #) or been hurt by (negative #) the relievers who enter a game after him. There’s only one team without a single starting pitcher in positive numbers: our Chicago Cubs.

A cool find, but not particularly damning…at this point a small data sample skews the results. But still…it’s cool.
The Cubs’ pen is 21st in MLB in OPS (.752) vs. 11th in starters’ OPS (.734).
The pen is 14th in ERA (3.89) vs. 10th in starters’ ERA (4.07).
They’re 8th in the league as starters in WHIP (1.3) vs. 24th as relievers (1.50).

That tells a tale; the relievers are doing as well as the starters in an inning-to-inning comparison (ERA) but the rest shows that they’re giving up more hits, WHIP, and runs than starters. So it’s probable that they’re allowing a lot of starters’ inherited runners to score.

BUT IS THAT THE WHOLE STORY?
Regardless, the most interesting thing to me is that the Cubs’ starters are right around 10th in the league in everything. That ought to be the place where they dominate. They are not, and the weak offense and weak bullpen are highlighting that the starters are NOT as good as advertised. If the starters were up in the top 3, the Cubs would be 2 or 3 games over .500 and 3 or 4 games out instead of 7.

Do injuries explain it? The Cubs have used 7 starters total. Assuming a five man staff, here are the league’s number of starters beyond its “assumed staff,” and for the purposes of simplicity I have selected the top 5 starters on each team as the assumed staff.
—–
Arizona 0
Texas 0
Toronto 0
Baltimore 0
Detroit 0
Pittsburgh 0
St. Louis 0
Florida 0
——
Oakland 1
Atlanta 1
Chicago Sox 1
Cleveland 1
Colorado 1
——
Seattle 2
LA Dodgers 2
Minnesota 2
Philadelphia 2
——
Houston 3
Kansas City 3
——
Boston 4
Milwaukee 4
Anaheim/LA/California/flavor of the week 4
—–
NY Yanks 5
San Diego 5
Tampa Bay 5
Chicago Cubs 5
Cincinnati 5
—–
San Francisco 6
Washington, D.C. 6
—–
NY Mets 7

So the Cubs are in the bottom third of missed starts. If, perhaps, the Cubs had won 2 more of those missed starts they’d be 23-20 instead of 21-22. Whoopee. So injured starters ain’t the reason the Cubs are currently in a position to start golfing in early October. Those teams in the zero department are bound to lose someone eventually, but there’s nothing to say that the Cards will implode.

The bullpen’s a nice scapegoat (9 of 17 save opportunities converted), but they’re not the real problem. The Cubs can NOT SCORE RUNS. Quality innings out of the bullpen is much, much, much, much more important than the magical power to get the last out in a game, and the Cubs ain’t got that.

Admittedly, the Cubs don’t have the wizard to get that last out. BUT I expect that, if the Cubs hang around the middle of MLB in bullpen efficiency as they have, that 9/17 stat will move toward league average no matter who’s closing, and more eyes will be cast toward the Cubs’ offense.

Corey is where he ought to be — a supporting player in the 6 hole — and a key OBP guy is about to return (Walker). Dubois is an improvement over Hollandsworth, and Burnitz is still contributing. But Barrett is league-average and Neifi! is below league-average, and the useful Hairston has no place to play when Todd W. comes back. So I see a marginal improvement in the Cubs’ offense in the near future. This is the kind of offense that can complement a dominant pitching staff. The Cubs do not have a dominant staff this year…at least so far.

Let’s hope a couple of guys will feel an uncomfortable heat in the pants region and find that, instead of the result of an all-too-close relationship with Dr. Tightpants, that heat is a fire under their butts that gets them going for the rest of the season, because we’ll need that to assume our destiny as the 2005 World Champions.

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