How improbable is it for a team with a sub-.500 record to have one of the best starting rotations in baseball--with the possibility it can get even better soon?
As improbable as the Cubs (18-24) with a starting staff boasting a 3.47 ERA, a major league-best .226 opponent batting average and 26 quality starts, tied for third most in the National League.
That is the staff that could improve even more if Matt Garza returns to form quickly when he is activated this week.
``Potentially, if these guys keep throwing the ball the way they have the first six weeks, and with Garza coming back, once he settles in, it's got the potential to be one of the top rotations in the big leagues,'' manager Dale Sveum said.
It has all been improbable because so much of the quality has come from the off season acquisitions of pitchers turned loose by their former teams.
Scott Feldman, who had spent the last eight seasons with the Texas Rangers, may be the most remarkable.
His latest gem Saturday--6 2/3 innings of scoreless ball in the 8-2 victory over the New York Mets--was his fifth straight quality start and the seventh straight in which he has allowed two or less earned runs.
``It's hard to imagine how good he's been these last five starts, and the last four have been unbelieveable,'' Sveum said. ``The low stress and the length [of innings] he's given, the runs he's given up--there isn't a whole lot of opportunity for other teams to score other than solo homers. He's last five starts have been as good as anyone in baseball. It's been impressive.''
The only runs the Mets scored came in the ninth on Rick Ankiel's two-run homer off Hector Rondon.
The Cubs scored enough in the fourth for Feldman (4-3) off Jeremy Hefner (0-6), with Feldman aiding his own cause with a two-run double.
He has recorded a hit and RBI in three of his last four games.
``It's always fun to get a hit and help score some runs,'' he said. ``I'm sure [opposing pitchers] are happier facing us [pitchers] than [Anthony] Rizzo or [Nate] Schierholtz.''
Both Rizzo (10th) and Schierholtz (5th) hit solo homers to help Feldman, who has turned around an 0-3 record and 4.50 ERA to start the season to go 4-0 with a 1.28 ERA in his last five starts.
``He's not letting lefthanders beat him,'' Sveum said. ``His cutter has been incredible, where he's been able to locate it and keep lefthanders from getting [their arms] extended.
``He's been able to bounce his curveball when he has to and throw it for a strike early in the count. Everything is working.''
So is Feldman's confidence.
``I feel happy. My arm feels good. Mechanically, everything feels a lot better than it did in spring training,'' he said.
``The rotation has been doing well and the bullpen's been doing better,'' he added. ``Getting Garza back should be a big boost, but at the same time I feel for [Carlos] Villanueva [who will move to the bullpen] because he's done everything that he could. I've been in that situation and it's a tough one.
``But I think everyone is excited to get Garza back,'' he said. ``I don't know who will feed off who--whatever works. Just as long as we can keep doing our jobs and win the games we can and stay healthy and give our team a chance to win.''