SAN DIEGO—Seldom has a Cubs team been linked to so many of its predecessors as the 2008 edition has been during the first two months of the season.
Every day seems to bring about a new history lesson.
They've won nine straight for the first time since 2001, and entered June with the best record in baseball for the first time since 1908. They finished their first 7-0 homestand since 1970, and they've led in 25 consecutive games for the first time since 1935.
So when Lou Piniella addressed the uncertain state of his rotation beyond Carlos Zambrano and Ryan Dempster, the shaky performance of his middle relievers and the workload of his setup men, he gave blunt answers to questions some first-place managers would just as soon ignore.
"There's no gloom and doom," he said. "It's just basically a matter of fact."
While Piniella was looking for Jason Marquis to show some consistency, the right-hander lasted only five innings, allowing three runs while walking five.
Piniella used some colorful language to get a point across during a brief chat on the mound in the fourth, at which point Marquis had walked four, three of whom came around to score. But it failed to sink in. Tuesday's start was the sixth time in Marquis' last seven starts that he failed to get through six innings.
Despite Marquis' wildness, the Cubs managed to bounce back from a 3-1 deficit, scoring two in the fifth on a bases-loaded walk to Ryan Theriot by Wil Ledezma and an RBI infield hit by Derrek Lee. They took the lead in the sixth in Soto's solo homer. DeRosa added a two-run shot before Piniella dipped into his bullpen again, using six relievers—including closer Kerry Wood—to get through the last four innings.
While the Cubs came into the game ranked third in NL starting pitching with a 3.96 earned-run average, Marquis and Ted Lilly have yet to show the kind of consistency needed to convince anyone the Cubs are truly a championship-caliber team.
When Dempster, Marquis and Jon Lieber were all pitching well in spring training, conventional wisdom said the Cubs were in a good position with so much depth. Dempster carried his performance into the season, but Marquis had one victory in his previous seven starts going into Tuesday's game, Lieber flopped in a spot start in Cincinnati and Rich Hill is in Iowa with no return in sight.
"We talked about being so deep [in starters] when we left spring training, and all of a sudden two of our left-handers (Hill and Sean Marshall) have encountered problems and are both down in the minors," Piniella said. "Lieber, in his only start, was ineffective. And here we have a rookie ( Sean Gallagher) that really wasn't in the picture, in the rotation already.
"So we better be careful with our starting pitchers. It's easier to rotate a reliever from the minors back and forth than it is to go find a starter that can pitch six or seven innings for you.
"We're thinner than people think we are."