The loss of Carlos Zambrano for two weeks with a shoulder injury has given the Cubs a rare opportunity to see what life would be like without their ace.
And although it's still too early to make any judgments, a Big Z-free rotation appears to be a little bit thinner than believed, not to mention a lot less entertaining.
Ted Lilly, who began the season as the No. 2 starter, showed Wednesday night in a 7-4 victory over Baltimore that he's still a ways behind Ryan Dempster, twice allowing the Orioles to creep back into the game after the Cubs had staked him to a pair of four-run leads.
Lilly (8-5) ultimately won for the seventh time in eight decisions, allowing four runs on Jay Payton's pair of two-run homers.
"I wasn't keeping the ball in the park, and I'm getting away with it because we have a good club, really," Lilly said.
Kosuke Fukudome sat out with a left calf injury and may not be available Thursday, though he said through an interpreter it was "no big deal."
"With all the injuries here, there's no sense taking any chances with that," manager Lou Piniella said.
The Cubs didn't skip a beat, as Geovany Soto drove in three runs and Jim Edmonds homered for the fourth time in four games.
"Winning breeds success, or winning breeds all the good things," Edmonds said. "That's why you win, or winning brings that out in you."
Edmonds didn't have an interpreter, so whatever he was trying to say is open to interpretation.
Nevertheless, the Cubs won for the 15th time in 16 home games and moved back to 20 games above .500. Almost halfway through the schedule, the question is how good is the rotation?
The Cubs entered Wednesday night's game leading all National League teams in starting pitching with a 3.82 ERA, despite the troubles of Rich Hill, Lilly's gaudy 4.74 earned-run average and the recent injury to Zambrano.
One Cubs player said management should pick up another front-line pitcher by the July 31 trading deadline.
Cleveland left-hander C.C. Sabathia and Oakland right-hander Rich Harden could be the biggest names on the trading block if their teams aren't in contention by mid-July, along with Seattle lefty Erik Bedard, who recently suffered from back spasms.
General manager Jim Hendry has given no indication the Cubs will try to acquire another starter, but there's no doubt he has the resources.
Dempster has inherited the role of ace in Zambrano's absence, as evidenced by Piniella's decision to tweak the rotation to ensure Dempster gets one extra start before the All-Star break.
Piniella said Lilly "pitched well" Wednesday, despite not having a good curveball early.
Carlos Marmol pitched a scoreless eighth inning and Kerry Wood struck out all three Baltimore batters he faced in the ninth, reaching 98 m.p.h. while striking out Luke Scott, to post his 20th save.
Cubs 7, Orioles 4
Cubs get back on winning track vs. Orioles
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