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Deals might leave Cubs’ rotation as vulnerable as pen

Updated: June 16, 2013 10:29PM



NEW YORK — By now, it’s clear that the Cubs’ problems this season have little to do with how they start games and everything to do with how they finish them.

But stay tuned. Within another month or two, the problems could run the gamut, start to finish, the way July sets up.

Did you think that 14th blown save in 27 tries was “unacceptable” and “hard to swallow,” as fed-up left fielder Alfonso Soriano said after the Cubs’ 4-3 loss to the Mets?

Wait until the Cubs are trying to replace the guy who pitched seven scoreless innings and allowed three hits in that game.

Matt Garza’s second impressive outing since returning last month from the disabled list was as much about showcasing his good health and trade value as it was about the Cubs pursuing their first sweep of the Mets in New York since 1991.

“You hate losing any quality starting pitcher,” Cubs manager Dale Sveum said. “Anybody you build a rotation around is something that you don’t want to lose. That’s the bottom line.”

It’s hard enough to build a rotation in the long term. In fact, there is no identified long-term replacement in the Cubs’ plans, either in the farm system, the projected free-agent pool or potential trades.

The short term is gloomy, too. When the Cubs traded their most productive starters of the season last July — Ryan Dempster and Paul Maholm — the team went on to lose 101 games and claim the No. 2 pick in the draft this year.

Garza and Scott Feldman, who are set to be free agents after the season, are this year’s Dempster and ­Maholm.

Garza knows he’ll be the subject of talks again next month, just one year after the Cubs were a phone call away from trading him to the Texas Rangers until an elbow injury scuttled the deal.

“That’s just the way the game goes,” Garza said. “I’ve been part of trade talks probably my entire career, so it’s nothing new. I’m just getting ready for the next five days and keep doing my part.”

Meanwhile, the Cubs leave New York for the competitive blast furnace of St. Louis, home of the team with the best record in baseball.

“The starting pitching in this division alone is far and above anything else, one through five,” Sveum said. “It used to be one or two guys on a staff. Now you’re dealing with staffs that have three or four guys with two-plus earned run averages. That’s tough to find.”

That kind of depth on the Cardinals and Pittsburgh Pirates is one reason for using the power-pitching, 29-year-old Garza to acquire more young pitching for a chance to compete years from now, rather than trying to win sooner by building around Garza and Jeff Samardzija with less depth.

At least that’s the theory.

It’s no wonder a day like Sunday finally got the best of the usually even-tempered Soriano, who angrily slammed the plate from his post-game meal into the garbage and later appeared to be the cause of a loud crash that could be heard in the clubhouse from the next room.

“I’m not like that, but sometimes I’ve got to let it go because I don’t want to keep it in me,” he said. “I think everybody feels the same.”



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