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Blame pitchers for Cubs’ struggles

Cubs Manager Mike Quade has an animated discussiwith umpire crew as game is delayed because raseventh inning Cubs-Mets game Wednesday

Cubs Manager Mike Quade has an animated discussion with the umpire crew as the game is delayed because of rain in the seventh inning of the Cubs-Mets game Wednesday May 25, 2011 at Wrigley Field. | Tom Cruze~Sun-Times

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Boxscore: Cubs 9, Mets 3
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Updated: October 16, 2011 12:16AM

Enough with the Cubs’ lack of home runs, already.

That’s not why they’re in fifth place in the National League Central or why their record is worse this year than it was at the same point during the ugly 2010 season.

The reason the Cubs turned green quicker than the ivy this year is because of the kind of terrible team pitching on display Wednesday.

In a rain-abbreviated 7-4 loss to the New York Mets on a cold, blustery night, the hitters shouldn’t have stood much of a chance.

But Casey Coleman blew a 4-1 lead when he couldn’t get out of the second inning, and Justin Berg became the first guy in five years to throw 12 pitches, all for balls, when he took over (matching the feat of former Cubs prospect Sergio Mitre of the Florida Marlins in ’06).

For the first time since 1989, the Cubs needed three pitchers to get through the first two innings.

But this is a staff-wide problem that transcends this game and the injuries to starting pitchers.

Those injuries are getting a disproportionate amount of attention and blame for a team ERA (4.69) that took over last place in the National League on Wednesday night — and a starting-rotation ERA (5.60) that already ranked last in the majors.

So the Cubs’ brass should forget the hugs and handshakes for Albert Pujols and start embracing the idea of spending some free-agent money on pitching next winter.

‘‘We’re inconsistent as a son of a gun, and we were again tonight,’’ said manager Mike Quade, who argued to keep playing when umpire Dale Scott called for the tarp with two outs in the top of the seventh.

‘‘It’s just tough to put things together when that’s the case.’’

Meanwhile, there’s no sense blaming the hitters for what’s wrong.

As homer-hungry Aramis Ramirez said recently, ‘‘We ain’t going to hit a lot of home runs. We don’t have that kind of team. But I think we can get some guys on base, and we should hit, and we should be in every game.’’

Like Wednesday, when they rapped around unbeaten Dillon Gee for four runs in the first inning.

Consider that this was already the Cubs’ 11th loss when they score four or more runs, four more than at this same point last season.

To give an idea how different the pitchers are performing this year, that’s already one more than they had at the All-Star break during their last winning season (2009) — and only three short of their entire season total the last time they made the playoffs, in 2008.

In fact, the top of the order is getting on base better than any other team in baseball. And the relative offensive numbers are better than a year ago: The Cubs are fifth in the NL in slugging, third in on-base percentage and second in hitting. They’ve scored more runs than 10 other teams in the league.

As Quade has said repeatedly, ‘‘It starts with pitching.’’

Or ends there, as the case might be.

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