Travis Wood figures in Cubs’ long-term plans
BY BRIAN SANDALOW For Sun-Times Media June 26, 2014 10:16PM
Chicago Cubs starter Travis Wood throws against the Washington Nationals during the first inning of a baseball game in Chicago, Thursday, June 26, 2014. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh) ORG XMIT: OTKNH103
Updated: June 27, 2014 12:23AM
When the Cubs or anybody else look at the first-place Washington Nationals they see a team that has built a powerful rotation, one that’s the envy of most teams in baseball. There’s ace Stephen Strasburg, followed by Jordan Zimmermann, Gio Gonzalez, emerging Tanner Roark and Thursday’s starter Doug Fister.
But when the Cubs take a look at the Nationals, they’ll also see a rotation built in varied ways. Strasburg was the much-ballyhooed first overall pick in the 2009 draft, and the team added Zimmermann in 2007’s second round.
That is where the list of homegrown Nationals starters ends, something that could serve as a lesson to the Cubs and perhaps foreshadow their future. The Nats certainly got a head-start to building their rotation by snagging Strasburg and Zimmermann, but they filled out the rest of the group by trading for Roark in 2010, Gonzalez in 2011, and Fister last offseason. They have a 3.37 ERA as a group and are holding opponents to a .256 average.
That the Nats built the rotation that way should be encouraging to the Cubs, who have pieced together one of the best groups of minor-league hitters, but haven’t seen the pitching prospects progress as well.
That might not be a problem if the Cubs build their rotation with help from the outside via trades. Travis Wood, one example of that, pitched Thursday for the Cubs in their 5-3 victory against the Nationals.
It wasn’t Wood’s best outing. He allowed three runs in 6 2/3 innings while walking five and couldn’t hold a 3-0 lead, but it still was a quality start.
“We need that,” said Justin Ruggiano, whose double in the seventh drove in the Cubs’ last two runs. “Our bullpen’s been worked pretty hard and he did a great job working his pitches, getting out of jams when he needed to and getting double-play balls. It was a typical Travis Wood performance.”
Wood was picked up in 2011 from the Reds for Sean Marshall and has emerged as a potential piece for the future, when Kris Bryant and Javy Baez are expected to provide the offense. He was an All-Star last season, leading the Cubs with 24 quality starts.
Marshall hasn’t done much since leaving Wrigley, similar to how the players the Nats dealt away for their starters haven’t exactly made them regret any of the trades.
Of course, Wood has to show his 2013 season wasn’t his high watermark. This year hasn’t quite been like the last one, though his 77-39 strikeout-walk ratio entering play Thursday was similar to last season’s 144-66 numbers. Through Wood’s 16 starts, he allowed nine home runs, not far off the pace he was on last year when he gave up 18 in 200 innings.
June has also seen Wood recover from a tough May when he had a 6.62 ERA.
“Every day’s different,” Wood said. “Just got to take it in stride, learn from your last start and get after it. By the end of the year we’ll be there. We’ll be there.”
That would be a boon to the Cubs, now and in the future. If and when Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel are dealt, Wood will be looked to for leadership in the rotation. That would also be a positive sign for years to come, when the Cubs are looking to add during the season and not make deals with the future in mind.