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Brewers offer blueprint for Cubs: Go after starting pitching

MILWAUKEE WI - AUGUST 26: StarlCastro #13 Chicago Cubs steps second base after hitting home run during game against Milwaukee

MILWAUKEE, WI - AUGUST 26: Starlin Castro #13 of the Chicago Cubs steps on second base after hitting a home run during the game against the Milwaukee Brewers at Miller Park on August 26, 2011 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. (Photo by Scott Boehm/Getty Images) R:\Merlin\Getty_Photos\122193222.jpg

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Updated: November 4, 2011 12:07PM



MILWAUKEE ­­— Nobody’s going to confuse the Cubs’ lineup with the Milwaukee Brewers’ this year — or the last few years, for that matter.

But when it comes to how quickly the Brewers upgraded a lousy pitching staff into a pennant-contending staff in one winter, the Cubs might want to glance at the blueprint — or at least look across the field Sunday.

Similar to this year’s Cubs staff, which has a 4.53 ERA, 15th in the National League, the 2010 Brewers staff ranked 14th in the NL with a 4.58 ERA that sank them to third in the NL Central, only two games ahead of the Cubs.

But aggressive trades for Shaun Marcum and Zack Greinke — who faces the Cubs on Sunday — are big reasons why the Brewers’ pitching is in the upper half of the league this year and why the Brewers are one of the hottest teams in baseball, running away with the division.

Even fourth starter Randy Wolf, a guy the Cubs went after a few years ago, picked up his 11th win with 62/3 strong innings to beat the Cubs 5-2 at Miller Park on Friday night.

Forget free-agent sluggers such as Albert Pujols or Prince Fielder. With Carlos Zambrano out the door and the starting depth nonexistent heading into September, the Cubs could make a significant difference this winter by getting two healthy, good starters to join Matt Garza, Ryan Dempster and possibly Randy Wells in the rotation.

‘‘I’ve said it from Day 1,’’ manager Mike Qu a de said. ‘‘It’s not rocket science, and it’s not something profound. Everybody in this game knows how important pitching is.’’

That’s one of the reasons the Cubs are quietly holding their breath and hoping for hard-throwing Andrew Cashner’s continued success rehabbing a strained shoulder that has sidelined him almost all season.

Cashner, who transitioned to the rotation this spring, pitched a perfect inning for Class AA Tennessee in his second rehab outing, keeping him on track for a return in another week or so. His fastball is there, and three of the five outs he has recorded in two outings were strikeouts.

‘‘If he comes out of this thing healthy and can build on the development we saw late [in the spring and into his first start] . . . it was a short window, but it was pretty darn good,’’ Quade said. ‘‘And you know he’s going to work to do it. And if he’s healthy, he’s got the arm to do it.

‘‘There’s no reason at all not to be optimistic, to me, that he comes back and is an important part of this. Hell, we thought he was going to be an important part this year for a guy who hadn’t started. And his first start was sure fun to watch, until he broke down.’’

Notes

The Cubs have stolen at least one base in three straight games, one short of their best streak of the season. They went nine games without one to open the season.

Aramis Ramirez doubled in his first at-bat Friday to extend his hitting streak to 15 games. He’s 30-for-58, .517, during the streak.

◆ Top prospect Brett Jackson set a franchise record for Class AAA Iowa on Friday with his fourth leadoff homer.



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