How important is starting pitching? The Cubs and D-backs know.
The two teams open a four-game series Monday night at Wrigley Field, and their statistics tell an interesting story. The D-backs' starting pitchers are last in the National League in ERA, one of the reasons they are sitting at the bottom of the National League West standings.
"I'm pretty sure they're going to turn it around," Dodgers pitcher Dan Haren said of his former team. "I think the rotation has struggled up to this point. Pitching can be just as contagious as hitting. You get a couple bad starts in a row and guys get in a funk. I've seen it before. The lineup from top to bottom is too good. They're going to score enough runs and the pitching is going to get better."
The Cubs' starting pitchers rank 10th in the NL in ERA and have kept the team in games. Chicago has struggled offensively and has been shut out four times this season, including twice at Yankee Stadium on Wednesday, and appears to be falling into the same pattern as last year. Players disagree.
"This year, it's closer in every game, more intensity in every game," shortstop Starlin Castro said. "We've got energy in the dugout that we can tie the game or win the game."
Both the D-backs and Cubs have had a hard time scoring. Arizona ranks 13th in the NL with runners in scoring position (.201); Chicago is 14th (.197). Only the Padres are worse at .193.
Travis Wood and Bronson Arroyo get the series started Monday. The Cubs know Arroyo well from his days with the Reds and Pirates. In his career, the right-hander has a 13-10 record and 2.91 ERA against Chicago, and is 8-3 with a 2.83 ERA in 15 games at Wrigley Field.
Arroyo signed with the D-backs a few days after Spring Training camp opened, which put him slightly behind the others. He missed a few spring games because of a bulging disc in his back but was ready for the start of the season, even though his pitch count was limited.
Arroyo knows something about pitching.
"We have five guys that are all similar to me," the right-hander said. "We need to be on top of our game, we need a little luck to go our way and we need to feel good physically and we need to feel dialed in mentally about what we're doing out on the field. If we can do that consistently enough then you look at the whole picture and say these guys did their job."
He was not happy with his last outing against the Mets in which he gave up nine runs on 10 hits over 3 1/3 innings and took the loss.
Wood is still looking for his first win of the season. The lefty held the Yankees to two runs on 11 hits over 5 2/3 innings in his last start. But the Cubs were shut out, and stranded 14 base runners Sunday in an 8-2 loss to the Reds.
"I will be the last one to panic," Cubs manager Rick Renteria said. "Offenses come and go. What I'm really happy with is our pitching has been doing a great job for us, especially our starting pitching."
The highlight of the series may be Wednesday's matchup between Jeff Samardzija and lefty Wade Miley. That day also is Wrigley Field's 100th anniversay, and both teams will wear throwback uniforms with the Cubs sporting the Chi-Feds retro outfits.
Cubs: Leadoff man
Emilio Bonifacio is the sparkplug for the Cubs offense. He has eight multihit games out of the team's 17 played. Last season, it took Bonifacio 47 games to record his eighth multihit game.
"The leadoff hitter for any ballclub is important and I think he's been doing a pretty nice job," Renteria said of Bonifacio, who starts either at second base or in center field. "He gives us the flexibility to use him in different positions when need be."
The other hot hitter for the Cubs is Anthony Rizzo, who went 2-for-3 on Sunday and has hit safely in seven of his last eight home games. He's batting .484 at Wrigley Field this year.
D-backs: Old school Arroyo
Arroyo likes to joke that he doesn't like change, which is why he still has an old flip phone rather than a smart phone.
That apparently includes his choice of luggage.
Arroyo travels with a vintage 1950s suitcase similar to the ones that Pearl Jam's Eddie Vedder has made famous. He bought five of the suitcases a number of years ago and uses them rather than the leather bags his teammates prefer.
• D-backs outfielder A.J. Pollock was forced to leave Sunday's 4-1 loss to the Dodgers in the sixth inning after he experienced tightness on the left side of his neck. Pollock experienced a similar issue on the right side of his neck in Denver earlier this year, and he did not have to miss any time.
• Rizzo and Starlin Castro rank among the National League leaders in home batting average.
"Their two-strike approaches are pretty good," Renteria said of Rizzo and Castro. "Riz in particular with two strikes is choking up a little now and trying not to be so pull conscious and takes what they give him. It's more of a mindset. You have to make an adjustment and as you improve as big league players, you know there are things you have to work on. "He's come to a conclusion that some of the things he's doing are helping him. With offense, there are peaks and valleys to them, but so far, he's had a consistent approach."
Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. She writes a blog, Muskat Ramblings, and you can follow her on Twitter @CarrieMuskat. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.