04/10/12 1:27 AM ET
Cubs pitchers providing quality and quantity
By Carrie Muskat / MLB.com
The last time Chicago had three straight quality starts to begin a season was 2001, when Jon Lieber, Kerry Wood and Kevin Tapani did so against the Expos.
The streak ended on Monday, as Chris Volstad lasted only five innings, allowing three runs in a 7-5 loss to the Brewers.
"That's a big strength of our team is the starting pitching," Cubs manager Dale Sveum said. "You knew what you were going to get from Dempster and Garza, and for Samardzija to throw the ball like that was beyond any of our expectations. We knew he had a good spring, besides one hiccup, and [Sunday] it was phenomenal the way he threw the ball and located and got ahead in the counts."
On Sunday, Samardzija went 8 2/3 innings against the Nationals and picked up the win in the longest outing of his career.
"It's impressive," Sveum said of his starters. "We all know that's not going to happen on a daily basis."
There's also some friendly ribbing.
"We have such a good bunch of guys," Sveum said. "It's the way they compete -- and sometimes you do compete against each other, whether it's hitting in [batting practice] or stuff. There's a lot of trash talking. It's fun to listen to them."
On the flip side, the Cubs bullpen has not gotten much work, totaling 4 2/3 innings in three games. It's been 26 years since the bullpen was called so infrequently to open a season. In 1985, Cubs relievers totaled 4 1/3 innings in the first three games.
"You play 162 games and your starters go seven [innings] plus, some guys won't have too many innings when the season's over," Sveum said. "Those days are coming [when relievers are needed]. There's 159 games left and plenty of time for that to happen and it will. You do have to give them some work and give other guys days off. It's a long season."
Facing Crew, Sveum the perfect Cubs scout
CHICAGO -- The Cubs didn't need to tap into their advanced scouting system for the four-game series against the Brewers. All they had to do was ask manager Dale Sveum, who took over the scouting report.
"I did most of it, to tell you the truth," Sveum said Monday. "It was pretty easy to go over the scouting report and I might have given some people a series off that way. I was able to handle the whole deal."
Sveum was on the Brewers coaching staff for six seasons, including the last three as the hitting coach, before taking the Cubs job last November.
But the Brewers still caught the Cubs somewhat by surprise, successfully executing a suicide squeeze and a sacrifice bunt to score two of their runs in a 7-5 victory at Wrigley Field on Monday.
"I think it definitely gives you an edge, but the bottom line is you still have to make your pitches," Sveum said. "With the video equipment you have, you get to know people as well as I do. I know the insights and the mental part of people -- what the video doesn't show -- and I think that will benefit us. You still have to execute the pitches and execute the plan and sequence of the pitches."
Aramis Ramirez, now with the Brewers after nine years with the Cubs, did his part and sat in on the Milwaukee pitchers' meeting.
Sveum and the Cubs did face the Brewers in Spring Training, but said this is different.
"These games count," Sveum said.
There is a big difference in the Brewers lineup with the departure of Prince Fielder, who signed with the Tigers.
"They're extremely different," Sveum said. "You take the one big left-handed bat out of the lineup who had been a staple there for six years. Mat Gamel is capable of doing a lot of good things, but there's only one Prince Fielder. The threat that guy brings every day and hitting behind [Ryan Braun] all the time is huge for Braun, too.
"They replace him with Aramis Ramirez, so it becomes a little easier," Sveum said. "Not that [Ramirez] can't put up the numbers, but it's easier to go through right-handed hitters than left-handed hitters."
Soriano making strong case for the defense
CHICAGO -- Alfonso Soriano has been playing so well in the field that Cubs manager Dale Sveum didn't lift him in the late innings on Sunday. Soriano made a nice running catch of Adam LaRoche's fly ball to end the fourth.
"That's because of all the work in Spring Training with [coach] Dave McKay," Soriano said Monday of his improved jumps. "I feel so comfortable in left field and I hope to continue to feel comfortable over there."
McKay has emphasized being in the right position and doing so has made it easier for Soriano to get to balls. In the past, it's been a little bit of an adventure for Soriano in left field.
"The positioning, and because my legs feel loose," Soriano said about why he's playing better. "I can run fast now and not worry that I'm going to run and pull a hamstring. The work I've done with McKay makes me feel comfortable out there."
On Monday, Soriano, 36, was talking to hitting coach Rudy Jaramillo around the cage. But the left fielder knows the hits will come. He went 1-for-4 in Monday's loss to the Brewers.
"I've focused more on defense this year because I have a new coach and I think he knows what he's doing," Soriano said.
CHICAGO -- Cubs infielder Blake DeWitt, scratched from Sunday's lineup because of back spasms, was able to return on Monday and delivered a pinch-hit sacrifice fly in the fifth inning.
"It's not great, but he's able to play," Cubs manager Dale Sveum said. "He's much better than [Sunday]."
DeWitt said he felt the spasms during batting practice on Sunday.
When Chris Volstad took the mound on Monday, he became the 1,900th player to appear in at least one regular-season game for the Cubs franchise since its inception in 1876. Lendy Castillo made his Major League debut in the eighth and became No. 1,901.
Starlin Castro went 0-for-5 to end his streak of reaching base safely at 43 games. It's the second longest streak in Cubs history behind Riggs Stephenson, who reached safely in 44 straight games in 1928.
"A lot of things he does is amazing," Darwin Barney said of Castro. "He's definitely one of the most talented guys I've played next to, or with. Start the next one. He's not the kind of guy who it's going to get to him or hurt his morale. He'll come out tomorrow and get a couple hits and help us out."
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.