Nobody knows for sure whether the Cubs’ season would’ve turned out differently if their starting pitching had stayed intact. Before their 3-0 loss Sunday to the Marlins that prevented a Cubs sweep, manager David Ross mused about the topic.
‘‘I think the main thing I want to say is I wish they were healthy all year,’’ Ross quipped. ‘‘This is what we knew we were missing. These guys are really good major-league pitchers. It’s nice to have them back.’’
Marcus Stroman and Drew Smyly have made five starts since coming off the injured list in July, and the rotation has been boosted by the improvement of Justin Steele and Keegan Thompson. Even without Kyle Hendricks (strained right shoulder), who is on the IL and might miss the rest of the season, and Wade Miley (strained left shoulder), who is on the IL but is scheduled to throw a bullpen session Tuesday, the Cubs have been able to put together strong outings.
‘‘Everybody’s doing their part,’’ Ross said. ‘‘I thought our pitching’s been our strength. Our bullpen was our strength for a long time. We’ve lost some of those guys, and now the starters are picking up that role where those bullpen guys have left off.’’
Adrian Sampson posted the Cubs’ eighth quality start since July 16, but their offense mustered only two hits against Marlins starter Jesus Luzardo and two relievers. Sampson yielded three runs in six innings, allowing a two-run home run to Jacob Stallings and a solo shot to Peyton Burdick on back-to-back pitches in the fifth.
Sampson also learned a valuable lesson from Stallings’ homer: Don’t shake off the catcher. Having thrown consecutive sliders to start the at-bat, Sampson wanted to deliver another one and shook off Yan Gomes four or five times.
The result wasn’t what the Cubs wanted.
‘‘It was on me,’’ Sampson said. ‘‘I wanted to throw it. Just didn’t execute the pitch.’’
Despite that blip, the Cubs’ rotation seems to be clicking. Sampson’s ERA actually rose to 3.83, and Stroman’s 4.00 is the highest among the five current starters.
‘‘You’ve got to be super-competitive in this game, and we have a lot of good starters here,’’ Sampson said.
Sampson said Stroman contributes not only with his pitching but with his energy and the way he fires up his teammates. Sampson also relished seeing Smyly get his first victory at Wrigley with the Cubs on Saturday.
‘‘All that little stuff, just kind of bouncing off each other little ideas you see here and there, watching each other’s bullpens and all that kind of stuff,’’ Sampson said. ‘‘We’ve just got to finish up strong for the next two months.’’
The Cubs’ offense would like to do the same, but it struggled against Luzardo.
‘‘A pretty good guy,’’ Ross said. ‘‘You watch some of the replays, pretty nasty stuff. Just tip your cap.’’
The Cubs’ lone baserunner through the first 4 2⁄3 innings was Seiya Suzuki, who reached when shortstop Joey Wendle let a grounder go through his legs with two outs in the first. Gomes’ single with two outs in the fifth was the Cubs’ only hit against Luzardo during his seven innings.
Nick Madrigal’s single in the ninth against closer Tanner Scott was the Cubs’ second — and last — hit. The Cubs scored only six runs in the series.
‘‘They pitched well,’’ Ross said of the Marlins. ‘‘They’ve got a good staff. They pitched well this series. We were able to take two out of three, but [Sunday] we just weren’t able to capitalize [with] too many runs and try to help Sampson out.’’