Great First Lilly Start Bodes Well For Cubs

Cubs will likely need more games like Lilly's home opener

In 2008, the Cubs pitchers walked something of a highwire act for much of the season. Ryan Dempster was oddly brilliant in Wrigley, and struggled outside of it. Carlos Zambrano faded down the stretch, but not enough to cost the Cubs the division. Rich Harden was Rich Harden -- healthy, but always seemingly teetering on the edge of disaster. And then there was Ted Lilly: steady, unspectacular, and occasionally just ugly.

It was a slight regression from Lilly's 2007, in which Lilly's 122 ERA+ and 1.140 WHIP showcased a pitcher suddenly much better than his 2004-2006 seasons in Toronto denoted. And in 2008, Lilly slightly reverted to that form. So which is the real Ted Lilly?

The answer is somewhere in the middle: Lilly is a likable, solid third pitcher. Fortunately for the Cubs, he's their fourth best pitcher, meaning -- theoretically, at least -- that the Cubs don't need to rely on him for ace-level stuff.

The problem with that assessment is that the Cubs' 2008 rotation feels vulnerable. Knock on wood, but Rich Harden is Rich Harden. Carlos Zambrano has logged a ton of innings already in his career. Ryan Dempster's 2008 felt eminently fluky. Maybe none of these injuries or declines will happen. Ernie Banks willing, they won't. But the sinking feeling that they could happen means that Lilly's first start on Monday afternoon -- in which he took a no-hitter into the seventh inning -- all the more exciting. It means, just maybe, small sample size aside, that Lilly could pitch at a level that can make up for whatever theoretical bad things may or may not happen in the future. It's an insurance policy.

Hopefully, the Cubs never have to cash that policy in. But if they do, Lilly's early brilliance is a fantastic sign.

Eamonn Brennan is a Chicago-based writer, editor and blogger. You can also read him at Yahoo! Sports, Mouthpiece Sports Blog, and Inside The Hall, or at his personal site, Follow him on Twitter.

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