By Matt Abbatacola-

CHICAGO (CBS) Lately, the Cubs have looked like the team that Tom Ricketts, Jim Hendry, and Mike Quade envisioned when they began the 2011 season.

They hit ten home runs in the final three games of the Pittsburgh series. Tuesday night alone, the team hit six homers – tying a single-game record on the road.

The Cubs are 8-5 in their last 13 games. They are .500 since the All-Star break going 10-10. After 102 games, a 56-56 record would put the Cubs in 3rd place in the N.L. Central and six games back of the Milwaukee Brewers.

Now I understand that a .500 record is nothing to get excited about, but it’s right about where most “experts” expected the Cubs to be at the end of the season.

So what’s been the big difference? The starting pitching – in particular, Matt Garza, Carlos Zambrano, and Ryan Dempster.

I stated from Spring Training that this team could compete for the Central if they had consistent quality pitching from the top three arms in their rotation.

In their last 20 games – since the break – Cubs starters have 13 quality starts going 9-4 with an ERA of 1.90 in those starts.

Matt Garza in five starts since the break is 1-1 with an ERA of 2.41 with 30 strikeouts, 13 walks, and 4 quality starts.

Dempster: 2-2 4.70 27K 5BB with 3 quality starts in 4 games

Zambrano: 2-2 5.01 17K 10BB with 3 quality starts in 4 games

If the Cubs are going to finish strong this season, they’ll need the same quality pitching from their “big 3”.

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