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Levine: Cubs Not Surprised By Better Play As They Take The Next Step

By Bruce Levine-

(CBS) In case you haven't been paying attention, the Chicago Cubs have had one of the best records in the National League since the end of July.

For a team that set a franchise record for losses over the previous two seasons, this appears to be time for Cubs fans to start thinking about better days ahead. Since coming on the scene in October 2011, president of baseball operations Theo Epstein and his front office have been trading veterans, drafting high and signing international players.

What they said they were building for is a sustained approach to establishing a winning franchise for the next 8-10 seasons.

They've made a number of solid trades, in recent years with the Texas Rangers and Baltimore Orioles. The Cubs have brought some important pitchers who have improved into the organization. The new executives wanted to move away from veteran pitchers who had or were about to enter their late-20s and early-30s. The road hasn't been an easy one for the baseball department, as it hasn't had the money to spend on free agents.

There have been some isolated exceptions where the Cubs stepped up to try and add an ace (such as efforts at outbidding clubs for Masahiro Tanaka and Anibel Sanchez that came up short). The Cubs are a large-market team that is charging the third-highest ticket prices for what has been one of the worst products in baseball. That money has now been put aside, and perception has begun to change. With position players of quality making their way to Clark and Addison, the next area of need will be addressed -- the pitching staff.

The road to a championship is hardly a complete process for the Cubs at this juncture. The team's present group of starters includes only two pitchers who have ever thrown 200 innings in a season (Edwin Jackson last did it in 2009 and Travis Wood in 2013).

"If you have to rely on your bullpen every single day, it is pretty tough," said Cubs manager Rickey Renteria, who was forced to use eight bullpen pitchers for most of the season in order to protect young arms. "You would love to have those one, two and three pitchers in order to eat up those innings and go deep into games. (I'm) hopeful that is the direction we are moving in. I believe we are."

Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer said at the trading deadline that Chicago will be focused over the next 18-24 months on adding and developing pitching in the organization. A chase at free agent-to-be Jon Lester might well be the first big move that is made as the Cubs begin their quest for quality and quantity moving foward.

Bruce Levine covers the Cubs and White Sox for 670 The Score and Follow him on Twitter @MLBBruceLevine.

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