CINCINNATI -- Despite shuffling players in and out, third base has been a productive position for the Cubs this season, exceeding the expectations of manager Dale Sveum.
"We have 28 home runs at third base this year," Sveum said. "That's probably top five in all of baseball, as far as production goes at that position."
Sveum is correct in that assumption, as Cubs third basemen entered Wednesday's series finale against the Reds ranked fourth in the Majors in home runs, thanks in part to Donnie Murphy's 10th blast of the season in Tuesday's 9-1 victory over the Reds. Along with Murphy, Luis Valbuena has connected on 11 home runs, while Cody Ransom chipped in with seven before he was designated for assignment on Sunday.
The home runs have helped make up for a .233 batting average for Chicago third basemen before Wednesday. Perhaps as importantly, so has their defense.
Between Murphy (four), Valbuena (five) and Ransom (six), the trio has combined for 15 errors at third base. By comparison, four third basemen (the Bucs' Pedro Alvarez, the Nationals' Ryan Zimmerman, Conor Gillaspie of the White Sox and the Giants' Pablo Sandoval ) have individually committed more miscues than that this season.
"It's one of those things where, industry-wide, there aren't a whole lot of [quality third basemen] out there right now," Sveum said. "When you can platoon and get the defense and the production we've gotten out of Valbuena and Ransom and Murphy, that's all you can ask for, because they've played really good defense, as well.
"Run prevention and hitting 28 home runs, that's a nice little asset to have. It's nice that all three of those guys have been two-way players all year."
Cubs' pitching staff better this year than last
CINCINNATI -- As the number of games left on the schedule dwindles, Cubs manager Dale Sveum has been able to evaluate how different players and positions have performed throughout the season. Before Wednesday's series finale against the Reds, Sveum rated his pitchers, and the review was generally favorable.
"There's a lot of things that are involved, but on the whole, the pitching has been basically average to above average," Sveum said. "Our starters have been pretty good for most of the year."
Prior to right-hander Jeff Samardzija taking the hill on Wednesday at Great American Ball Park, the Cubs had delivered 81 quality starts this season. That mark placed fifth in the National League, easily surpassing the team's total of 73 during the 2012 campaign, which ranked second-to-last in the NL.
The first two games of this week's series in Cincinnati were an example of Chicago's starting pitching at its best, as Travis Wood and Edwin Jackson combined to allow one run on 15 hits over 14 innings. They also didn't surrender a walk against the team that led the NL in free passes entering Wednesday (517).
As for the bullpen, Sveum has been pleased to see improvement. After Chicago relievers gave up 245 earned runs in 491 innings last season (4.49 ERA), the Cubs' bullpen entered Wednesday having allowed just 190 earned runs in 414 innings (4.13 ERA), with 18 games left to play.
"Still have some ups and downs here and there," Sveum said of his bullpen. "But it's a heck of a lot more consistent than it was last year or the beginning of the year."
• With his two hits in Tuesday's 9-1 win over the Reds, outfielder Junior Lake entered Wednesday leading all rookies in hits (60) since the All-Star break.
• With Jeff Samardzija having already set a career high with 189 innings pitched this season before Wednesday's start, Cubs manager Dale Sveum said he's looking forward to seeing how the 28-year-old right-hander finishes.
"He's in uncharted waters now in the big leagues as far as pitching the last month and the grind of the whole season, and knowing you're not getting shut down and knowing there's four more starts," Sveum said. "I don't care who you are, the body starts wearing down, and when you've never done that before -- you've never been there -- it takes a little toll."
Jeremy Warnemuende is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.