>Now this is where the post gets a little long. I’ll of course break it up into starters and bullpen guys to make it easier for everybody. Some of the guys might be fluctuating between the two so let’s do this!
The Cubs have a solid top three in Matt Garza, Ryan Dempster and Carlos Zambrano. After a club-record six consecutive Opening Day starts, Zambrano is not slated to be the Opening Day starter, Dempster is. And with his performance over the last three years, he has earned it. Three years ago, the Cubs made Dempster a starting pitcher for the second time in his career. Between the 2004-2007 seasons, Dempster was used primarily as a reliever, saving over 24 games three years in a row. Despite his 15-12 record a season ago, it is easy to say that he was the most consistent pitcher the team had the entire season. His 208 strikeouts were good for seventh overall in the National League. If the Cubs can continue to get 4.8 runs or more per game in Dempster’s games, that win total can climb even higher.
The Cubs are hoping that Carlos Zambrano’s days of angry tirades are behind him. If that is true, that has yet to be seen, but if he resembles the player that came back from a suspension at the end of last season, he may be the ‘Big Z’ Cubs fans have been looking for these past couple years. Over the last month and a half of the 2010 season, Zambrano went 8-0, giving up two runs or less in all 11 starts he made. The talent has always been there with Big Z. What has driven everyone crazy though, has been Zambrano’s personality. If he is able to control himself, he is capable of great things. But until he can do that for an entire season, he will just be another player who never fulfilled his potential.
Matt Garza came over in a trade with the Rays on January 8th. Garza is a player who has pitched against some of the best players in the game, while in the AL East. In fact, he earned ALCS MVP honors in 2008, a year the Rays went to the World Series. Last season saw Garza put up some of the best numbers of his career, picking up a career-best 15 wins. His 3.91 ERA was the second-lowest in his career (of starting at least 20 games). He also struck out 150 batters. What can be troubling for the Cubs is that he gave up the most home runs in his career, 28, in 2010.
Despite what the incumbent fourth and fifth starters Randy Wells and Carlos Silva may think, they are not guaranteed spots in the 2011 rotation. They are fighting at least three others, Braden Looper, Andrew Cashner and James Russell, for those last two spots. Wells regressed in his sophomore campaign by going 8-14, compared to his 12-10 record his rookie campaign. His ERA went up almost a run and a half too. The Cubs hope that a third-year bounce back is in place. Silva started out the season amazingly. Starting the season 5-0, it looked as if Silva could be a diamond in the rough. Unfortunately, he went 5-6 the rest of the season. He is another hot-head and has already had an incident in the third spring training game where he had an argument with a teammate in the dugout.
Cashner, Looper and Russell are each good enough to be used as swingmen between the lineup and the bullpen. Looper was a life-long reliever until the Cardinals converted him into a starter in 2007 and he has started at least 30 games every year since. He didn’t play last season, however. Cashner made his name as a closer in college at TCU, but was drafted to be as a starter by the Cubs. However, when he made his debut with the team last season, he was sent to the bullpen. Because of his power arm, he has the ability to be a top of the rotation guy or a closer.
The 2011 bullpen is highlighted by Carlos Marmol and the return of Kerry Wood. In his first season as a full-time closer, Marmol racked up 38 saves in 43 opportunities. He has some of the nastiest stuff people have seen in the sport and that is something that he has used to his advantage. His 16 K/9 IP is a ridiculous stat. Last season he had 138 strikeouts and also finished with a league-high 70 games finished.
Kerry Wood returns to the Cubs two years years after leaving as a free agent. He split last season, playing with both the Yankees and Indians at some points of the year. Wood returns to a city he has loved since day one and that was highlighted by the lesser deal he took to come back. He comes back as a setup man and the role seems to suit him as he gets older. The Cubs just need him to be a stable force at the back of their bullpen and who knows, if Marmol gets injured or starts to struggle, the team knows they have a player who has excelled in the closer role in the past.
For the first three or four years of Sean Marshall’s career, the Cubs saw him as a starter. Unfortunately, he never panned out in that role and has been a key member of the bullpen the last two years. Last year, he was the main setup man for Marmol and that role fit him perfectly. 2010 saw him put up the best numbers of his career, as he had career-lows in ERA (2.65), strikeouts (90), batting average against (.210) and held left-handers to a .196 average.
The rest of the bullpen will be made up of those who don’t make the rotation and youngsters. So the bullpen might also include Russell, Cashner, Silva, Wells and Casey Coleman. This is essentially a make it or break it year for Jeff Samardzija, who the Cubs gave a big contract to get him from going to the NFL. He hasn’t lived up to expectations thus far.