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Lowered Expectations

By: Ray Joselane

It’s a new year and the Cubs are set to take the field for there first regular season game today against the Atlanta Braves. The expectations are low, but there is a lot to look forward to this season. Let’s take a look at what the Cubs are bringing to the table in 2010.

Starting Rotation

Carlos Silva will go into the season as the 5th starter. This is a guy with a lifetime 4.72 ERA. He has a career record or 60-64 and has pitched 200 innings only twice in 8 seasons. Fortunately, Ted Lilly is set to return in late April and Silva should then be moved to the bullpen.

The rest of the starters include Carlos Zambrano, Ryan Dempster, Randy Wells and Tom Gorzelanny. There are certainly better rotations out there, but once Lilly returns, the Cubs rotation should be respectable.

Zambrano didn’t have his best season in 2009, but previous to that, he had 6 straight season with at least 13 wins. It’s important for Zambrano to bounce back this year for the Cubs to have a chance at the division.

Possibly even more important is Dempster’s season. He had a decent 2009 campaign after a 2008 in which he won 17 games and had an ERA under 3.00. He has certainly shown he has what it takes to be a solid starter in this league and he’s going to need to remain consistent in order to solidify the top of the rotation.

There are a lot of questions going into 2010 about the end of the Cubs rotation. Lilly is coming off of athroscopic surgery on his left shoulder, which is always a scary proposition. His last 7 seasons, Lilly has been the definition of consistency compiling double-digit victories in each. I am optimistic that he will be able to return to form considering he is already ahead of schedule to return.

Randy Wells had a great rookie season. His 12 wins and 3.05 ERA are great signs that we may have come across a gem. However, the league now has a year’s worth of tape to figure out how to go about hitting him. It was an impressive rookie campaign and I think he has what it takes to continue to produce at this level.

I am not really impressed with Gorzelanny, but I think he will be an adequate 5th starter. He had a great year in 2007 with 14 wins and 3.88 ERA, but his last 2 seasons have been somewhat of a disappointment. Although he put up a 7-3 record in 2009, his ERA was above 5.50. In 2008 it was at a dismal 6.66, which he will certainly have to improve on in order to stay in the rotation.

Bullpen

Marmol is slated as the closer, which seems to be due only to the fact that nobody else on this roster has what it takes. His struggles last year were a sad sight after his 2008 campaign and we can only hope he goes back to being that dominant young prospect we saw earlier in his career.

Another young guy who I’m excited to watch this year is Jeff Samardzija. He’s shown signs of dominance before, but his consistency is not where it needs to be. I’m still banking on him eventually becoming a starter. I think this will be a big year for Samardzija in terms of developing his pitches and improving on his accuracy. Hopefully, he can pitch well early and boost his confidence as the year progresses.

I’ve always liked Marshall and consider him a solid reliever, and with fellow lefty John Grabow, the Cubs have some decent options against lefties. The rest of the bullpen is made up of some young guys who still have a lot to prove. If our starters can’t go deep into ballgames, it may be tough to fill those innings.

The Outfield

The Cubs outfield has been much improved over the offseason. There was so much inconsistency last year with Bradley, Fukudome and Soriano. This year that will be remedied with the additions of Marlon Byrd and Xavier Nady. We may also see a lot of prospect Tyler Colvin who made the roster after hitting .468 in the Spring with 2 homers and 4 triples.

Fukudome struggled mightily with lefties and Soriano had too many health injuries last year to consistently make an impact. Bringing in Xavier Nady will no doubt help this situation, as he can play right when a lefty is on the mound as well as spell Soriano in left when need be. Colvin gives the Cubs the depth they need if he can continue his spring training success. Byrd is a career .278 hitter and plays a solid center field, and let’s face it, anything is better than Milton Bradley roaming the outfield.

I think they no doubt improved both offensively and defensively in the outfield which will hopefully make life a little easier on the shallow pitching staff. The depth isn’t amazing, but they seem to have what they need to help make up for the injury and inconsistency problems we saw all throughout the 2009 season.

The Infield

The two mainstays in the infield are Aramis Ramirez and Derrick Lee. You basically assume you’re going to get 25-35 home runs and an average around .300. I’ve always felt Ramirez was one of the better hitters in baseball when healthy, but Ramirez and healthy don’t go together often now a days. The addition of Chad Tracy will allow both of these guys some much needed rest throughout the season.

Manning the middle of the diamond are Ryan Theriot and Mike Fontenot. With Theriot, you’re looking at a guy who will hit .280 and steal 20 bases. Fontenot, on the other hand, is a very inconsistent hitter with a bit of pop. I was very disappointed to find out that the Cubs were not going to find a middle infielder this year and I have a feeling the pitching staff agrees. These two will be very shaky defensively, which will probably lead to quite a few unearned runs this year.

The good news is that we have some young middle infielders that will be starting out in the minors, most notably, shortstop Starlin Castro. He had a great spring batting .433 and both Theriot and Fontenot have to know that if they start out slow, Castro will be ready for his opportunity. In a perfect world, Castro would come in to play SS and Theriot would move back to 2B where he belongs. There is a ton of potential with Castro and I think he will be seen in the Cubs lineup sooner rather than later.

Outlook

There aren’t a lot of people giving the Cubs a chance in 2010. I personally have some pretty low expectations as well, but to me, that’s what excites me about the season. I’ve been watching Cubs baseball for over 20 years now, and I can’t remember a season in which the Cubs have ever produced when my expectations were high. It’s always when there are lower expectations that they surprise you with a playoff run. They definitely have some good pieces and we can only hope that’s enough to give us a surprise in 2010.

1 comment:

  1. I think it will be a complete dog fight in the NL Central this year, anybody can take the division in my opinion it just depends on who gets hot at the right time playing division foes.

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