Pitching is always something you remember. Teams rise and fall on the backs of their pitchers. No Red Sox fan will soon forget the sight of Curtis Schilling pitching to victory in the World Series while blood soaked his socks.
I, as a Cubs fan will not soon forget the looks of total defeat on the face of Carlos Zambrano while the Los Angeles Dodgers celebrated their series sweep of the Cubs in the background.
After a century of defeat the slogan of “there’s always next year” is entrenched in the mind of Cubs Nation. Well, next year is around the corner and as spring training starts eyes will be on our beloved Cubbies to see if they have what it takes.
No part of the roster will be under more scrutiny than the starting pitchers, whom we place so much of our faint hope on.
Carlos Zambrano is our ace. The towering Venezuelan has been the face of the Cub’s pitching staff for years now, and not without good reason. He went 14-6 last year (an injury played a part in this subpar total) and is always a contender for twenty wins. Zambrano also had a regular season total of 130 strikeouts.
As an added bonus the guy can hit. In one memorable game last year he shut down the opposing team’s offense and homered for the game winning RBI. As the star of the pitching staff much rests on Zambrano’s shoulders.
If he can keep his emotions in check and stay healthy he should have a stellar season.
Next up is Rich Harden, a late-season acquisition for the Cubs during the 2008 season. Harden was very impressive, obtaining a 10-2 record and 181 strikeouts. We will be sure to see a lot more of Harden this year, and that is nothing but a good thing as he was one of our most consistent starters last season.
Harden is amazing statistically and can be counted on to win games.
Ryan Dempster has been with the Cubs for several years now, but only recently cracked the rotation as a starter. I have never had much faith in Dempster as he seems to tend towards erratic throws and loss of focus.
He was easily the worst of the Cubs pitching we saw during the playoffs, though with the lack of production from the offense, one can only blame him so much. Still, after compiling a 17-6 record with 187 strikeouts Dempster is definitely on the way to earning trust.
Another new face in the Cubs lineup during the 2007-08 season was that of Theodore Roosevelt Lilly. Every time I saw Lilly pitch I was impressed. A lefty, Lilly’s motion is very fluid yet suddenly ends with a snap that I can never see coming.
Luckily for the Cubs, I am not the only one confused by his mechanics, as opposing batters join me in this category. Lilly’s record last year was 17-9, accompanied by 184 strikeouts.
Listed in the final spot of the rotation is lefty Sean Marshall. I didn’t see much of Marshall last year (due to his lack of play) and what I did see was not very comforting. Marshall’s record was 3-5, something hardly fitting with a starting pitcher. To be honest, I don’t see Marshall in the starting rotation much longer.
Newcomer Aaron Heilman was recently acquired in this offseason and is rumored to be in contention for a starting job. However, his stats were not that great last year and at age 30 he will be challenged to beat out the younger pitchers for a spot in the rotation (the only starters over 30, Lilly and Dempster, were two of the Cubs strongest pitchers last season).
Another possibility to join the starters is 24-year-old Jeff Samardzija whose play was excellent in relief work during the latter half of the season. Samardzija was very popular with fans and has youth on his side. Samardzija, in twenty-six appearances, only allowed twenty-four hits while amassing twenty-five strikeouts.
That’s a brief look at the men who will be leading the Cubs to a season that we hope will be anything but brief. Here’s hoping that they make this year THE year!