Sizing Up the Chicago Cubs Against the NL Central: Starting Rotation

Josh TollesonCorrespondent IMarch 31, 2009

CHICAGO - JUNE 20: Starting pitcher Ted Lilly #30 of the Chicago Cubs delivers the ball against the Chicago White Sox on June 20, 2008 at Wrigley Field in Chicago, Illinois. The Cubs defeated the White Sox 4-3. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

We continue sizing up the Chicago Cubs against the NL Central, focusing on the Starting Rotations. To the naked eye, the Cubs appear to easily have the best rotation. Before we crown the Cubs as having the best rotation, let's examine each rotation in the division.

I'd like to add that we shouldn't put too much stock into which rotation spot each pitcher holds. Sure, it's great to be be the No. 2 pitcher as opposed to the No. 5, but ultimately rotations get shaken up and, in 98 percent of the cases, the matchups very seldom include 5 vs 5, 3 vs 3, etc.

Like I've mentioned in previous articles, I'm basing the rotations off's depth charts. These may not be the official rotations come opening day, but for now, I'll go by's projected rotations.

First Spot

Cubs- Carlos Zambrano
Astros- Roy Oswalt
Cardinals- Adam Wainwright
Brewers- Yovani Gallardo
Reds- Aaron Harang
Pirates- Paul Maholm

There are several compelling storylines amongst the staff aces. Will Zambrano finally put together a Cy Young season? Will Aaron Harang return to 2007 form? How in the world will Yovani Gallardo fair against departing Brewer ace CC Sabathia?

  • Easily a top-10 pitcher in the game, Roy Oswalt has anchored the Astros staff since his rookie campaign in 2001, earning 129 wins in that span. Oswalt has quietly been perhaps the most consistent pitcher of the decade. Despite injuries along the way, Oswalt has shown no signs of slowing down and many predict Oswalt will win the Cy Young this season.
  • Looking to prove he's worthy of anchoring the Cardinals' staff, Wainwright hopes health will not be an issue in 2009. His career highlight includes earning the save in the World Series clincher in 2006. If the Cardinals expect to compete this season, Wainwright will have to play a big part.
  • Coming off a terrible ACL injury suffered in Wrigley last season, Gallardo looks to live up to all the hype surrounding him in Milwaukee. There's no doubt, Gallardo has ace "stuff," but it remains to be seen if he can translate it onto the pitchers mound. Needless to say, don't expect Sabathia-like numbers.
  • What a difference two seasons can make. Nobody knows this to be true more than Harang. He was the toast of the town in 2007, going 16-6 with a 3.73 ERA and striking out 218 batters. The toast quickly burnt in 2008, however, as Harang turned in a stinker: 6-17 record, 4.78 ERA. 2009 will be a critical year in Harang's career.
  • Hey, you could be a Major League ace, just pitch for the Pittsburgh Pirates! Okay that was crude, perhaps, but it reflects the state of Pirates baseball. Maholm is clearly not an ace, but finds himself the top dog in Steeler country. There's a possibility he could be trade bait at the trading deadline.
  • The only true competition for Oswalt in this group, Zambrano has shown flashes of greatness. Astro fans can attest to this, as their club fell victim to a Zambrano no-hitter last season. Cub fans never know what to expect for Big Z. Will he dominate for an entire season? Or will he have valleys and peaks like previous seasons?

My Rank: Oswalt, Zambrano, Wainwright, Gallardo, Harang, Maholm

Second Spot

Cubs- Ted Lilly
Astros- Wandy Rodriguez
Cardinals- Kyle Lohse
Brewers- Dave Bush
Reds- Edinson Volquez
Pirates- Ian Snell

Plenty of potential aces and up and coming stars. It'd be tough to find a more impressive group of lefty starters. Will Volquez repeat his '08 dominance? Can Bush and Rodriguez provide over 200 innings?

  • Many experts predict Rodriguez will have a breakout year in 2009. He'll need to pitch more innings, only average five-plus innings in 25 starts last season. Despite pitching in a hitter-friendly ballpark, Rodriguez had an impressive 2.99 ERA in 81 innings pitched at Minute Maid. With a depleted Astros bullpen, Rodriguez must eat up as many innings as possible.
  • Once viewed as the future ace of the Minnesota Twins, Lohse's career has been a roller coaster. 2008 was a career year for Lohse. With a 15-6 record, Lohse was the horse of the Cardinals' rotation, pitching 200 innings. In order for the Cardinals to have a shot at October, Lohse will have to duplicate his '08 success.
  • 2008 was a tough year to be a Bush. Obviously, George W. Bush endured plenty of criticism in his final year of office, and Brewer start Dave Bush had a tough luck season in Milwaukee. Despite a respectable 4.18 ERA in nearly 200 innings pitched, Bush endured a 9-10 record. There's word Bush could wind up as the fifth starter, but if he can improve off last season's serviceable stats, he'll become a hero in the land of cheese.
  • The next superstar ace? Or the latest one and done? Red fans realize their 2009 campaign weighs heavily on the power arm of Edinson Volquez. The 25 year old phenom was a beast last season, striking out 206 in 196 innings while earning 17 wins on a struggling Reds ball club. If Volquez surpasses his '08 numbers, watch out for the Reds come September.
  • Snell is a solid young arm stuck in a hopeless situation in Pittsburgh. If he pitched anywhere but Pittsburgh or Washington, Snell would be highly regarded by most. Look for Snell to be the most consistent arm in Pittsburgh and maybe, for his sake, he'll be dealt to a contender.
  • Remember those critics who claim the Cubs overpaid for Lilly a few offseasons ago? What happened to those people? Lilly has been everything Cub fans have hoped for and much much more. I have a concern of a potential-WBC effect, but Lilly is likely to put those doubts to rest with a solid '09 season.

My Rank:Volquez, Lilly, Rodriguez, Lohse, Snell, Bush

Third Spot

Cubs- Ryan Dempster
Astros- Mike Hampton
Cardinals- Todd Wellemeyer
Brewers- Jeff Suppan
Reds- Bronson Arroyo
Pirates- Zach Duke

  • Talk about a diverse group. You have a injury-proned veteran looking to pitch an entire season (Hampton), two studs who must return to form in order for their teams to compete (Arroyo & Suppan), two young guns who are due for all star-caliber years (Duke & Wellemeyer) and a converted closer coming off a career year (Dempster).
  • Hampton's career has come full circle, returning to Houston 10 years after his most impressive season in the majors (22-4). Since that magical season, Hampton has only pitched 200 innings twice, and that includes missing two seasons due to injury. Will the old Mike Hampton return?
  • Seeing Wellemeyer blossom into a quality starter isn't an easy pill for Cub fans to swallow. A product of the Cubs system, Wellemeyer has joined a long list of pitchers whose careers were elevated thanks to Cardinals pitching coach Dave Duncan. Cardinal nation is expecting big things from the youngster.
  • Journeyman Jeff Suppan has struggled since helping the Cardinals win the World Series in '06. Suppan has gone 22-22 in two seasons since signing a multi-year deal with the Brew Crew. If you're looking for an innings eater who won't dazzle you with stuff, but will keep you in a game, Suppan is the reliable pitcher for you.
  • Long gone are the days of braids and being an "idiot" in Boston for Arroyo. Since being dealt to Cincinnati, Arroyo has yet to make the impact Red fans have hoped. As long as he can eat up innings and keep the potent Red lineup close, he'll have a positive impact.
  • 2009 will be an important season for Duke. He can only have the "potential" label on him for so long before it runs out. It doesn't help his cause being on a weak ballclub, but he should get every opportunity to succeed as long as he remains healthy
  • The biggest surprise in Chicago last season, Dempster emerged as the best pitcher for the NL Champions in 2008. Turning in an all-star season, Dempster was unbeatable at home in the first half. It's a true testament to the Cubs staff that Dempster is third in the rotation.

My Rank: Dempster, Wellemeyer, Arroyo, Suppan, Hampton, Duke

Fourth Spot

Cubs- Rich Harden
Astros-Brian Moehler
Cardinals- Chris Carpenter
Brewers- Manny Parra
Reds- Johnny Cueto
Pirates- Ross Ohlendorf

Harden and Carpenter are No. 4's!? If you told any diehard baseball fan that statement three years ago, you'd been viewed as insane. Don't read too much into that, as they'll likely be anchors of their staffs by midseason.

  • To be blunt, the Astros are simply looking for bodies to fill out the back end of their rotation. Much like last season, a major lack of pitching depth will kill Houston. Moehler will receive an opportunity to contribute to the Astros, but don't expect Moehler to be in the rotation all entire season.
  • Fearless prediction No. 2- Chris Carpenter will win Comeback Player of the Year. Carpenter has been fantastic this spring and has shown no signs of injury. If there was ever a team relying on the health of one player, the Cardinals must have Carpenter at his true ace form.
  • Inconsistency best sums up Manny Parra's 2008 rookie campaign. When he was good, he was great, but when he was bad, he was awful. One positive note is he had a 2:1 K/BB ratio, which will be key to Parra's '09 success. He'll have a powerful lineup supporting him, so I like Parra to have a quality sophomore season.
  • Before injury, the 23 year old Cueto showed flashes of greatness. Despite a 9-14 record, Cueto provided innings and plenty of strikeouts. Health will either make or break Cueto's season. Cincinnati has two young phenoms in Cueto and Volquez; don't sleep on these guys.
  • Oh-len-dorf, ah there we go. The Austin, Texas native has had an incredible spring, posting an 0.89 ERA. That performance has secured a rotation spot for Ohlendorf and could very well have him higher than the fourth spot. Like all Pirates starters, he'll have every opportunity to succeed.
  • Cub fans are giddy as they ponder having an entire season of Harden. Cubs GM Jim Hendry gave a lot up to acquire Harden, and '09 will be an important step in Harden's career as not only a Cub, but as a major league pitcher. If Harden can stay healthy all season, don't rule out 17+ wins and a trip to the All Star game.

My Ranks: Carpenter, Harden, Cueto, Parra, Ohlendorf, Moehler

Fifth Spot

Cubs- Sean Marshall
Astros- Russ Ortiz
Cardinals- Joel Pineiro
Brewers- Braden Looper
Reds- Micah Owings/Homer Bailey
Pirates- Jeff Karstens   

Not a terrible group, but it certainly won't blow your mind either. It'll be interesting to see how many of these pitchers remain in their respective rotations, or the majors.

  • Russ Ortiz lives! Once a solid starter, Ortiz's career has been diminished due to injuries and a decline in performance. Barring a complete turn-around, look for the Astros to replace Ortiz rather quickly with a young arm or someone from the 'pen.
  • A convertered reliever, Pineiro has been hit or miss. After struggling in Boston, Piniero found his way to Dave Duncan and St. Louis. If Duncan can't turn Piniero's fortunes around, don't expect much from him much beyond '09.
  • When the Brewers lost both Sabathia and Sheets, the Brewers were left with major voids in their rotation. How did they respond? By signing free agent Braden Looper. Once a closer in New York, Looper had glimpses of success in St. Louis. Looper will face pressure to excel in a rotation that will be tested throughout the season.
  • The Reds have yet to announce who'll claim the fifth and final spot in their rotation. As of 3/30, Micah Owings appears to have the edge over youngster Homer Bailey. Last season, Bailey struggled and was demote to Triple A. Consequently, the Reds acquired Owings from the Diamondbacks. The Reds pitch depth makes this competition a good problem to have, and whichever pitcher loses will likely end up in the rotation due to another starter falling to injury.
  • Once viewed as a quality Yankee prospect, Karstens has struggled to prove his worth as a starter in the big leagues. His career highlight came last season, as he was four outs away from a perfect game against the Diamondbacks. He'll need to start out strong, or he'll likely be replaced.
  • A lanky lefty, Marshall has fought and battled his way back into the Cubs rotation. The Cubs decided to keep Marshall and deal Rich Hill to Baltimore this offseason. Marshall will be on a short-leash, as pitchers Aaron Heilman and Jeff Samardzija are vying for spots in the rotation.

My Ranks: Marshall, Owings, Looper, Piniero, Karstens, Ortiz

From top the bottom, I rank the Cubs as having the best rotation in the Central. The Reds aren't far behind, and could provide plenty of headaches to the Cubs this season. Thanks for reading.


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