This is going to be the first in a four-part series breaking down four positions for the Chicago Cubs.
Part one is going to be break down the Chicago Cubs’ pitching, after this article I will be taking on the infield, outfield, and bullpen.
The Cubs have been known for having solid starting pitching, and this season should be no different. Here is the expected rotation:
1. Carlos Zambrano
2. Ted Lilly
3. Ryan Dempster
4. Randy Wells
5. Tom Gorzelanny
Others who could start games: Sean Marshall, Jeff Samardzija, Carlos Silva.
Who Needs to Step Up : Carlos Zambrano
Who Could be the Biggest Surprise : Randy Wells
Looking at what each of these pitchers did last season, the Cubs are seemingly set at the top of their rotation. None of the top four pitchers had an ERA above 4.00.
However, the Cubs supposed ace of the staff, Carlos Zambrano, was, if anything, the fourth-best starting pitcher for the Cubs last season.
His ERA was fourth highest among the five expected starters, and he was just one strikeout away from being third in strikeouts, instead he was second with 152. He also finished fourth in WHIP.
But although the Cubs don’t have a legit ace, they also don’t give opposing teams a break, as none of their pitchers are exactly bad either.
After facing Carlos Zambrano, they face Ted Lilly, who had a 3.10 ERA last season, struck out 152 batters, and had a WHIP of just 1.06.
However, Lilly likely won’t be back until some time in early May. He is trying to be able to be back in April, but the Cubs aren’t going to risk anything, and if he has to miss an extra two starts to make sure he doesn’t miss serious time, nobody will complain.
This opens up an opportunity for a few Cubs pitchers to try to jump in and take his place. Chances are that Carlos Silva, Jeff Samardzija, or Sean Marshall will be the fifth starter for the first month or so.
The Cubs don’t have an especially difficult schedule at the beginning of the season, so although Lilly coming back should be a priority, his health should be a bigger one.
Until Lilly comes back, Dempster will be directly following Carlos Zambrano in the rotation.
Last season, Demster’s stats dropped from his magical 2008, but he was still very impressive holding an ERA of 3.65 and a 1.31 WHIP while striking out 172 batters, leading all Cubs and finishing 15th in the NL.
Randy Wells was a big surprise last season, as he came out of nowhere to tie for the most wins on the Cubs with 12. He also lead all starters with an ERA of 3.05.
If Wells is even close to as good as he was last season, the Cubs will be greatly benefited during the absence of Lilly. However, last season was just his first full season pitching in the majors, but in about 10 major league innings before last season he didn’t allow a single hit.
The favorite for the fifth Cubs position when the rotation is healthy will likely be won by Tom Gorzelanny, who came to Chicago from the Pirates last season.
Despite his ERA being 5.55, he was able to find ways to win, going 7-3. If you look at Gorzelanny’s season last year, you will see amazing inconsistency.
However, when he was able to establish himself, he was outstanding. In every game that he was able to pitch more than five innings, he never allowed more than two runs and went 4-0.
If he can channel what he did in those starts where he pitched a high amount of innings, then the Cubs will be very pleased in the former Pirate.
When looking at the other players who could start games for the Cubs, there isn’t much talent to choose from. There is the amazingly overpaid Carlos Silva, who is consistently beyond horrible.
Silva belongs in Double-A at best, but his highly inflated contract could keep him floating between Triple-A and the majors.
Jeff Samardzija is another option, and the Notre Dame product has shown some good pitching chops. Although I prefer to see him in the bullpen, he could give some short-term relief as the fifth starter.
Sean Marshall has been good in flashes as a starter through a few seasons, but he has never really met his potential despite never really being bad. He hasn’t had an ERA over 4.50 in the last three seasons, and like Samardzija, could be a good short-term option.
Overall, the Cubs don’t have anybody that really stands out in their starting rotation, but they also have very few people who fall into the background.
Although they aren’t anything special, the starting rotation shouldn’t lose the Cubs too many games.
I’m Joe W.