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Can the Dysfunctional Chicago Cubs Compete for the N.L. Central in 2011?

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Can the Dysfunctional Chicago Cubs Compete for the N.L. Central in 2011?
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San Francisco Giants Manager Bruce Bochy said a bunch of castoffs and misfits won the World Series in 2010. After enormously disappointing seasons in 2009 and 2010, the Cubs definitely fall in the category of misfits. 

How did a team that seemed to be the odds on favorite to advance to the World Series in 2008 drop so far so fast?

The Cubs won 98 games during the 2008 season but were swept out of the playoffs by the Dodgers. The Dodger sweep brought the Cubs postseason losing streak to nine games, dating all the way back to the infamous Steve Bartman game in the 2003 National League Championship Series. 

They entered the 2009 and 2010 seasons with high expectations and proceeded to sleepwalk through the schedule. Now, entering the 2011 season, most fans will probably see the Cubs and their $140 million plus team as a roster full of overpaid underachievers.

Yes, the Cubs have a large collection of vastly overpaid players including Alfonso Soriano ($18 million), Aramis Ramirez ($15.75 million), Carlos Silva ($11.5 million), Kosuke Fukudome ($13.5 million), and Carlos Zambrano ($17.875 million).

Sure, the Cubs and their fans want these contracts off the books, but that does not mean they won’t contend for the National League Central in 2011.

Maybe I am dreaming but I see a lot of potential for the Cubs in 2011.

The hiring of Mike Quade as the new manager provides reason for optimism after he led the Cubs to a 24-13 record in the last 37 games of 2010. Quade was a career minor league manager that is getting his first shot to manage at the big league level. He is sure to be highly motivated to get the Cubs back into postseason contention. 

The starting pitching staff should be much improved.

The acquisition of Matt Garza should pay immediate dividends. Garza is battle tested after three years in the American League East. During his tenure with the Rays, he posted a sub 4.00 ERA while helping them to division titles in 2008 and 2010. 

Ryan Dempster can generally be counted on to post 200 innings and a sub 4.00 ERA. On his good days, he has the stuff to match up with any pitcher in the league. 

Carlos Zambrano went 8-0 in 11 starts with an outstanding 1.40 ERA following his suspension in 2010. The question is whether he can keep his emotions in check and build on the outstanding stretch he had at the end of 2010.

The forth and fifth spots in the rotation are clearly question marks but have potential.

Randy Wells pitched well in his first full season in 2009, posting a 3.05 ERA even though he regressed last season with a 4.26 ERA. Wells recently admitted that, as he put it, “I got too big for my britches”. Wells obviously realizes he lacked the focus and dedication to be successful in 2010. If he can get back to his 2009 form he should be one of the better number four starters in the National League. 

The fifth spot should fall to Carlos Silva with the trade of Tom Gorzelanny to the Nationals. Silva pitched well the first half of 2010, winning his first 8 decisions. He fell off dramatically in the second battling elbow and shoulder injuries. 

The back end of the bullpen figures to be very good with Kerry Wood likely setting up Carlos Marmol. Marmol was electric, posting 38 saves in 43 chances for a team that only won 75 games last season. Marmol’s 138 strikeouts in only 77 2/3 innings are nearly impossible to comprehend. 

The Cubs hitting figures to be a question mark.

Stralin Castro and Tyler Colvin played well as rookies in 2010 and should be able to continue their development in 2011.

Castro hit .300 as the youngest everyday player in the National League, and Colvin hit a respectable 20 Home Runs in only 358 at bats before missing the last two weeks of the season.

Geovany Soto has been inconsistent since his Rookie of the Year season in 2008. He underwent shoulder surgery in September and expects to be 100% for spring training. In 2010, he showed signs of getting back to his 2008 form, posting an OPS of .890 and an OBP of .393 in 105 games

Carlos Pena has been feast or famine the past couple of seasons. Yes, he had 28 homers and 84 RBI in 2010. But, he had a horrible batting average of .199. Even more alarming is his steady drop in OPS from 1.037 in 2007 to .732 in 2010. 

Blake DeWitt at second base appears to be a soft spot. The Cubs will likely try to upgrade DeWitt if they are given the chance. Going into the season, he will likely split time with Darwin Barney or Jeff Baker with the hot hand likely earning playing time.

Aramis Ramirez has battled injuries the past two seasons, limiting him to a total of only 206 games. He posted 25 homers and 83 RBI in 124 games in 2010. But like Pena saw an alarming drop in his OBP and OPS. His OBP dropped from .389 to .294, and his OPS dropped from .905 to .745. If Ramirez can get back to his pre-2009 form, he would be a major boost for the Cubs in 2011. 

Marlon Byrd was a pleasant surprise in 2010, scoring 84 runs and posting a .775 OPS. If he can come close to duplicating his 2010 numbers, he would provide a major boost.

Alfonso Soriano has been an erratic underachiever during his time with the Cubs. At 35 years of age, he definitely looks to have his best years behind him. At this point in his career, anything beyond 25 homers and 80 RBIs would probably be considered a surprise.

Kosuke Fukedome will likely start the 2011 season as the fourth outfielder. It is no secret the Cubs have been shopping him this offseason. A rumored contract swap with the Giants for the underperforming Aaron Rowand never materialized in December. The Cubs would likely have to eat a large portion of his $13.5 million due for 2011 to make any deal happen.

Like all teams, the Cubs have question marks going into the 2011 season. In a tough National League Central, they are going to have to turn much of their potential into performance if they are going to compete for a postseason berth in 2011.

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