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2010 N. L. Central Preview: Cubs Good, But Not Good Enough

Jeffrey BrownAnalyst IMarch 30, 2010

The 2008 edition of the Chicago Cubs had the best record in the National League (97-64) and should have repeated last season, but injuries, career-worst performances, and the plague that is known as Milton Bradley created a second-place ballclub.

The offense scuffled, Carlos Zambrano typically underperformed, and the bullpen was abysmal. All of these factors led to a very pedestrian 83-78 record and a second place finish. The Cubbies should be improved in 2010, but I don’t foresee the ballclub improving enough to overcome the Cardinals. That said, they could sneak in for the wild card.

Key Additions: OF Marlon Byrd, P Jeff Gray, INF Kevin Millar, OF Xavier Nady

Key Subtractions: OF Milton Bradley, P Kevin Gregg, P Rich Harden, P Aaron Heilman, OF Reed Johnson, and P Neal Cotts

Key Performer, 2010: Carlos Marmol

Starting Rotation

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The rotation should be pretty solid. It is anchored by the always-underachieving Carlos Zambrano (9-7, 3.77) who has deservedly lost the label of staff ace. Conditioning and immaturity have plagued him throughout his career, and because he hasn’t put the work in (physically or emotionally), he has held himself AND his team back.

Pity.

Southpaw Ted Lilly (12-9, 3.10 ERA) will miss the first month of the 2010 season (shoulder), but he continues to perform solidly. Righty Ryan Dempster (11-9, 3.65 ERA) pitched better than his record indicates. The Cubs hope RHP Randy Wells (12-10, 3.05) will be able to repeat his rookie campaign when the new season gets under way.

The final spot in the rotation is up for grabs, though lefty Tom Gorzelanny is my favorite to win the competition.

Bullpen

The bullpen may be okay, but it’s not probably not going to be very good. Marmol (14-16, 3.42, 23 saves in 30 opportunities in his career) is the big question mark and the key to the ballclub. If he can hold down the back end of the ‘pen, then everyone in front of him will at least have a role they can count on.

RHPs Angel Guzman (3-3, 2.95), Jeff Gray (0-1, 3.76), and Jeff Samardzija (1-3, 7.53), and southpaws John Grabow (3-0, 3.36) and Sean Marshall (3-7, 4.32) make up a less-than-stellar corps of relievers. Guzman and Grabow will serve as a lefty-righty tandem of setup men…after that, who knows?

Lineup

Last year I wrote that the club has a deep lineup without any holes…then they went out and proved me wrong. The offense ranked 10th in the league in runs scored and OBP and 12th in batting average.

Cornermen Derrick Lee (.306, 35 HR, 111 RBI) and Aramis Ramirez (.317, 15 HR, 65 RBI) are the only guys the ballclub can REALLY depend on—though that assessment is predicated on Ramirez staying on the field.

SS Ryan Theriot has alternated two very good seasons and two relatively average seasons—with an even-numbered season at hand he should have another very good year in 2010. Second base will be handled by a platoon of Mike Fontenot and Jeff Baker at the start of the year. In my opinion, Baker will eventually earn the right to start the majority of the time.

C Geovany Soto was the 2008 NL Rookie of the Year. He followed that up with a .218/11/47 line last year. It’s apparent he took success for granted after ‘08 and failed to apply himself last winter. He likely learned his lesson and should have a nice rebound campaign this year.

At 34 years of age, LF Alfonso Soriano (.241, 20 HR, 55 RBI) continued a four-year slide that indicates his most productive years are behind him, and with PED usage no longer being ignored it’s unlikely he’ll ever re-discover his game-changing productivity. Newly-signed Marlon Byrd (.283, 20 HR, 89 RBI) will take over in center field, but it seems likely to me that he’ll turn out to be one of the worst free agent acquisitions of the winter.

Kosuke Fukudome (.259, 11 HR, 54 RBI) will lose time and may be displaced by Xavier Nady when and if he proves to have recovered from injury.

Outlook

The club is hoping former Texas Rangers hitting coach Rudy Jaramillo will be able to work some magic with the batters; but, the fate of the 2010 season will be largely dependent on whether Ramirez can stay healthy and Soriano can re-establish himself as a potent bat in the middle of the lineup.

SOX1Forecast: Second place, 88-74.

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Chicago Cubs — Top Five Prospects

1. SS Starlin Castro
2. 3B Josh Vitters
3. P Jay Jackson
4. P Andrew Cashner
5. OF Brett Jackson

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