OK. Let’s talk about the throwers.
Here are three pitchers that you may as well ink on paper as being in the starting five come opening day.
Carlos Zambrano. Put him down for 15 wins, minimum. As I’ve said before, he’ll have his up and downs and will jump up and down on the mound a time or two, but if you’re a Cubs fan, you love that about him. Big Z is a consummate number one and took less than market value to stay with the team that he’s been with since he was 16 years old.
Ted Lilly. This southpaw did much better than I (and a lot of us) thought he would last year. Particularly impressive was his 9-1 record after a Cubs loss. He was the stopper for the Northsiders last year and he was more clutch than Big Z. I’m worried that he’s not going to be able to duplicate his 2007 campaign. I’m actually going to predict that he’s going to struggle a little. I hope I’m wrong as we need him to be a solid number two.
Rich Hill. Hill will slot into the four spot even though he’s actually our second best pitcher. He racked up almost 200 innings as a 26 year old and held batters to a paltry .235 avg. I think Hill takes a step forward this year. I guess he’s been working on speeding up his delivery so base runners don’t take second on him as often. That’d be nice, but completely changing a pitcher’s mechanics can be a really bad thing. Unless Hill suffers from horrendous run support again (he ranked second to last in the entire NL last year), I say he wins 15.
Before I cover these next few pitchers, let me go on record as saying I would have liked the Cubs to pursue better options here. I just don’t like any of the candidates for slots 3 or 5 very much. That said, I think this rotation can get them to July 31 in first place, so I’ll be content if they deal for another stud starter for the final push.
Ryan Dempster. I think Dempster is going to win the third slot. I’m not totally sure if he deserves it, but I actually think he’s our best option. He walks too many batters, but that won’t be as much of a problem now that he’s starting (although the amount of walks he gave up as a closer repeatedly sent me to the medicine cabinet). He has four decent pitches, which is a nice arsenal for a starter, especially if he’s willing to use his change-up more. It’s easily his best pitch and he didn’t use it enough in the ninth inning. Hopefully, he will now. He could win 10 and I’d be pleased. He should be around 5.00 in the ERA Dept. Lets hope his arm holds up, though, I am still not convinced he can make the jump to a full-time starter; he’s not 25 anymore. He did work hard in the off-season, and so I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt for now. Plus, he’s the team clown and I like that.
Jason Marquis. I’m not sure what to say here. Most scouts think he should be out of baseball.
Piniella thinks he can hit the road if he doesn’t like it in Chicago. He had some games in the first half of the season where he was practically unhittable and then others, particularly in the second half, where he couldn’t make it past the second inning. He held hitters to a .256 batting avg, which suggests to me that he has some gas left in the tank. He may win the final slot, but that all depends on….
Jon Lieber. In the early part of the millennium, I loved ‘Liebs. He was a workhorse going about his business and getting quiet victories, but I guess I’ll simply have to see if he’s anything like the pitcher that won 20 in 2001. I didn’t follow him much after he left the cubs, but I know he didn’t do much. Watching him in Spring might be one of the more interesting questions to develop.
For the first time in a few years, I don’t think a rookie will crack the starting rotation out of the gate. This may be a good thing, though, I might rather see a Sean Gallagher or a Kevin Hart over an aging veteran. Fortunately, we don’t have to worry. If the kids pitch better than the vets, they’ll win the job. Good ol’ Sweet Lou. I’m a big fan. He’ll make the right choice, and if he doesn’t he’ll admit it and make a change. That’s a good manager.
Overall, we have a solid but unspectacular rotation. These starters walk too many batters but they can get the job done and assuming our offense lives up to the hype, we should have no trouble keeping the starters with W’s week in and week out.
Next time we’ll look into the bullpen, which has the potential to make the rotation stronger by only requiring that they pitch six strong innings. They have the chance to be a big strength to the ball club, and that’s a good thing, because too many free passes will have our starters tiring in the top half of the sixth anyway.