Part 4 of 5 – The Starting Pitchers
The starting rotation, like the rest of the team, could not stay healthy. What was supposed to be the strength of the team became another weakness for Dusty Baker. Mark Prior started the year on the DL, and then he got beaned, missed another month and finished with a decent season. Carlos Zambrano continued to shine and despite throwing too many pitches, became the ace of the Cubs staff. Greg Maddux took one step closer to the Hall of Fame and showed the young guys how to pitch. Jerome Williams showed a lot of promise for the future and Glendon Rusch had another serviceable year. Kerry Wood spent most of the year on the DL and spent time in the bullpen. John Koronka, Rich Hill, Jon Leicester, Sergio Mitre and Ryan Dempster all made starts for the Cubs in 2005.
2006 Outlook – Maddux will don Cubbie Blue again in 2006. He earned his option by pitching more than 400 innings in 2004 and 2005. The key to Maddux is getting off to a good start. Maddux should be a quality 4th or 5th starter in the rotation. He has to lead these guys by example and show why he is a first ballot Hall of Famer. Look for him to be a solid starter for the Cubs in 2006.
Carlos Zambrano (RHP) – The Big Z had another HUGE year. Zambrano led the Cubs starters in wins (14), strikeouts (202) and ERA (3.26). He also led the staff in innings pitched (223.1) and that is what scares me. Carlos has become one of the best pitchers in the league at only 24 years old. He also had a great year with the bat hitting .300 for the year with 6 doubles. The only knock on Zambrano is his emotions. Once he learns how to control them, look out.
2006 Outlook – Carlos Zambrano is arbitration eligible this off-season and the Cubs should sign him to a long-term contract. I do not see or have heard anything about the possibility of Carlos leaving Chicago anytime soon. Zambrano has to continue to grow in order for the Cubs to be successful. They have depended on him for the past 2 years and I only hope all those pitches and innings do not catch up with him in 2006. If he can stay healthy, he should be among the league leaders in pitching and continue to be the ace of the Cubs staff. Big Z is another one to watch in ’06.
Mark Prior (RHP) – Prior had another injury-shortened season in 2005. He started the season on the DL and then before we all knew it, he was back on the DL again. This time not his fault. Prior was struck in the right elbow by Brad Hawpe of the Rockies in May and missed another month. Once he returned he had a fine season, just not the kind of season we expect from Mark Prior. Prior only started 27 games in 2005, he finished with an 11-7 record and a 3.67 ERA. Mark also struck out 188 (2nd on the team) and walked 59 in 166.2 innings.
2006 Outlook – Mark Prior is under contract for the 2006 season. Prior must stay healthy and on the mound for the Cubs. He must come into Spring Training in shape and ready to go for the entire season. Prior only pitched in 21 games in 2004 and 27 games in 2005. Prior had one of the best arms in the league and finished 3rd for the Cy Young Award in 2003. He must return to that form for the Cubs to be successful.
Kerry Wood (RHP) – Kerry Wood could not stay healthy AGAIN. How many more times are we going to hear ‘Kerry Wood’ and ‘On The DL’ in the same sentence? Woody only appeared in 21 games in 2005 and only 10 starts. 10! When Kerry was on, he could still throw the ball with the best of them and I think that is his problem. Kerry has to learn how to pitch and not just throw the ball to avoid injuries. Wood can still strike out the opponents with ease (77 k’s in 66 innings). He has the stuff when he is healthy.
2006 Outlook – Kerry Wood is under contract for the 2006 season with an option for 2007. The question surrounding Kerry Wood, as usual, is about his health. He only started 22 games in 2004 and after last year’s misery look for the Cubs to have an insurance policy or two (Glendon Rusch) on Kerry Wood. He came out of the pen at the end of the year and looked spectacular, but with the resigning of Ryan Dempster and the fact Kerry wants to be a starter again….do not look for him to be the closer out of Spring Training. Woody had the same surgery that was performed on the Cardinals’ Matt Morris last off-season and he had a strong year (better in the 1st half, than the 2nd). Kerry’s shoulder surgery was successful and he is planning on being to Spring Training on time in February.
Glendon Rusch (LHP) – Rusch split time between the starting rotation and bullpen in 2005. Rusch appeared in 46 games while starting 19 of them. He was very inconsistent. At times he looked very good (as in the perfect game into the 7th in St. Louis) and at other times average at best. Was he a product of the inconsistent year….not knowing if he was going to be a starter or a reliever from day to day? He finished the year with a 9-8 record and a 4.52 ERA.
2006 Outlook – Glendon Rusch has a player option for the 2006 season. A left-handed starter is a valuable commodity in the Major Leagues. Lefties have a tendency to stick around longer than they should (see Jeff Fassero). Rusch was very inconsistent in 2005. If Glendon and the Cubs chose to pick up his option, let’s hope the Glendon Rusch of 2004 shows up (6-2/3.47 in 32 games-16 started). Could Rusch be the insurance policy for Kerry Wood again? Or will Rusch find a home in the starting rotation? Glendon has said he wants to be a starter and not pitch out of the bullpen. This concerns me, first off that does not sound like a team player and second where does he fit in the rotation if Woody is back? Rusch could be resigned and packaged in a trade. (Note: The 2005 Season Review was written before the Cubs signed Glendon Rusch to a 2 year deal through 2007 on October 31, 2005. Rusch will compete for a spot in the starting rotation.)
Jerome Williams (RHP) – Jerome Williams was acquired in May in the LaTroy Hawkins trade with the Giants and had a decent year for the Cubs. Williams started his stint with the Cubs at Iowa and worked his way back up to the Majors. Williams had a rough start and had trouble in Wrigley (2-5 / 4.60). Williams finished the year 6-8 in 18 games (17 starts) with a 3.91 ERA with the Cubs. Jerome was very impressive in September going 2-3 with a 2.40 ERA in 6 starts; he was a victim of no run support.
2006 Outlook – Jerome Williams will battle for a spot in the rotation out of Spring Training. He has a good strong arm and is very young (will turn 24 in December). Williams could be the odd man out, depending on the health of Kerry Wood and what the Cubs do with Glendon Rusch. I like Jerome Williams. Good strong arm. Good stuff and he is a ‘Dusty Baker’ guy. If he can build his confidence and consistency he could be a very good 4th or 5th starter for the team in 2006. Williams is one to watch in ’06.
2006 Outlook for the Starting Pitchers – There is no reason the starters for the Cubs cannot return to form in 2006 and improve on the 4.17 ERA they posted in 2005 (Houston had a 3.46 ERA and St. Louis a 3.61 ERA). The possible starting 4 of Zambrano, Prior, Wood and Maddux have the capability of being the best in the league, if they can stay healthy. Carlos Zambrano and Greg Maddux have been the only consistent starters for the Cubs the last 2 seasons and should continue their success in 2006, everyone else has question marks surrounding them. Zambrano must learn how to control his temper and pitch counts and Maddux needs to fight off father time for one more year. Will Kerry Wood come back from surgery and start 30 (plus) games? Will Mark Prior remain healthy and start 30 (plus) games? Can Jerome Williams pick up where he left off? Will Glendon Rusch stay in Cubbie Blue? (Note: The 2005 Season Review was written before the Cubs signed Glendon Rusch to a 2 year deal through 2007 on October 31, 2005. Rusch will compete for a spot in the starting rotation.) What about Rich Hill? I think the Cubs will package Sergio Mitre in a trade this winter. He has been a complete bust on the Major League level and with the emergence of Rich Hill, Angel Guzman (o.k. a little early on this one), Ricky Nolasco, Renyel Pinto and David Aardsma (among others) the Cubs future is looking up….way up!!