After Twelve Games….

After starting the exhibition season, 1-3, Lou Piniella’s crew have won 4 of the last 7 and in the process have shown improvement over the past week. Mark DeRosa is expected back on the field on Monday in Maryville while this past week Aramis Ramirez, Alfonso Soriano and Daryle Ward all returned from various injuries. The Cubs still have 20 games left, 18 in Arizona and 2 in Las Vegas, before Opening Day against the Brewers on March 31st.

Rumors persist that Jim Hendry is still looking for ways to improve his roster and there are still several questions that still must be answered before player introductions three weeks from today at Wrigley Field. Let’s take a look….

A News Brief from Arizona

The Cubs will start the season with a 12-man pitching staff according to a report on Cubs.com.

The Cubs rotation will be set sometime around March 23rd “in order to put them into an alignment for the seasonaccording to a report in the Daily Herald.

The Final Spots in the Rotation

If the season started today, what would be Lou Piniella’s rotation? Carlos Zambrano and Ted Lilly, one and two respectively, and then Rich Hill in the fourth spot….but who will be inserted in the third and fifth spots?

Based on performance this spring, Ryan Dempster should be a lock for one of the two spots, likely the third and that leaves Jon Lieber, Sean Marshall and Jason Marquis for the last spot. Marshall continues to be very effective, especially for a 5th starter, despite the 2 runs he surrendered in a 1/3 of an inning on Saturday. However, Marshall still has two options left and will likely start the year in Iowa.

Jason Marquis is rumored to be on the trading block and it appears a couple of teams have shown interest. XM Radio reported on Sunday, the Cubs were close to sending Marquis, along with Sam Fuld, to the Red Sox for Coco Crisp. An Internet rumor suggesting the same surfaced on Sunday morning, as well, claiming their source was a report on 670 the Score. Marquis should pitch on Tuesday to keep on schedule, but as of Sunday night Carlos Zambrano is slated to face the A’s at HoHoKam. A report in the the Boston Globe on Sunday night denied the Marquis for Crisp rumors but a report in the Chicago Tribune mentioned a possible deal….so stay tuned.

That leaves Jon Lieber for the 5th and final spot in the rotation. Lieber has allowed 2 runs on 5 hits in 6 innings (2 starts) with 5 strikeouts and no walks this spring.

Plus, unless there is a trade….don’t forget Sean Gallagher and Jeff Samardzija. Both are on the 40-man roster and strong finishes to the spring will leave a good impression on Lou Piniella.

Centerfield – Pie, Fuld or ????

It is clear, through the first twelve games, which of the two is the proverbial leader in the clubhouse. Felix Pie has separated himself from Sam Fuld, who has struggled to say the least at the plate and in the field.

Pie is hitting .321 (9-for-28) with a .406 OBP and a .607 SLG (2 home runs, 2 doubles, 6 RBI’s and 4 walks in 9 games) and has been more than solid in center. Pie is hitting the ball the opposite way, taking pitches, laying down bunts and generally doing what the Cubs are asking of him. Fuld on the other hand is “pressing” according to Lou Piniella.

Fuld has struggled at the plate (.143/.455/.143, 8 walks in 10 games, 2-for-14) and has not been as effective in the outfield this spring as the Cubs had thought he would be when camp started. Fuld has played all three outfield spots, but has also misplayed several balls. Fuld may end up being a fourth outfielder for the Cubs in the near future….but unless Pie reverts back to his bad habits and Fuld does a complete 360 at the plate, he will start the year in Iowa and not Pie.

The biggest question that remains in center is…. could there soon be another player in the mix? Namely one Coco Crisp. The Cubs are still looking to add a right-handed bat and the Sun Times thinks there will be an addition to the Cubs outfield before Opening Day.

While Pie has performed to expectations so far this spring, Jim Hendry does appear to be looking for options in case Pie struggles when the games actually count.

Alfonso Soriano’s Quad

Anyone that has watched the last two games can clearly see that Alfonso Soriano is not 100% healthy. While the finger he fractured last Sunday appears to have healed just fine….well, at least in the warm air of Arizona, Soriano’s quad injury is still making headlines.

Soriano’s injury was upgraded over the weekend from “75%” to “85%” but many think his inability to run is one of the main reasons Jim Hendry continues to try to trade for a certain second baseman that plays for a team with a bird in their logo.

Bruce Levine said it well on Saturday morning, if Soriano cannot run he must be moved down and become solely a run producer. The Cubs do not have any internal options, other than Soriano and Ryan Theriot in the leadoff spot, and many do not think Theriot can be a successful leadoff hitter at the big league level.

Theriot is hitting .346 with a .346 OBP this spring, 9 hits in 26 at bats with 5 runs scored, no walks and 3 stolen bases.

Lou Piniella and Jim Hendry must figure out a way to keep Alfonso Soriano on the field and healthy….and overpaying for a certain player mentioned above might be the only way to insure the Cubs left fielder does not run his way onto an extended stay on the DL.

The Bullpen and A Closer

Remove the poor performances of a few of the young arms and the Cubs bullpen has performed quite well….so far. Michael Wuertz and Scott Eyre have been effective. Jose Ascanio has shown flashes of why the Cubs traded for him but he is likely headed for Iowa to start the year. Tim Lahey is the only pitcher to throw in back-to-back games so far and has pitched rather well…at times. His problem, like most young pitchers, is inconsistency and not throwing enough strikes. Lahey has walked 3 batters in 3 2/3 innings while giving up 3 hits and striking out just 1….a lot of baserunners. But with Lahey, if he does not make the 25-man roster, he is on his way back to Minnesota.

One of the surprises, in the first 12 games, has been Carmen Pignatiello. The southpaw has separated himself from Neal Cotts and has given up only 2 hits, has not walked a batter or allowed a run in 5 games, 4 1/3 total innings.

Juan Mateo has also been very impressive but will likely start the season in Iowa….things can change and he is still a player worth keeping an eye on. Mateo’s biggest problem has been control and too many walks….3 in 5 innings. If Mateo does start the year in Triple-A, it will be good to have another healthy arm with a little Major League experience on the 40-man roster just a phone call away.

Kevin Hart is the wild card out of the pen and until Friday was clearly the leader. He gave up a couple of runs, no big deal, but he was hit in the calf and left the game because of the injury. Hart has the mental make-up to be a successful long man out of the pen and unless he is slowed by injury should be on the 25-man roster on Opening Day. Hart has not walked a batter in 3 2/3 innings this spring.

Now for the closer…. Bobby Howry has not looked as good as either Carlos Marmol or Kerry Wood but is likely the leader for the job. All three pitchers have reasons that they should and should not be the Cubs’ closer.

Bobby Howry

  • Traditionally a slow starter
  • First pitch fastball can get into trouble, especially when velocity is down
  • Has experience in the closer role and knows how to make the 27th out

Carlos Marmol

  • Could be more valuable in the 6th, 7th or 8th innings
  • Can throw multiple innings per outing
  • Has nasty and at times, unbelievable stuff
  • Has no experience closing out a big league game

Kerry Wood

  • Is throwing the best he has since 2003
  • Nasty breaking ball
  • Mental make-up is there
  • Has not thrown in back-to-back days
  • Questions about his health will always follow him

Lou Piniella has a difficult decision to make in a couple of weeks….but it is also a great problem to have.

The Bench and The Trade

Lou Piniella has discussed his concerns over the lack of depth on his bench. If Jim Hendry ever works out a deal with the team in Babe Ruth’s hometown, the Cubs’ bench will be a lot stronger with Mark DeRosa sliding into the super utility role.

With the Cubs reportedly breaking camp with 12 pitchers, that leaves only 5 spots on the bench. Henry Blanco and Daryle Ward are locks. With Soriano’s health, unless he is traded, Matt Murton should take a spot….that leaves only two openings. Well, actually just one.

Ronny Cedeno has not played particularly well, but he is all but guaranteed a spot on the roster….unless he is traded. Cedeno is out of options. With that being said, if the Cubs do or do not make a trade, there is likely just one spot left.

Alex Cintron has been very impressive and gives Lou Piniella more options than Mike Fontenot. Cintron has been solid in the field and at the plate, plus he is a switch hitter while Mike Fontenot appears to be limited to 2nd base….although Piniella said he will get another start at short likely on Monday.

If the Cubs end up making either or both of the rumored trades, the biggest impact on the club will be felt on the bench….and the all-important depth one of the trades would provide.

The next 2 1/2 weeks leading up to the Cubs leaving for Las Vegas should be very interesting.

Quote of the Day

"You are never as good as the adulations or as bad as the criticism, so don't get caught up on either one."
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