Another Chicago team broke my heart last weekend and I told myself, like I’ve done so many times at the end of a Cubs season, there’s always next year. No one expected the Bears to make the playoffs, let alone win the division and make it to the NFC Championship game, maybe the Cubs can surprise us this year as well … I’m definitely ready for Spring Training.
At this point, if everyone stays healthy, Ryan Dempster, Carlos Zambrano and Matt Garza should anchor the Cubs’ rotation with Andrew Cashner likely beginning the year as the fourth starter. That leaves James Russell, Randy Wells, Casey Coleman, Jeff Samardzija and Carlos Silva competing for the final spot in the rotation
Is this the best rotation in the NL Central? No, but on a paper it is a very competitive one … and with Tom Gorzelanny no longer in the mix, Mike Quade will likely begin his first full season as a big league manager without a southpaw in his rotation.
The Cubs have stated that James Russell will be stretched out and given an opportunity to compete for a spot in the starting rotation. Unless he has a phenomenal spring, I don’t think that is going to happen. One thing that is intriguing about Russell is his strikeout to walk ratio.
Last year, he allowed only two walks per nine, while striking out 7.7 per nine for a 3.28 SO to BB ratio, pretty impressive. And Russell’s big league numbers do not appear to be a fluke … Russell put up similar numbers in the minors.
On the downside, Russell allowed 10 hits per nine and two home runs per nine innings a year ago. Again, Russell’s minor league numbers are consistent in the hit column but he served up more dingers in the majors than down on the farm. Russell has good command but is not overpowering and pitches to contact.
Randy Wells has the best shot in my opinion to make the rotation. He was very inconsistent last year especially in the first two innings of a game. Despite his inconsistencies, Wells still posted an unspectacular but decent ERA of 4.26 with a 1.40 WHIP. If Randy Wells can get back to his 2009-form (12-10 with a 3.05 ERA and a 1.28 WHIP) and stay focused he could end up being successful in the backend of the rotation.
Wells showed he is more than capable of pitching in the big leagues. If he is able to prove the first three quarters of his career was not a fluke it would help solidify an already solid rotation. Wells does not have to be as good as he was his rookie season but somewhere in the middle could be very beneficial to his team.
Carlos Silva showed up to the Cubs Convention and some said he appeared to have gained weight. With his injury concerns, heart problems, and poor second half, I would be very surprised to see him win a spot in the rotation. Although Silva has experience pitching out of the pen, I do not see him as a candidate for the bullpen this year. Silva isn’t really a strikeout pitcher and mop-up duty would likely be his only role in the pen. I wouldn’t be surprised if Silva is released at the end of spring training (the Cubs are on the hook for $8 million of Silva’s $11.5 million contract for 2011 and a $2 million buyout on a $12 million mutual option for 2012).
Casey Coleman relies on his command and doesn’t possess overpowering “stuff”. Coleman locates the ball well and showed improvement with each start last season.
Like many rookies, Coleman struggled after his call-up and posted a 1-1 record in August (seven games, three starts) with a 5.76 ERA and a 1.48 WHIP. Coleman finished the season on a positive note with a 3-1 record over his last five starts with a 2.81 ERA and a 1.38 WHIP. (2010 line: 4-2 in 12 games, eight starts with a 4.11 ERA and a 1.42 WHIP). Coleman finished his season with seven shutout innings against the Astros on October 1. Coleman notched six quality starts and completed seven innings in each of his last two outings against the Cardinals and Astros.
Despite his solid finish, Coleman will likely be a victim of the numbers game and end up starting the year in Iowa … and if something goes wrong, Coleman should receive the first call-up to Chicago.
Jeff Samardzija will break camp with the Chicago Cubs either in the pen or in the starting rotation. Reports before the convention suggested Samardzija would compete for a spot in the Cubs’ rotation. But reports after the annual gathering have stated otherwise and he could end up pitching in middle relief ahead of John Grabow, Kerry Wood and Sean Marshall.
Samardzija has been less than effective in the majors (4-5 in 53 games, five starts, with a 5.95 ERA and a 1.73 WHIP) and his 2010 season in Iowa was uninspiring as well (11-3 with a 4.37 ERA and a 1.37 WHIP).
The Cubs claim that Samardzija made great strides towards the end of the year but I just don’t see it. In his last 10 games (all starts) at Iowa, the Shark posted a 5.77 ERA 1.46 WHIP (42 runs, 37 earned, on 52 hits with 32 walks and 50 strikeouts in 57.2 innings).
Jeff Samardzija has a lot to prove this spring and if he struggles the Cubs will have a hard time trying to justify him being with the team on Opening Day … especially with the likes of Jay Jackson and Chris Carpenter knocking on the door in the minors. Mark Riggins suggested that Jay Jackson and/or Chris Carpenter could make their Major League debut this year. Both feel comfortable pitching out of the pen or starting games. Could Jackson or Carpenter force the Cubs’ hand on Jeff Samardzija?
Tom Gorzelanny struggled with his command last year. His strikeouts went up but he averaged just over five innings per start. Ryan Dempster, Matt Garza, Casey Coleman and Randy Wells averaged over six innings per start last year … and Dempster and Garza have averaged at least six innings per start throughout their Major League careers.
Carlos Zambrano has been a workhorse over the course of his career and despite recent struggles at getting through five-plus innings; Zambrano averaged over six innings per outing in his final 10 starts of the year.
Innings per start is obviously very important. The more times Mike Quade can get the ball to Kerry Wood and Sean Marshall as the bridge to Carlos Marmol, the more success the Cubs will have during the season. The Cubs have four starters that could reach the 200-inning plateau this year.
The Cubs rotation has just as many questions as a majority of the rest of the league.
Which Big Z will we see? Will Matt Garza make a successful transition to the National League? Can Randy Wells return to form? Will Ryan Dempster continue to anchor the rotation? Will Andrew Cashner take the next step in his development and become a successful starter at the Major League level?
The Cubs will start finding out the answers when pitchers and catchers report to Fitch Park on February 13 … just 17 days away.
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