James Théodore Wilson (jtwilson) wrote in chicagocubs,
James Théodore Wilson
jtwilson
chicagocubs

2011 Cubs/MLB preview

Spring training is over, the 25 heading north have been selected, and this season will begin for the Cubs April 1 vs. the Pirates. Usually, I'm optimistic at this time..but not this year. I just don't see this team having what it takes to get to the playoffs..and even if they do, making any progress won't be likely. It's certainly possible, given a number of career years and players exceeding their projections, along with not giving all that many games away..this team cannot afford to blow games or give anything less than maximum effort. Mike Quade doesn't look like he'll tolerate anything less, but this will be his first real exposure to the Chicago media machine and the impatience of Cubs fans.

Starters:
46 RHP Ryan Dempster
38 RHP Carlos Zambrano
17 RHP Matt Garza
36 RHP Randy Wells
48 RHP Andrew Cashner

Relievers:
49 RHP Carlos Marmol
34 RHP Kerry Wood
45 LHP Sean Marshall
43 LHP John Grabow
62 RHP Marcos Mateo
40 LHP James Russell
29 RHP Jeff Samardzija

The Cubs rotation is started off by Ryan Dempster this year (Quade ended any drama about who would be the Opening Day starter *very* early) to be followed by the Big Z and new acquisition Matt Garza. How Garza performs could have a very big impact on Jim Hendry's job security, to say the least; the Cubs gave up a lot of top prospects to get Garza from Tampa Bay (who is under club control for the next 3 seasons, though) and the pressure is on him right away to justify the price paid. Randy Wells also has something to prove; that last year was just a sophomore slump and he's going to have a similar year to 2009. Andrew Cashner begins life as a starter after the Cubs ate Carlos Silva's contract; he'll have to continue to develop his secondary pitches to stay there.

In the bullpen, Carlos Marmol continues as the undisputed closer after racking up 38 saves and 138 strikeouts (in only 77.2 innings pitched). He'll continue to give us Cubs fans heart attacks with his walks (52) but opponents rarely hit their way on against him (40 hits, only one HR given up) and the nasty White Castle slider will continue to paralyze hitters..or make them look silly. Setting him up will be Kerry Wood, making his long awaited return to the North Side with a one year hometown discount deal. If Wood keeps the form he did when he pitched for the Yankees last year (0.69 ERA, 1.23 WHIP), he and Marmol will shorten a lot of games.

Returning to the pen from the left side are Sean Marshall (who could share some 8th inning duties with Wood) and John Grabow; James Russell rounds out the only lefties that went north. The last pitchers in the pen (for now) are Marcos Mateo (who won the job in spring training) and Jeff Samardzija (who has one year left to make good on his deal). The Shark had a horrific spring and is only really here due to his contract; he might be trade bait later on if he'll waive his NTC.

Overall, this staff should do quite well..not league-best, but enough to keep the Cubs in most games. The starters don't have a ton of star power but could be one of the more consistently good rotations in the league without a whole lot of fall-off as a series progresses. The bullpen..strong up top, potentially very weak in middle relief. If a starter has a bad day, the game could get completely out of hand more often than not. Quality starts are a must if this team is to get anywhere; we don't have the offense to consistently bail out bad pitching.


Infielders:

16 3B Aramis Ramirez
13 SS Starlin Castro
15 2B Darwin Barney (Utility/2B Platoon)
28 2B Jeff Baker (Utility/2B Platoon)
22 1B Carlos Pena
9 2B Blake DeWitt (Utility)

For the first time since 2003, Derrek Lee will not man first base on Opening Day for the Cubs..instead, coming here on a one year free agent deal from Tampa Bay is Carlos Pena. He's taken a lot of flak for hitting .196 last year and will never be a high BA guy (career .241 hitter, high of .282 in 2007 where he also hit 46 HR and drove in 121 with an OBP of .411 and OPS of 1.037..his career year to this point) Pena continues the tradition of strong defense at first for the Cubs (Gold Glove in 2008), but as to whether he can avoid the usual slow start that first-time Cubs have..that remains to be seen. Having another career year would be a huge help for the Cubs, but pitching in 30 HR/100 RBI wouldn't be so bad especially if Ramirez can contribute similar or better numbers.

The rest of the infield returns from last year..Ramirez is in his contract year, his 8th straight year as the Opening Day starter at third. He's fought injuries and lowered production in the last couple of seasons, and this might be his last chance at one more big contract. Staying healthy and motivated is key for him or he's potential trade bait, especially if he starts out badly like last year. Starlin Castro, though, will start his first full season as a Cub and has franchise player/star potential written all over him..though his defense will have to improve significantly in order to reach that level. He'll get to balls that you'd think no one would have a chance to..but getting it to first on time is another story.

Second base will be split between Darwin Barney (who had a really good spring to win the job and start on Opening Day) and lefty killer Jeff Baker. Blake DeWitt will probably see some time here as well, but by far the strongest defender is Barney..otherwise, this is the weakest link in the infield defense. The Cubs might not get a lot of production out of these three, either..this is a position the Cubs need to improve on.

Outfielders:

12 LF Alfonso Soriano
24 CF Marlon Byrd
1 RF Kosuke Fukudome
21 RF Tyler Colvin
5 CF Reed Johnson (Utility)

Kosuke-sama begins what's likely his last year with the Cubs; what he's done the first three years is likely what we'll see this time around..solid defense, good hitting to start that takes a nosedive in the summer, and lots of corkscrew strikeouts (especially to lefties). He could be yet another Cub on the trading block if the season goes south, but he's still enjoyable to watch and plays the game the right way.

Soriano, though..another 4 years of whiffing at sliders in the dirt, terrible defense, all-or-nothing approaches at the plate, standing at the plate and admiring doubles off the wall..at least he's not hopping anymore. The albatross continues to hang about this franchise's neck..and trading him anytime soon is very unlikely, unless a rich team gets really desperate. Marlon Byrd, though, had a strong first year as a Cub and quickly turned himself into a fan favorite with his strong production and attitude. He should continue to get the bulk of the playing time in center and while his contract is easy to trade, I don't think he'd be first on the trading block should it come to that.

Tyler Colvin didn't have quite the breakout year that Castro did but showed why he should be in the Cubs' outfield plans for some time to come. He's also put in some time at first base to be able to spell Pena if needed. If he's playing well come summer time, Kosuke might end up on the trading block to fill another need if the team is still in contention.

As for the Ninja..he made the team as a non-roster invitee and will hopefully rain down Ninja Deathstrikes at the plate and on the field like he did for us in 2008 and 09. He can play any outfield spot and might see time late in games to improve defense in left.

Catchers:

18 Ca Geovany Soto
55 Ca Koyie Hill

A *lot* of digital ink was spilled griping about the Cubs bringing Koyie Hill north despite his almost non-existent batting average and mediocre (at best) defensive play while Welington Castillo absolutely tore it up at the plate, hitting .632..but he'll be starting in AAA instead. Max Ramirez also had a good spring behind the dish, but was waived as he was out of options. Fortunately, he cleared waivers and will also be in AAA. Overall, the Cubs are *very* strong in terms of catching depth behind Soto (well...not counting Hill), who is looking for a rebound year but should get most of the starts if he stays healthy..his health and production is a major key for this team this year.

I personally don't quite understand why the Cubs management loves Hill so much..they talk a lot about the intangibles he brings and that's all well and good but even a backup catcher has to get a few hits and throw out some runners every now and again. Hill just might have a decent season but the instant he makes an out to end a game or fails to nail a base stealer who scores a winning run against us..well, it's not going to be pretty. Stay healthy, Geo.

AL East:

1. Boston (Just a hunch things are going to come together for them..)
2. Tampa Bay (Wild Card) (The best run organization in baseball?)
3. NY Yankees (The Evil Empire is starting to get long in the tooth..)
4. Toronto (Just not enough firepower to compete in this division..)
5. Baltimore (See above.)

AL Central:

1. Minnesota (Regular season champs, awful in playoffs.)
2. Detroit (Things are looking up in Motown.)
3. Chicago White Sox (Monster offense, but enough pitching?)
4. Kansas City (Still not quite there yet.)
5. Cleveland (What happened after 2007?)

AL West:

1. Texas (Awesome season, but can they go all the way minus Cliff Lee?)
2. LA Angels (Always hanging around, but Texas has taken this division over for now)
3. Oakland (Moneyball's not quite enough anymore)
4. Seattle (Ichiro doesn't deserve this.)

NL East:

1. Philadelphia (Juggernaut rotation..enough offense to unseat the Giants?)
2. Atlanta (Another great organization..and not that far off from the top again.)
3. Florida (The usual. Bargain basement budget, $100 million results.)
4. Washington (They've got a plan, but they're miles away from the top.)
5. NY Mets (Expensive disaster impending.)

NL Central:

1. Milwaukee (Going for broke..and they'll probably get it with mid-season trades)
2. Cincinnati (Dusty runs one too many arms into the ground to make the postseason.)
3. St. Louis (Even without Wainwright, Snoopyball will keep them hanging around a while.)
4. Chicago Cubs
5. Pittsburgh (Well, at least they probably won't be last this time.)
6. Houston (A not quite as expensive disaster impending.)

NL West:

1. San Francisco (Defending champions have the means to do it again.)
2. Colorado (Wild Card) (These guys just plain know how to play baseball.)
3. San Diego (Tons of pitching, no offense now that Gonzalez is gone to Beantown.)
4. LA Dodgers (Not quite as bad as the Mets, but heading in a similar direction.)
5. Arizona (What happened here?)

Overall, this is going to be a transitional/rebuilding year..even though Hendry and Ricketts would never admit that. Attendance is probably going to be down and getting tickets to games (especially if the team doesn't do very well at first) will be quite a bit easier than previous years (especially when folks have to dump their tickets on reseller sites at rock bottom prices). If the team gets on a good roll, though, us terminally loyal fans will come in droves..otherwise, we could be looking at a very different team one year from now.

We don't have much speed (as usual) and we'll need to hit lots of doubles, triples, and homers to get any runs across, as manufacturing runs won't work most of the time..not a lot of steals, not a lot of guys who can go first to third on a single..and probably not a lot of good bunters. I can also see us throwing away games due to bad defense/situational awareness/baserunning..minimizing that is absolutely essential to any kind of attempt at a playoff run. I think we'll finish 4th, but I'd love to be wrong..and stranger things have happened. Let's go Cubs.
Tags: 2011, preview
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