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After three straight winning seasons in which they finished no lower than second in the National League Central, the Cubs endured a calamitous 2010 in which they slumped to a 75-87 record and a fifth-place finish. They did wind up the season strong with interim manager Mike Quade at the helm, going 24-13 after Lou Piniella retired, which helped to remove the "interim" tag from Quade's title going into the 2011 season.
While the Cubs begin the year without the volatile Piniella, the team is still largely unchanged. The outfield of Alfonso Soriano, Marlon Byrd and Kosuke Fukudome is intact, Geovany Soto returns behind the plate, and Carlos Pena is the only new face in the infield. The pitching staff remains stable as well, aside from Matt Garza replacing Tom Gorzelanny in the rotation and Kerry Wood joining the bullpen mix.
Hopes for improvement rest heavily on the arm of Garza, who brings a higher profile than Gorzelanny, but whose 3.91 ERA from last year was only a shade lower than Gorzelanny's 4.09. Add in Garza's long-time struggles when pitching away from his former home of Tropicana Field -- his career ERA away from Tampa Bay is 4.51 -- and there are fewer reasons to be optimistic about a turnaround.
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The Cubs are not exactly brimming with youth, but as a 20-year-old rookie, shortstop Starlin Castro provided one of the team's bright spots, batting an even .300. Veterans Aramis Ramirez and Carlos Zambrano made up for disappointing starts with strong second halves. If Ramirez can stay healthy and Zambrano can stay focused, both could help the Cubs inch closer to .500 again, if not make them contenders in an improved NL Central that features an emerging Reds powerhouse and a retooled Brewers squad in addition to the steady Cardinals.
However, without a stable of youngsters to build upon, a healthy and consistent corps of middle-of-the-order hitters or a true ace atop their rotation, this could be the beginning of a long and difficult stretch at Wrigley Field.
Sleeper ... Randy Wells, SP
Even though Wells didn't pitch quite a full season in his rookie year in 2009, he finished a surprisingly robust 55th among all starting pitchers in Fantasy points. Last season, despite getting 32 starts, Wells fell to 80th in the rankings. The righty may have overperformed in '09, but his value was hurt last season by an 8-14 record. Only 10 qualifying starting pitchers received less run support than Wells in that disappointing campaign. The Cubs' offense may not have been world-beaters, but Wells should have certainly received more help than he did. Look for him to lower his ERA and WHIP slightly and to get his record back to around .500, making him a relevant hurler in standard mixed leagues again.
Bust ... Blake DeWitt, 2B
As a minor leaguer, DeWitt showed good contact skills a decent amount of pop for a middle infielder, but as a major leaguer, neither of those skills has been in evidence. The 25-year-old DeWitt could still grow into being a better contact hitter, but there are reasons to suspect his power. His Triple-A stats were compiled in good hitting environments in the Pacific Coast League. He did hit 13 doubles and six home runs in only 178 at-bats at Double-A Jacksonville back in 2007, but he was repeating that level, not to mention that we're looking at a small sample. After a much larger sample of 857 major league at-bats, it's getting harder to expect DeWitt to become even a 15-homer threat. Even if he can get his batting average out of the .260s, DeWitt's bat is not one to roster outside of NL-only leagues.
Bounce-back player ... Carlos Pena, 1B
With a batting average that has dropped steadily from .282 to .196 over the last three seasons, it's hard not to be skeptical about Pena's chances for a comeback season in 2011. However, there are signs that the former Tampa Bay slugger could have a nice rebound in his near future. His power is still as evident as ever, as his home run per flyball rate of 20 percent was just one percentage point lower than his 2009 rate. His homer output dropped from 39 to 28, however, because of a growing tendency to hit grounders. Not only did this rob Pena of precious long balls, but it was an unfortunate trend for someone who has hit below .200 on ground balls in three of the last four seasons. Pena's aversion to flyball hitting was a sudden change, so there is no reason to assume that this will become a long-term pattern. Expecting a return to his .282-46-121 line from 2007 is not advisable, but he could pay off as a late-round grab in mixed league formats.
|Projected Lineup||Pos.||Projected Rotation|
|1||Kosuke Fukudome||RF||1||Ryan Dempster||RH|
|2||Starlin Castro||SS||2||Matt Garza||RH|
|3||Marlon Byrd||CF||3||Carlos Zambrano||RH|
|4||Aramis Ramirez||3B||4||Randy Wells||RH|
|5||Carlos Pena||1B||5||Carlos Silva||RH|
|6||Alfonso Soriano||LF||Alt||Andrew Cashner||RH|
|7||Geovany Soto||C|| |
|8||Blake DeWitt||2B||CL||Carlos Marmol||RH|
|Top bench options||SU||Kerry Wood||RH|
|R||Tyler Colvin||OF||RP||Sean Marshall||LH|
|R||Jeff Baker||2B/3B||RP||James Russell||LH|
|R||Darwin Barney||SS||RP||Jeff Samardzija||RH|
|Stolen base and on-base threat has shown good doubles and triples power in the minors as well. He'll start at Triple-A but could easily work his way into the Cubs' outfield picture this season.|
|Just like Chris Carpenter of the Cardinals, the younger Carpenter is a Tommy John survivor. The hard-throwing righty gets plenty of ground balls and with continued success, should spend time in the Cubs' bullpen this year.|
|Another hard-throwing righty, McNutt is generally considered the organization's best arm now that Chris Archer has moved on to the Rays' system. Unlikely to arrive in 2011, he is more of a keeper league option.|
|Though he has been young for every minor league level he's reached, Vitters has shown good home run power. He still has to learn to be patient and to hit in the gaps. Making his return to Double-A, this will be a crucial year for the former first-round pick.|
|5||Hayden Simpson||21||SP||College||Class A|
|Last year's first-round pick missed out on his professional debut due to a case of mononucleosis. His strong four-pitch repertoire could land him in the Cubs' rotation, but it's not likely to happen this year.|
|Best of the rest: Jay Jackson, SP; Matt Szucur, OF; Rafael Dolis, SP; Reggie Golden, OF; Robinson Lopez, SP; Austin Reed, SP; Alberto Cabrera, SP; Marquez Smith, 3B; D.J. LeMahieu, SS; Brett Wallach, SP; Brooks Raley, SP; Su-Min Jung, SP; Austin Kirk, SP; and Welington Castillo, C, 1B.|
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