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2011 Fantasy outlooks: Chicago Cubs

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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.

Chicago Cubs Fantasy Outlook
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
Bullpen Breakdown
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
Rookies/Prospects Age Pos. 2010 high Destination
1 Brett Jackson 22 OF Double-A Triple-A
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.
2 Chris Carpenter 25 SP Triple-A Triple-A
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.
3 Trey McNutt 21 SP Double-A Double-A
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.
4 Josh Vitters 22 3B Double-A Double-A
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.

Stay in touch with the most passionate Fantasy staff in the business by following us via Twitter . You can e-mail us your Fantasy Baseball questions to DMFantasyBaseball@cbs.com . Be sure to put Team outlooks in the subject field. Please include your full name, hometown and state.

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Player News
Pirates DFA John Axford, Jeanmar Gomez
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(10:26 am ET) The Pirates designated two relievers for assignment Saturday, removing pitchers John Axford and Jeanmar Gomez from the 40-man roster.

The moves clear spots for Justin Sellers, who was acquired via trade Saturday, and Charlie Morton, who was activated from the 60-day disabled list. Axford posted a 4.09 ERA and 12:6 K:BB ratio in 11 innings after being acquired in a trade from the Indians in mid-August. Gomez posted a 3.19 ERA, 1.50 WHIP and 38:23 K:BB ratio in 62 innings.


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by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(10:23 am ET) The Pirates activated pitcher Charlie Morton from the 60-day disabled list Saturday. Morton underwent hip surgery in late September after dealing with a sports hernia and could be a candidate to go back on the disabled list in the spring.

Indians trade Justin Sellers to Pirates for cash considerations
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(10:14 am ET) The Indians have traded shortstop Justin Sellers to the Pirates for cash considerations.

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Royals designated Liam Hendriks for assignment
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(10:07 am ET) The Royals have designated pitcher Liam Hendriks for assignment. Hendriks posted a 5.23 ERA, 1.38 WHIP and 23:7 K:BB ratio in 32 2/3 innings during the regular season.

Phillies activate Mario Hollands from 60-day disabled list
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(10:05 am ET) The Phillies have activated pitcher Mario Hollands from the 60-day disabled list.

Hollands suffered an elbow injury in early September and was ruled out for the season, but it was determined he didn't require surgery on his Game 2 flexor strain. He delivered a 4.40 ERA in 50 appearances in 2014.


Phillies activate Cliff Lee from 60-day disabled list
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(10:03 am ET) The Phillies have activated pitcher Cliff Lee from the 60-day disabled list. Lee is expected to begin a full throwing program in November and is on track to be ready for spring training.

Giants will not start Madison Bumgarner on short rest
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(12:05 am ET) The Giants will not start Madison Bumgarner on short rest for Game 4.

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Royals RP Greg Holland shuts it down Friday
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(10/24/2014) Royals closer Greg Holland did his job Friday against the Giants.

With his team up by one run, Holland was called upon to pick up the save. He had little trouble against San Francisco. Facing the heart of the team's order, Holland induced a flyout and two groundouts against Buster Posey, Pablo Sandoval and Hunter Pence. He threw just eight pitches, five of which were strikes. 


Giants' Michael Morse comes up big as pinch hitter
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(10/24/2014) Giants outfielder Michael Morse came up big as a pinch hitter Friday against the Royals.

Morse got his opportunity in the sixth inning and didn't disappoint. With a man on first, Morse worked an eight-pitch at-bat against Jeremy Guthrie. After starting out 0-2, Morse was able to work the count full. On the eighth pitch, Morse managed to double down the left field line, plating the team's first run of the contest. Morse was replaced by a pitcher in the top of the seventh.


Royals' Alcides Escobar reaches twice in Game 3
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(10/24/2014) Royals infielder Alcides Escobar reached base twice Game 3 against the Giants. 

Escobar wound up playing a big role immediately, doubling in his first at-bat. He would come around to score later in the inning, giving the Royals a 1-0 lead. Escobar would strike again in the sixth inning. After a single, Escobar would score from first on an Alex Gordon double. Escobar went on to finish 2 for 4, with two runs scored.


 
 
 
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