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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
David Holmberg serves up two homers in loss to Cardinals
by Igor Mello | CBSSports.com
(10:56 pm ET) Reds pitcher David Holmberg turned in another solid outing but came away with a tough-luck loss Friday night against the Cardinals in St. Louis, dropping to 1-2 on the year.

The opening inning proved to be costly for Holmberg. He permitted solo home runs to Randal Grichuk and Matt Holliday in the opening frame for his only damage of the night. He yielded two runs on five hits and three walks while striking out three over six innings of a 2-1 defeat. Of his 106 pitches, 63 were strikes.

Holmberg owns a 5.25 ERA over 24 innings of work. He will make his final start of the season Thursday at home against Milwaukee.


Zach Putnam gets two out save
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(10:55 pm ET) White Sox reliever Zach Putnam picked up a two out save Friday against the Rays.

Putnam entered with a one-run lead, and managed to shut the door. He made things interesting, giving up a hit against his first batter, but managed strikeouts against the next two hitters to end the game. It was Putnam's sixth save of the season.


Jose Quintana wins one Friday
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(10:51 pm ET) White Sox pitcher Jose Quintana turned in a strong start Friday against the Rays.

Quintana allowed three runs, one earned, on nine hits over 7 1/3 innings. He struck out six and did not issue any walks during the outing. The Rays started the scoring early, picking up two runs on a first inning error. With two outs, Wil Myers managed to reach on a fielding error by second baseman Marcus Semien. Logan Forsythe then doubled two runs home. Both runs were unearned by Quintana. Forsythe would tag Quintana for an earned run in the fourth inning. He hit a solo home run to leadoff the inning. 

With the win, Quintana improved to 9-10. He’ll take on the Tigers in his next start. 


Jeremy Hellickson turns in rough start Friday
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(10:49 pm ET) Rays pitcher Jeremy Hellickson had a rough start Friday against the White Sox.

Hellickson allowed four runs on seven hits over 4 1/3 innings. He struck out one and walked two during the outing. Hellickson got off to a strong start, turning in four scoreless innings to start the game. He seemed to tire in the top of the fifth inning. Hellickson walked the leadoff hitter, and gave up a double to the second batter. Both of those runs came around after two straight run-scoring singles. Avisail Garcia drove in two more runs on a double later in the inning. 

With the loss, Hellickson dropped to 1-4. He’ll take on the Red Sox in his next start. 


Julio Teheran goes seven innings strong in tough-luck loss
by Igor Mello | CBSSports.com
(10:48 pm ET) Braves starting pitcher Julio Teheran hurled seven dominant innings in a tough-luck loss to the Mets at home Friday night, dropping to 13-13 on the year. He permitted two runs on seven hits and no walks while striking out six over seven innings of a 5-0 defeat.

Over his last three starts covering 20 1/3 innings, Teheran has allowed six earned runs. He owns a 2.88 ERA and a 1.06 WHIP over 32 starts (216 innings). Teheran will have one more chance to climb over .500 before the end of the season. That opportunity will come Wednesday at home against Pittsburgh.


Zack Wheeler jumps one game over .500 Friday
by Igor Mello | CBSSports.com
(10:47 pm ET) Mets starting pitcher Zack Wheeler turned in a gem Friday night against the Braves in Atlanta, improving to 11-10 on the year. The right-hander permitted five hits and two walks while striking out seven over six innings of a 5-0 victory.

Wheeler has permitted just one earned run over his last two starts away from home (12 innings). He owns a 3.49 ERA and a 1.33 WHIP over 31 starts (180 1/3 innings). His final start of the season will come Thursday at Washington.

Jeff Locke pitches well in no-decision
by Igor Mello | CBSSports.com
(10:29 pm ET) Pirates starting pitcher Jeff Locke pitched well in a no-decision at home Friday night against the Brewers. The left-hander permitted two runs on five hits and no walks while striking out three over seven innings of a 4-2 win.

All of Pittsburgh's runs were scored in the eighth inning when Locke was out of the game. Over his last three starts covering 19 1/3 innings, Locke has allowed six earned runs. He owns a 3.60 ERA and a 1.21 WHIP over 20 starts (127 1/3 innings). His next start will come Wednesday at Atlanta.

Adam Warren picks up five out save
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(10:26 pm ET) Yankees pitcher Adam Warren picked up a five out save Friday against the Blue Jays. 

Warren entered with a two-run lead, and managed to shut the door. He did not allow a hit or a walk during the appearce, but did notch three strikeouts. It was Warren's third save of the season. 


Yovani Gallardo fans 11 in no-decision Friday
by Igor Mello | CBSSports.com
(10:24 pm ET) Brewers pitcher Yovani Gallardo struck out 11 but came away without a decision Friday night against the Pirates in Pittsburgh. The right-hander allowed five hits and one walk over seven scoreless innings of work.

Gallardo wasn't backed by much run support and as a result, the bullpen failed to hold on to a two-run advantage, coughing up four runs in the eighth. Over his last two starts covering 13 innings, Gallardo has allowed two earned runs. He owns a 3.46 ERA and a 1.27 WHIP over 31 starts (187 1/3 innings). His final start of the regular season will come Thursday at Cincinnati.

Doug Fister registers win No. 15
by Igor Mello | CBSSports.com
(10:14 pm ET) Nationals pitcher Doug Fister put together a quality start in a win over the Marlins in Miami on Friday, improving to 15-6 on the year.

Fister allowed a run to score on a groundout in the second inning and permitted a solo home run to Justin Bour in the fourth for his only damage of the night. He was charged with two runs on five hits and two walks while striking out one over 6 2/3 innings of a 3-2 victory. Of his 102 pitches, 65 were strikes.

Fister owns a 2.55 ERA and a 1.12 WHIP over 24 starts (155 innings). His final start of the regular season will come Thursday at home against the Mets.


 
 
 
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