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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
Ryan Vogelsong twirls a gem vs. Brewers
by Igor Mello | CBSSports.com
(1:35 am ET) Giants pitcher Ryan Vogelsong twirled a gem and received more than enough run support Friday night against the Brewers, scattering two runs on four hits over seven innings to improve to 8-9 on the season. He struck out seven and walked one in a 13-2 victory.

Over his last four starts covering 23 1/3 innings, Vogelsong has allowed nine earned runs. He owns a 3.73 ERA and a 1.24 WHIP over 27 starts (157 innings). His next start will come Wednesday against Colorado at Coors Field.

Wily Peralta gets roughed up in loss to Giants
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(1:35 am ET) Brewers pitcher Wily Peralta had a tough start Friday against the Giants.

Peralta gave up six runs on nine hits over three innings. He struck out one and walked two during the outing. Peralta got himself in trouble immediately. After recording one out in the first inning, Peralta allowed four straight singles. By the end of the inning, three runs had come across for the Giants. The issues continued in the second. San Francisco started the inning with a single and a double. Both runs would come around to score. Peralta would go on to give up his final run on a single the following inning.

With the loss, Peralta fell to 15-9. He’ll take on the Cubs in his next start.

Andrew Cashner stays sharp in no-decision
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(1:25 am ET) Padres pitcher Andrew Cashner turned in a strong start Friday against the Dodgers.

Cashner allowed one run on six hits over six innings. He struck out eight and did not issue any walks during the outing. Cashner was fantastic over the first two innings, striking out four without giving up a hit. That streak ended in the third, as Cashner gave up two singles to open the inning. Hanley Ramirez wound up hitter a run-scoring double, driving in the only run against Cashner. Cashner was able to get through his final three innings of work without giving up another run.

Cashner wasn't a factor into the decision. He’ll take on the Diamondbacks in his next start.

Dan Haren settles for no-decision vs. Padres
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(1:23 am ET) Dodgers pitcher Dan Haren tossed a quality start Friday against the Padres.

Haren gave up two runs, one earned, on five hits over six innings. He struck out three and walked one during the outing. Haren’s first run came as the result of an error. In the second inning, Haren walked the leadoff man. The second batter of the inning would reach on a throwing error by Dee Gordon, advancing the leadoff man to third. A sac fly would plate that run and give Haren the early deficit. The Dodgers would tie the game up the following inning, but Haren couldn’t hold on. With two outs in the fourth, Haren gave up three straight singles. The final hit wound up driving in a run.

Haren wasn't a factor into the decision. He’ll take on the Nationals in his next start.

Cory Rasmus will get the starting nod Saturday
by Igor Mello | CBSSports.com
(1:15 am ET) Angels pitcher Cory Rasmus will get the starting nod Saturday against the A's, according to the Orange County Register. Rasmus has posted a 2.68 ERA over 37 innings this season out of the bullpen. He has not pitched three innings or thrown more than 51 pitches in an outing this season.

Felix Hernandez gives up four home runs Friday
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(1:08 am ET) Mariners pitcher Felix Hernandez had a rough start Friday against the Nationals.

Hernandez allowed five runs on 10 hits over seven innings. He struck out one and walked one during the outing. Home runs were a major issue for Hernandez. For the first time in his career, Hernandez gave up four home runs in one game. Anthony Rendon got things started in the first inning, hitting a solo shot off Hernandez. Jason Werth would take Hernandez deep for a two-run shot in the third. In the fourth, two other Nationals got into the act. Both Ian Desmond and Wilson Ramos clubbed solo shots, putting five runs on the board against Hernandez. Despite the rough start, he gave the Mariners seven innings.

With the loss, Hernandez fell to 13-5. He’ll take on the Athletics in his next start. 


Jordan Zimmermann wins his 10th game Friday
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(1:07 am ET) Nationals pitcher Jordan Zimmermann turned in a strong start Friday against the Mariners.

Zimmermann allowed two runs on seven hits over six innings. He struck out eight and issued one walk during the appearance. Zimmermann was tagged for both runs early. After picking up a strikeout for the first out of the game, Zimmermann allowed a triple against Dustin Ackley. After a walk to Robinson Cano, Zimmermann gave up two run-scoring singles. He was able to get things together after a visit to the mound. Zimmermann would make it through the next six innings without surrendering another run.

With the win, Zimmermann improved to 10-5. He’ll take on the Dodgers in his next start. 


Jered Weaver stays dominant in win over Athletics
by Igor Mello | CBSSports.com
(1:03 am ET) Angels pitcher Jered Weaver dominated the Athletics on Friday, scattering only three hits over sevens shutout frames to improve to 15-7 on the year. He struck out three and walked three in a 4-0 victory.

Over his last two starts covering 13 2/3 innings, Weaver has allowed three earned runs. He owns a 3.57 ERA and a 1.22 WHIP over 29 starts (181 1/3 innings). His next start will come Thursday at Minnesota.

Jon Lester hit with tough-luck loss Friday
by Igor Mello | CBSSports.com
(1:02 am ET) Athletics pitcher Jon Lester put together another solid start on Friday but was hit with a tough-luck loss against the Angels in Anaheim. The left-hander permitted three runs -- two earned -- on seven hits and one walk while striking out five over six innings of a 4-0 defeat.

Over his last two starts covering 13 innings, Lester has allowed only three earned runs. He owns a 2.55 ERA and a 1.11 WHIP over 27 starts (183 2/3 innings). His next start will come Wednesday at home against Seattle.

Addison Reed picks up a save Friday
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(12:41 am ET) Diamondbacks closer Addison Reed picked up his 31st save Friday against the Rockies.

Reed entered with a three-run lead, and shut the door. He faced three batters during the outing. Reed notched two strikeouts and picked up one groundout during the appearance. 


 
 
 
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