Projected starting rotation: Carlos Zambrano, Ted Lilly, Ryan Dempster, Randy Wells, Tom Gorzelanny
Projected 2010 starting lineup:
C: Geovany Soto/Koyie Hill
1B: Derrek Lee
2B: Mike Fontenot
3B: Aramis Ramirez
SS: Ryan Theriot
LF: Alfonso Soriano
CF: Marlon Byrd
RF: Kosuke Fukudome/Xavier Nady
After a 2008 season that at least left the North side of Chicago with a semblance of real hope despite falling short (again), 2009 was a year of utter disappointment on every level for the Cubbies. Nearly everyone in the lineup had down seasons, and some were outright awful. Alfonso Soriano’s season, in particular, was a debacle at best. A .241 BA, and a paltry 55 RBI and 64 runs scored (combined with just nine SB) gave Soriano his worst professional season yet. Geovany Soto gained weight and had a major sophomore slump, batting just .218 and losing a lot of playing time to Koyie Hill. Aramis Ramirez had an injury to his shoulder that affected him all year, but he was successful when in the lineup. Kosuke Fukudome had a similar overall season to his 2008 campaign, which is anything but encouraging. And of course, there was the one and only sideshow-unto-himself, Milton Bradley. All of this turmoil and underwhelming play led to the Cubs finishing just five games over .500 and 7.5 games behind the Cardinals. This offseason hasn’t exactly done much to inspire Cubs fans, either. The team did get rid of the aforementioned migraine known as Milton Bradley, but in one of the goofiest trades in MLB history, they received probably the worst pitcher in Major League Baseball, Carlos Silva. This is a guy whose last two seasons have seen him go a combined 5-18 with a BAA in the mid .320’s. In the 30.1 innings he puked out last year, he managed to allow 29 ER, 5 HR, and 41 H—all totaled, a cool 8.61 ERA/1.71 WHIP. Have fun with that, Chicago. (Truthfully, I’ll be shocked if he makes the team out of Spring Training, but I take any opportunity I can to rip on him.)
The one bright spot in an otherwise miserable offensive season was Derrek Lee, whom many figured was going to continue trending downward from a disappointing (by his standards) 2008 season. He led the Cubs’ hitters in pretty much every important offensive category. Though he is 35 now, assuming he stays healthy, he’s certainly capable of putting up 30+ homers and 100+ RBI again. Aramis Ramirez is still among the best third basemen in baseball when healthy. The outfield is one huge question mark, though, because you just have no clue what to expect from any of them on any given day. (Granted, Alfonso Soriano was so godawful in 2009 that he probably has nowhere to go but up at this point.) There are four guys—Soriano, Byrd, Fukudome, and Nady—out there and I guarantee that Fukudome will lose the starting gig very soon into the season, if he even has the starting gig at all. When he faces lefthanders, it’s comedy at its finest. Nady will probably take over in right by May. It’s pretty bad when Marlon Byrd is the surest thing in your outfield.
The Cubs still wield a very good pitching staff, led by Ted Lilly and Ryan Dempster. Lilly is perennially one of the most underrated pitchers in the game. Dempster had a slightly down year in 2009, but that was due in no small part to the Cubs’ defense seemingly taking the day off whenever he took the mound. Carlos Zambrano, to me, looks like he is on the downswing at only 28 years of age, and I fully expect that trend to continue going into 2010. My guess is he finishes the year with an ERA just barely over 4.00 for the first time ever. He just doesn’t strike fear into opposing batters anymore. The X-factor in their rotation will be Randy Wells. He had a very good rookie campaign, but his BABIP was .292. He doesn’t strike out a ton of people, so he’ll need his defense to be a lot better than they were last year in order for him to avoid the sophomore jinx. The last spot in the rotation figures to be a battle between Tom Gorzelanny and Jeff Samardzija. I’m going to guess that Gorzelanny wins that battle because Samardzija is far too erratic for the Cubs to rely on to pitch full games. (But hey, at least it’s not Silva, right?) The bullpen was solid for the most part last year, but there remain concerns in the closer’s role. Carlos Marmol will open the season as the closer, but if he doesn’t lower his hideous walk rate—his 65 walks were nearly twice as many as the next closest reliever on their staff—then I doubt Lou Piniella will hesitate to give more opportunities to Angel Guzman. If nothing else, at least Sweet Lou doesn’t have to suffer another ulcer watching Kevin Gregg try to close games out anymore.
2010 Prediction: 85-77 (2nd in NL Central): The Cubs just have too many question marks throughout their aging and injury-prone lineup and in their at-times erratic bullpen for me to think they can topple their hated rivals in St. Louis. However, their pitching staff is among the league’s best, so they should remain in contention well into September.