Sunday, March 11, 2012

Breaking Down the Cubs Pitching Staff Battles

The Cubs are a team with a lot up in the air entering the 2012 season. Under the direction of a new president, general manager and manager, there is an air of change surrounding Cubs camp. Many younger players are receiving an opportunity in Spring Training as the team builds for the future. Here is a look at a few of the battles going on within the pitching staff right now.

Opening Day Starter
Ryan Dempster and Matt Garza are in the mix for the chance to get the nod against Washington on April 5. There is no question that Garza will be the ace of the staff, but Demp is an experienced veteran and could get the nod as more of a lifetime achievement recognition from Dale Sveum. However, Garza had a better season a year ago and is the clear ace of the staff. Demp took the loss on Opening Day 2011 against the Pirates, so this time I believe it is Garza's turn.

Rest of the Rotation
Dempster and Garza have the top two spots in the pitching rotation nailed down. It looks as if lefty Paul Maholm could secure the third spot if he bounces back from being slowed down early in camp by an illness. Maholm will make his Spring Training debut tomorrow. That will leave Travis Wood, Jeff Samardzija, Chris Volstad and Randy Wells competing for the final two spots. Out of the four, there is no odds of favorite for either spot, nor is there a longshot to make the rotation. Wells pitched well in relief last week and could be ticketed for the bullpen after several years in the starting five. Samardzija has made his desire to start clear. He has pitched well in his first few spring outings. The last few weeks talk has been heating up that Samardzija is a serious candidate that could end up with a spot. Wood and Volstad are both young arms that the Cubs are high on. Many feel that the Cubs would like to toss a second left hander (Wood) in the rotation. The Cubs are also high on Volstad. My guess would be that Jeff Samardzija and Travis Wood start the season in the rotation, while Chris Volstad and Randy Wells pitch in relief.

Bullpen Battles
Carlos Marmol will start the season as the Cubs closer and is expected to improve on his 2011 season. James Russell has earned a spot as a primary left handed setup man, while Kerry Wood returns for eighth inning duties. However, Wood cannot pitch every day because of his age and injury history. The Cubs are searching for another arm that can be relied upon in the late innings. The two leftovers from the rotation mix could be penciled into middle relief spots, which would leave at least two other spots on the pitching staff open. Andy Sonnanstine, Casey Coleman, Marcos Mateo, Scott Maine, John Gaub, Casey Weathers, Rodrigo Lopez, Jay Jackon and Trever Miller are all in the mix. I'm leaning toward Lopez, who's pitched well this spring, and Maine to beat out Gaub and Miller for the other left handed slot.

That's it for now, but I'll have position player related battles later in the week.

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