2011 Preview: Chicago Cubs

BRM begins its week long look at the NL Central and how it could all shake out for the season. Today, we look at the Chicago Cubs.

A quick recap of the Cubs 2010 season. Lou Piniella resigned during the season and Mike Quade took over. Quade did a good job over the remaining 37 games in guiding the Cubs to a 24-13 record during his stint. Quade’s interim tag was removed and he will be the full-time skipper for 2011.

There were other episode’s along the way: Big Z’s dugout blowup, the trade of Derrick Lee were just a couple, but 2011 looks better for the Cubbies, doesn’t it?

Each of us on staff will supply a look at the 2011 Cubs. We’ll begin with Alex Apple.

The signing of Garza has Cubs fans seeing a glimmer of hope, but the fact remains that the Cubs are not as complete of a ball club as the top three teams. Dempster, Zambrano, and Carlos Silva will have to have huge seasons for the Cubs to compete.

The what ifs? are many on the Cubs. Will Soriano produce or is he over the hump in his career? Will Fukodome ever be as good of a player as the Cubs thought he could be? Will Geovanny Soto return to the form where he beat out Joey Votto for Rookie of the Year? Can Blake DeWitt handle being the everyday second baseman? Will the talented Colvin or Castro experience sophomore slumps?

One huge positive for the Cubs is that the back of the bullpen should shorten games all season. Marmol and Wood will be a good tandem to go along with Sean Marshall. The Cubs will be solid, and they may go as far as Aramis Ramirez is able to take them. However, that will not be as far as St. Louis, Milwaukee, or Cincinnati can go.

Next up is John Bell.

With Lou Pinella leaving last year in August, Mike Quade took over and did a tremendous job finishing out the season. The problem, however, is that the season lasts 6 months, not one. Add that to the fact that the Cubs have several guys who either have great years or appear to be playing in the California Penal League.

Aramis Ramirez, Carlos Zambrano, newly re-acquired Kerry Wood and acquisition Carlos Pena all fit that description. Ryan Dempster is still solid and we can pretty much expect him to push the 15 win mark again this year. Look for the Cubs to have a couple of good months, with the rest either mediocre or flat out bad. The Cubs’ experience is the only thing that’s going to keep them out of last place and I think it’s safe to say Zambrano is going to be throwing some equipment onto the field at some point this year.

Justin Hamilton provides his take on the 2011 Cubs.

The Cubs come in second in the offseason splash department having traded for starter Matt Garza from the Rays. Garza slides into the #2 slot in a rotation that could be sneaky good. The 27 year-old Garza finished last season 15-10 and a 3.91 ERA which totals up to the best season of his career. In addition to Garza, the Cubs signed some prominent free agents as well.

Carlos Pena comes off a down year in Tampa residing below the Mendoza line at .196 28 HR and 84 RBI after having three prior seasons over 30 HR/100 RBI. He will slide into the first base spot vacated by Derrek Lee. A reunion also occurred for the Cubs this offseason after signing Kerry Wood to a one-year deal to be the setup to Carlos Marmol.

And here’s my take.

Realistically, I’m wasn’t a big fan of the signing of free agent first baseman Carlos Pena. If Rudy Jaramillo can get him right, the Cubs could be a dangerous team in 2011. Pena can carry a team for short periods of time as he did in Tampa. But Pena needs help. Most people are saying the key to the Cubs offense is Aramis Ramirez. He is in his contract year and you know what they say about contract years? Not so sure here. His better days could be behind him. Health is of the utmost concern with Ramirez.

Alfonso Soriano? If he can stay the course from his 2010, that would seriously be a bonus. I look for him to do that, too.

The key could be acutally be realizing that bringing in Kosuke Fukudome was not a smart move and continue to play Tyler Colvin. This kid has talent and he should not sit due to what is now being viewed as a bad contract. This is not a bad offensive team by any stretch. I feel like that part of the club is getting a bit (just a bit) of the short end.

The pitching got a tic better for the acquisition of Matt Garza. But does that put the Cubs in the same conversation as the Reds, Cardinals and Brewers? Garza alone doesn’t, but Carlos Zambrano and Carlos Silva can. If Big Z gets his head on right and Silva can stay healthy and pitch the way he did out of the gate in 2010, then we can seriously consider them.

Plus, bringing back Kerry Wood to set up Carlos Marmol does make for possibly the best 8th and 9th innings combo within the division. You will have to get to the Cubs early in games to beat them.
And I will add more to this. If the pieces fall into the right places for the Cubs in 2011 (pretty much true for almost any team in this division), they could find a way to emerge as division champs. The NL Central will be tougher this year. No one in their right mind would question that.