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The NL Central is quickly becoming one of the best divisions in baseball. That doesn’t bode well for the Cardinals and Reds. The Brewers, as I stated in a previous article, are going to be a contender this year, and now it is looking like the Cubs are going to be able to make a run at it.
The Chicago Cubs are reportedly close to finalizing a deal getting them Matt Garza from the Rays for four minor league prospects. The Rays are in the process of blowing up their team and rebuilding, but that’s another story.
Garza provides the Rays with the ability to pitch with an ERA under 4 and you can expect 10 wins or more. He joins a pitching staff of Ryan Dempster, Carlos Silva, Randy Wells, Tom Gorzelanny, and Carlos Zambrano, with somebody out of the group getting moved to the bullpen or traded.
Dempster and Wells probably have secured a spot on the rotation. Dempster led the team in wins (15) and strikeouts (208). Wells had a 4.26 ERA after a 3.05 in 2009. He isn’t young (28), but has only been in the majors for basically 2 years. He will improve and be the #3 starter.
Zambrano, after poor performance and dugout tirades, was moved to the bullpen. By the end of the season, he was starting again and started his last 11 appearances of the season. He won 8 of the 11 decisions and 7 of the last 8. In that stretch he lowered his era each outing (5.61 to 3.33) and didn’t lose once. It looks like he may have returned to form, but Zambrano is an incredibly volatile player and we won’t know what to expect from him until we get rolling.
Carlos Silva (4.22 ERA in 2010) is the rubics cube of the group. He has had a ERA as low as 3.44 and as high as 6.46 in a full year of starter’s work. His rookie year, he had a 3.21 ERA in 68 appearances. It all depends how he performs whether he earns a roster spot, but I expect him to outperform Gorzelanny.
Tom Gorzelanny had his best year since 2007 (7-9 4.09 ERA), but it’s hard to determine how he will perform this year with a career ERA of 4.68. I would expect somewhere in the ballpark of 5.00 ERA, based on the results of recent years. He could be the weak link of the rotation, or he could lose out to Silva and be traded or be moved to the bullpen.
If Zambrano, Silva or Gorzelanny fail to impress in spring training, Andrew Cashner (2.79 at AA) or Jay Jackson (4.63 at AAA) will look to fill the void as the top pitching prospects of the organization. Cashner worked out of the bullpen last year and compiled a 4.80 ERA in 53 appearances. Another option would be Sean Marshall, who worked as the setup man delivering a shutout 2.65 ERA and has expressed desire to return to the rotation, but with the Cubs limited in the ‘pen, it seems unlikely.
The batting is middle of the road, but new 1B Carlos Pena, who is good for 25 home runs at the least, should help them drive in runs.
Last year it was proven that the pitching was one of the worst in the majors, getting Garza, could improve it enough, so that they are able to finish .500 or better. To end the 2010 season, they went 15-7 in their last 22 games. If they can carry the momentum into the 2011 season, I expect them to contend but probably finish just .500 or a little better. They’re getting close, but not there yet.
The Cubs becoming a contender immediately makes the NL Central one of the toughest divisions in the MLB. The Reds, Cardinals, Cubs and Brewers all possibly finishing over .500 and competing for the playoffs.