So there’s a lot to like from the defending NL Central champions, and if they get contributions from the minors — like Jeff Samardzija in a relief/fill-in starter role — later in the season should any injuries arrive, they should at least have a chance to enter the tournament to for their first World Series title in 100 years.
Lieber and Ryan Dempster essentially fill the rotation spots once annually left for Kerry Wood and Prior, though neither had much use for them from the disabled list. Add in Carlos Zambrano, Ted Lilly, Rich Hill and Jason Marquis, and the Cubs actually have a surplus of capable starters, so someone will be a long man out of the bullpen. Wood takes over the closer role, with Carlos Marmol and Bob Howry setting him up (and filling in, if need be), along with Scott Eyre. It’s a well-balanced team with enough pieces to be at the top of the standings from start to finish. The Cubs did have the second-best team ERA and third-best bullpen ERA in the NL in 2007.
The rotation adds Yovani Gallardo for a (mostly) full season, once he gets into playing shape after spring knee surgery and loses Chris Capuano — who went something like 15 starts without a win last year — to his second Tommy John procedure. The lineup benefits from a full season of Rookie of the Year* (it should’ve been Troy Tulowitzki) Ryan Braun. Plus, the addition of center fielder Mike Cameron (after his 25-game suspension for a positive amphetamines test) moves Bill Hall back to third base and puts the brutal Braun in left. Though they did decide Jason Kendall would be a good free-agent pickup behind the plate, which is ridiculous. Hopefully it was their only option. Still, this is a young team on the rise, not a fluke.
What I’m looking forward to seeing
There’s a good base with Freddy Sanchez, Adam LaRoche, Jason Bay and Xavier Nady. Nate McLouth won the starting center field job in Spring Training, and there is lots of anticipation in the Steel City for prospects Andrew McCutchen and Steven Pearce. It’s just a matter of time before they get the call.
On the mound, Ian Snell, Tom Gorzelanny, Paul Maholm and Zach Duke would appear to be a fine nucleus for a starting rotation, but they’ve all struggled to establish themselves. How much of that is the result of their own abilities and what can be attributed to the shortfalls of the team behind them is still to be determined. The bullpen, other than promising young closer Matt Capps, is a toss-up.