Cubs Season Preview: Starting Pitching
Before I started on the season previews, I wrote an article on the outlook of the Cubs rotation. Since that covered almost everything, this will just provide updates as well as a new prediction on the rotation.
Scott Baker- Baker was the Cubs first signing of the off season, and he is a low risk, high reward pitcher, the type that Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer love to gamble on. Baker put together a few nice years in Minnesota, especially in 2008, where he posted a 3.45 ERA in 172.1 innings. Before undergoing Tommy John Surgery in 2011, Baker started 21 games and posted a 3.15 ERA. He has decent stuff, but is not a huge strikeout guy. A change of scenery and league could really help Baker, as the NL is a slightly more pitcher-friendly league. Baker will start the season on the Disabled List, recovering from the Tommy John Surgery. He is expected to return around early May.
Scott Feldman- Feldman was Jedstein’s second rotation signing of the off-season. He has been an under-the-radar favorite of the duo since they took over, as he was one of the pieces being discussed last off-season when Matt Garza was close to being traded to the Rangers. It was decided last month that Feldman would start in the rotation, regardless of other injuries, so he is likely to slot in at the 3 spot.
Matt Garza- Garza has been very good in his first two seasons with the Cubs, and they gave up too much for him to do anything else besides trade him again in the near future. His ERA has been below 4 in both seasons, and strikes out a lot of hitters to go along with that. Like Baker, Garza will also start the season on the DL, and is also expected to return in early May. While he won’t be traded now, Garza is not likely to be with the Cubs at all in 2014.
Edwin Jackson- A shoe-in for the rotation, and the Cubs prized signing of the off-season, Jackson has high expectations. He will likely be around for at least two years of his four year contract, and will also be expected to be a mentor to some of the younger starters. Jackson has long been known to have some of the best stuff in the majors, but has never really been able to put it together. The Cubs are the eighth team of his career, as he has usually been a hot commodity at the trade deadline. He is also an innings eater when healthy, surpassing 200 innings pitched twice in his career and coming within 1/3 of 200 innings in 2011.
Jeff Samardzija- Samardzija is another guarantee in the rotation, barring injury. In Jeff’s first year as a starter last year, he exceeded expectations, posting a 3.81 ERA. Six of his last seven starts of the season were quality starts, so he finished strong. Samardzija thrives on the strikeout and also features a nasty splitter. The converted reliever should be a big part of the Cubs 2013 starting rotation. He was named their Opening Day starter, and will shoulder most of the load throughout the year.
Carlos Villanueva- Carlos is a guy who has been shuffled back and forth between the rotation and the bullpen in the seven years he has been in the major leagues. Last year with Toronto, he started 16 games, but was much better out of the bullpen, and was only starting due to lots of injuries in the Blue Jays rotation. He had a very bad September as his ERA jumped from 3.10 to 4.16, which is where he finished the year at. Thanks to a pair of injuries, Villanueva will start in the rotation.
Travis Wood- Wood is one of three starters who were with the organization before this upcoming season. He didn’t get Cubs experience until June, and from then until the rest of the season, he was serviceable, but did not live up to many fans expectations, since he was the main piece in the Sean Marshall trade. Like Villanueva, Wood is versatile in the fact that he can be sent to the minors for a few starts before starting in the majors, but like Villanueva, he will benefit from injuries and start in the Cubs rotation.
Here is how I figure the rotation to look on Opening Day:
1. Jeff Samardzija
2. Edwin Jackson
3. Scott Feldman
4. Travis Wood
5. Carlos Villanueva
While the rotation looks set for now, it may become a positive problem in May when Garza and Baker return. I expect them to both be in it, as well as Samarzija and Jackson, as well as whoever is pitching the best between Feldman, Wood and Villanueva.
In my next article, I will preview the Cubs relievers, which will also be the final article in the Season Preview.