Sunday, March 27, 2011

Spring Training Spotlight: Chicago Cubs

After talking about the White Sox in our last Spring Training Spotlight, I thought it would only be fair to move our focus a few miles to the north and talk about the long-suffering Chicago Cubs.  Last season was an eventful one for the 5th-place North Siders, with the mid-season departures of long-time first baseman Derek Lee to the Braves as well as manager Lou Pinella (see right) for personal reasons.  The Cubs also kept volatile starting pitcher Carlos Zambrano on the trading block all year, and they finished under .500 for the first time since 2006.  An eventful season then transitioned into an eventful offseason for the Cubbies.  Hit the jump to read more about it.

You would never know it from watching SportsCenter, but the Cubs made major additions to their lineup as well as their pitching this past winter.  They flew under the radar primarily because they were never in the running for any of the major targets this offseason (Cliff Lee, Adrian Gonzalez, and Carl Crawford).  However, they did upgrade their pitching in a big way.  Most importantly, they traded a handful of prospects to the Rays for 27-year-old RHP Matt Garza (see left).  In his three full seasons in the majors, Garza has never posted an ERA above 4.00, and his career K/BB ratio is 2.23.  Admittedly, his 53 home runs allowed in the past 2 seasons combined could be problematic as he moves to Wrigley Field, but the rest of his stats are fantastic.  Garza has a career 3.48 ERA in 5 postseason starts, including 2 wins in the 2008 ALCS.  His numbers haven't been great this spring, though.  His spring ERA is 8.68 and his WHIP is just over 2.  However, his K/BB ratio is 1.083 this Spring; since his career K/BB ratio has never been below 2.00 since his first "cup of coffee" in the big leagues, this spring downturn is likely an aberration.  Look out for Garza to be a really solid starter for the Cubs this season.

The Cubs also packed some punch into their 2011 lineup by acquiring another former Ray, Carlos Pena, via free agency.  He'll be in Chicago on a one-year deal to keep first base warm--hopefully for Albert Pujols or Prince Fielder.  However, if Pena's past power numbers are any guide, he should at least provide some pop in the middle of the Cubs' batting order.  He's hit at least 28 home runs and driven in at least 80 runs each of the last four seasons.  The Cubs will need that offensive production from Pena to make up for what they've lost from their fading stars the past two seasons.  Aramis Ramirez's batting average took a 76-point dive last season, and Alfonso Soriano hasn't driven in 80 runs in a season since 2006.  By contrast, Pena continues to hit the ball with authority.  In a down year for Pena in 2010, he still hit 28 homers and 84 RBIs.  He's not too old to still be effective at age 32, and his power numbers will be much-needed on the North Side.  If Pena can cut down on the high strike out numbers that have plagued him in recent years, he could be a big contributor for the Cubbies--especially in the "Friendly Confines" of Wrigley Field.

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