Season preview: Starting pitching

March, 28, 2011
3/28/11
1:11
PM CT
Levine By Bruce Levine
ESPNChicago.com
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Randy WellsJed Jacobsohn/Getty ImagesRandy Wells had a solid spring and hopes to put his inconsistent 2010 behind him.
It always seems as Carlos Zambrano goes, so go the Chicago Cubs’ chances of winning a division.

The three phases of Zambrano’s 2010 season, included middling results as a starter to begin the season; an incomplete record as a relief pitcher from late April until June and complete domination when he returned Aug. 9 after spending six weeks in anger management classes.

Zambrano’s return to form late last season must continue in 2011 as he once again will be the lynchpin to a solid rotation, along with mainstay Ryan Dempster and newcomer Matt Garza. The final two spots in the five-man rotation are Randy Wells and Andrew Cashner.

[+] EnlargeCarlos Zambrano
Kyle Terada/US PresswireCarlos Zambrano's return to the form he had at the end of last season will be key to the Cubs' fortunes in 2011.
Zambrano needs to rediscover the consistency that made him one of baseball’s top starters from 2003-07. His career tailed off in August, 2008, and from then until August, 2010, he was a .500 pitcher with an ERA over .440.

Dempster, who has been the most consistent starter over the last three seasons, gets the Opening Day assignment due to his 600-plus innings pitched over that span. Dempster brings innings and stability to the top of the rotation, if not spectacular results.

Garza, acquired in an eight-player trade with the Tampa Bay Rays, takes over the third rotation spot. The 27-year-old right-hander is coming off his best season, winning 15 games. Many scouts believe Garza has matured to the point he might be a 17-20-game winner. That is what the Cubs expect after trading four top prospects for him.

Wells, who tanked in 2010 after winning 12 games as a rookie in 2009, has worked hard to win a spot in the rotation, posting a 2.10 ERA in the Cactus League and allowing just six earned runs in 25 innings. Besides a great attitude, Wells has re-discovered the command on his hard sinker, which is his bread and butter pitch. Wells paid strict attention to getting his work done this spring, including a strong conditioning program.

Wells believes his work ethic was the same in 2010, but the results were 8-14 and a 4.26 ERA.

Cashner, the Cubs’ No. 1 pick in the 2008 draft, came on stronger in the last two weeks of spring training to beat out Carlos Silva and Braden Looper. Scouts say Cashner’s two-seam fastball and slider are the pitches he needs to command.

Three keys for Cubs' rotation

  • Zambrano stays focused all season and gives the Cubs 15 wins and 200 innings pitched for the first time since 2007.

  • Garza continues his growth as one of the best young pitchers in baseball. The former Tampa pitcher has to find a comfort level in Chicago and win between 17-20 games.

  • Wells and Dempster both give the Cubs 200 innings, and the starting rotation combines for 65 wins.

  • Bruce Levine | email

    Chicago baseball beat reporter
    Bruce Levine has covered sports in Chicago for over 28 years and hosts "Talkin' Baseball," heard Saturday mornings on ESPN 1000.

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    TEAM LEADERS

    BA LEADER
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    RBIA. Rizzo 78
    RA. Rizzo 89
    OPSA. Rizzo .913
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    SOJ. Arrieta 167