The 2006 Cubs have a difficult challenge ahead with the current starting pitching rotation, but who knows, maybe Sean Marshall will be the surprise of the regular season. Starting pitching aside this club has more team speed, and has made much needed improvements defensively. Having a true lead-off man with speed like Juan Pierre will be a huge help offensively, a missing component in recent years. Derrek Lee and Aramis Ramirez will be counted on heavily to carry the offensive load, especially early until it’s clear how much production will come from the young players and new additions. One thing the Cubs have this year is versatility with Jerry Hairston, Neifi Perez, Freddie Bynum, Angel Pagan, and John Mabry – all capable of playing multiple positions. Dusty appears to have a nice blend of speed, power, and defense, but for the Cubs to succeed over the long haul this season Matt Murton will need consistency at the plate, Ronny Cedeno will need to play strong defense, and Jacque Jones will need to hit well above last years .249 avg.
As far as pitching, more question marks. I won’t even go into the Kerry Wood, Mark Prior situation, as it’s a wait and see thing. Anything positive they can get out of those two this season will greatly help, but right now they can’t be counted on. That leaves Zambrano, Maddux, Rusch, along with Sean Marshall and Jerome Williams for the starting rotation. Williams will start the season in long relief duty with the Cubs only needing 4 starters in the rotation early on.
While the WBC tournament benefited younger players by giving them experience, it may have hindered Michael Barrett and Henry Blanco who missed time with the pitching staff. Dusty says he likes to use all the players on his roster, and this is a team where he can certainly do that. This Cubs team seems to have confidence and good chemistry, and showed flashes this spring of a club that will score some runs. They will have to hang tough early on in the season with the current starting pitching, and in order to make a serious move at the playoffs they will eventually need some kind of help from the rehab crew of Prior, Wood and Miller. The optimist in me thinks if the Wood and Prior get healthy this could be at least a wild-card team, the pessimist in me thinks, even if they get healthy they will still finish no better than 3rd in the division. The realist in me says it’s been 98 years since the last World Series Championship, the fan in me says anything is possible- bring on the regular season!