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News » Chicago Cubs Inside Pitch 2009-04-01


Chicago Cubs Inside Pitch 2009-04-01


Chicago Cubs Inside Pitch 2009-04-01
The Cubs entered the final week of spring training in good health with almost all of their position battles settled, save for a tweak here or there. This is a veteran bunch for the most part, and Chicago should be the odds-on favorite to win its third consecutive NL Central title.

Because of the World Baseball Classic, manager Lou Piniella had to wait until almost the end of spring training to put his full lineup together. The biggest thing to be learned is whether center fielder Kosuke Fukudome can bounce back from a horrendous second half of 2008 and bat in the second spot in the order, where Piniella has him penciled in. Other than that, the Cubs should have a potent lineup, one that should threaten to lead the NL in runs again.

The biggest strengths are good balance and pop throughout the lineup and a deep and talented rotation. Right fielder Milton Bradley battled a minor leg injury and a flu bug at various points throughout the spring, but as a switch hitter, he'll give the Cubs their much-desired powerful presence from the left side on most days. There were few questions about the leadoff spot this spring. Left fielder Alfonso Soriano will keep that job, despite some outcry over the winter to move him down in the order.

Second baseman Mike Fontenot took the opportunity to replace the popular and versatile Mark DeRosa and ran with it. Fontenot is another left-handed batter who can sting the ball and get on base. Shortstop Ryan Theriot had a nice spring and showed signs that last year's big season was no fluke.

The Cubs have to be worried about two things: a middle-relief corps that looked shaky at times during spring training, and whether they have enough infield depth.

Kevin Gregg and Carlos Marmol give the Cubs a solid duo in the back of the 'pen, with Gregg winning the closer role heading into the season. Aaron Heilman lost out to Sean Marshall for the fifth starter's spot, and he'll fill the seventh-inning role. Beyond that, it was hit and miss as Piniella tried to fill out the rest of the relief corps. Neal Cotts is the lone lefty, and he had a good overall spring. Chad Gaudin and Luis Vizcaino were spotty, at best, but they have healthy-sized contracts. It looks as if Jeff Samardzija may open the season in Class AAA as a starter.

In the infield, Aaron Miles figures to be the lone backup on the left side, but he was hampered by soreness in his throwing shoulder. That's a concern if third baseman Aramis Ramirez needs any time off.

Ahead of Marshall in the rotation, right-hander Carlos Zambrano, Ryan Dempster and Rich Harden are solid, as is lefty Ted Lilly. Harden needed time at the end of spring to catch up after a nasty stomach illness, and Lilly was away for the WBC.

THE CUBS WILL CONTEND IF ...: Everybody stays healthy. RHPs Carlos Zambrano and Rich Harden had cranky shoulders last year (Harden's problems are chronic), and RF Milton Bradley has a long history of disabled-list stints; he also hasn't played much outfield in recent years in the American League. The Cubs are the deepest team, both offensively and pitching-wise, in the NL Central. An injury or two to a key player is the only thing that seemingly can derail this team because there isn't a whole lot of depth.

PRIMED FOR A BIG SEASON: RF Milton Bradley seems happy after landing with a team that seems to want him. Bradley led the AL in on-base percentage and on-base-plus-slugging percentage last year. He's moving from a hitter-friendly park in Texas to another one in Chicago, although the tough sun field at Wrigley could give him trouble.

ON THE DECLINE: 1B Derrek Lee has seen his power numbers drop steadily since his monster season of 2005. At 33, Lee may be past his prime. The home runs didn't come during spring training either, so it seems 20 might be a realistic number for the season.


Author:Fox Sports
Author's Website:http://www.foxsports.com
Added: April 1, 2009

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