The Chicago Cubs may not know who the final two pitchers will be in their rotation yet, but they do know that they have Carlos Zambrano, Matt Garza, and Ryan Dempster as the top three pitchers in the rotation. Since the Cubs acquired Garza, one of the biggest debates has been who will be the opening day starter? Cubs manager Mike Quade announced today the first three spots in the rotation.
For the first time since 2004, Carlos Zambrano will not be the opening day starter. Instead, Ryan Dempster will receive the honor of starting on opening day. Dempster will be followed by Zambrano, and then Garza in the #3 slot.
It really would have been hard for Mike Quade not to pick Ryan Dempster for the opening day slot. In the past two seasons, Dempster has earned this recognition and has been the most consistent pitcher the Cubs have had. Last season, Dempster went 15-12 with an ERA of 3.85. Along with the 15 wins, Dempster also had 208 strikeouts in 215.1 innings. While Dempster may not be in the same spotlight as some of other aces in the major leagues, he certainly has the potential to be a very good one. Of his 34 starts last season, 23 of them were considered to be quality starts. His 23 quality starts, were tied for 3rd most in the national league last season.
As for Carlos Zambrano, it was a change that was bound to come. After last season’s debacle against the Atlanta Braves, it was fairly evident that he should no longer be the starter on opening days. The move to #2 in the rotation should only help Zambrano this season. Unlike prior seasons, Zambrano is in a position where not all the pressure lies on his shoulders. Meaning the only thing for Zambrano to do is to pitch. As long as he pitches without getting too emotionally invested, then he should be in a line for a quality season.
To be honest, the thing that I like the most about the top of the rotation is that Matt Garza is the #3 starter. With the exception of when the Cubs play the Phillies, Garza should be in a favorable matchup in almost every game he starts. With that as the case, Garza could potentially win 15 to 18 games for the Cubs this season. Compare Garza this season, to Ted Lilly of the 2008 season. Like Garza, Lilly was placed in position in the Cubs rotation where he would get the favorable matchup. As a result, Lilly had one of the best years of his career going 17-9 with a 4.09 ERA.
Now all that is left to be determined for the Cubs starting rotation is who the #4 and #5 starters will be. Unlike his former boss Lou Piniella, Mike Quade hinted that he is not going to skip the 5th starter in April. Randy Wells, Braden Looper, Todd Wellemyer, Carlos Silva, Casey Coleman, Andrew Cashner, and James Russell are all in contention for a spot in the rotation.