As the Chicago Cubs play out the final two weeks of the Cactus League schedule, the team will likely begin to fill some of the open positions on the 25 man roster. Two spots that remain open are the fourth and fifth starter’s spot in the Cubs’ starting rotation. We already know that Matt Garza, Ryan Dempster, and Paul Maholm will be the first three starters to take the mound in the Cubs’ season opening series against the Washington Nationals. Manager Dale Sveum is currently looking for the final two starters to fill the starting rotation and make their season debuts against the Milwaukee Brewers. When camp started, the competition was believed to be between Rodrigo Lopez, Andy Sonnanstine, Casey Coleman, Randy Wells, Jeff Samardzija, Chris Volstad, and Travis Wood.
But the beginning of cactus league play brought with it the true candidates for the final two spots in the Cubs’ starting rotation. Eliminated from the competition were Lopez, Coleman, and Sonnanstine while Wells, Samardzija, Volstad, and Wood all remain in competition for a spot in the starting rotation. However, there may be clues as to what two pitchers will likely win the final two spots.
President of Baseball Operations Theo Epstein has high hopes for Travis Wood. After all, the Cubs did give up their top reliever from 2011 in Sean Marshall in order to acquire Wood from the Cincinnati Reds. Not to mention that Epstein tried to trade for Wood last season when he still the general manager of the Boston Red Sox. So far, the events from this Spring Training may lead to Wood starting the season in the starting rotation…for the Iowa Cubs. In comparison to Wells, Volstad, and Samardzija there is no question that former Reds’ pitcher has been the worst of the bunch. Wood entered Wednesday’s game after Wells pitched three scoreless innings. The difference between Wells’ performance and Wood’s performance were night and day. Wood gave up 6 runs (5 earned) on 3 hits and 2 walks in 1/3 innings pitched.
Wood’s showing on Wednesday only added to what has already been a difficult Cactus League schedule for the new Cubs’ pitcher. Wood has posted an ERA of 20.25 in 2 appearances this Spring while allowing 7 runs on six hits and 4 walks. Wood simply has not had his command this Spring. Wood’s command issues is the same reason why the Reds made the starting pitcher expendable at the end of the season. If there is any silver lining to Wood’s struggles this Spring, it is the fact that he is only 25 years old and has a minor league option left in his contract. Meaning it may becoming more likely that Wood starts 2o12 with the Iowa Cubs. That would then make it possible for Wells, Samardzija, and Volstad to all co-exist on the Cubs’ 25 man roster.
Wells has quietly gone about his business this Spring in the midst of competing with the Cubs newcomers in Wood and Volstad. After the acquisitions of Wood and Volstad, Wells became an afterthought. Many reporters wrote off Wells’ chances for making the rotation in 2012 and figured the pitcher would be resigned to the bullpen if not traded before Opening Day. Wells has yet to give up a run in his two appearances this Spring, and many feel he may be gaining steam in the competition. This is nothing that we haven’t seen before. Wells’ has proved in his Major League career that he typically has a strong Spring showing. For that reason, I still see Wells behind both Samardzija and Volstad for the final two spots in the Cubs’ rotation.
Both Samardzija and Volstad have been two of the more impressive pitchers in Cubs’ camp this Spring. In the case of Samardzija, the pitcher may be one of the biggest surprises in all of baseball. At the end of the 2011 season, it was expected that Samardzija would compete for a starting rotation spot but no one gave the relief pitcher a fighting chance to one a spot in the rotation. After a off-season spent in Arizona conditioning as a starting pitcher, Samardzija entered camp determined to prove to the organization that could be a capable starting pitcher. Samardzija has backed up his talk this Spring as the pitcher has a WHIP of 0.50 and opposing hitters are only hitting .150 against the Cubs’ power righty in six innings pitched. One more impressive start, and Samardzija would have all but locked up one of the final two spots in the Cubs’ rotation.Volstad may not be far behind Samardzija in locking up one of the final two rotation spots. Volstad has yet to give up a run in his two Cactus League starts, only giving up three hits in his six innings of work.
Sveum may not be ready to make a decision, but the numbers would suggest that the decision will be an easy one. As the saying goes, “The numbers don’t lie!”