Howard Smith-USA TODAY Sports

Cubs 2014 Pitching Staff, NL's Best?

So I’m the ever optimistic Cubs fan. We have to be. But before you write me off as crazy, there is some merit to the claim. The starting pitching overall last year was good. And as I sat to write this and started to look at the stockpiling that Theo has been doing, I believed in this even more so. While much of this theory relies on the improvement of the Cubs offense, specifically its consistency,I will assume a slight improvement will take place. I don’t think I’m expecting too much there. So lets begin.

One of the main objectives of the Cubs last year was to build depth in starting pitching. The signings of Edwin Jackson (which I could write a separate piece on), Carlos Villanueva, Scott Baker, and Scott Feldman built immediate depth. Feldman and Baker had low-risk, high-reward possibility right from the start.

When it became apparent it was a “build for next year” season, the trigger was pulled.The depth built in the off-season was now being used in full force to build for the future. Feldman was dealt. Marmol and Garza as well. But in comparison to the previous season, the Cubs were able to score some promising prospects. Jake Arrieta and Pedro Strop made their way over in the Feldman deal. C.J. Edwards, a very promising prospect, and Justin Grimm came over in the Garza deal. Matt Guerrier was a bonus in the Marmol deal in my opinion. To get anything for the Marmolcoaster was a victory.

On that note we move to the bullpen. What can we say? It was a mess. Carlos Marmol set the tone right away, and the entire bullpen seemed to follow suit. James Russel was as consistent as he could be. Last years Ironman Shawn Camp struggled and eventually the Cubs parted ways with him. As the season went on, I’d miss a game, check the boxscore, and see a new name that I didn’t recognize. The Cubs claimed and released arms at a brisk pace. Eventually the Cubs secured Kevin Gregg, and I’ll be the first to admit that I wondered why. But in the end, while not pretty, Gregg took the job from the man who took it from him in his previous stint in Chicago. I was quite impressed with Blake Parker, and once Strop came over he shined as well.

All that sets the table for why I think the Cubs staff next season can be much improved. Travis Wood was as dominant as any lefty in the game this year. No run support left him with a 9-12 record, but numerous quality starts, and he reached 200 innings for the first time in his career. I believe he asserted himself as our “Ace”, as much as I dislike that term. Samarzdija had some outright dominant performances, but consistency wasn’t there. He still pitched over 200 innings, had 200+ strikeouts, but gave up the long ball more frequently. But even though Jeff has been around a bit now, I think he’s still learning to pitch as compared to throwing, and as he locks in, I see him as our solid #2.

The case each of the last three spots were a little tougher, but there is promise. Jake Arrieta looked solid, is a bit deceptive, and moved to the forefront for a possible third spot. Scott Baker got a brief chance to pitch for the Cubs this season, and all in all threw the ball well. Another off-season for him and I think he’s ready to go next year.

Edwin Jackson. Oh Edwin. I wasn’t a fan this year. But after delving deeper I realized the Cubs got the pitcher they paid for, 18 losses aside. Jackson’s numbers this year fell right in line with his career totals. But the Cubs offense wasn’t very helpful, so all those bad first innings he had couldn’t be overcome with the inept offense. I still think they paid too much for his services, but I digress.

Chris Rusin and Carlos Villanueva deserve to be thrown in the mix as well. Rusin was very consistent, even though he wasn’t allowed to go very deep into games. Outside of his two final outings, he made his case this year. And Villanueva, while more likely to be a middle relief/spot starter, did pitch well early in the year and is a great asset to have in the pen.

But the main reason I believe the Cubs will improve in 2014 is the bullpen. And I say that without even knowing where the final landing-place of the pieces will be. The Cubs have two coming off the disabled list in Kyuji Fujikawa and Arodys Viscaino. Viscaino has quality stuff, and while there has been talk he could be a starter, he’s seen more as a late inning, possible closer. Fujikawa had a rough start with the Cubs, but with the injury, I believe we have to wait and see what we have in him. Russell will again be a mainstay in the middle, Parker will see some late inning work as well as middle relief. The back end coming out of camp will be the biggest question. Will it be Gregg? Was Svuem’s “Strop Experiment” a sign of things to come? C.J. Edwards could very well find his way to Chicago this year as well. Entering the winter there are always more questions than answers, but the Cubs may have more of a multiple choice of answers than a blind essay.

The Cubs depth in pitching prospects isn’t near as deep as its positional, but the front office has brought in the potential to be a formidable staff top to bottom. I don’t foresee the Cubs spending any noticeable money this off-season on pitching, so what they have will be much of what they enter camp with, but I believe the turnaround will be fast for the Cubs staff.

Wait till next year, you’ll see.

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