Spring Training Battles

Spring Training Battles: Closer

The Cubs are a little over two weeks into spring training with about three weeks before Opening Day. It's time to check in on the yearly ritual of spring training battles. What's the fun of spring training without a little competition? The Cubs have a few spots up for grabs and today I take a look at the competition for the fabled closer role between Bob Howry, Carlos Marmol and Kerry Wood. It's the final piece in the series and I know you will all miss my Wrestlemania-inspired graphic.

The closer battle is probably the least crucial of the spring training battles this year, for two reasons. First, the closer role is generally overrated. The closer protects more three-run leads with nobody on than he does one-run leads with the go-ahead run coming up. Set-up men are often asked to wiggle out of more difficult jams than closers, who are usually brought in just to start the ninth inning with a clean slate. Second, all three candidates can do the job just fine, so Lou really can't lose on this one. Sure, you'd like to pick the best, but those outs in the seventh and eighth are just as crucial; and the two "losers" will slide into the set-up men roles. Plus, if the winner out of spring training can't hack it, the Cubs have two ready-made options ready to fill-in, possibly three if Ryan Dempster isn't cutting it as a a starter. As they say in the old country, it's a good problem to have.

Let's take a closer look after the jump....

Spring Training Battles: Starting Pitching

The Cubs are a little over two weeks into spring training with about three weeks before Opening Day. It's time to check in on the yearly ritual of spring training battles. What's the fun of spring training without a little competition? The Cubs have a few spots up for grabs and today I'll look at the starting rotation battle between Jon Lieber, Ryan Dempster, Jason Marquis and Sean Marshall. I won't pretend that Sean Gallagher has a legitimate chance, although I guess I am pretending that Sean Marshall does.

Unable or unwilling to trade for some of the top notch talent that was moved over the offseason, such as Johan Santana, Erik Bedard or Dan Haren; the Cubs head into 2008 with much of the same talent that was good for the second best ERA among NL starting staffs last year. Carlos Zambrano, Ted Lilly and Rich Hill
will anchor the staff, and if Marquis and Marshall win the jobs, you'll have the same starting five that took the mound for the bulk of last season.

That though, appears to be the least likely scenario, as Ryan Dempster is getting his wish to compete for a starting spot and the Cubs signed Lieber on a one year deal. It appears to be a bit of a logjam at the moment, but the bullpen or the trade market can alleviate that "problem" at the end of spring training.

Let's take a look at the strengths and weaknesses of each candidate after the jump...

Spring Training Battles: Center Field

The Cubs are a little over two weeks into spring training with about three weeks before Opening Day. It's time to check in on the yearly ritual of spring training battles. What's the fun of spring training without a little competition? The Cubs have a few spots up for grabs and today I'll take a look at the center field spot between Felix Pie and Sam Fuld.

The Cubs had the opportunity this offseason to shore up center field with a more reliable veteran, as a few stars hit the market including Torii Hunter and Andruw Jones
. The Cubs were obviously determined to give their youngsters a shot at the job, as they didn't even bother to call Hunter, which leads to the obvious conclusion that they probably didn't call any of the available center field free agents. We'll all soon find out if that confidence will be rewarded.

Felix Pie has been one of the Cubs top prospects and usually the Cubs top prospect ever since he joined the organization as a wide-eyed 17-year old out of the Dominican Republic. Pie has often been compared to the Cubs last great center field prospect, Corey Patterson, both being left-handed hitters with five-tool talent and questionable strike zone judgement. A tenous comparison, superficial at best, and, to be honest, a lazy comparison. While Corey Patterson struggled with each promotion in the minors and was truly rushed to the majors, Pie has taken each promotion in stride, often putting up better numbers than the previous stop.

Let's compare the two after the jump....

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  • I'm with you, Rob. You pretty much summed up how I feel about it.

    JoePepitone 53 min 8 sec ago view
  • Been quite the roller-coaster the past two days -- both games, plus the Chapman kerfuffel. How about a couple of nice, comfortable wins before facing Sale? Cubs should definitely wear throwbacks for that game.

    billybucks 1 hour 48 min ago view
  • The Cubs are stronger defensively than most of the teams they play. In order to capitalize on that, they have to a) put the ball in play and b) run the bases aggressively.

    That said, Cabrera has a strong, accurate arm, as witnessed by his 97 outfield assists over 12 seasons--mostly left field but also a lot of center. Bryant is rarely thrown out, but I guess you have to know who's throwing the ball.

    VirginiaPhil 2 hours 42 min ago view
  • On the other hand, Pries won his first start for Iowa, only giving up two HRs in the process. This trade has got some legs yet!

    Eric S 11 hours 50 min ago view
  • KB now with 0 RBI in his last 10 games and 1 in his last 15, despite having 19 hits in his last 15 games and raising his batting average from .278 to .286 over that span.

    Maybe have Zobrist hit 2 and KB hit 4?

    Also -- no HR in the last 15 games -- time for a bunch. Starting tomorrow.

    billybucks 12 hours 6 min ago view
  • Down a run. Fowler on first. Nobody out. KB singles to left, Fowler makes it to third, perfect throw from Cabrera nails KB trying to stretch for 2nd.

    So, instead of 1st & 3rd and no out, you have 3rd with one out. It was a perfect throw, but why take the chance with 3-4-5 hitters coming up?

    billybucks 12 hours 20 min ago view
  • Must be a Cub thing - our lefties can;t get lefties out.

    billybucks 12 hours 21 min ago view
  • Splitting hairs, but Jake's pitch was poor execution, while KB's play was a poor decision (and the 2nd time he got thrown out trying to stretch in the game). Poor execution happens. Poor decisions are preventable. Speaking of poor decisions -- Baez's steal of 3rd made absolutely no sense.

    billybucks 12 hours 21 min ago view
  • Didn't Jake cost them the game with a pitch to Frazier?

    The E-Man 12 hours 35 min ago view
  • Missed the play w/Bryant. What happened?

    The E-Man 12 hours 36 min ago view
  • Not a good decision by Bryant in the 9th. That may have cost them the game.

    billybucks 12 hours 40 min ago view
  • Can we un-do the Montgomery deal? Please?

    billybucks 12 hours 41 min ago view
  • THAT WAS TURRIBLE.

    crunch 12 hours 43 min ago view
  • Who is this Arrieta guy? Can I get the old one back please?

    The E-Man 13 hours 52 min ago view
  • Well, this is, once again, the whole season for the Sox.

    billybucks 13 hours 56 min ago view
  • ...and the Bryant RBI jinx continues in the 3rd....crap.

    billybucks 15 hours 28 min ago view