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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  • Oh, I'm sure you're right. He's not 27-27 in saves for nothing. But, man, I hope they learned last night that he didn't throw a single pitch in the zone to KB, Contreras or Baez, and they all just kept swinging.

    billybucks 1 hour 28 min ago view
  • Sounds like a much better game than last night's fiasco in Flushing.

    Old and Blue 1 hour 45 min ago view
  • I'm pretty sure it looks like a sweet pitch on the way in. How many sinkers like that are there at 98 mph? I agree that they should just do a Lackey and stand their with their bat on their shoulders until he throws a strike next time, but I can see how that's hard to do.

    The bullpen, on the other hand, is a mess, and Heyward is starting to piss me off.

    Old and Blue 1 hour 46 min ago view
  • I noticed that too. He's getting to everything, but when he gets right under it on a high flyball he looks uncomfortable

    cubbies.4ever 10 hours 20 min ago view
  • Did you expect anything different?

    billybucks 10 hours 50 min ago view
  • Wow, did they blow this game. Stupid plays by the kids in the 7th -- Almora throwing to 3rd instead of 2nd to keep the DP in order (when a DP probably wins the game) and Baez throwing to 3rd (to a backpedalling KB) instead of getting the easy 2nd out at first - cost them the game. Also, Contreras almost throws the ball into RF on a nonexistent pick-off play. And Maddon, for using Peralta in the first place. Did they do a bunch of shots in the dugout before the 7th? Unbelievably bad baseball. I thought Almora had a high baseball IQ?

    billybucks 11 hours 12 min ago view
  • men on 2nd/3rd, 0 out...and nothing.

    cubs lose :(

    crunch 11 hours 45 min ago view
  • UH OH! RALLY TIME!

    crunch 11 hours 54 min ago view
  • Getting tired of this Heywood weak sauce

    jacos 12 hours 5 min ago view
  • Yep, can't say I disagree with that. His first batter and resulting walk was just brutal. Reminded me of a bit of Jacque Jones spiking his throws into the ground from RF.

    Eric S 12 hours 14 min ago view
  • The use of Peralta in any semblance of a high leverage situation is questionable at best.

    fixed that for ya.

    crunch 12 hours 21 min ago view
  • The use of Peralta in any semblance of a high leverage situation is questionable at best. Hind sight is easy but Peralta had nothing.

    Eric S 12 hours 29 min ago view
  • make that just peralta...

    crunch 12 hours 29 min ago view
  • a.soriano new OF fielding coach?

    crunch 13 hours 33 min ago view
  • Why is Almora jumping up on catches?

    jacos 13 hours 35 min ago view
  • "Tommy La Stella (hamstring) will remain on his minor league rehab assignment through at least Friday."

    should be an interesting roster shuffle once these guys trickle back in. i imagine patton or peralta are on the hot seat for la stella's return.

    crunch 13 hours 55 min ago view