I know it’s early, but I’d like to enlighten you on my expectations for this year’s rotation as it’s constructed right now.

Say what you want about Jim Hendry and his free agent signings, but the fact is, we needed pitching and Hendry went out and got it. You may not like the fact that the Cubs spent a good chunk of change to get them. You’re entitled to that. What I ask you is, is it your money? Alright, don’t answer that. With the Cubs saying that ticket prices are not going up, I have no problem with the team opening the wallets and going out to get two starters to help this team out. Is the rotation as strong as it could have been? No, but it’s definitely a rotation that can win some games for us, especially when you factor in the amount of depth we have in the event the injury bug comes biting.

I expect more big things from Carlos Zambrano as always, especially in a contract year. This could be the year he wins the Cy Young and 20+ games. You should be able to pencil him as a given. Where a lot of people think the rotation gets hairy is in the 2-5 spots. I’m not worried. I think Rich Hill is going to turn into our version of Barry Zito, who incidentally is not all he’s cracked up to be. When you look at Zito’s numbers, he doesn’t wow you the way his contract this off-season will.

After winning 17 games in 2001 and 23 the year after, Zito has rung up totals of 14, 11, 14, and then 16 in 2006. He’s going to get paid like a # 1 starter, but he doesn’t put up ace type numbers. He’s a number two starter and will always be a number two starter. Don’t let the dollars fool you. With that in mind, we have a cheaper version in Rich Hill. He’s a little older than Zito was when he hit his stride, but when you look at the numbers Hill put up down the stretch last year, I think we’re poised to see a nice season of double digit wins from Hill. In August, he made 5 starts, posting an ERA of 3.38, an opponent average of .216 and 3 wins. In September, the numbers got better as he won another 3 games while posting an ERA of 1.93 and an opponent average of .178.

At the three spot, I expect Ted Lilly to fill in nicely. People were up in arms about the fact that the Cubs spent money on Lilly. What they seem to forget is that he won 15 games for a team that failed to make the playoffs. If you throw out 2005, where Lilly had an ERA of 5.56, you have a guy that was chugging along nicely. In 2002, his ERA of 3.69. In 2003 and 2004, he posted ERA’s of 4.34 and 4.06 respectively. Last year an ERA of 4.31. Factor in the fact that he’ll be going to a league that is much weaker in the hitting department. My one fear with Lilly is that he does throw more flyballs than groundballs and has seen his homeruns given up increase to 28 last year, which ranked him 10th in the AL (Carlos Silva from Min. had 38). If Lilly can keep guys off base, he’ll be OK. I think he makes a very serviceable number three starter.

The number four and five spots are where I start to get a little nervous. These two spots have the potential to be huge or horrible. There really isn’t much in between. If Wade Miller can find his groove and pitch the way he did in Houston when he won 45 games in a three year stretch, then we’ve got ourselves one of the best back end starters in the majors. It really will depend on his health. When he’s right, he’s an above average pitcher with the ability to keep the ball in the park and limit damage by not allowing an over amount of baserunners. Hopefully our lineup can bail him out when he’s not on.

Jason Marquis, who Cubs fans seem less than thrilled to have, should round out the rotation, assuming he doesn’t get booted by a healthy Mark Prior or a suddenly emergent farmhand like Angel Guzman, Sean Marshall, or Carlos Marmol. You can complain all you want on this one, but i’m not budging. I like this signing and I think Marquis is a lot better than the numbers he put up last season. Sometimes you have to play a hunch and that’s what Hendry’s done. When the Cardinals too a chance on Chris Carpenter, no one thought it would work out the way it has. Here are his numbers in Toronto.

2000: 10-12 with an ERA of 6.26
2001: 11-11 with an ERA of 4.09
2002: 4-5 with an ERA of 5.28

Suddenly, he goes to St. Louis and wins 15 games, posting an ERA of 3.46. The next year, he wins the Cy Young with an ERA of 2.83. Last year an ERA of 3.09 was coupled with 15 more wins. Sometimes guys just need a need start. The Cubs have given that to Marquis and I think we’ll see the benefits of it. Will we get Chris Carpenter type numbers? No, but at the number five spot, all I want is double digit wins.

Alright, now it’s your turn to let me have it. Go ahead and call me a homer and ask what I’m smoking. Remember this though. When the Cubs have five starting pitchers with double digit wins, a Cy Young winner, and a division title, i’ll be cooking up the crow for all to dine on. In the meantime, feel free to talk about your expectations for this pitching staff next year.

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Joe Aiello is the founder of View From the Bleachers and one of the lead writers as well as host of VFTB Radio. Growing up in Chicago, he fondly remembers attending games in the bleachers before that was the popular thing to do. Currently Joe resides in North Carolina with his wife and three kids. Connect with Joe via Twitter / Facebook / E-mail