I am back from Las Vegas, and can resume normal life. Sort of. I did see Ryan Theriot and Mike Fontenot there — at the New York, New York Hotel — getting turned away from the rollercoaster ride.

I apologize in advance for my inability to sneak in a Charlotte Rae reference. Or Miley Cyrus. Sorry Entertainment Tonight fans.

I saw an interesting article recently — two of the players rated “Most on the Decline” were Cubs. Guess which two? I’ll tell you because I don’t know how to activate the fancy highlight below for the answer feature. Derrek Lee (shocked? I’m not) and Carlos Zambrano (okay, maybe a little.)

Lee — major power outage since the wrist injury. More ground balls than ever.

Zambrano — last year was first of his career with under 200 innings pitched. Is the high mileage catching up? Fastball velocity is down each of the last four years. Contact rate is up — lowest strikeouts per nine last year of his career (6.2)

Thoughts? I agree with the assessment on Lee. I thought we should have traded him this offseason while he had some value and teams were looking for first basemen. I know his defense is still outstanding, but unless Lou wakes up and bats him sixth…well, he just does not fit in that three hole anymore. I disagree with Big Z. He may be changing the way he pitches — I hope so — and a smarter Z who pitches TO contact will go deeper into games and win plenty. I’m not ready to give up on him.

Let’s look at this pitching staff for a moment. Realistically, I don’t think that Gaudin or Samardzija will make the rotation. I’d like to see them both in the pen, but understand that the team thinks the Shark is a future starter, so he’ll likely start the season in Iowa doing just that.

Zambrano — as noted, he’s changing. For the better? We don’t know yet. What we know is this — even if he’s not the old Carlos, we can be fairly sure he’ll win 13 to 17 games. And hit a few dingers along the way.

Lilly — I wish he wasn’t playing in the world baseball tournament. Yes, it’s a tournament. Not a classic. He’s been our best pitcher the last two years. Great finish last year. A lot of wins after losses. I think he’ll get to 17 again this year.

Dempster — no idea if he can follow his 2008 performance with another like it, but I hear he’s worked hard again this offseason and that helped him last year. One bad game and it happened in the playoffs. I forgive him. Let’s hope for another 17 win season from RD.

Harden — the human question mark. Arguably our most talented pitcher. Also the most frail. Healthy he wins 15 – 17 games. Not healthy and we go to plan B. Shark? Gaudin? Heilman? Peavy?

Marshall — I like Sean Marshall. When we wouldn’t trade Rich Hill or Felix Pie…no one wanted Sean Marshall. Thankfully, because he’s turned out to be a fine pitcher. He’s my breakout guy this year, and I think he can win 16 games for us as the number 5 starter.

It’s a nice rotation — and healthy it’s very strong. Perhaps the best in the NL, although the Giants and Dbacks would contest that claim.

Next time maybe I’ll look at the bullpen. Or the outfield. Or Valerie Bertinelli.

More later. Or not.


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