1. Will Aramis Ramirez production return to normal in 2011?

A lot of people asked me to define “normal”. I guess what I meant by that is that we’ll be back to seeing an upper echelon offensive third baseman. I’m a big believer in the theory that the bulk of the reason for Ramirez struggles last year was due to the injury. I think he played with it and it affected his performance. In turn, I think those struggles hurt his confidence and we saw a broken and beaten hitter for part of the year.

Look at the numbers for July and August, once he started to get healthy, and you’ll see a return to the kind of hitter we paid for. Factor that in with this being a contract year and I think you’ve got a recipe for a nice year from Ramirez.

Split G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BA OBP SLG OPS
April/March 23 102 92 7 14 3 0 3 13 .152 .216 .283 .498
May 20 83 75 8 13 3 0 1 7 .173 .241 .253 .494
June 10 38 34 4 9 1 0 2 3 .265 .342 .471 .813
July 24 103 96 19 30 5 1 9 25 .313 .340 .667 1.006
August 26 101 93 14 28 4 0 5 21 .301 .356 .505 .862
Sept/Oct 21 80 75 9 18 5 0 5 14 .240 .288 .507 .794

2. Does Carlos Silva win a spot in the rotation, and if he doesn’t, is he still on this team come May?

When I wrote these questions, the fight in the dugout hadn’t happened yet. All I was basing my question on was the fact that he had said he felt he had a guaranteed spot in the rotation based on what he accomplished last year. If we base it on last year’s stats pre-injury I’d have to agree. Unfortunately you have to look at the big picture and that includes post-injury performance as well as contract. Carlos Silva is one of my favorite Cubs. I have no idea why other than the fact that I enjoy a starter that knows how to throw strikes and I have a thing for fat pitchers. Something about them screams overpowering bull on the mound. It’s a weird issue I’m working on. Be patient. If I had to guess, I’d think Silva WILL win a spot in the rotation and will go back to throwing strikes. Then again, that may just be my weird Silva love creeping in.

3. Does Kerry Wood stay healthy for the entire year?

I mentioned that Silva was one of my favorites. Woody is my absolute favorite Cub. I can’t explain how thrilled I was to see him come back to Chicago. I think he’s learned how to pitch out the bullpen effectively and it’s saved his career from being a total bust. I see him playing a vital role in a number of capacities for this 2011 team. He’s going to provide more stability in the late innings, with the availability and experience to close if Marmol is unavailable. He’ll provide instant veteran leadership for the young pitchers as well as the rest of the team, and he owns Chicago.

4. Will we see improved defensive play from this team considering Mike Quade’s increased emphasis on the importance of defense?

I don’t think we will. It’s not like these guys haven’t worked on defensive drills in the past. It’s basically the same crew on the field as last year. How can we really improve?

5. Which Carlos Zambrano will we get in 2011?

I shouldn’t even need to answer this one. If you don’t know by now how I feel about Zambrano, what’s wrong with you? He’s my least favorite pitcher on the staff and I think we’ll see the same thing we’ve seen for the past 10 years. He’s an above average starter that thinks he’s an Ace. Nothing more, nothing less. 12 wins and an ERA between 3.50 and 4.00

6. Will Kosuke Fukudome be traded before the deadline to make room for Tyler Colvin?

I don’t see much of a market for him unless someone suffers a big injury early and needs to acquire an OF to remain in the mix for their division. Fukudome tends to go into a bit of a slump during the time he most needs to hit to make himself marketable for trades. If we can make the deadline in April, his value will be great because he’ll be fresh off another early season tear at the plate. I think Fukudome rides out the year with the Cubs and then they part ways. Personally, I’d shop him to be able to get something in return, though I’m curious if he’d be considered a type-B free agent that would at least get us something in return.

7. How will the second base position shake out?

I want to believe that Blake Dewitt can be the guy. I really do. Unfortunately it’s not a very promising position in the immediate future for the Cubs. I don’t see any other candidates with a decent ceiling other than DeWitt right now. I used to be a believer in Ryan Flaherty, but he was a bust last year. If we’re in the mix this year, this is the spot that needs an upgrade.

8. Will Starlin Castro go through a sophomore slump?

I don’t think he will. I think this kid is the real deal. He’s gonna be an All Star this year. Mark it down now.

9. How will the pitching staff respond to new pitching coach, Mark Riggins?

I hope they respond well. I was a fan of Larry Rosthchild. The truth is, I don’t know how to answer this one. I think some guys will gel with him and some won’t. We’ll just have to wait to see how it shakes out.

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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