The first three spots in the starting rotation of the Chicago Cubs have been set for a while. But, just today, thanks to MLB.com's Jenifer Langosch, we learned exactly whom Ryan Dempster, Carlos Zambrano and Matt Garza will be facing off against in the team's opening series against the Pittsburgh Pirates on April 1st, 2nd and 3rd. Let's have a look-see, shall we?
Game One, 4/1/11: Kevin Correia. It's probably not worth wasting anymore keystrokes on, but the plight of the perennially cellar-dwelling Pirates can well be summed up by the fact that this 30-year-old right-hander is their Opening Day starter. That's not to say Correia is an awful pitcher. But there's probably some reason the pitching-focused San Francisco Giants, who picked him in the fourth round of the 2002 amateur draft, let him go to free agency when he was 27 years old.
Correia signed with the San Diego Padres in December of 2008 and enjoyed a solid 2009 season in their pitcher-friendly park (3.91 ERA, 3.81 FIP, 4.20 xFIP, 2.5 WAR). In 2010, the home run ball bit him hard and his walk rate went up as well, leaving him worth just an eyelash more than a garden variety minor league replacement. He signed a two-year, $6 million deal with the Buccos this past December. Correia has never posted strong strikeout numbers, so I'm going to go out on a limb and say that he's ostensibly a ground-ball pitcher. Let's hope the Cubs can get the ball in the air and the wind is blowing out at Wrigley on Opening Day 2011.
Game Two, 4/2/11: Paul Maholm. Long-time Pirates lefty Maholm goes next. The 28-year-old was a first-round pick for the Bucs in the 2003 amateur draft, and he's made at least 29 starts for the team over the last five seasons. Maholm would probably look pretty good in the lower two-fifths of many club's starting rotations but, again, he's up at the top on this year's Pitt. squad.
Strikeouts aren't big in this Pirates' pitcher's repetoire either. Maholm has, however, done a great job at getting ground balls. In fact, he has a 52.7% GB rate for his career, which is actually quite impressive. (Anything near 50% is good.) He hasn't given up a ton of long balls either. In 13 starts against the Cubs, he's 7-2. And that's despite having a 6.42 ERA and a strikeout rate of only 5.4 batters per inning. Expect to see lefty bashers Jeff Baker and Reed Johnson play in this one.
Game Three, 4/3/11: Charlie Morton. Ah, how I love his steak house! Unfortunately, Pirates fans probably haven't loved what they've seen from this right-hander, who was the big name in the Nate McClouth trade of June 2009. In that deal, the Bucs sent their (at the time) promising young outfielder to the Atlanta Braves for Morton, Gorkys Hernandez and Jeff Locke. None of these guys have done much for the team since.
Morton made 18 starts after the trade in 2009 with decent returns. But, in 2010, he got straight-up rocked from pretty much every angle, making only 17 starts before disappearing for most of the middle of the season with a shoulder injury. He ended the season with only two wins and a 7.57 ERA (5.29 FIP, 4.26 xFIP). Naturally, one of those wins came against the Cubs in a six-inning outing on May 5. Like Maholm, Morton has a good career ground-ball rate -- 48.6% -- so let's hope plenty o' line drives help finish off this series on a winning note.
So that's what Cubs fans will see just a little over a week from today. Let's hope this year's team fares better against the Pirates than the 2010 squad, which went 5-10 against the 105-loss Pittsburgh team. I know, I know ... don't remind me.