Originally posted on Midwest Sports Fans  |  Last updated 3/2/12

The Chicago Cubs will kick off their 2012 season Thursday, April 5,  at the friendly confines of Wrigley Field vs. the Washington Nationals. We discussed the probable batting order and lineup, and now it’s time get a preview of the Cubs pitching staff for this season.

With the loss of Carlos Zambrano and his 24 sometimes-volatile starts traded to Ozzie Gullen’s Miami Marlins and with Casey Coleman (17 starts) and Rodrigo Lopez (16 starts) doubtful to crack the rotation, the Cubs will trot out at least two and perhaps three new starters to the bump. Here is a look at how the starting rotation may look in 2012 and a peek in to the Cubs bullpen.

Matt Garza will most likely be the Cubs No. 1 starter. Photo by dbking via Creative Commons 2.0.

Projected 2012 Chicago Cubs Starting Pitching Rotation

Matt Garza – Will be the No. 1 starter and looks to improve on his 10-10 record despite a meager 3.32 ERA and 1.26 WHIP. Started 31 games last season and struck out 197 batters in 198 innings. Big question for the Cubs brass is whether to sign Garza to an extended deal or trade him if a worthy offer comes in at the trade deadline. Will definitely be the anchor of the rotation.

Ryan Dempster - Turns 35 May 3 and is beginning to slow down. A 10-14 record with a 4.80 ERA in the National League is not the stuff of a No. 2 or No. 3 starter. Having exercised his lofty $14 million salary in 2012, Demster may also be a trade option around the trade deadline. Don’t look for big things from him.

Paul Maholm - A free agent pickup, the 29-year-old southpaw worked 162 innings last year with the Pirates while compiling a 6-14 record but with an ERA of only 3.66. Should be a solid addition for the rotation but keep in mind his 2010 season was 9-15 with a 5.10 ERA. Look for a season of 8-10 wins with an ERA in the 4.20-4.40 range.

Competition for the No. 4 and No. 5 starters will be fierce, with Randy Wells, Travis Wood, Chris Volstad, Casey Coleman, Rodrigo Lopez, and Jeff Samardzija all in the mix. A strong spring training may earn the spot for at least one of these potential starters. Based on past history and potential, the final two spots will those of:

Randy Wells - Cubs will be looking for the promise Wells showed as a starter in 2009 with a 12-10 record and 3.05 ERA. Last year’s 7-6 record in 23 starts was dampened by an ERA of 4.99. Wells could be a key for the rotation with a bounce-back year or replaced mid-season if his struggles continue.

Travis Wood – Picked up in the Sean Marshall trade with the Reds. Early indications suggest that Wood has a spot in the rotation based on his 2010 rookie season of 17 starts with a 5-4 record and an ERA of 3.51/1.08 WHIP. 2011 numbers saw a spike up to an ERA of 4.84 with a 1.49 WHIP in 22 starts, but Theo Epstein likes the potential of the 2005 second round pick. Would also give the Cubs a second lefty in the rotation.

Projected 2012 Chicago Cubs Bullpen

Closer: Carlos Marmol - 10 blown saves in 2011 cannot happen again. At times looks like the most dominant pitcher in baseball, while at others simply cannot throw a strike. His 2011 second-half record of 0-4 with an ERA of 5.91 was difficult for Cubs fans to watch. Manager Dale Sveum will push Marmol to use his slider more and drop his cut fastball experiment, while hoping a 15-lb weight loss in the off-season and better focus parlays the 29-year-old back to a top tier closer.

Set Up Man: Kerry Wood - The 34-year old veteran seems comfortable now in his eighth inning role and should be a solid anchor in the bullpen. The other setup option may be lefty James Russell, coming off a productive year in 2011 as a reliever. Throw out his five forgettable spot starts and Russell’s 2.19 ERA looks formidable.

The rest of the bullpen will include Samardzija and Volstad unless one or both are added to the starting rotation. From there, expect three of the following group to round out the bullpen: Marcus Mateo, John Gaub (L), Rafael Dolis, Scott Maine (L), Trever Miller (L), Andy Sonnanstine, and Casey Coleman.

2012 Chicago Cubs Pitching Outlook

With a 2011 team ERA of 4.33, ranking 25th out of all 30 teams in baseball, the Cubs need to make drastic improvement to compete in the NL Central and National League. 2012’s starting rotation and bullpen will be a work in progress, and the Cubs brass has accumulated young pitchers with the hope development will take hold for 2012 and beyond. Don’t expect any miracles overnight but look for a slow, steady progression that leads to a competitive pitching staff in 2013 and 2014.

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