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Sunday, March 30, 2008

Cubs Preview 3/30/08

We reach the end of the roster preview (pending whether or not I have to do one for Carmen Pignatiello, I really wish Lou would just say whether he or Marshall got the lefty reliever spot), and rather than put one ahead of the other like I did with the previous 23, I'm going to label these two 1A and 1B, and let you , the reader, decide which one is more important to the team, as I can't imagine them winning without either.

Roster Spot 1B-P-Carlos Zambrano #38
Ht: 6'5'' Wt: 255 Bats: Switch Throws: Right

Don't lie, the Crazy turns you on just a little..

There are few characters in Cubs history like Carlos Zambrano. On one hand you have a guy who (if his Venezuelan records can be believed) is only 27 years old and has already won 82 games and pitched at least 200 innings a year since 2003. A guy with five pitches with unbelievable movement that can make him downright unhittable when he's on. A guy with competitive spirit unlike any other and breaks his bat over his knee when he strikes out, because unlike most pitchers he can hit, and wildly screams and gesticulates after getting needed outs.

On the other hand, however, you have a guy who walks way too many batters (0ver 100 in '06 and '07) and frequently erupts because his personality is his own worst enemy. When Carlos has a bad day, everything goes to shit. In his 18 wins last year, Carlos had a 1.43 ERA, in his 13 losses? 7.75. In 123 innings in those wins, he walked 43 batters. In his 76 losing innings he walked the same number. Sometimes his gestures and emotion can broil him in conflict with his teammates (see Barrett, Michael) and anger his manager. Frankly, even Cubs fans should admit that they'd probably hate the crazy Venezuelan if he weren't on our team.

But Carlos IS on our team. And we love him. After years of losing Cubs teams, too many of whom gave the appearance that they didn't Mind losing, we embrace his antics, knowing that more often than not, he'll shove it down the other team's throat. Critics will point to his rising walk total and how his ERA has increased by small increments the last few years. I'll wager on Carlos anyways. The guy is a champion, and anyone who watches him sees that the stamina and the stuff have always been there. He hasn't lost anything, if anything his stuff sometimes gets so much movement and velocity that it surprises him. Maybe losing Prior and Wood and Maddux and having to be the ace put pressure on him and he needed time to cope, especially last year during one of the craziest, most up and down seasons in Cubs history. But Carlos was there when we needed him most. He keyed the June/July turnaround for the Cubs by going 9-3, and he nailed it down in September and August with a 4-2 stretch. In game 1 of the NLDS, he pitched fantastically only to be let down by the bullpen.

This spring training Carlos has steered clear of his usual predictions and bold statements. He's gone out, taken the ball, and quietly dominated. Two weeks ago he declared himself ready for Opening Day. Tomorrow, and all this season, he will prove it.

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