Cubs spring preview: Starting rotation

Matt Garza takes over the role of ace of the Cubs staff, but for how long? Jerry Lai/US Presswire

With pitchers and catchers reporting to Mesa, Ariz., on Saturday, Bruce Levine previews the Cubs roster by position this week.

1. Matt Garza, RHP: The 28-year-old is the new ace of the Cubs' staff. He had a 3.32 ERA in 31 starts last season and won 10 games, but that is a deceiving stat. The Cubs gave up seven games that Garza left with a lead. Unless he is traded during the spring, Garza will be the Opening Day starter.

2. Ryan Dempster, RHP: Dempster will do his best to rebound from a poor 2011 season. After putting up 200 innings for the fourth consecutive season, Dempster, who is in the last year of his contract, declared that he would prepare for a big comeback in 2012.

3. Paul Maholm, LHP: Maholm gives the Cubs their first legitimate left-handed starter since Ted Lilly was traded in July 2010. A sinker–slider pitcher, Maholm must still keep the ball down at Wrigley Field. The power alley in left field is 30 feet shorter than in Pittsburgh.

4. Chris Volstad, RHP: He had a an awful time trying to get National League hitters out last season, with the league batting .289 against him. New pitching coach Chris Bosio will spend a ton of time working with Volstad, who finished 5-13 last season with the Marlins. Acquired in the Carlos Zambrano trade, Volstad will have have to beat out four other right-handed pitchers to win a starting role.

5. Travis Wood, LHP: Acquired from the Reds in the Sean Marshall trade, Wood also is coming off of a poor 2011 season. The new Cubs brass feel that the 24-year-old lefty will come back to form with the Cubs. Wood will back off the cut fastball he used as his primary out pitch last season.

The other candidates for the rotation include Randy Wells, Jeff Samardzija, Casey Coleman and Rodrigo Lopez. Wells was the Cubs' fourth starter in 2011 before missing seven weeks with a strained forearm. Wells had a solid August but tailed off in September. Samardzija will get a full look in spring training. Many scouts think the former Notre Dame football star was the most improved bullpen pitcher in the game last season. He will have to show new manager Dale Sveum and Bosio he can command three pitches in order to bump Volstad out of the rotation. Coleman and Lopez will compete for a swing role this spring.

Outlook: The projected five starters were a combined 37-55 in 2011. None of this group won more than 10 games and only Garza and Maholm had earned-run averages under 4.80. Still this group should put up better numbers than the 2011 Cubs staff which had an NL-worst 4.79 earned-run average. The potential for an improved bullpen and an influx of new offensive players should help pitchers such as Garza and Maholm win more games in 2012.