No looking back to last season for Cubs

Chicago Cubs manager Dale Sveum knows exactly what he’ll say

about last year’s 101-loss season when he meets with his team for

the first time this spring.

”I probably won’t mention last year, to tell you the truth,”

the Cubs’ second-year manager said. ”This is about this year and

the organization moving on and the 25 guys going north. So I don’t

want to be talking about last year at all.”

Making the task of forgetting the worst Cubs season in more than

40 years a little easier is the fact that the front office

overhauled a pitching staff that finished last season with more

walks than anyone else in the National League and with Triple-A

pitchers making 40 of the final 62 starts.

In one of baseball’s surprise moves of the offseason, the Cubs

signed durable starter Edwin Jackson to a four-year, $52-million

deal to join Jeff Samardzija and Matt Garza at the top of the

rotation.

They also added Scott Baker, Scott Feldman and Carlos Villanueva

to join Travis Wood in a competition for the two other spots.

In the bullpen, closer Carlos Marmol returns along with top

left-hander James Russell and experienced middle man Shawn Camp.

Instead of filling out the rest of the pen with rookies, as they

did last season, the Cubs added former Japanese All-Star closer

Kyuji Fujikawa as a free agent. And one or two of the rotation

candidates figure to fall to the bullpen, adding even more

experience.

”We run seven deep in starting pitchers. That’s going to make

our bullpen better,” team president Theo Epstein said. ”We just

got through running through every single pitcher in camp with the

entire coaching staff (during a staff meeting Sunday morning).

”It’s night and day in terms of quality and depth, in terms of

what we were looking at toward the end of last season. Especially

after the trades we made at the deadline and then with Garza going

down (with an elbow injury), there were times when we were

scrambling just to put a pitching staff out there, let alone have

it be the one that we wanted.”

The Cubs say Garza, who missed the final 11 weeks of the season,

is back to full health and ready to start his spring schedule at

full speed. Baker is coming off a missed season because of Tommy

John surgery, but also is healthy and expected to shoulder a full

spring workload.

Whether it’s enough to return the Cubs to the playoffs for the

first time in five years – or even .500 for the first time in four

– remains to be seen.

But Sveum is sure of two things: Last year doesn’t matter – 100

losses or not – and the goal remains singular, regardless: making

the playoffs.

”We could have lost 90 (instead) last year and it would have

been the same thing. We would have gone home,” Sveum said.

”Everything’s put on numbers – how many wins, playing .500 – and

those are a lot of things you have to stay away from. Nobody wants

to lose 100 games, but when you start putting prices on numbers,

like, `Well, .500 would be a good year this year,’ well, .500 and

we’re going to go home just like last year.”