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Cubs Mon Feb 07 2011

Cubs Preview: Part Four -- Carlos Zambrano

Thumbnail image for cubs.gifPart of a series previewing the 2011 Cubs.

Good Z or Bad Z? Which one will show up this year? Will it be the one who went 8-0 with 1.58 ERA after returning from last year's mid-summer suspension or will be the one who snaps at the first sign of trouble? This remains the biggest question for the Cubs heading into the 2011 season.

What the Cubs really need is the Carlos Zambrano from a few years back, when he averaged 15 wins and 189 strikeouts with a 3.30 ERA from 2003-07. That's what earned him a five-year extension worth nearly $100 million in August 2007.

There is no doubt he has the ability to be one of the most dominant pitchers in the National League if not both leagues. He showed a glimpse of just how dominating he can be after coming back from his suspension last July 31.

The only thing holding back "El Toro" is himself, plain and simple. It's not a secret, really. If he can overcome himself there really is no stopping him. Perhaps the new addition in his family will level Z out. The Zambranos recently adopted a Guatemalan boy. In the past Zambrano has vowed time and time again that he is a changed man, only to have another outburst after something didn't go his way.

One of the biggest difference between past incidents and the June 25 blowup that led to his suspension is he had to attend anger management. Instead of the Cubs downplaying the incident as "Zambrano being Zambrano" they did something about it. If they had done this a while ago they might not have been in this situation.

One thing to keep in mind with Big Z is he's labeled an "ace" when he's more like a No. 2 or 3 starter. Sure, he has the stuff of an ace, but his temperament and inability to handle high-pressure situations aren't the stuff of aces. People began anointing him an ace well before he was ready to be one. The pressure and expectations to be a Cubs player are already through the roof; then add being an ace on top of that and it can't be good for a guy like Z.

What it boils down to for Zambrano is he just needs to go out there and pitch. Easier said than done, right? We all know he's a passionate player who wears his emotions on his sleeve. Last September and October, Big Z was as dominant as they come, going 5-0 with a 1.10 ERA in his final six starts. Maybe, just maybe, the therapy did him good.

It's tough to say which Zambrano will show up this season. For the Cubs' sake, let's hope it's Good Z.

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