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Loud, Sustained Applause...

... because for the first time in a couple of years, the Cubs are actually thinking about starting the season with an 11-man pitching staff, because...

they have three days off in the first eight days. It's possible a No. 5 starter wouldn't be required until April 15 in Pittsburgh, the season's 10th game.

This is true, and beyond that the club has two more days off in April -- the 20th and 27th, after which they play seventeen days in a row, from April 28-May 14.

The value of a smaller pitching staff for an NL team is beyond question, in my mind. With a twelve-man staff -- something the Cubs have kept for nearly all of the last two years -- that leaves the ballclub with only five bench players, one of whom is, by necessity, your backup catcher. That leaves only four substitutes, and if they can't hit (which was the case most of 2005, with the one guy who was pretty good off the bench in 2004, Todd Hollandsworth, in the starting lineup sixty times), your late-inning offense is going to fail consistently.

Which is, of course, precisely what happened to the 2005 Cubs -- not to mention the offensive failures earlier in games.

Some of that has been addressed with the acquisition of Juan Pierre. Let's say Todd Walker is the starter at 2B -- which is the way it should be. That would leave the bench players as Neifi Perez, Jerry Hairston, John Mabry, Henry Blanco and... well, that leaves room for the sixth bench player, who could be Marquis Grissom, Michael Restovich, Ryan Theriot, Angel Pagan, or someone to be acquired later in the spring.

In any case it surely gives the club more flexibility if there's an extra hitter off the bench, and maybe once Dusty tries it for a month, he'll stick with it.

It would still leave seven men in the bullpen, and although that seems like a good idea so as to not overwork your starters... it never seems to work that way, because the seventh man (call him "Todd Wellemeyer") usually sits for ten days, then goes into a critical situation and gets pounded.

There's work to be done here. That's what spring training is for.