The writing was on the wall long before opening day that it was going to be a long 2012 campaign for the Chicago Cubs. Consequently, any "grading" that goes on concerning this team does itself no favors by basing the scale specifically on where the Cubs ultimately ended up. How many "good grades" can you dish out when the team finishes in 5th place, had the second worst record in the majors, and lost 100-plus games for only the third time in franchise history? The point is that all the grades would be in "F" range. In the context of this piece, I'll look at how the various branches of the Cubs organization fared in relation to the long-term hopes for the team.
Starting Pitching: C-Jeff Samardzija's emergence was a nice surprise. While he has been improving each of the last few seasons, to see him take the next step was encouraging. He looks like he could develop into a top of the rotation starter here shortly --something the Cubs are in dire need of. It seems like forever ago that Ryan Dempster had an ERA under one and didn't have a win, or that Paul Maholm was actually 9-6 with a 3.74 before he was traded to the Atlanta Braves. Though Matt Garza was 5-7 with a 3.91 ERA, his season was more or less a wash --reoccurring trips to the disabled list. He still showed a handful of reminders that showed the pitcher he can be when healthy. A disappointing development was the performance of many of the minor league pitchers who were called up. Admittedly, these poor guys were thrown to the wolves, and that experience may yet serve as a great asset, but Justin Germano (2-10, 6.75), Chris Rusin (2-3, 6.37), Brooks Raley (1-2, 8.14), and Jason Berken (0-3, 4.82) have to perform better.
Relief Pitching: BThere were plenty of rough patches in the bullpen throughout the season, but seriously, when you lose 101 games, how many areas of the team didn't experience rough patches? Shawn Camp and James Russell were both workhorses --80 and 77 appearances respectively. They also were each able to keep their ERAs under 3.60. While there was shaky bullpen activity, it's important for the Cubs to begin constructing a well-built bullpen for the long term. Durable arms are a part of that. Even Carlos Marmol, who struggled something fierce in the early part of the season, turned in a fairly decent season. The Cubs need some help in middle relief, but I think Marmol, Russell, and Camp could end up forming a decent core to build around.
As is the case with most rebuilding scenarios, you aren't looking for gaudy numbers early on. You're looking for signs of life, for potential, and who might be someone worth keeping around. The Cubs' team offensive numbers aren't exactly pretty --26th in batting average, 29th in runs scored, 23rd in home runs. Despite those numbers, there were bright spots on an individual basis. One area of improvement was durability. Much like Camp and Russell, Starlin Castro, Darwin Barney, Alfonso Soriano, David DeJesus, and Anthony Rizzo each were present whenever possible --Castro started all 162 games. Rizzo began to fade towards the end, but still ended with a .285 average. As someone who watched most of the Cubs' games this season, it's baffling that DeJesus' average was only .263. His consistently strong at-bats, and by extension, strong contact, should be worthy of a higher average. I hope the Cubs keep him around.
Defense: BLike the other areas of the team, defense wasn't without its growing pain moments, but when you consider just how terrible this team has been in years past, the level of improvement was staggering. Castro still had 27 errors (!), but Soriano had only one (!!), Darwin Barney should compete for the gold glove at second base, and Rizzo showed his capability at first. When you add in consistent efforts from DeJesus and others among the revolving-door roster this season, this was a defense much improved. If Castro can learn when not to throw the ball, and learn to slow down on the routine plays, his combination with Barney and Rizzo could make for one of the better infields in Cubs' history.
Brian is a lifelong Chicago Cubs fan, having lived in Illinois his entire life and having followed Major League Baseball throughout.
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