Levine's Cubs season in review

October, 4, 2010
10/04/10
2:14
PM CT
Levine By Bruce Levine
ESPNChicago.com
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Starlin CastroMark J. Rebilas/US PRESSWIREStarlin Castro is the first Cubs rookie to bat .300 for a season since Bill Madlock hit .313 in 1974.
The Chicago Cubs' season was a tale of three parts in 2010: The quick failure of the team to compete, the drama of Lou Piniella retiring and staying on as manager and then retiring again, and the resurgence of the team in the last 40 games under Mike Quade.

Let's take a look at your Cubs season in review:

Rotation

What went right: Carlos Silva was the surprise of the National League in the first half, winning 10 games by the All-Star break while keeping the team afloat along with the usually reliable Ryan Dempster. Carlos Zambrano's return to ace form in the second half gives the feeling of some optimism for the rotation in 2011.

[+] EnlargeCarlos Zambrano
AP Photo/Barry GutierrezThe Cubs' Carlos Zambrano returned to his ace form at the end of the season.
What went wrong: The Cubs' decision to put Zambrano in the bullpen backfired as he was ineffective in that role and also left a gaping hole in the front of the rotation. Randy Wells' sophomore slump resulted in just six wins for the season after having an outstanding rookie season when he won 12 in 2009. Ted Lilly missed three and a half weeks recovering from shoulder surgery then was submarined by his own offense which only scored 2.5 runs per start for him before he was traded to the Los Angeles Dodgers. Silva went from All-Star to all-question mark in the second half, having a procedure done to correct an irregular heartbeat. Gorzelanny had his share of good starts as did rookie Casey Coleman at the end of the season. Jeff Samardzija's season can be described as incomplete at the major league level.

Bullpen

What went right:Carlos Marmol and Sean Marshall emerged as two of the best relievers in the National League. Marmol set a major league record with an average of almost 16 strikeouts per nine innings pitched and was as dominant a closer as there was in the game. Marshall again proved to be the Cubs' most versatile pitcher in the bullpen and Piniella and Quade used Marshall in many different roles. Marshall finally settled into the primary setup man role for Marmol. Other nice stories included the coming of age of Andrew Cashner and James Russell, both of whom will be counted on in 2011 as integral parts of the Cubs bullpen. Cashner started to develop a good breaking ball to go along with his 98-100 mph fastball. Russell was finally used properly under Quade as he flourished facing mostly left-handers in the second half.

What went wrong: The bullpen imploded early and often as the plan to use three rookies and the inexperienced Samardzija caused the team to blow more games early on than any team in baseball. Veteran reliever John Grabow had his worst season protecting an injured knee which finally gave out on him in mid-summer.

Catchers

What went right: Geovany Soto's re-commitment to becoming the type of player he was in 2008 when he won NL Rookie of the Year was a good story for the Cubs. Soto's defense wavered from time to time, but overall it was a positive return for the 2008 All-Star. Koyie Hill continued to be a positive backup for the Cubs.

What went wrong: Soto's season was cut short by shoulder surgery. However a positive out of that is that the Cubs were able to look at Wellington Castillo, who can be projected as a major league catcher in the future.

[+] EnlargeAramis Ramirez
AP Photo/Jim PrischingAfter a nightmarish first half, Aramis Ramirez finished with 25 home runs and 83 RBIs.

Infield

What went right: The Starlin Castro era began at shortstop on May 7 with the rookie setting a major league record with 6 RBIs in his first game. Although Castro struggled defensively at times, his arm and range suggest that he will be one of the star shortstops in the majors for the next 10 years. Blake DeWitt, acquired in the Theriot trade, proved to be a solid if not spectacular player at second base, and he showed that he fit well in the clubhouse. Ramirez's return to form in the second half was a key to the Cubs' run production as he led the team with 25 home runs and 83 RBIs. Xavier Nady proved to be a more than efficient first baseman after Derrek Lee was traded, although his power stroke never returned.

What went wrong: The sad tale of the infield centers around Ramirez's and Lee's awful first half slumps which killed any semblance of the Cubs' ability to score runs. Ryan Theriot's bulked-up body took away the bat speed that created a once-prolific singles machine. Defensively, Ramirez was well below average as he looked like a player that had never played the game during the first eight weeks of the season. A thumb injury in the middle of the summer only made things worse for the former All-Star. Lee's dreadful season eventually led to him getting traded to the Atlanta Braves.

Outfield

What went right: General manager Jim Hendry's signing of Marlon Byrd proved to be one of the best moves any team made in the offseason. Byrd was the Cubs' lone all-star, hustling his way to a near-.300 batting average. The Cubs' Energizer Bunny made only three errors in the outfield and should be in strong consideration for a Gold Glove. A lack of run production by Byrd can only be blamed on the failure of Ramirez, Lee and Theriot to do their jobs. The emergence of Tyler Colvin has some Cubs fans excited about his future. Colvin somehow was able to hit 20 home runs while rotating in the outfield with Kosuke Fukudome, Alfonso Soriano, Byrd and Nady. Colvin's year was cut short due to the freak accident that occurred when Castillo's shattered bat pierced Colvin in the chest causing a collapsed lung.

What went wrong: The same story that has occurred for the Cubs over the past four years: a general lack of run production. Fukudome had his usual downturn in mid-summer. Soriano's lack of a hot streak made the Cubs outfield one of the least productive in the league. Not a lot of home runs from this group even with Soriano's 24 and Colvin's 20.

Managers

[+] EnlargeMike Quade
Ric Tapia/Icon SMIMike Quade led the Cubs to a 24-13 record after taking over for Lou Piniella.
What went right: Quade taking over the team on Aug. 23 from Piniella was a big-time feel-good story for the fan base. Quade won 24 out of 37 games, putting himself in position to be the full-time manager next season. Veterans and rookies all responded well to Quade, with his friendly but firm communication skills and his decisive handling of the game. Players were told 2-3 days in advance of days that they would have off and lineups were posted early in the day. During his time, Quade benched two veterans who weren't responding to team rules without the media finding out about it. Quade should be a favorite when Hendry and owner Tom Ricketts sit down to hire their new manager later this month.

What went wrong: Surprisingly, even a veteran manager like Piniella was affected by his lame duck status. Players began griping about Piniella by mid-May, complaining about his unorganized way of handling players' days off and posting the lineups late. Piniella's decision to announce his retirement before he was ready to step down proved to be a mistake. Family issues with the death of his uncle and the illness of his mother only conviluted an already bad situation. In defense of Pineilla, a lot of the players who were griping were the same ones who were failing to live up to their contracts.

Front office

What went right: Hendry's signing of Byrd and the trade of Milton Bradley to the Seattle Mariners for Silva changed the entire mood of the clubhouse. Hendry's farm system has produced two Rookie of the Year candidates in Castro and Colvin. Set-up man Cashner may also be a star of the future in the back of the bullpen. For the first time in decades, the Cubs' farm system is sending viable young players to the big leagues. Hendry's best move may prove to have been selecting Quade as Piniella's replacement. The team under Quade rejuvenated a lost season, giving both players and fans a realistic good feeling about a turnaround in 2011.

What went wrong: From January on, Hendry was hamstrung by a payroll that had been maxed out since December of 2008. Hendry's attempts to sign free-agent relievers Matt Capps and Chan Ho Park failed because of a lack of money available. Attempts to trade for San Diego Padres reliever Luke Gregerson and the Toronto Blue Jays' Jason Frasier never materialized. Free-agent setup man Grabow failed in his role.

Offseason

[+] EnlargeDunn
Ed Wolfstein/Icon SMIWill the Cubs have the money available to go after a big free agent such as Adam Dunn?
The Cubs must start with hiring a new manager. Quade appears to be the front office and players' choice. The question is whether Ricketts and the marketing department will agree if Hendry chooses Quade over Ryne Sandberg or Eric Wedge. The Cubs' payroll is also a question mark. Ricketts has said that the team's payroll will be slightly less than in 2010. The question is will it be slightly less than the $144 million that was the payroll at the beginning of the season or slightly less after they had traded Lilly, Lee, Theriot and Fontenot in the last third of the season? The question in 2011 will be whether it will be a re-tooling year for the Cubs or will Hendry have the cash to go out on the free-agent market to sign difference-makers like Adam Dunn and Cliff Lee. Other questions center around the young players in the system. Will Castro and Colvin have to deal with a sophomore slump? And will center field prosect Brett Jackson follow Castro's trail to the majors in 2011? All that said, Zambrano must be able to do what he did the last six weeks of the season for a whole year, and Ramirez must return to the 35-home run, 100-RBI player that he was in the past if the Cubs are going to compete in a very winnable NL Central in 2011.

Bruce Levine | email

Chicago baseball beat reporter
Bruce Levine has covered sports in Chicago for over 28 years and hosts "Talkin' Baseball," heard Saturday mornings on ESPN 1000.

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TEAM LEADERS

WINS LEADER
Jason Hammel
WINS ERA SO IP
8 2.98 104 108
OTHER LEADERS
BAA. Rizzo .285
HRA. Rizzo 25
RBIA. Rizzo 59
RA. Rizzo 71
OPSA. Rizzo .907
ERAJ. Samardzija 2.83
SOT. Wood 108