For Mike Quade, the '10 season was an opportunity. He took over for Piniella and the team responded with a 24-13 record, giving Cubs fans hope for next year.
Carlos Marmol saved more than half (38) of the Cubs' 75 wins in '10, and set a Major League record by averaging 15.99 strikeouts per nine innings. The Cubs did have trouble early on getting to Marmol, as the team lost relievers John Grabow, Angel Guzman and Esmailin Caridad to injuries. The team was 22-32 in one-run games, and the 32 losses were the most in such situations in the Major Leagues.
The season did produce some milestones. Alfonso Soriano and Derrek Lee each hit their 300th home runs, doing so two days apart in June. Ramirez finished with 25 home runs and is one of six Cubs to have six or more 25-homer seasons.
The first year under the new owners, the Ricketts family, was a learning experience -- and ended sadly in December with the death of legendary broadcaster and former Cubs third baseman Ron Santo. His funeral, though, resulted in a reunion between the Cubs and pitcher Kerry Wood, who gave the team a hometown discount to return for one more year.
"God bless No. 10, who had something to do with this," said Cubs general manager Jim Hendry, who talked to Wood after the funeral about coming back.
The right-hander, known as "Kid K," will be back in '11 in the bullpen. But let's take one more look at some of the Cubs' 2010 story lines.
5. Piniella's early exit and Quade's strong finish
Starting in Spring Training, Piniella made it clear he didn't want his job status to be a distraction. This was the last year of his contract and he fully expected to finish the season. What he didn't anticipate, was how much the deaths of George Steinbrenner and an uncle would affect him. Plus, he had to deal with his 90-year-old mother's poor health. On July 20, Piniella announced he would retire at the end of the season -- but he moved the date up and went home to Tampa, Fla., after the Aug. 22 game. Third-base coach Quade was promoted and seemed to revive the team. After 17 seasons managing in the Minor Leagues plus 3 1/2 years on Piniella's staff, Quade was finally promoted to a big league job. His performance was rewarded on Oct. 19 with a two-year contract.
4. Zambrano's roller-coaster season
Carlos Zambrano was the Opening Day starter for the sixth straight year -- but after four starts, he was shifted to the bullpen. The Cubs needed relief help and to make room for Ted Lilly coming off the DL. But Zambrano wasn't comfortable there and moved back to the rotation on June 4. That didn't last long, as a dugout tantrum on June 25 resulted in a three-game suspension and stint on the restricted list. Zambrano underwent anger management therapy, and returned to action and the 'pen on July 31. He was starting again by Aug. 9 and finished 8-0 with a 1.41 ERA in his final 11 starts. The animated and emotional "Big Z" somehow finished 11-6.
3. Starlin Castro's dazzling debut
The Cubs' offense was scuffling, and on May 7, help arrived in Castro, 20, who was batting .376 at Double-A Tennessee. The slender shortstop made quite a first impression in his Major League debut vs. the Reds, hitting a three-run homer in his first at-bat and adding a three-run triple. The six RBIs were a Major League record for a debut game, and he was the third youngest ever to homer in his first career at-bat. While he hit only two more homers the rest of the season, Castro finished the season with a .300 average -- good for 10th place in the National League. Defensively, Castro made dazzling plays but also youthful mistakes, and was charged with 27 errors.
2. Tyler Colvin's bat attack
Colvin won a spot on the Opening Day roster with a strong spring, but it was difficult for Piniella to fit the rookie in the outfield. When he did play, he produced -- batting .315 in his first 59 games. Colvin's season ended prematurely on Sept. 19, when he was struck in the chest by a broken bat, resulting in a collapsed lung and prompting debate on the merits of maple bats. He ended his first full season with 20 home runs, fourth most by a Cubs rookie and second among NL rookies.
1. Departures of Lilly, Theriot, Fontenot and Lee
At the Trade Deadline, the Cubs were in fourth place and 11 games back in the NL Central. It was time to look ahead and Lilly and Ryan Theriot were first to go, getting traded July 31 to the Dodgers for Blake DeWitt and two Minor League pitchers. On Aug. 11, Mike Fontenot only needed to walk down the hallway from the visitor's clubhouse to the home quarters, as he was traded to the Giants when the Cubs were in San Francisco. One week later, Lee was dealt to Atlanta and a chance at postseason play for three Minor Leaguers. His first game for the Braves, strangely enough, was at Wrigley Field on Aug. 20.