Rotation injuries, slow starts too much for Cubs

Rotation injuries, slow starts too much for Cubs

Rotation injuries, slow starts too much for Cubs
CHICAGO -- It was only five days into the season when the Cubs realized they'd have an uphill climb.

After Randy Wells and Andrew Cashner made their first starts April 4-5, both had to go on the disabled list, with forearm and shoulder issues, respectively.

"This game now is all about pitching," Alfonso Soriano said. "If we have a very good rotation and a very good bullpen, we have a chance. In April, two starters go down, and it's very tough for the team."

It was tough, and it led to a second straight losing season for the Cubs. Chicago tried to plug the holes in its rotation by moving reliever James Russell into the rotation, adding journeymen like Doug Davis, Rodrigo Lopez and Ramon Ortiz, and promoting Casey Coleman from the Minor Leagues. It also didn't help that Ryan Dempster and Matt Garza were a combined 2-6 in the first month.

The Cubs were inconsistent. They didn't win three in a row until July 22-24, which, coincidentally, was when Jim Hendry was told he would be dismissed as general manager. Hendry, though, stayed on the job until Aug. 19 to deal with the Trade Deadline and the Draft signing date. During his tenure as GM, which began in July 2002, the Cubs won National League Central titles in 2003, '07 and '08.

This year, manager Mike Quade didn't have the same success he did at the end of 2010, when he guided the Cubs to a promising 24-13 record. There were injuries to overcome, public disagreements with players and arguments with umpires. Quade stayed optimistic. Before a 10-game trip in July, when the team was 42-60 and 12 games back, he maintained the Cubs were still contenders.

"I'm not a lunatic," he said. "I understand there's a lot of work to do ahead of us. But we're playing the right clubs, and let's see if we can't put something together."

The Cubs lost the first game of that 10-game trip, 3-2, to Milwaukee on July 26, ending their first three-game win streak of the year. They lost the next four, as well.

If pitching and defense win games, then there's an easy explanation for the Cubs' woes. They were last in the National League in ERA and committed the most errors. Not a good combination. Yet, Carlos Pena is even more optimistic than Quade.

"Even though we haven't achieved what we [wanted] to this year, I feel like it's moving in the right direction," Pena said. "Just to be part of that means a lot to me."

Record: 71-91, fifth in NL Central

Defining moment: It wasn't exactly a moment, but an eight-game losing streak from May 30-June 7, when the Cubs went 0-3 against the Astros and Cardinals and 0-2 against the Reds, getting outscored, 52-22. The losses dropped their record vs. NL Central teams to 7-21. Included in that stretch was a 3-2, 10-inning loss to the Cardinals -- when Carlos Zambrano criticized closer Carlos Marmol's pitch selection and said the Cubs played "like a Triple-A team," before later adding, "We stink."

Zambrano's season ended on Aug. 12, when he left Turner Field in Atlanta after giving up five home runs and being ejected, telling teammates he was retiring. He's owed $18 million next year, and it will be up to the new GM to find the right-hander a new home.

What went right: Starlin Castro put together an offensive display far more mature than most 21-year-olds. He became the youngest player to lead the National League in hits, with 207. Darwin Barney, projected as a utility player, won the second-base job and won NL Rookie of the Month honors in April. Sean Marshall thrived in the setup role.

What went wrong: Problems started quickly when both Wells (forearm) and Cashner (shoulder) had to go on the DL. The replacements scuffled (Davis was 1-7, Russell 0-5). Opening Day starter Ryan Dempster compiled a 9.58 ERA in April, and he and Matt Garza were neck and neck on the team for the lowest run support. Aramis Ramirez and Pena were slow to warm up. Pena's first homer came on May 3, and Ramirez had two in April and May combined. Marlon Byrd began the season as the No. 3 hitter, but struggled to drive in runs and was dropped in the order. He wasn't alone in failing to deliver with men on base. The Cubs were unable to overcome injuries, especially in May, when six players went on the DL in a 20-day stretch.

Biggest surprise: Marmol will finish with season highs in numbers closers don't want. Marmol reached double digits in blown saves, and ranked among the Major League leaders in that category, as well as worst save percentage. He struggled with his mechanics, and finished with a 5.72 ERA vs. NL Central teams. Marmol signed a three-year, $20 million contract in February 2011, and the club needs to get him back on track.

Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. She writes a blog, Muskat Ramblings, and you can follow her on Twitter@CarrieMuskat. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.