I love Cubs baseball as much as the next guy, but wow, this was a LONG year! What can fans hang their hats on when their favorite team dumps 100+ games? Let’s take a look back, and forward:
- Jeff Samardzija came through with a successful conversion to the starting rotation. Admit it…you thought this experiment would explode in our faces. I certainly did. The Shark wasn’t exactly Justin Verlander, but he turned in a solid campaign as a starter: 174.2 IP, 56 BB, 180 K’s, 3.81 ERA, 1.21 WHIP. What amazed me most was his improved command—2.9 BB per 9 IP. I honestly don’t know what to expect next year, his age-28 season. Can he build on this success and become a 200-inning horse? Absolutely. Can he revert back to his wild self and earn a demotion to the bullpen? That wouldn’t surprise me either. My fingers are crossed for scenario #1. And a haircut.
- The Cubs found a lead-off man vs. RHP. In case you missed it, here’s what David DeJesus did against righties in 2012: .289/.365/.432. OK, so he’s not Rickey Henderson. Still, DeJesus’ offensive performance was more than acceptable, and he’s a solid defender as well. Whether he plays CF or RF, here’s hoping Dale Sveum leads DeJesus off against RHP in 2013. Now the Cubs need to find a reliable platoon partner (that’s your cue, Reed Johnson fans).
- Anthony Rizzo is on the road to becoming the player many prospect evaluators thought he would be. Yes, the sample size was small, but the future looks bright for the Cubs’ 22-year-old 1B. Here’s what he did in 2012: 87 games, 337 AB, .285/.342/.463. I don’t know about you, but I can’t wait to watch Rizzo’s continued development next season.
- Starlin Castro was….well, I’m not sure. On the one hand, I’m thrilled with what he has accomplished at such a young age, particularly considering the position he plays. It’s not easy find shortstops who are productive offensive players. On the other hand, I was rooting for greater improvement from Castro this year. I was expecting better plate discipline. I was expecting a significant reduction in errors. I was expecting 20-ish homers. No such luck. So the question I keep asking myself is, “Are my expectations for Castro too high at this point?” I think the answer is “yes,” but I’m still on the fence. What say you?
- Alfonso Soriano has a pulse! In all seriousness, Soriano silenced a few critics by finding his power stroke in 2012. His 32 homers easily led the team, and he just missed the .500 slugging percentage mark. Many fans and announcers raved about his improved defense as well. Assuming they’re right, perhaps the soon-to-be-37-year-old Soriano will have real trade value this offseason, even with $36 million left on his deal.
Yes, there were other positives this year. Darwin Barney’s defense, Wellington Castillo’s improvement at the plate, James Russell’s reliability, and Carlos Marmol’s second half come to mind. So what can we expect from the 2013 Cubs? Can they reach respectability? I’ll have more on that topic next time…