Another year of the Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer rebuilding effort was completed on Sunday. The 2013 Chicago Cubs looked much like the 2012 version, with the most recent only winning five more games than the last. It seems difficult to see a future contender for the National League Central, let alone the World Series.
The Cubs didn’t lose 100 games this season, but they came very close with 96 losses. However, there really isn’t much difference between the 2012 club and the 2013 one. The Cubs had a revolving door of players due to injuries, trades or just simple call-ups. To be fair to Dale Sveum, whether he is let go or kept for another season, the deck was stacked against him. When the front office traded away Matt Garza and other members of the starting pitching staff, the brass had basically sent the death blow to the 2013 season.
Players the Cubs are hopeful that will become future superstars took steps backward. Shortstop Starlin Castro and first baseman Anthony Rizzo disappointed with their development. Castro batted .245 with 10 home runs and 44 RBI. Rizzo finished with 23 home runs, 80 RBI but had a .233 batting average with 127 strikeouts. Castro must bat for a higher average if he is to become the player the Cubs hope and Rizzo must hit for more power if he will be able to justify his low average. On the bright side, Rizzo’s on-base percentage (.323) was nearly one-hundred points higher than his batting average in his first full season in the Majors.
Starting pitcher Jeff Samardzija showed flashes of greatness in 2013, however, his inconsistencies maybe too much for the club to justify giving him the large contract he and his agent desire. Samardzija finished with a 4.34 ERA. Travis Wood, on the other hand, seems to be a bright spot for the Cubs. Wood pitched one disastrous inning in Friday’s contest against the Cardinals to reach the 200 inning milestone for the season but surrendered three runs, raising his ERA slightly above three for the season. Wood is a lock to make the rotation next year and seems to be the type of pitcher Epstein and Hoyer imagined him being after he was acquired from the Reds.
The 2013 season also showed the strength of the NL Central as a whole. Only two teams from the Central were out of contention, the Cubs and Brewers, and the rest jockeyed for playoff positioning all season. However, with a strong division comes a much harder climb to the top, making the ability to compete for and capture a playoff berth that much more difficult.
With the Minor League system for the Cubs being vastly improved from when former General Manager Jim Hendry left bodes well for the Cubs in the near future. The Cubs of 2014 should be calling up some young, exciting talent to help bolster the club. If the Cubs do not improve, especially according to their record, fans may start to become far less patient than they have been over the last two seasons. Next year the pressure will begin to be felt by Epstein and Hoyer as a championship starved fan base will begin to expect better results than nearly 100 losses.