Here we are, folks: the End of Season Post-Mortem series. If you're new here (which about 50% of our reader base is in comparison to last year), here's a brief explanation: after a team is eliminated from playoff contention, we're going to put their season under a microscope and look at just what the hell went wrong, what went right, and so on and so forth. The goal is to post these the day after a team is eliminated. Also, for the first ten teams eliminated, we're going to post a series called "Hope for the Hopeless", which is going to be an expanded version of the "What Went Right" portion of the Post-Mortem series pieces.
The 2013 Chicago Cubs lived much like their predecessors, the 2012 Chicago Cubs. They were a ragtag group of buy-low candidates that the new front office regime was hoping to sell off for prospects at the trade deadline. For the most part, that strategy succeeded for them this season. As for the actual baseball taking place on the actual field, the results weren't quite as enchanting.
Preseason prediction: This team isn't going to be nearly as bad as everyone is expecting them to be. But they won't exactly be good either. The rotation is solid and the bullpen is improved. They have a strong infield and some nice pop in the outfield. They could hover around .500 this season and get everyone's hopes up for 2014.
What Went Right: There wasn't much that went right for these 2013 Cubs. Nate Schierholtz was a pleasant surprise, though. He finally saw a chance to become an everyday player and, in doing so, managed to stick with the Cubs beyond the trade deadline. Perhaps he's a guy they bring back for next year, and maybe even beyond. Travis Wood was also something of a surprise, as the Cubs' only representative in the All Star Game. Welington Castillo established himself as the Cubs "catcher of the future", in a season where he improved behind the plate and brought a solid bat to the mix.
The Cubs also managed to invest a great deal in their future, adding some quality prospects and roster players to the mix. Pedro Strop and Jake Arrieta are looking like quite the haul for ol' Scott Feldman. C.J. Edwards and Neil Ramirez, along with Mike Olt, is a great group to get for Matt Garza. Corey Black, acquired in the Alfonso Soriano trade, has good stuff but his future role remains to be seen. Ivan Pineyro was quietly a pretty good get for Scott Hairston.
Oh, and Donnie Murphy did some things that will probably earn him a spot next year.
What Went Wrong: While the Cubs did improve in some areas, their stars also took a couple of steps back. Anthony Rizzo has been streaky. Starlin Castro has had stretches where he's looked downright awful, both with the glove and the bat, but he's also run into some bad luck. Edwin Jackson had a miserable first half after getting a $52 million contract last winter. But hey, at least there wasn't another trade fiasco a la Ryan Dempster this year.
Most Surprising Player: This goes back to what went right for the Cubs. In picking one, we knew that Travis Wood had pretty good stuff and could be a regular in this rotation. Which means the biggest surprise has to be Schierholtz. A slash line of .255/.308/.483/.791 isn't going to blow anyone away, but the power numbers are there. He's hit 20 home runs on the year, just one off the team lead. Not many expected him to be much more than a platoon guy this year. You could also throw Junior Lake in the mix. The dude is an athlete, and he's flashed that throughout the second half since his callup.
Most Disappointing Player: You hate to pick on the most polarizing player on the team, but it has to be Starlin Castro, thanks to a decent second half from Edwin Jackson. Castro has struggled throughout the season, hitting a miserable .240 and getting on base at a clip of only .279. He's shown multiple mental lapses in the field and on the basepaths, as well as complaining about how many different "voices" were around him about his swing mechanics. This year has seen Castro go from a rising superstar, to someone who could realistically be moved this winter with Javier Baez on the way up.
The Future: This is about all that the Cubs fans have had to cling to for the last couple of years, and it's likely going to be the case again next year, though one can expect marginal improvement. This organization is absolutely loaded with positional prospects. In addition to Baez, Kris Bryant could make some noise in 2014, as well as Jorge Soler. Don't forget about potential future centerfielder Albert Amora either. Mike Olt is still in the mix and recently picked up his play in Iowa. The young core on the Cubs is still there, with Rizzo, Castro, and potentially Lake, as well as an improving group of arms, both at the Major League level and coming up through the minor league ranks.
The future is bright for the Cubs, it's just a matter of waiting it out until some of these guys are ready to make an impact.