Usually, the "Player of the Year" label is used for a team's best player. In this series, though, we're trying to spot the single player on each club who best exemplifies his team's 2012 season. For better or worse ...
It's not been a good season for the Chicago Cubs. For all their trials over the years, they hadn't lost 100 games in a season since 1966, before most of their fans were born.
Until this season, that is. Monday night, the Cubs lost their 100th game in 2012 ... and to the Houston Astros, no less.
When the Cubs' new management team -- led by Theo Epstein, of course -- came in last winter, they must have known that 2012 would be a rebuilding year. The club did have one obvious strength, though: a starting rotation that featured Ryan Dempster, Matt Garza, Paul Maholm, and Jeff Samardzija.
A lot of teams would have been happy with that quartet, and indeed all four pitched well for the Cubs. But of course there was a problem, in terms of winning games in 2012: the better they pitched, the more the pressure to trade them for prospects. Which is exactly what happened with two of those starters, as Dempster was traded to the Rangers and Maholm to the Braves. Garza might well have been dealt, too, had he not been injured.
Still, you figure with a good front office and just a decent farm system, you can replace the starters you've lost with some guys who are at least decent, right?
The Cubs haven't. Justin Germano started 12 games, and posted a 6.75 ERA. Chris Rusin: 6.37 ERA in seven starts. Brooks Raley: 8.14 ERA in five starts. Jason Berken: winless in four starts, with a 4.82 ERA. The only success story is unimposing Travis Wood, who's gone just 6-13 but has otherwise pitched decently in his 25 starts.
Unfortunately, Wood's solid work has been balanced by Chris Volstad's performance. Volstad seemed to be exactly the sort of pitcher who could help a team like the Cubs. His career ERA seemed somewhat deceptive, perhaps masking his true talents. And he was still young by the pitching standards, only 25. Maybe he could, with a little luck and a bit of natural maturation, establish himself as a part of the Cubs' future, rather than just the disappointing present.
Instead -- and even with a solid outing against the Astros, Tuesday night -- Volstad finished the campaign with only three wins (and a dozen losses) in 21 starts. Oh, and a 6.31 ERA, the second highest in franchise history among Cubs with at least 20 starts.
A few things went well for the Cubs this season. Anthony Rizzo proved he's a major leaguer, and Samardzija developed nicely. But the Cubs lost 100 games largely because management couldn't find a few starting pitchers who could pitch just decently for two or three months.