Cubs 2012 recaps: Starting pitching

Ryan Dempster was a hot commodity at the trade deadline, posting a 2.25 ERA over 16 starts. Mike Stobe/Getty Images

With the 2012 season finally over, Doug Padilla reviews the Cubs by position this week, beginning with the starting pitchers.

CHICAGO -- For one month, anyway, the Chicago Cubs had their act together and it was the starting pitching that led the way.

The season might have ended with 101 defeats, but the month of July wasn’t to blame as the Cubs posted a 15-10 record.

That things went south again once Ryan Dempster and Paul Maholm were traded before the July 31 non-waiver deadline -- not to mention the season-ending injury to Matt Garza -- came as no surprise.

Overall, though, it was a rough ride as the Cubs starters combined for a 4.52 ERA, 14th best in the 16-team National League. Their 42 wins were 15th in the league.

“We made the tough decision to invest a little more in the future at that time,” president Theo Epstein said of the trade deadline. “It’s never easy to do that, but to be honest, that fit the greater vision of the organization. Had we found ourselves in contention, or close to it, we wouldn’t have done that. But the fact is that we weren’t close to contention and so we ended up trading 40 percent of our rotation -- not something you want to do if you want to win a lot of games the rest of the year.”

In the end things went as expected for the starting staff, with the only exception being that Garza is still a member of the Cubs organization. He figured to be dealt before the end of the season, but his elbow injury July 21 in an outing against the Cardinals nixed those plans and ended his year.

Garza finished the season with a 3.91 ERA over 18 starts and held opponents to a .236 batting average.

Dempster lifted his trade value with a 2.25 ERA over 16 starts, but things didn’t work out exactly as the club had planned when the right-hander vetoed a trade to the Atlanta Braves. Dempster earned his veto power as a 10-year veteran with at least five years with the same club. Instead of the Cubs landing major-league-ready pitcher Randall Delgado from the Braves, they ended up ended up with a pair of Single-A players from the Texas Rangers --third baseman Christian Villanueva and right-hander Kyle Hendricks.

Maholm, signed as a free agent last winter, was a pleasant surprise, posting nine victories and a 3.74 ERA by the end of July. He ended up tied for the team lead in wins with Jeff Samardzija.

One of the stories of the season was the emergence of Samardzija into a front-of-the-rotation starter. He might have been feeling his way through the role for parts of the season, but when he followed the game plan he proved to be a force.

Samardzija’s biggest hurdles were his tendency to try to overpower hitters with a mid-90s fastball and his failed June experiment of trying to add a curveball into the mix. He was 0-4 with a 10.41 ERA in June. Take out those runs and he posted a 2.80 ERA over the other five months of the season.

After a rocky spring, Travis Wood had solid stretches and is a leading candidate to grab a spot in the bottom of the rotation next season.

“(It was) a rotation that turned out to be pretty good at times, especially during that good stretch of good play from late-June to late-July,” Epstein said. “The last two months of the season, we were incredibly young. At times we had to fight just to keep a representative club on the field. Most of our rotation spend the majority of the year in Triple-A, so they’re going back to Triple-A next year.”

The Cubs’ main offseason target will be free-agent starting pitching, but don’t expect the club to chase some of the high-priced talent that will be available. Expect at least two signings similar to the deal that brought in Maholm.

Coming Tuesday: Relief pitchers.