SAN DIEGO -- Ryan Dempster and the Cubs ended the season the way they started: with a loss and a lot of questions.
Nick Hundley hit a three-run homer and Will Venable belted a grand slam off Dempster to spark the Padres to a 9-2 win on Wednesday over the Cubs, who finished 71-91 and head into the offseason with plenty to do.
"It'll be an interesting winter; it always is," Cubs manager Mike Quade said.
Quade squeezed in a moment to personally reflect on the season, his first full year at the helm. He addressed the players before the game.
"When you talk to a club, when you're basically saying goodbye, you take a minute to think about quite a bit," Quade said. "I think next week, getting away from it myself and reflecting will be important."
This was likely Aramis Ramirez's last game with the Cubs. The third baseman, who has said he'll test the free-agent market, finished the year hitting .306 with 26 homers and 93 RBIs.
"We'll see you somewhere," Ramirez said.
Was it Dempster's last game with the Cubs, too? The right-hander did reach the 200-inning milestone for the fourth straight season, totaling 202 1/3 innings. But his last pitch ended up in the left-field bleachers, when Venable connected with the bases loaded and two outs in the sixth. By the way, the Cubs did not hit a grand slam this year.
"Koyie [Hill] said, 'Look at it this way, the next guy you face won't hit a grand slam,'" Dempster said. "There's no where to go but up from here."
The Cubs have to be thinking the same.
"It [stinks] to be going home at the end of the season," Dempster said in the visitor's clubhouse at PETCO Park, where the televisions were tuned to the late finishing games involving playoff-bound teams.
Dempster (10-14) now must decide whether to exercise his $14-million option for 2012.
"I'll take a look at things, and see what their plans are and what they want to do, and go from there," Dempster said. "Those things will play themselves out."
Dempster got off to a rough start, posting a 9.58 ERA in six starts in April, and ended the year winless in his final nine starts, with a 4.80 ERA for the season.
"It wasn't the kind of year he had last year, it wasn't quite as consistent," Quade said of the right-hander, who was the Opening Day starter. "I go back to without him and [Matt] Garza and the innings they gave us, where would we be? It wasn't vintage 'Demp.' It was just a tough night tonight."
Dempster retired the first eight batters he faced, but then walked pitcher Wade LeBlanc, who scored on Cameron Maybin's double. Will Venable walked to set up Hundley's homer, his ninth, which gave the Padres a 4-0 lead.
Tony Campana hit an RBI single with two outs in the fourth, but the Padres loaded the bases in their half and Andy Parrino hit a potential double-play ball to Starlin Castro, who booted it for an error, his 29th of the season.
Steve Clevenger picked up his first Major League hit, a pinch-hit double in the Chicago fifth that Quade called "a little silver lining," and he eventually scored on Castro's sacrifice fly.
Players scattered after the game ended, not knowing who will return in 2012.
"I'm very grateful for the opportunity I had," said Carlos Pena, who will be a free agent. "I did everything I could to soak it in. The best way to describe how I feel is gratitude. I wish we could've had a better season, but I'm very grateful and very happy to be able to say I played for the Cubs."
Pena would like to return, and he's not alone in that thought. But if it's the same roster, will it result in the same fifth-place finish?
"We could be contenders if we execute better, no matter what it is," Dempster said. "Execute pitches better, execute plays on defense better, execute at-bats better -- try to improve on every facet of the game, every thing we do, every individual. If we do that, we'll be better as a team."
There's always next year.
Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. She writes a blog, Muskat Ramblings, and you can follow her on Twitter@CarrieMuskat. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.