COMMENTARY | Even though the Chicago Cubs enter the 2013 All-Star break well out of divisional contention and a ways below .500, no one can escape the fact that the team is significantly better than we all believed it would be.
At only nine games below .500, the Cubs are 10 games better than they were at All-Star break last year (33-52). When you throw in how competitive the Cubs have been throughout the season, the record doesn't even show all the improvement.
As the team enters the All-Star break, here are some grades from the first half:
Probably the most fluctuating area of the 2013 Cubs. They have been an extra-base machine (first in the NL with 304), their pitchers rank first in the majors with 22 RBIs, and the offense has been doing it with some less-than-stellar personnel -- Luis Valbuena, Cody Ransom, Darwin Barney, Ryan Sweeney, Brian Bogusevic -- getting significant playing time. And that's in addition to their presumed stars -- Anthony Rizzo, Starlin Castro -- both batting in the .240s.
Of course, having your two stars with lackluster batting averages catches up with you eventually. Other than Alfonso Soriano's torrid power streak -- .350 AVG, 9 HRs, 19 RBIs in his last 15 games -- and Nate Schierholtz's unexpected production, the Cubs' offense has been pedestrian most of the way.
They're 11th in the NL in batting average and 13th in on-base percentage. The extra-base hits and surprising production from a few players helps keep the Cubs' hitting in the middle of the pack overall. B-
Easily the best part of this Cubs team. Their starters have accounted for 57 quality starts (tied for third in the NL). Travis Wood has been superb the entire season (2.79 ERA), Scott Feldman (prior to being traded) was a nice surprise, Edwin Jackson has steadily improved after a dreadful first couple of months -- 3-0, 1.93 ERA in his three previous starts -- and Jeff Samardzija, though inconsistent, has been solid overall. Lastly, Matt Garza has been dominant -- 5-0, 1.24 ERA in his last six starts.
The Cubs' overall standing is nothing to bask in, but without their quality starting pitching throughout the first half, this team wouldn't be anywhere close to where it is. B+
As crazy as it sounds, the Cubs would be in contention if their bullpen was even modestly successful. The bullpen has 19 blown saves, Shawn Camp and Carlos Marmol have both been sent packing after awful seasons, and Kyuji Fujikawa was a disappointment before he was lost for the season to Tommy John surgery.
The surprising emergence of Kevin Gregg at closer (17-for-19 on save opportunities) and the appearance of Blake Parker the last two weeks have been the saving graces of an otherwise horrid affair.
James Russell hasn't been too bad, but has struggled more leading up to the break than he did in the early going -- nine runs, 20 hits in his last 15 innings.
Other than a few bright spots, the bullpen has been a disaster. D
The Cubs' fielders have, overall, been average. Darwin Barney continues to play Gold Glove-caliber defense at second, Starlin Castro makes dazzling stops but continues to make mind-boggling mistakes on an all-too-often basis (14 errors), and Valbuena has been solid at third.
The pitchers' fielding has been suspect (11 errors) at times as well, but has improved of late. Otherwise, the defense is average -- not really a liability, but isn't saving runs every night either. C
Brian is a lifelong Chicago Cubs follower. Living in Illinois his entire life has given him a chance to closely follow and report Chicago sports as a freelance writer through Yahoo! Contributor and Yahoo! Sports. He is also a senior in college majoring in English and Creative Writing.
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