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Five Questions Facing the Chicago Cubs After the All-Star Break

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COMMENTARY | Even though 2013 was written in as a rebuilding year (and it still is as far as I know), you have to say the Chicago Cubs have exceeded expectations -- currently sitting at eight games under .500. Nothing to hang your hat on necessarily, but when you consider the Cubs were 19 games under .500 at this time last season, you can't help but like the direction the team seems to be headed.

Modest successes not withstanding, the Cubs will still face numerous questions after the All-Star break.

To Trade or Not to Trade

I really doubt there is anything the Cubs can do in the coming weeks to remove the "seller" label, but that doesn't mean the team is without major decisions for the future. The swirling rumors make it look like Matt Garza is going to be shipped off, but his performance over his last five starts is enough to give a little pause -- 4-0, 0.97 ERA, 24 hits and 34 strikeouts in 37 innings.

Nate Schierholtz and Jeff Samardzija are both possible trade chips but could also be mainstays. At 29 and 28 respectively, both presumably have plenty of years remaining. Samardzija feels more like a long-term solution than Schierholtz does, but the Cubs will have decisions to make on both fronts.

Who Starts Next Season?

Admittedly, this is a question that faces every team every year, but the Cubs will face it to an extreme degree. We will most likely get a look at some of the Cubs' top prospects once the rosters expand in September and will consequently have a better idea of who might be ready to make the jump.

If Garza, Schierholtz, Alfonso Soriano, or any combination of others are indeed sent packing, the Cubs will have numerous starting positions ripe for the taking. Josh Vitters and Brett Jackson -- who continue flirting with the "bust" label more every day -- will both have opportunities to finally figure things out at the major-league level. Also look to get an idea of how far along Jorge Soler and Javier Baez are.

Who Fills in the Starting Rotation?

Most of the impact players the Cubs have signed in the Epstein-Hoyer era have been position players. With Scott Feldman already traded, Garza on the block, Carlos Villanueva as fair game, and Samardzija a possible deadline target, who will the Cubs turn to to pitch alongside Travis Wood and Edwin Jackson?

Samardzija more than likely stays, so that only leaves two spots to fill. Carlos Villanueva -- who got re-promoted to starter after the Feldman trade -- is under contract through 2014 which makes him a logical candidate (if he's around), but the Cubs don't have much major-league-ready talent in the minors. They have a few intriguing arms -- Alberto Cabrera, Pierce Johnson -- but none that presume to contribute immediately in the majors.

Can the Cubs get to .500?

Hardly the goal you want as a team, but after the Cubs finished 40 games under .500 just last season (61-101), actually getting to .500 would be an enormously welcome surprise -- especially considering it looked as if the Cubs were on their way to packing it in this season. They have played well and creep closer to .500 each week.

A life's worth of disappointment makes Cubs nation reluctant to count chickens before they're hatched, but it's hard to argue that the rebuilding process isn't going well. The Cubs will likely see a downturn if they ship off talent, but they keep exceeding expectations against the odds.

Could the Cubs actually win a wild card slot?

We can let Jim Mora start us off with an answer first by listening to what he has to say on the subject.

It's highly unlikely, but the Cubs are "only" nine games out of the second wild card spot. The Cincinnati Reds have scuffled and are now a solid, but manageable 10 games over .500 (50-40). No one else in the National League (outside of the current division leaders and the Pittsburgh Pirates) is very good record wise. The Washington Nationals are the only ones over .500 (46-44).

It's not to say the Cubs can actually make that kind of run, but they have plenty of games against the proper opponents to have a direct shot at them -- specifically six games against the Reds. It is a very, very long shot, but it's more than the Cubs had just a few weeks ago and that counts for something.

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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