With the first half in the books, there’s still plenty of reasons to pay attention to this team… here’s what intrigues me the most.
Starlin Castro – The development of the team’s most important player is one reason I still watch every game. For the rest of the season I will be keying in on the same things you continually hear mentioned with Castro. Defensive improvement tops my list as the Cubs need to know if they have a shortstop or if he will have to move to a new position. I’ll be watching to see if the improvement to his throwing mechanics and footwork continue into the second half. Other things to keep an eye on include his walk rate (abysmal thus far), the development of his baserunning ability and power, and Castro’s chase for his third straight .300 hitting season.
Samardzija and Wood’s Development – Probably the two most surprising developments this season have been a couple of the performances out of the rotation. There’s a chance the Cubs have found 40% of a starting rotation they can build around moving forward. After Samardzija’s revelation during the off-season he has been up and down as he tries to develop another out-pitch, a curveball. Wood, on the other hand, has been one of the best lefty starters in the NL since being called up from the minors. His peripherals would say regression is coming, but no one is expecting him to be an ace. The Cubs would be happy with just finding another cheap, controllable SP would speed up the rebuilding process or give the team another asset to trade.
The Minors Matter- There’s a bunch of interesting plots to watch with the Cubs younger players. The questions I am looking for answers include: Is Anthony Rizzo’s fast start legit? Will Brett Jackson or Josh Vitters get called up? What players will get promoted a level? How long will Matt Szczur’s hot streak continue? Will we continue to see a Jekyll & Hide version of Trey McNutt? How will Soler, Almora, and the rest of the recent signings perform in their professional debuts?
Spoiler Alert – Never a position you want to be in but the Cubs will have a chance to play the role of spoilers again this year. They’ll face the Cardinals 9 more times, the Pirates 13 times, the Reds 11 times, and the Brewers 7 more times in the second half. Those games could end up deciding the division and/or wild card races. If I have to choose a lesser evil, let it be the Pirates since their fans have suffered quite a bit recently.
Trades - For me, this is the most anticipated trade deadline I can remember. Cubs fans are going to find out which players Theo and Co. see as part of the future and which they do not. We will find out if the Cubs can find takers for Soriano or Marmol; if there will be any surprising moves; and most importantly, what prospects/players are we getting back? I’m expecting an extremely active month for the Cubs and no one is ever completely off-limits in my book.
Cyan Dempster – OK this is a sixth thing but he won’t be on the Cubs if he does it. That does not mean I won’t be paying attention to (and rooting for) Ryan Dempster’s shot at a Cy Young Award. Dempster is not going to be the favorite amid a group including Greinke, Dickey, Cain, Strasburg, and Kershaw plus others but if he remains in the NL and can stay healthy the rest of the season, he should be in consideration for the award. He currently leads all SPs in the NL in ERA, is 7th in FIP, 5th in WHIP, 12th in WAR and is working on 27 straight scoreless innings. However, pitching for a non-contender, his mediocre win-loss record (yes some voters still care about wins), and his lack of innings pitched will all work against him.