My first attempt at this was pretty poor, so I'm going to try again. If you are going to put the effort into coming to this site to read, I can at least put in the effort to give you something that's worth reading.
This will be a positional report card on how the Chicago Cubs played during the first half of the season. It will not be based solely on statistics, and to be honest, I'm going to try to stay away from using stats as much as possible. The reason being.....the stats for this Cubs team can be very misleading. They are one of the top teams in the National League in run differential, yet they are only in second place in the NL Central. If I've learned anything during the first half of the season, it's that you need to base this squad off of how they are playing the game and not on the stats they are putting up.
Record:44-43, 4.5 games behind Milwaukee in the NL Central
Catcher: Things didn't start out so well with Michael Barrett having an extremely tough start this season. No one ever said this, but I wonder if his injury last season caused him to struggle this season? He struggled with passed balls, throwing to the correct base, hitting the ball consistently, getting along with teammates....you name it, he struggled with it. Henry Blanco also went down with an injury (neck) and has missed an extensive period of time. The Cubs are now left with a platoon of Koyie Hill and Rob Bowen. They haven't fared well offensively (8-88 hitting thus far), but their 'game calling' and ability to handle the pitching staff seems to be an upgrade from Barrett. Grade: D+
First Base: While Derrek Lee continues to say his wrist is completely healed from last season, his ability to hit for power is missing. With only six home runs in the first half of the season, Lee is going to have to catch on fire in the second half or possibly be moved in the batting order. He's hitting like Mark Grace, and that's not good enough for a #3 hitter on a team that's trying to make the playoffs. As usual, his defense has been stellar. Outside of starting a brawl and not being smart enough to take the suspension when the Cubs didn't need him, Lee's leadership has been excellent. Grade: C+
Second Base: Here is where things will start to get fun. There have been a ton of players at second for the Cubs this season. Ronny Cedeno, Mark DeRosa, Alfonso Soriano, Ryan Theriot and Mike Fontenot have all manned 'Ryne Sandberg Land'. Surprisingly, with that many players taking up time there, the defense has been pretty good. There aren't any complaints offensively either. Theriot went through a mini-slump and Cedeno didn't pan out, but other than that second base has been very productive offensively. Grade: B+
Shortstop: Again, another position where a bunch of Cubs have played. Take all the players above, except for Soriano, and add Cesar Izturis......and that's who has seen time at shortstop. Defensively, they've played well enough and offensively...they've been adequate. Grade: C+
Third Base: Aramis Ramirez and Mark DeRosa have manned the hot corner this season with a lot of success. When Ramirez isn't in the lineup knocking in runs, DeRosa slides over to third and the Cubs hardly skip a beat. The contracts that the Cubs signed these guys to in the off-season have proven to be a bargain in my mind. If Ramirez had been healthy the entire first half he would be going to the All-Star Game. Grade A-
Left Field: After freezing his way through the first dozen games of the season, Alfonso Soriano has been everything the Cubs had hoped he would be....and more. Critics claimed that his on-base percentage would not justify him hitting leadoff, but he's kept it above .350 for most of the first half. After a hamstring injury early on, Soriano is running more frequently and becoming a threat on the basepaths. His defense has been streaky, but he's become a legit weapon with his arm. The routes he takes to get to balls can be circuitous at times. Grade: B+
Center Field: Jacque Jones, Angel Pagan and Felix Pie have all seen time in center field this season. With Jones struggling offensively, Pagan and Pie came in and were able to give the Cubs a spark, especially defensively. When Pagan and Pie are on defense they are the best center fielders the Cubs have had since before Corey Patterson tore up his knee. Offensively they've all struggled at times, so there is a lot of room for improvement there. Grade: C+
Right Field: Cliff Floyd, Matt Murton, Jacque Jones and Angel Pagan have all played right field so far this season. After Lou Piniella had some sort of a platoon going on out there Murton was shipped to Iowa and Floyd was given the spot. Floyd has played well offensively and has been 'maybe' average defensively. This is going to be a position to watch in the second half of the season as Floyd has a history of injury problems and Murton isn't playing well enough at Iowa to merit a call back to Wrigley. Grade: C
Starting Rotation: The starting rotation is what kept the Cubs from being 15-20 games under .500 this season. While the offense sputtered and the bullpen leaked like a sieve, the starting rotation kept putting up quality start after quality start. Jason Marquis, Ted Lilly and Rich Hill got off to very hot starts, but have cooled down of late. Luckily, Carlos Zambrano and Sean Marshall have picked up the slack as the Cubs made their move to get above the .500 mark. Health has played a key role in the starting rotation as Marquis, Lilly, Zambrano and Hill have made all of their scheduled starts. If Hill can become consistent and if Marquis can stay away from wearing down, the rotation will continue to be a major strength for the Cubs. Grade: A
Bullpen: What a schizophrenic crew. The bullpen started off the season horribly as the Cubs lost confidence in Will Ohman, Scott Eyre, Bobby Howry, etc. at one time or another in the first half. Closer Ryan Dempster, statistically, had a strong first half, but ended it on the disabled list. After Lou Piniella finally figured out how to properly use the bullpen pitchers, and the rise of Carlos Marmol, the bullpen became a little more consistent. Still, there is room for improvement as the Cubs don't have a reliable left handed pitcher out of the bullpen and Marmol is only a rookie. Kerry Wood is going to begin his rehab assignment soon and Angel Guzman should come back soon after the break, so look for them to fortify the squad at some point. Grade: C-
Manager: Sweet Lou got off to a rough start as the Cubs were as much as 10 games under .500 as late as June 1st. Piniella seems to finally have his team playing baseball how he wants them to play, and he seems to be becoming more comfortable as each day passes. His use of young players to infuse energy and excitement into the team is welcomed by all Cubs fans. His brutal honesty during press conferences is welcomed as this team probably needed some 'tough love' to get its act together. Lou still leaves his starting pitchers in longer than I'd like but at times he's forced to do so because of a shortened bullpen. All in all, I would call it a successful first half for Mr. Piniella. Grade: B
It's been an interesting first half of the season for the Cubs. They struggled through the first couple of months, yet a hot June has put them back in the race for the NL Central Division. It seems that the players are finally accustomed to how Lou Piniella wants them to play the game and it's actually been a lot of fun to watch over the last month. It would be nice if they could get some consistent offensive production out of right and center field, so a move could be made at the trade deadline. The impending sale of the Cubs will have an effect on moves the Cubs make, so let's hope that it doesn't handicap them too much. I thought this was a team that could win 93 games this season, but they've only played one month (June) that would project them to do so. They do have momentum going into the second half of the season and a fairly easy schedule in July and August, so good things could happen. Overall Grade: C+
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