Cubs fans have several good things to look for in the second half
BY TONI GINNETTI firstname.lastname@example.org July 16, 2012 9:24PM
The Cubs have won 11 of their 15 games since promoting first baseman Anthony Rizzo from Class AAA Iowa on June 26, and his teammates credit him for jump-starting what had been a stagnant offense. | Mike Stobe~Getty Images
Marlins at Cubs
The facts: 7:05, CSN, 720-AM.
The starters: Anibal Sanchez (4-6, 4.12 ERA) vs. Travis Wood (4-3, 3.05).
The rest of the series
Wednesday: 7:05 p.m., Ch. 9, 720-AM. Josh Johnson (5-6, 4.28) vs. Jeff
Samardzija (6-8, 4.71).
Thursday: 1:20 p.m., CSN, 720-AM. Mark Buehrle (8-8, 3.25) vs. Paul
Maholm (7-6, 4.33).
Updated: August 18, 2012 6:22AM
The Cubs probably will be a different team Aug. 1. Well, they at least are likely to have a different pitching staff.
Even though general manager Jed Hoyer has promised to field a team ‘‘to be proud of’’ after the non-waiver trade deadline July 31, the Cubs are likely to be without right-hander Ryan Dempster and perhaps right-hander Matt Garza.
But the Cubs have shown signs in the last two weeks that they might be a respectable team even without Dempster and/or Garza. Here are five positives the Cubs can look forward to in the second half:
1. Anthony Rizzo
The heralded 23-year-old rookie first baseman seems to have passed his first tests with the Cubs. He struggled in the month he spent with the San Diego Padres last season, but his first 15 games with the Cubs have gone well — and not just for him.
Rizzo’s teammates, veterans and youngsters alike, have embraced him and credit him with jump-starting the Cubs’ offense. It’s not a coincidence the Cubs have gone 11-4 since he was promoted June 26.
‘‘We brought up the kid, and it’s been real exciting,’’ Garza said. ‘‘You see what pressure he puts on the other team being in the lineup. It’s fun to see things like that.’’
The element manager Dale Sveum has stressed most finally is making a difference.
The Cubs, who led the National League in errors last season, are transforming themselves into one of the better defensive teams in the league, especially up the middle. Catchers Geovany Soto and Steve Clevenger have drawn praise from Sveum for calling games and handling the pitching staff, and David DeJesus, Reed Johnson and Tony Campana have handled center field ably.
But the double-play combination of second baseman Darwin Barney and shortstop Starlin Castro stands out. Castro has cut down on his errors dramatically, and both have taken to the positioning plan Sveum follows. Barney has played 75 consecutive errorless games and leads all major-league second basemen with a .998 fielding percentage (one error in 402 chances).
3. The bullpen
Sveum called right-hander Shawn Camp (2.81 ERA) and left-hander James Russell (2.51) the Cubs’ early-season most valuable players. Both have continued to be reliable setup men, but as important has been strong work from right-hander Manuel Corpas (1.69).
Most important, though, has been the revival of closer Carlos Marmol, who has converted his last nine save chances.
‘‘I think he hit rock bottom when we took him out of the role [early in the season],’’ Sveum said. ‘‘He had to realize, ‘I’m better with control,’ and ‘Get back to hitting the strike zone when I have to.’ ’’
Losing weighs on the psyche of any team, especially during skids such as the Cubs’ 12-gamer in May.
‘‘What we went through the first two months was tough, but they kept their heads up,’’ Sveum said. ‘‘You couldn’t tell from day to day we had lost, even in the 12-game streak.’’
‘‘It’s been fun all year because we have a good group of guys,’’ Barney said. ‘‘We’re optimistic. It was just a matter of time.’’
5. Playing spoiler
Losing teams with no playoff hopes inevitably play a role in who does make the postseason. The Cubs will play the Pirates, Reds and Cardinals in September, so be ready for some drama.