What we know and what we don’t about the Cubs at midseason
BY GORDON WITTENMYER firstname.lastname@example.org July 1, 2013 10:18PM
Travis Wood leads the majors with 15 quality starts and is the Cubs’ likely All-Star representative. | Gene J. Puskar-AP
Updated: August 3, 2013 6:34AM
OAKLAND, Calif. — The Cubs reach the halfway mark of the season Tuesday, and to say their glass is half-full would be inaccurate.
The first half has done less to reveal progress in their rebuilding plan and more to expose flaws that suggest a long, uncertain timeline.
What we have learned so far
1. The Cubs can’t close, and it’s only going to get worse. The bullpen ranks 25th in the majors in ERA and has the worst save percentage in the game. Eight relievers have at least one blown save (16 total).
After they almost blew another in a game they led 7-1, manager Dale Sveum said, “Looked real easy for a while. That’s why we play nine.”
To which one media wise guy said, “And why you only want to play seven.”
“No kidding,” Sveum said. “Get back to Little League days, we’ll be OK.”
Wait till next month, when closer Kevin Gregg (13-for-14 in save chances, 1.65 ERA) figures to be gone. He’s among at least three Cubs most likely to be traded by the July 31 deadline.
2. The National League Central is dramatically better. The Pirates and Cardinals are the top two teams in baseball, and the third-place Reds are one of the top four teams in the league. The long road to the top just got longer.
3. Travis Wood is part of the young core. Since the start of August last year, the left-hander is the team’s top-performing pitcher with a 3.15 ERA in 29 starts. Wood leads the majors with 15 quality starts and is the Cubs’ likely All-Star representative.
“I think he’s definitely taken his game to the next level,” team president Theo Epstein said. “It’s really remarkable when you think where his command is now compared to 15 months ago. It’s like night and day. Travis deserves a ton of credit for getting to where he is right now.”
What we’re waiting to find out
1. Who goes where and how fast? The trading season hits full stride with the start of July, and Epstein estimated a “50-50” chance the Cubs could pull off a deal by the All-Star break, which is in less than two weeks.
The front office tends to be deliberate, sometimes to a fault, but starters Scott Feldman and Matt Garza could go fast as contenders try to get 15 or more starts out of anyone they pick up for the stretch run.
Either one could be making his last start this week in Oakland, when they start back-to-back games before what might be the largest collection of scouts at a Cubs game this year.
2. What kind of hitter will Starlin Castro be by the end of the season: the two-time All-Star he is or a player with a lot to prove who continued his first-half struggles (.233 batting average, .594 OPS)?
He’s 7-for-24 (.292) with a homer and a double since his first game off since 2011 on Tuesday.
“I think he’ll come out of it a much better player for it,” Epstein said.
3. Is there a price a team is willing to pay to get the Cubs to trade Jeff Samardzija?
Probably not. But the Cubs already had a brief discussion with onetime Epstein mentor Kevin Towers of the Diamondbacks. Towers backed off when the Cubs demanded his top two prospects as part of any deal.
If Samardzija goes, consider the Cubs back to ground zero on their competitive timeline.