Written by: Matt Shock (@shockwave_music)
Edited by: Curt Ashcraft (@cashcraft740)
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With the Mid-Summer Classic in full swing, it's time for baseball fans to stop and reflect on the state of their favorite teams. In my case, that means taking a hard look at the Chicago Cubs.
This might surprise you, but for the first time in long time, I feel good about my beloved Cubbies at the All-Star Break. For once, it doesn't feel as if the season is already over with eighty more games to suffer through.
Don't get me wrong, there is still a lot of baseball left to be played, but the state of affairs on the North Side is strong. So, it is without further ado that I give you The Cubs Column: All-Star Break Edition.
Right now, the Chicago Cubs are seven games over .500 with a record of 47-40. This places them at third place in the very competitive NL Central division. They trail the Cardinals (who are playing out of their minds right now, despite numerous injuries) by eight games and the red-hot Pittsburgh Pirates by five and a half games.
While the Mini Bears are not out of contention to win the division, I just don't see them closing the gap between them and the Cardinals enough to take home the pennant. However, the Cubs currently hold a one-game lead in the race for the second Wild Card slot (which I picked them to win at the beginning of the season). In short, things are looking up.
You can find both Anthony Rizzo and Kris Bryant's names in the top three positions on the team in batting average, runs, home runs, runs batted in, and stolen bases. The bottom line: these guys can produce.
While the Cubs have found their leader in Anthony Rizzo, it remains to be seen as to whether or not Kris Bryant can continue to produce the way he has for the first half of the season. He appears to be as good as advertised, but it's always interesting to see how players perform once the entire league has seen them play.
The Cubs could stand to add one more quality arm before the trade deadline at the end of the month. Everybody in baseball figures the Cubs to be one of the teams bidding for the services of Cole Hamels. Hamels would be a solid addition to the Cubs rotation, but I would personally like to see them get a little more creative in their search for that final arm.
For whatever reason, I just can't shake the notion that the Cubs need to go after Stephen Strasburg in a big way. Sure, the Cubs would have to give a lot for him, but the Cubs have a logjam at shortstop and the Nationals have a shortstop who is shaky at best in the field. Strasburg is having a down year, but he is under contract for another season in Washington and the Nats just might be willing to part with him for the right price. This is a risky gamble for the Cubs, but the upside is too much to ignore.
As for the pitchers that are actually wearing a Cubs uniform right now, things are looking pretty good. Jake Arrieta has been the highlight of the starting rotation (seriously, his stuff is just downright disgusting...and his beard is fantastic). He currently leads the team with 10 wins, 123 strikeouts, and a 2.66 ERA. Not too shabby.
Meanwhile, the source of so much early-season frustration for Cubs fans, Jon Lester, is starting to come around. And by "come around" I mean that the Cubs are actually starting to give Lester some run support. Lester is currently 4-8 with a 3.59 ERA. While these are certainly not the numbers the Cubs had in mind when they signed him this offseason, they are trending in the right direction. Look for Jon Lester to have a strong second half and begin to erase some of the negative vibes that the Cubs faithful are sending his way in the Friendly Confines.
I still see the Cubs locking down that second Wild Card spot and losing the play in game (sorry all you Back to the Future believers). However, don't think that this means the Cubs won't be trying to win it all. Look for Epstein & Co. to be very active at the trade deadline and don't be surprised when Kyle Schwarber is called up before the 40-man roster expansions.
Rest assured, the Cubs will try everything possible to win now and carry the momentum they've built this season into next year.
One way or the other, the second half of the 2015 season is going to be a fun ride.
GO CUBS, GO!