You’d think it wouldn’t be all that easy to come up with the “winners” portion of a “winners and losers” slideshow for a 31-43 Chicago Cubs team.
But, surprisingly, it was.
Maybe that’s a sign of things improving on the North Side. Then again, maybe those few “winners” are easy to point out because it’s facile to spot giants in the land of dwarves.
But who should be considered the Cubs’ “winners” and “losers” of the first half of the season?
Well, to quote Calhoun Tubbs/David Alan Grier on “In Living Color": Like to hear it? Here it goes.
Brett Jackson makes this list despite not being on the MLB roster this season because he is not on the MLB roster.
Jackson could have opened the season in Chicago, but the Cubs wanted him to gain more practice on his new swing.
If things went right, then he most likely would have been called up by now—especially after David DeJesus went down with a shoulder sprain.
But the improvements shown during spring training have not translated to Triple-A. Prior to being placed on the minor league disabled list late last week, Jackson had a line of .223/.300/.327 and 77 strikeouts in 61 games with the Iowa Cubs.
And when DeJesus went down after spraining his shoulder on June 14, according to Gordon Wittenmyer of the Chicago Sun-Times, Jackson was not even in the discussion to serve as his replacement.
After moving between starting and the bullpen last season with the Texas Rangers, Scott Feldman signed a one-year deal with the Cubs in hopes of establishing himself as a starting pitcher.
And that he has done.
Currently he sits at 6-6 with a 3.39 ERA, 25 walks, a .232 batting average against and a 1.15 WHIP—oh yeah, he also has one home run, eight RBI and a .355 slugging percentage.
Feldman’s first-half performance has legitimized him as a solid No. 3 starter and earned him the privilege of now being a hot commodity at the deadline.
Carlos Marmol struggled in the first half of the 2012 season before turning things around in the second half.
In the first half of the season, Marmol went 1-2 with a 5.61 ERA and gave up 20 hits, 16 earned runs, 28 free passes and eight saves in 25.2 innings of work.
However, in the second half of the season, he had a record of 2-1 with an immaculate 1.52 ERA, giving up the same amount of hits, but only five earned runs and 17 walks while completing 12 saves in 29.2 IP.
So Marmol’s trade value was high going into the offseason. In fact, the Cubs had a deal in place with the Anaheim Angels for Dan Haren before the Cubs backed out due to troubles with Haren’s medicals.
When nothing else materialized, the Cubs went into the 2013 season with high hopes Marmol would be able to translate his 2012 second-half success into a strong start to 2013, raising his trade value higher.
But to no avail.
The first half of the season could not have gone worse for Marmol and the Cubs. He was removed from the full-time closer role after blowing a save in the third game of the season—Marmol was also pulled from a save situation on Opening Day and replaced by Kyuji Fujikawa—and has a 5.86 ERA to go along with three blown saves, 26 hits allowed, 21 walks surrendered, 18 earned runs and has given up six home runs.
Needless to say, the line of clubs to sign Kevin Gregg was not long after he was cut by the Los Angeles Dodgers at the end of spring training—evidenced by the Cubs signing him to a minor league contract on April 14.
But now, Mr. Gregg sits with a 2-1 record, 1.11 ERA, 11 saves and a long line of trade suitors.
He went from being a reliever who few—if any outside the Cubs—wanted, to being a closer coveted by all.
By far the biggest disappointment of the season has been Starlin Castro.
One of the Cubs’ key rebuilding blocks has struggled mightily for most of the year.
Starlin Castro ended the day of April 21 with a batting line of .301/.320/.466, two home runs and six RBI after 17 games. Since then, Castro has had a line of .206/.247/.273 with one home run and 18 RBI in 57 games.
Castro’s struggles at the plate have caused Dale Sveum to say that Castro has “regressed." In a Reuters article on ChicagoTribune.com, Sveum said:
By his numbers alone, he’s regressed, there’s no doubt about it… You're getting way, way down as far as all the other shortstops in baseball as far as the offensive part. He's under .600 OPS. That would go without saying that he's regressed.
And his fielding hasn’t been much better. Castro has already committed 14 errors this season—more than any other qualified MLB shortstop.
Even after the June 22 game in which he committed his 12th error of the season, according to Doug Padilla of ESPNChicago.com, the Cubs had Castro go through some extra fielding drills.
It didn’t help. The next game, Castro committed two errors to go along with an 0-4 day at the plate in the Cubs’ 14-6 win over of the Houston Astros.
Nate Schierholtz signed a one-year contract with the Cubs in hopes of proving to other clubs he is capable of being a productive everyday player when next offseason comes around.
And, boy, has he done it.
Schierholtz has a line of .296/.347/.558 with 10 home runs, 29 RBI and 30 XBH. He is also batting .327 with RISP.
Nate’s first-half performance will undoubtedly increase his chances of being dealt to a contending team—or a team that wants to improve their chances at contending for the playoffs—and joining a pennant race.
I bet you’re wondering why in the H-E-double hockey sticks is Travis Wood listed as a “loser?"
Thus far in 2013, Wood has made 15 starts for the Cubs—14 of which classify as quality starts. He is 5-6 with a 2.85 ERA, 69 strikeouts, a one-dead WHIP, a batting average against of .198 and an efficient 14.8 pitches/IP.
He also has an offensive stat line of .258/.303/.484, with two home runs and seven RBI—in case you were wondering.
So, how can the Cubs’ best pitcher be included amongst the losers of the first half of the season?
Well, it has nothing to do with him or his performance. Let’s call it happenstance.
Wood has one of the lowest runs support averages in the MLB (3.33). In seven of his starts, the offense scored two runs or less in support. Three of which the lineup failed to score a single run while Wood was in the game.
On ESPN’s Sunday morning edition of Baseball Tonight, Tim Kurkjian said that if Travis Wood receives adequate run support, he can be a 20-game winner someday.
Wood is not a “loser” under the same terms as the other players in this list. Rather because his teammates let him down time and again.
If Wood received the same 4.43 runs support average Scott Feldman does, Wood would have at least three additional wins—the April 22, May 19 and June 22 bullpen losses in which Wood gave up two, three and three runs, respectively.
A more appropriate title would be "unfortunate." But this isn't "winners and unfortunates."
I don’t know if Matt Garza is the winner here or if it is the Cubs. But if his performance gives him the opportunity to be traded to a team that will be in the pennant race, then by all intents and purposes, Garza is a winner.
He pitched very well in his last two outings, recovering nicely from the nine earned run shellacking against the Cincinnati Reds on June 11.
Garza is a big-game pitcher and had success when pitching in the playoffs with the Tampa Bay Rays. He also has been successful pitching against the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox, a fact that should be appealing to teams like the Texas Rangers and, especially, the Baltimore Orioles and, now, maybe the Toronto Blue Jays.
As bad as the first half of the season has been for Cubs fans, the second half looks to be worse.
If the Cubs trade away Nate Schierholtz, Matt Garza, Scott Feldman and Kevin Gregg as expected, then as long as the first half felt, the second half will feel even longer.
The Cubs offense is already terrible, but if they trade their best offensive producer, then just think about how bad their offense will be.
And if they want prospects in return for these players, they will most likely not be MLB-ready, and those open roster spots will be filled by remnants of the league’s scrapheap. And as well as Gregg, Sweeney and Ransom have performed, it shouldn’t be expected the Cubs will continue to strike gold when bringing in other castoffs.
Hopefully the beautiful women in tight tank tops with a low neckline and short-shorts will continue to go to the ballpark, because they might be the only thing worth watching at Wrigley as the summer goes on.
The only player in the “winner” category not available for trade is Luis Valbuena.
This season has gone as well as Valbuena could have hoped.
There was a little trepidation amongst Cubs fans about Valbuena being the everyday third baseman. But he has filled the role nicely.
He does lack the prototypical power of a third baseman, but he still has six home runs and 22 RBI. Valbuena also has a perfect fielding percentage and the highest on-base percentage amongst the Cubs’ regular starters.