This may sound crazy, but I firmly believe the Cubs are the team to beat in the second half. As injury-prone as they are, they are a force to be reckoned with.
They had a million and a half problems during the first half of the season. Some major problems included Milton Bradley's very poor first half, the injury bug that has affected many players, the slow start by the bullpen, Soriano's struggles, and so on.
But all of that is changing.
You're probably thinking, "Why does he think this? What possible reasoning could this crazy guy have?" You want to know? Check this out.
The Cubs are starting to get healthy. Just imagine this team healthy. If they can go .500 without Ramirez for most of the first half, Soriano and Bradley basically MIA, EVERYONE getting out to a slow start, and the struggling early days of the pen, just imagine what they'll do when this is fixed.
Soriano's knee was a topic of conversation ever since he started his slump. The All-Star break can only do good for Soriano and his knee. Soriano has played in 80 of 86 games during the first half. Imagine that. Playing 80 games on a sore knee. I'd be in a slump too. Give the man a rest during the upcoming series versus Washington. The Nationals are terrible, so there's no need to play him.
Ramirez was really missed during the first half. Ramirez has been the guy who drives in all the runs for the Cubs over the past few seasons. With Ramirez out, no one has been there to do it. Yeah, the last month and a half D-Lee put the team on his back, but before that they weren't scoring. During a six-game skid earlier in the season, the Cubs were scoring half a run per game!
Since 2004, Ramirez's first full season, Ramirez has hit .302 with 158 home runs and 526 RBI. He's had over 100 RBI four times during his first five full seasons with the Cubs.
In the beginning of the year, the entire pen was struggling. Gregg was blowing saves, Marmol couldn't (and still can't) find the plate, Heilman and Guzman were struggling, and the starters were inconsistent.
In April, Gregg's ERA was a disgusting 5.59. In 9-2/3 innings pitched, Gregg gave up six earned runs. He had only one save.
May was still a struggle, but it was a little better. His ERA was 3.86. In 11-2/3 innings he gave up only five earned runs. He had seven saves in May.
He really came around in June. His ERA was 2.77 with five saves—much better if you ask me.
16 days into July, Gregg hasn't given up an earned run. He's appeared in six games and faced 24 batters. He has three saves already this month.
What I'm trying to say about Gregg is he is really starting to come around. At the beginning of the year, I was scared whenever he appeared. Now I feel like he's a solid closer. I have more confidence when Gregg comes in.
Soriano was finally moved down to the six hole in the order by Lou Piniella. Good move, Lou.
In the last seven days, Soriano is batting .308. He's starting to hit the ball much better, and he definitely looks better at the plate knowing he isn't responsible for getting this offense started. He isn't a leadoff hitter by any means.
For $18 million a year, Soriano is worth it. No matter if he is only batting .233 so far this year.
He will come around. He is a major league hitter. He hasn't forgotten how to hit. With the pressure of being the leadoff hitter gone, watch out.
Last year, Bradley had the security of Josh Hamilton hitting behind him. He was seeing fastballs all day. Bradley should be given that same security this year. Yes, Bradley should bat third or fourth. Possibly second.
Bradley needs someone hitting behind him. He needs to see good pitches to hit. He got that last year and he was an All-Star. He doesn't have that this year.
Bat Bradley before Lee or Ramirez. See what happens. Just throw him there for a couple games, and see if he gets pitches to hit. It should be interesting.
If it works out, then Bradley will finally get going. If not, he will be no worse then what he is now. So what's the harm then?
The schedule for the second half is pretty easy.
They start off in Washington for four games. If the Cubs don't take three games, they're in trouble. After that, it gets a little harder. They go to Philly for three, followed by home games against Cincinnati and Houston.
The Cubs' remaining opponents are 651-712 with a .478 winning percentage. I'd think that is pretty easy.
The Cubs team last year isn't much different than the team this year. The only difference is this year the team is struggling. Last year, they ran away with the division.
Within their division, teams are struggling. The Cardinals got off to a hot start, but have recently played .500 ball like the rest of the division. Expect them to continue that trend.
The Brewers have been hot as of late, but they are like the Cubs. They are very inconsistent.
The Cubs are going to win the division. I expect them to go 44-30 in the final 74 games. Their final record will be 88-74.