The Cubs are currently 15 games out of first place and only a half game away from becoming roommates with the Houston Astros in the basement of the NL Central. Looking up at everyone in the division except the Pittsburgh Pirates who head into the break as the penthouse resident of the Central, it would be easy to cast the first half of the 2012 season aside and claim there were as many bright spots for the Cubs in the first half as there were home runs for Robinson Cano in the home run derby. Zero.
This is simply not true. The following players have provided opportunity for fans to cheer this Cubs squad in 2012:
1. Starlin Castro: Coming off of a 2011 season where he made the All-Star team as the youngest Cubs player to do so and had a collection of 200+ hits, Castro had a lot to live up to in 2012. While his sporadically distracted play in the field continues to be something to work on for the young shortstop, his performance in the batter’s box provided big shoes to fill and thus far he hasn’t disappointed. Castro (along with Bryan LaHair) will be representing the team in the All-Star game tonight and has been the Cubs’ best hitter with 344 at bats, a .291 average and 100 hits to go along with 16 stolen bases. Castro continues to be the brightest spot for the future of the club and is in great position to reach 200 hits once again this year.
2. Bryan LaHair/Anthony Rizzo: LaHair will be in Kansas City tonight representing the ballclub at the All-Star Game – an honor the young outfielder did not expect when he was chosen by Cubs’ brass to be the team’s starting first baseman this season. With Carlos Pena out, the team needed someone to step up and provide numbers, preferably someone young enough to count on not only now, but looking to the next 5-10 years, too. LaHair delivered and has become so valuable, that even when Rizzo was called up after dominating AAA ball, Sveum found a way to keep his bat in the lineup by moving him to right field. So far this year, LaHair is batting .286 with 14 home runs and an OPS of .883. Always a great All-Star break when your team is represented by 2 or more players as opposed to the pity All-Star rep in a year where you only get the bare minimum on the field representing the club. Rizzo hasn’t been in the bigs as long but arguably has made a greater impact on the club in a shorter amount of time. Born on 8/8/89, the one year anniversary of the lights coming on at Wrigley, Rizzo made his way through the minor league system and made his 2012 debut with the Cubs on June 26th. In the 12 games he has played in, the Cubs are 8-4 and trying to find away to climb the standings in the Central. Any movement towards the top will do a lot for Cubs’ fans’ hopes of the future and Rizzo will surely be a big part of any movement the club can make in the second half. The 22-year-old Rizzo is currently batting .354 in 48 at-bats, 4 HR’s and a 1.055 OPS. The right side of the field is shaping up for the long haul at Wrigley thanks to Rizzo and LaHair (whether they stick around or team brass decides to trade them in for additional pieces in building towards future success).
3. Ryan Dempster: Dempster could very likely be pitching his final game for the Cubs very soon (if not on this coming Saturday) as he remains one of the most coveted pitchers by contending teams in MLB. Along with Garza and Samardjiza’s strike out rate, he has kept the Cubs in the position of most respectable starting rotation for a last place team in baseball (for what that’s worth). Dempster has been held back in the win column by poor run support (as have the rest of the starting rotation) however, contenders must be attracted to his veteran leadership, work ethic and his quality start totals along with his 1.99 ERA, 70 strike outs and 86.1 innings pitched (Dempster is coming off of four straight durable 200 innings pitched seasons). Dempster has been a quality guy on and off the field for the Cubs. His first half of 2012 has been one of his better stretches and it will be both disappointing and interesting to see where he ends up around the trade deadline as Theo & Co. build towards the future.
Congratulations to Starlin and LaHair for making the 2012 All-Star Game. Looking forward to having more reasons to believe the future is bright with this ballclub while watching the second half of the season.
Go Cubs Go!