We have hit, what baseball considers, the halfway point of the season. I thought I'd ask your opinions about the first half and how confident you are in the team going into the second half.
There have been surprises.
The offense wasn't what we expected, at least to start the season. Much of the team got off to a very slow start, but they have started to hit like the Jays we were expecting over the past month or so. We still seem to be having the odd off day, but we've had 8 games. in the past month, where we scored in the double digits. We didn't have our first game of over 10 runs until May 5, more than a month into the season.
The starting pitching has been a huge surprise. Who figured we would have 2 starting pitchers in All-Star game? And we could easily have 3, J.A. Happ is deserving of a spot on the team. And R.A. Dickey seems to have turned his season around. He has a 3.34 ERA in his last 5 starts and has gone 7 innings in each of his last 3 starts. It looks like he'll be great over the second half again. And Marcus Stroman's slump looks like it has come to an end.
The less said about the bullpen the better, but, it hasn't been the disaster it was at the start of the season. Gibby seems to be figuring out which guys he can trust. It is a much better looking pen when Brett Cecil is there and pitching like Brett Cecil. Now if Drew Storen could start throwing the way he's supposed to, all would be good.
The biggest positive surprises:
- Michael Saunders: If you had asked me, before the start of the season, my top five choices for guys that might make the All-Star game, Saunders wouldn't have been on the list. That he's played 82 of 91 games is enough of a surprise for me, never mind that he has the second highest OPS on the team. Yeah, his defense hasn't been all we could want, but we've learned to have pretty low expectations for left fielders.
- Josh Donaldson: I'm not sure surprise is the right term, but who expects the reigning MVP to have a better season the next year. I know runs aren't a stat that means all that much but having 80 runs at the break shows things haven't been all bad offensively. And a 4.8 bWAR, at the break, is pretty amazing too.
- Ezequiel Carrera: Playing way more baseball than any of us would have wanted, Ezequiel has a .370 OBP. Yeah, I know, it's dropped from a high of .433 a month and a half ago, but no one figured he would keep it up in that range. His defense has looked much better than last year. And he's set a career high in home runs (ok, 4 isn't something to be excited about). My Twitter feed is fulled with 'we are winning with Carrera, we should trade Bautista', which has me asking when was the last time you saw a player with 5 and 10 rights traded from a contender (and also makes me grieve over the lack of baseball sense on Twitter), but Ezequiel has been far better than we could have expected.
- Darwin Barney: A guy that couldn't hit well enough to keep a spot on a lousy Cubs team, even with Gold Glove defense, had people suggesting we should bench Tulo, and play him (remember that?). As much as that was all kinds of stupid, Barney has been everything a utility infielder should be, and he's been hitting.
- J.A. Happ and Marco Estrada: I think it is fair to say that we were kind of underwhelmed by Shapiro/Aikens' signing these two but, as a pair, they are 14-4 and both have ERAs under 3. I'm really sorry I doubted them.
- Aaron Sanchez: I expected him to be a good starting pitcher. I didn't expect him to be this good. I am hoping they keep him in the rotation. I would like them to skip him the odd time and maybe don't push him for 8 innings every start, but, as long as he isn't showing fatigue, keep starting him.
- Russell Martin: He's been better, with the bat, of late. But then it isn't hard to be better than the .150/.224/.167 line he had at the end of April. Kind of troubling to me is that he's forgotten how to throw out base stealers. Last year he caught 44% of guys that were dumb enough to try to steal off him. This year he's at 14%. Maybe some of that has to do with the neck troubles he had at the start of the season. The good news is that no one is telling us that he can't catch Marco Estrada anymore.
- Drew Storen: Every now and then he has a perfect inning and I start thinking 'this is the guy I expected', then he has a game like that one again the Rockies, where he hits two batters and gives up 4 runs quicker than you can write his name in your scorecard. He has brought his ERA down from a high of 10.33 to the 5.62 it is at now, but I'm pretty sure none of us feel confident with the idea of him pitching with the game on the line. I'm hoping he'll have a great second half.
- Justin Smoak: One of the few guys that started the season hitting well, he's looked totally lost at the plate. After hitting .148/.246/.296 in June, he's pulled it up to .185/.241/.444 in July. He has the team looking into trading for Jay Bruce again. Maybe the sore knee has something to do with his problems, but he's looked lost for a long time now.