The Chicago Cubs’ 35-46 record at the halfway mark of the season probably comes as no surprise to anyone. How they achieved that record has, at times, been a shock to the system.
Seventeen blown saves, including Game No. 81 on Tuesday night in Oakland, is the key statistic to remember about the first half. It leads the major leagues and has held the Cubs back as much as anything in their game.
So it’s selling season, again, for the Cubs, as they’ve already started what is quickly becoming an annual rite of July. Before too many more players are moved, let’s hand out midseason awards. After all, the winners might not be around much longer to collect their trophies:
MVP: Kevin Gregg
As much as Travis Wood might deserve an All-Star bid, he’s just one part of a surprisingly good starting staff. In other words, Wood could split the MVP vote with a couple of other starters, including the departed Scott Feldman. There’s no denying one thing: What the Cubs had to start the game, they lacked in finishing it.
They desperately needed someone to bolster the back end of the bullpen after Carlos Marmol faltered and Kyuji Fujikawa went down with an arm injury. Gregg has done just that since being picked up in April. His 13 saves in 14 opportunities -- and 1.65 ERA -- have kept manager Dale Sveum sane after a rough season’s start in finishing games. Even now, the Cubs continue to blow late leads, but Gregg has mostly nothing to do with it.
After fixing some mechanical issues, his fastball has become the key for Gregg. Plus, there isn’t an offensive player who could qualify for the award (Nate Schierholtz comes the closest); it goes to Gregg.
Most Improved: Travis Wood
Wood might win this by a landslide. And that’s not necessarily a good thing, considering the Cubs have young, core players littered throughout the lineup. His 2.85 ERA is good for 13th among regular starters in the National League, while his .195 batting average against places him for fourth.
He began the season with nine consecutive quality starts and has pitched 15, overall, in the first half. He threw 14 all of last year in compiling an ERA of 4.27. His ability to work both sides of the plate -- up and down -- has been the simple, critical difference in Wood.
Most Disappointing: Starlin Castro
There certainly are a host of candidates for this award, starting with the departed Carlos Marmol. But giving it to him would be too easy. In fact, who outside the Cubs really thought he would have a full season of competence, even with his decent second half last year? No, this award goes directly to the Cubs’ two-time All-Star, Castro.
After saying all the right things in spring training about finally taking the next step in his career, Castro has regressed. There are no sabermetric tricks to build up his year. His .232/.265/.326 splits tell the whole story.
His 15 errors are six more than any other shortstop in the NL, including Ian Desmond, who has played in all of Washington’s games to date. And, yes, fielding percentage isn’t everything, but Castro’s range factor is near the bottom of the league and his brain cramps haven’t disappeared, either.
After signing a huge contract, he claimed his problems were behind him. So far, he’s been wrong.
Biggest Surprise: Scott Feldman
Obviously, any of the above winners would qualify in both the positive and negative category of being a surprise, but there can be no duplicate winners for midseason awards. Surprise. It goes to Feldman.
While watching him in spring training, it would have been hard to imagine he would perform the way he did before being traded. He was leaving balls up all over Arizona and getting hit because of it. When he started the regular season with the same trend, it became alarming. He seemed one pitch short of getting out jams, then eventually gave in to a big hit.
However, he turned things around once he started locating his off-speed stuff. His ERA (3.46) and WAR (wins above replacement) were the best of his career. Feldman came out of nowhere and had a very good first half, all while netting the Cubs a couple of prospects along the way.