Cubs see improvement in first half

CHICAGO -- The Chicago Cubs have had a solid finish to the first half of the 2013 baseball campaign. In their last 44 games they have a 24-20 record.

“We have been talking about this in the clubhouse lately,” pitcher Jeff Samardzija said. “We are playing well but we think we can do a lot better. That is the exciting thing about it. I can be better. (Starlin) Castro is coming on after a bad start and (Anthony) Rizzo is starting to swing the bat real well. There are spots that can we improve. It is all pretty cool and pretty exciting.”

The key in the second half may revolve around how many players the Cubs executives move off of the 25-man roster before the July 31 trading deadline.

“I hope we can continue to play like we have been,” said the hot-hitting Alfonso Soriano. “We still have to continue to learn how to win but some of the things are out of our control. We don’t know what the front office might do. I hope I stay here and most of the others do, but that is their call.”

The Cubs will have to add some offensive punch from within if this recent streak of good play is expected to continue.

“The biggest thing has been the starting pitching, Cubs manager Dale Sveum said. “Our optimistic approach begins and ends with the starting pitching. That always gives you a chance to win every night. Getting (David) DeJesus and (Ryan) Sweeney back pretty soon are key pieces to our offense. Just watching Rizzo and Castro the last week, they seem ready to really produce.”

The Cubs are 5-2-1 in their last eight series heading into the break. They are four games better in the standings after 92 games than they were in 2012.

“This is a very functional team right now,” said Sveum. “The biggest key for us (in the second half) is to hit better with men in scoring position and have a better bullpen. The starters are what they are and have done a nice job, the defense is playing a lot better. Those are the key things.”

The organization is not deluding itself into thinking this team is ready to make a run for the playoffs.

“You never want to say it is a good thing to be eight games under .500,” Sveum said. “It could be a lot worse, especially since we have finished the first half the way we have. The problems we had the first month led to a lot of losses but that has led to two months of pretty good baseball.”