Five things to watch in Cubs' second half

Can Starlin Castro salvage what has been a disappointing 2013 season with a big second half? AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast

At 42-51, and in the middle of selling season, we know the second half of 2013 for the Chicago Cubs isn't necessarily about wins and losses.

We'll know by the end of the month what their roster will look like going forward -- and even then they might make some August deals. So instead of predicting a second half record, we'll keep our eyes on other things.

Here are five things to look for in the second half:

1. Core guys: The second half will determine if some of the Cubs main guys will have taken the next step or are still stuck in neutral. At the head of that list is Starlin Castro. Unlike Anthony Rizzo, this isn’t Castro's first full year in the big leagues so advancement was expected. He finished the first half on a high note with hits in seven of eight games but his overall batting average (.243) tell his story. His on-base percentage will never be great unless he’s hitting for a high average. Some of his past problems are still there -- and that’s startling. Rizzo is starting to find his groove again as well but it’s yet to be determined if he’ll be a power guy with a high average or if he’ll simply be a home run hitter with high strikeout totals. He’s on pace for about 125 whiffs. Jeff Samardzija has to learn how to grind more. He’s been great in some of the bigger games but a season is full of less than dramatic ones. That’s when he has to keep his adrenaline going. All three have shown flashes but none have proven that 2013 is going to be a huge advancement year -- at least not yet.

2. Prospect watch: There are two storylines here: Who will move up the minor league ladder and which prospects might make their major league debuts? The former will be more interesting than the latter as there aren’t that many at Triple-A Iowa of interest. That’s not to say there are none. Second baseman Logan Watkins and infielder/outfielder Junior Lake could advance come September or sooner. Look for Lake to move exclusively to the outfield at some point as the Cubs will undoubtedly be grooming 2013 first-round pick Kris Bryant for third base. His showing at the lower levels of the minors will be of keen interest as he gets set to make his pro debut. Will Albert Almora and Jorge Soler (when he returns from injury) move up a notch in the minors? If they stay healthy there’s a good chance they will.

3. The slide: Although the Cubs claim they are better equipped to withstand trading some of their players, it’s still inevitable they take a hit in the standings when all is said and done. You can’t trade parts of your starting staff as well as key position players and expect to win even at the first-half pace. If and when Matt Garza is traded, it leaves a big hole in the staff still recovering from the trade of Scott Feldman. If Kevin Gregg changes teams that’s another hole. If Nate Schierholtz, David Dejesus or Alfonso Soriano are traded it means youth or inexperience will rule in the outfield. It’s all bound to catch up to them at some point. Still, getting to at least 70 wins seems realistic, just don’t expect a major surge. Treading water the final couple of months would be a victory in of itself.

4. The bullpen: There’s been so much turnover it might not be a surprise if even one reliever who started the season with the Cubs is on the team next year. Only Hector Rondon and James Russell are left as is. It means there are plenty of second-half auditions. If Gregg isn’t traded, could he parlay his solid work into a new contract? Pedro Strop and Matt Guerrier, both acquired in trades, have shown flashes and might be securing jobs for 2014. The potential return of Scott Baker and the addition of Jake Arrieta, also acquired via the trade for Feldman, will tell a story about next season as well. Although the Cubs might not be expected to win next year, an improved bullpen would at least give them a better chance to survive in a very competitive division. This year’s relief corps went south fast due to injury and ineffectiveness. The Cubs have bigger worries than their middle relievers at the moment so if a few can emerge in the second half it’ll give the front office less to worry about in the offseason.

5. Wrigley Field: Will the T’s get crossed and the I’s dotted in order for work to start on renovating Wrigley Field? The first order of business is the clubhouse as the players are hopeful they can return to Chicago from a new spring training facility and set themselves up in an equally modern locker room in 2014. The contrast in getting their new spring facility up and running compared to renovating their big-league park has been stunning. One seems glitch-free while the other is defined by controversy. Then again Mesa, Ariz., isn’t exactly Chicago and Wrigley Field isn’t a nice, quaint facility located on a huge parcel of land.