Five Questions for the Cubs in the Second Half

Five Questions for the Cubs in the Second Half
Plenty to watch for the Cubs in the second half.

Can Anthony Rizzo Stay Hot?
Rizzo has spent his six year professional career in three organizations (The Red Sox, Padres and Cubs). The anticipation of his arrival was messiah like. He had lit up minor league pitching the last three seasons. From A-AAA Rizzo hit 74 home runs and drove in 263 with a .264 batting average in his last two and half seasons in the Minor Leagues. He hit .336 in the minors the last two seasons.

The anticipation surrounding Rizzo’s arrival was probably the highest since the Cubs drafted Mark Prior second overall in 2001.

Rizzo made his debut against the Mets on June 26. The Cubs held him back one day so he would not have to face Johan Santana. He has not disappointed so far. After a disastrous season in San Diego last year, he has given the Cubs a presence in the third spot in the order. In 49 games with the Padres in 2011, Rizzo hit .141 with One Home Run and Nine RBIs. He also struck out 46 times in 153 at bats.

Rizzo has hit .354 with four home runs and nine rbis with just five strikeouts in 49 plate appearances in 12 games with the Cubs so far. How well he adjusts when the league adjusts to him could be a good indicator of his future.

Can Bryan LaHair Continue His Pace?
Bryan LaHair might be the most unlikely All-Star ever. He has had more major league at-bats this season than in the rest of his major league career combined. Prior to this season, the 29 year old LaHair had only spent parts of two seasons in the Majors. He hit .250 with three home runs and 10 rbis in 45 games with Seattle in 2008 and .288 with two HRs and Six RBIs in 20 games with the Cubs last season.

He slumped in May and June when the pitchers seemed to figure LaHair out, but is hitting .300 in July.

The Cubs moved him to right field when Rizzo was recalled. Rizzo was put third in the batting order when he was recalled with Starlin Castro moving up to second. Castro, Rizzo, Soriano and LaHair give the Cubs a solid 2-5.

The Cubs finished 9-4 in their last 13 games. The projections are for the Cubs to not contend again until 2014 or 2015. The second half of the season could be interesting. Rizzo’s arrival and Castro give the Cubs a good pair to start with. Who remains by the July 31st trading deadline could go a long way towards determining how well the Cubs finished 2012.

What moves Will The Cubs Make at the Trade Deadline?
Ryan Dempster and Matt Garza are the most likely players to be moved at the trading deadline. The Cubs would probably like to move Alfonso Soriano too. Soriano has this year plus two more remaining on his contact. The Cubs would likely have to absorb a huge part of that contact to be able to move him. Moving $42 Million will not be easy.

The Dodgers appear to be the biggest suitors for Dempster and Garza according to Jon Heyman of CBSSports.Com, They are more interested in Dempster, but have talked to the Cubs about Garza as well. The Braves also appear to be interested in Dempster.

The entire AL East sans Tampa Bay have an interest in Garza. Garza went 34-31 with the Rays from 2008-10.

Can Samarzija become more consistent?
The former Notre Dame Wide Receiver has had an up and down 2012 season. He will be a key to the Cubs success for at least the next couple of seasons. He has shown the ability to be a top of the rotation pitcher and been as bad as a few starts away from belonging in the minor leagues. He went 3-2 with a 2.48 ERA in May and followed that up with an 0-4 10.41 June. In two July starts, Samardzija is 1-1 with a 2.57 ERA and 1.00 WHIP with 15 strikeouts in 11 innings. If he continues to pitch well he will help stabilize the rotation when and if Dempster and Garza are moved.

The Rest of the Season...
The two biggest questions remaining for the Cubs riding out the season are can they avoid the team’s worst record ever and are any other prospects on the way.

Before closing the season well in the last two weeks, the Cubs were on pace to obliterate their team record of 103 losses set in 1962 and ‘66. The Cubs have to win 27 of their last 77 games to avoid that dubious distinction.

With the likelihood that this is a lost season and that either Dempster and/or Garza are moved at the deadline many fans want to know who is coming up from the farm next? With the uncertainty at third base Josh Vitters seems like a possibility. The only holdup is his defense. Vitters is hitting .302 with 13 HRs and 48 RBIs, but has committed 15 errors. Brett Jackson is hitting .261 with 12 HRs, 37 RBIs and 20 stolen bases in 24 attempts. Jackson’s biggest weakness is his high strikeout rate. He has 122 strikeouts in 318 at bats. Those are Adam Dunn numbers. Dunn has 134 K’s in 293 at bats.

The imminent move of Dempster and Garza would create a hole in their rotation. Who would take their place in the rotation. The Cubs need pitching prospects, so it's unclear who would be recalled. Judging purely by looking at the Iowa Cubs stats, the Cubs have a few possibilities.

Most of the starters at Iowa are veterans. According to the Tribune’s Paul Sullivan, the Cubs have taken Randy Wells off the 40 man roster so he seems unlikely. Rodrigo Lopez gave the Cubs innings in 2011 but has been mediocre at best for Iowa this season. He is also not on the 40 man roster. Chris Volstad and Casey Coleman have the most experience on 40 man roster. Brooks Raley could be someone to watch. He was promoted by the Cubs from West Tennessee to Iowa in May. In his last four starts, Raley has given up only three earned runs.

It should be an interesting three weeks for the Cubs. Who moves and where, what comes back in return and who the Cubs bring up could go a long way in defining their future.

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