Though the All-Star break seems to get farther and farther away from the actual middle of the season every year, it is always a good time to review. For the Cubs, though the record is 9 games under .500 and contention is probably years (plural) away, there have been some encouraging developments. Let’s look:
-It’s only the last couple weeks, and really only the last homestand, but Starlin Castro seems to be coming out of it. He won’t officially be coming out of it until he keeps it going for a few more weeks or months, but some of his swings the past week have been the best of the season. He was balanced, he was inside the ball, he was letting it travel, and he was driving it to both gaps.
Maybe Starlin had to hit bottom before making changes. And yet I can’t help but think of Tiger Woods’s first swing transformation shortly after he won the Masters in ’97. Not that Starlin is going to do to baseball what Woods did to golf, but I think it’s a similar storyline. Here comes a kid with precocious talent, and because of that talent he can get away with a swing built on timing and moving parts all lining up at the same time for a while. But eventually, at the highest level that gets found out. And then you have to go back to the drawing board, and figure out the more efficient way of doing it. And there’s a long time where old habits wrestle with new ones and go back and forth, and the brain starts swimming and confidence fades and you wonder if you’re on the right path or if you will ever get there at all. But eventually, with diligent work the new, better methods take over and success starts to come again, and you believe in everything you’ve been trying to change and that speeds the process. I hope we’re there now.
-However, the other cornerstone, Anthony Rizzo, is floating in the ether. Watching Rizzo I still see a player too swing-y at pitches that are only missing his body by a couple inches. They’re not strikes, and he’s jamming himself. As long as he continues to do that, that’s all he’ll see. To make up for it, his swing got pretty gargantuanly long to try and hit seven-run homers when given something to hit, and he’s at his best when his swing is short and almost looks unfinished. That’s when he drives balls to left and then hammers them to his pull-side. Maybe it’s more mechanical than that, but I just see too many swings at pitches that weren’t all that far from hammering him in the sternum.
-Overall, the Cubs do seem to be taking a better approach lately offensively Doesn’t mean they’re scoring more, but starters are working harder and they’re getting to bullpens earlier. Maybe just a trend, maybe the overall philosophy finally settling in.
-I have complained about Dale Sveum’s handling of his pen, of his youngsters, of his game strategy, but I can’t deny that his team has run through a wall for him even in these two lost seasons, and that’s important too. Last night was a perfect example.
-Travis Wood is going to have to prove that it’s not all BABIP next year, but even if that levels out somewhat he should be a pretty effective #4 or #5 if he continues to use that cutter to bury right handers.
-Interested to see how Samardzija recovers from getting mauled the past two starts. Break couldn’t have come at a better time.
-This season is probably going to be judged on what the return is for Garza and Gregg, but for the most part I find the Cubs interesting and watchable even if they’re not good. Pedro Strop and Blake Parker give us something to watch out of the pen. Wood and Shark in the rotation, and maybe Junior Lake or Kyle Hendricks or one or two others might pop up for air once or twice. But mostly the Cubs seems to bring it every game, which is more than you can say for a lot of teams.
Yeah, it’s still far away, but it still feels like the Cubs are moving toward it. That’s all we can ask.