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Monday, July 14, 2008

57-38: All Star Relief

The Cubs have reached the All-Star Break and remarkably remain in first place. Even a depantsing by Tim Lincecum and a near meltdown of epic proportions by Carlos Marmol on Saturday can't dilute my enthusiasm for this Cubs team. Do we still have issues? Hell yes. Are they insurmountable issues? I don't think so. I do think the second half of the year will be challenging for the Cubs. Let's take a look at some pluses and minuses.

Minus: The Brewers will have CC Sabathia the rest of the way, and he's already looking good in two starts for the Sausage Lovers. This is a legit concern. Sabathia is a beast and coupled with Ben Sheets, the Brewers have a really solid 1-2. I see this mostly as a wash with our own rotation, placing Zambrano in the Sabathia role and Harden as Ben Sheets. Both teams now have a solid, reliable, generally healthy starter plus a guy who's freaking awesome if he can stay healthy. It may come down to just that down the stretch. One thing in the Cubs' favor: despite Marmol's recent struggles and Kerry Wood's blister, our bullpen is still better. Now if the Brewers could get guys like Fuentes or Mahay, that might be some cause for further concern. As it stands, I see the pitching fairly even, with a nod toward our bullpen.

Minus: Kosuke Fukudome. Right now, the Japanese sensation looks a little worn out to me. He's finally hit a wall and is struggling. That said, I'm not panicking yet. Fukudome may be a MLB rookie, but this guy knows himself and knows how to play this game. Joe Morgan may not think shit of the Nippon Leagues, but I think they're a notch above Triple A. I think Fukudome's too good to struggle like this for long and he'll get back to stroking base hits and working counts like a fiend before too long.

Minus: Carlos Marmol. This is really the issue that gives me serious pause. Marmol has been absolutely filthy, a beast, ever since his conversion from starter to reliever. Many had anointed him the closer before the season began. The last month, he's been positively stinky, blowing leads, saves, and umpires. I love Marmol. He's one of my favorite guys, but I think we all know the dude's been used too much. This is how he looked in the playoffs last year. Not good considering we're only halfway home. This kid needs some rest, so we need to see more of Bobby Howry and Chad Gaudin for the next month or so. I really think the kid can bounce back, but his arm ain't made of rubber. Lou needs to mix it up a bit more.

Plus: Ryan Dempster. Who the hell saw this coming at the beginning of the year? Not me, I thought he would suck harder than a girl named Starla at a hooker convention in Pittsburgh. Thus far, you have proven me wrong O Canadian Comedic wonder. Even when Dempster loses, he doesn't look terrible, save the one game against the Pale Hosers on the South Side. Be nice if we could win some road games for the redhead during the second half.

Plus: Carlos Zambrano. Z-Money. What is there really to say? He's awesome. This is what an ace looks like, kids. Sit up and take notice. The big fella's been good the past few years, but he's taken it to new heights this season.

Plus: Wrigley Field. Over the past few years, I've listened to know nothing assholes denigrate the proud lady of the Northside. Enough is enough. I don't know what the deal is this year. Maybe it is the passing of the 100th year, the decorative safety netting, or the completely revamped field surface, but this year, the Friendly Confines have never been friendlier. It's like the team finally figured out this was their house, not just the fans.

Plus: Jim Hendry. Yeah, I said it. Ol Jimbo may have an eye for the pastries, but his shrewd wheelings and dealings have made this team, more in the past two years than in his previous tenure. He's made mistakes, but he's looking like a genius this season. He won the Fukudome sweepstakes and the Fukker's patient eye has spread throughout the lineup. He pulled Reed Johnson and Jim Edmonds off their respective scrap heaps and watched both players become integral parts of the Cubs' success. He and Lou moved Dempster from the bullpen into the rotation and entrusted a rookie catcher to lead our pitching staff. They made Kerry Wood the closer. When the Brewers made their move and got Sabathia, he returned us to equal footing less than 24 hours later by acquiring Rich Harden and Chad Gaudin. Even if Harden's arm falters down the stretch, just the fact that Jim made the move speaks volumes. Hendry is a big part of why the Cubs are legit. He found the guys in obvious and less obvious places. If the Cubs go down, it won't be from lack of effort on Jimbo's part.

Plus: Chemistry. A weird one. This is the coolest bunch of Cubs I've ever had the pleasure of watching. They hit, pitch, and field, but more importantly, they do things as a team. D-Lee and A-Ram have an off day? Here's Mighty Mike Fontenot hitting a homer out into the bleachers. Carlos Marmol struggles? Here's Sean Marshall, two scoreless and a basehit to start a rally. This is how it's been all year. Different heroes everyday. These guys are solid, they're fun to watch, and I don't hate any of them. Not even Jimmy Edmonds. We've purged the selfish ghost of Sammy Sosa for good and it shows.

The Cubs are halfway home now. Will it be easy? It never is. Still, I can't wait to watch these guys play. Win or lose, I really like these guys. If they continue to play well and if St. Louis and Milwaukee stay just a little bit behind, the Cubs should be all right. And if we make the playoffs this time, I don't see these guys going down in three.

BallHype: hype it up!

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