Since optimism is the mother's milk of Cubdom, the start of the unofficial second half is a good time to ask Cubs manager Dale Sveum what there is to be optimistic about.
"I think the biggest thing is the optimism that will start and end with our starting pitching," Sveum said last weekend at Wrigley Field. "That always gives you a chance to win every night."
Sveum, no doubt seeing the glass half-full rather than half-empty or ready to spill, also brought up the names of "core" players Starlin Castro and Anthony Rizzo.
"Just watching in the last week, I think Rizzo and Castro are ready to really produce in the second half and do a lot of things," the manager said. "But the bottom line is it comes down to our starting pitching, and our bullpen is as functional since I've been here, to where you can mix and match."
Sveum's glasses might need to be checked for excessive rose coloring, but, hey, if he can't talk up the team, who can?
The Cubs are 42-51 heading into this weekend's series at Colorado. The factors Sveum mentioned, plus a few others, will determine whether the Cubs can tease the .500 mark or careen toward another 100-loss season.
Let's look at the keys.
There appears little doubt the Cubs will trade ace pitcher Matt Garza, or die trying.
The July 31 nonwaiver deadline is less than two weeks away, and the Cubs still are holding out hope they can get top prospects for Garza, perhaps similar to the ones former general manager Jim Hendry traded to Tampa Bay in the first place to get Garza in January 2011.
Teams may be balking at those demands, especially because Garza is an impending free agent this fall, and he has been on the disabled list in each of his three years with the Cubs.
Closer Kevin Gregg is another candidate to be traded, as is right fielder Nate Schierholtz.
If a team is looking to shore up its infield defense, the Cubs could consider trading second baseman Darwin Barney, who hasn't produced much offensively but who continues to play Gold Glove defense.
The optimistic scenario is that if the Cubs trade Garza and/or any other pitchers, they'll be in better shape to withstand the losses than they were last year, when Garza got hurt and they traded starters Paul Maholm and Ryan Dempster.
Down the stretch, the Cubs had to trot out the likes of Jason Berken, Justin Germano and Chris Volstad to start along with untested youngsters Brooks Raley and Chris Rusin.
The Cubs already have traded starter Scott Feldman to Baltimore. The brass feels the team is deeper in starting pitching this year so that a total falling off the face of the earth won't occur again.
Regression or progression:
The hot-button question of the first half was whether Castro had "regressed." It's hard to think otherwise when several key numbers have dropped steadily since his rookie year of 2010.
For example, Castro's on-base percentage has gone from .347 in 2010 to .341 in 2011 to .323 last year to its current level of .280.
But Castro has shown signs of life lately. He has 8 hits in his last 19 at-bats, including a triple and a home run.
In July, he has a line of .308/.368/.500 on 16-for-52 hitting with 2 doubles, a triple and 2 homers. That's after he batted .167 in June with a .204 OBP and .252 in May.
The Cubs still are waiting for a surge from Rizzo, who is at .167/.273/.292 in July. He leads the team in RBI (54) and walks (41), but 8 of his 13 homers this year came in April.
A reloaded pen:
The other day, we ran the names of the relievers who have come and gone this year. No need to do that again.
Until Cubs relievers gave up 7 runs over the final 3 innings against the St. Louis Cardinals on Sunday night, they had been doing a better job.
The addition of Pedro Strop from Baltimore in the Feldman trade has shored up the middle. Blake Parker has come up from the minor leagues to post an ERA of 2.45 and a WHIP of 1.09 in 18 games.
The break looks like it came at the perfect time for both Gregg and left-handed setup man James Russell, both of whom struggled recently.
Russell has worked in 47 games -- fourth most in the National League -- after working in 77 last year. He's a guy the Cubs count on as much as anybody.
The optimistic scenario is that Parker can step up and close if Gregg is traded and that the rest will do Russell some good.
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