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updated: 7/14/2014 6:48 PM

Some good, but a lot of bad for Cubs

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  • Edwin Jackson is 13-28 as a Cub since signing a four-year contract last season.

    Edwin Jackson is 13-28 as a Cub since signing a four-year contract last season.
    Associated Press

  • Associated PressStarlin Castro has bounced back nicely after a rough 2013 campaign. The Cubs' all-star shortstop is hitting .276 with 11 HRs and a team-best 52 RBI.

    Associated PressStarlin Castro has bounced back nicely after a rough 2013 campaign. The Cubs' all-star shortstop is hitting .276 with 11 HRs and a team-best 52 RBI.


Give Cubs manager Rick Renteria credit for one thing: He stays on message.

Whether his team is going well or poorly, there's seldom a discouraging word to be heard from Renteria.

The Cubs ended the unofficial first half of the season -- they're actually 58 percent of the way through -- Sunday with a 10-7 loss to Atlanta, sending them into the all-star break at 40-54.

At one point, the Cubs were on pace to lose 108 games. They picked up the pace in mid-May, but after the trade of pitchers Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel to Oakland, they may have to fend off the possibility of free-fall.

That doesn't seem to faze Renteria, who was his usual positive self when asked to assess things at the break.

"More than anything, building up confidence and playing as a team, not giving up, continuing to chip away," he said.

"I think they've been playing hard pretty much all season. That's one of the things we were hoping to get done, and I think they're doing it."

Here is a look at some of the good and some of the bad so far. First, the good:

Castro and Rizzo

From the moment last season ended and manager Dale Sveum was fired, all eyes were on shortstop Starlin Castro and first baseman Anthony Rizzo.

Would they respond to Renteria's easygoing demeanor better than they did to Sveum's tough love?

The answer is obvious as both players were in Minneapolis Sunday night as all-stars.

Castro has thrived as an unlikely cleanup hitter, going .276/.326/.440 with 11 homers and a team-leading 52 RBI. All of last season, he hit 10 home runs and had 44 RBI.

Rizzo is at .275/.381/.499 with a team-leading 20 home runs and 49 RBI batting one spot ahead of Castro. Last year, he hit 23 homers and drove in 80 while batting .233.

The new ace

Right-hander Jake Arrieta missed spring-training game action due to a shoulder ailment. He came back in May, and since the first of that month, he has the second-best ERA (1.95) in baseball, behind only the Dodgers' Clayton Kershaw (1.81 since May 1).

Arrieta, whom they got a year ago from Baltimore, always has had good stuff and a live arm. Now, he's harnessed his command and made good use of a nasty slider/cutter.

The kids in the pen

The Cubs' front office has made two mistakes at closer, signing Kyuji Fujikawa before last year and Jose Veras before this season.

Fujikawa is rehabbing from Tommy John surgery after pitching in only 12 games last year. The Cubs cut their losses with Veras by designating him for assignment June 3.

Team president Theo Epstein and general manager Jed Hoyer may not have to go that route again. Hector Rondon, a Rule 5 pick before last year, has done a creditable job as closer, with 11 saves in 14 chances. He has struck out 39 in 34⅓ innings.

Hard-throwing Neil Ramirez has fanned 34 in 25⅔ innings. He could either stay in the pen or become a starter someday. Local guy Brian Schlitter made the team out of spring training and has pitched well.

Of course, with a record of 40-54, there is plenty of bad. Here is some of it:

The OBP blues

The batters still aren't doing enough to get on base. The team on-base percentage of .298 ranks 14th in the National League, and the walks total (259) is 11th. Rizzo leads them in walks with 53, and Luis Valbuena is second at 35. The Cubs are trying to stock their farm system with hitters with good approaches, but it will be some time before they're all here.

Jackson and Wood

If the Cubs are to have any chance to avoid flirting with 100 losses, they need much better performances from veteran starting pitchers Edwin Jackson and Travis Wood.

The Jackson signing -- four years and $52 million before last season -- has been a disaster. After going 8-18 with a 4.98 ERA last year, Jackson is 5-10 with a 5.64 ERA and a WHIP of 1.58 this year. Of his 19 starts, only 5 have been quality starts.

Wood was an all-star last year, but his first half has been forgettable, with a 7-8 record, 4.96 ERA and 1.49 WHIP.

Not ready for prime time

Third baseman Mike Olt had a job waiting for him, and outfielder Junior Lake figured to see plenty of playing time after showing flashes of exciting raw ability in the second half of last season.

Both are whiffing on their chances. And each might be better served working things out in the minor leagues.

Olt has a sickly hitting line of .144/.230/.367, albeit with 12 homers. He has struck out 79 times in 204 plate appearances for an alarming strikeout rate of 38.7 percent.

Lake is at .218/.245/.377 with 9 home runs, and he has struck out a team-leading 93 times in 270 plate appearances for a K rate of 34.4 percent.

Lake and the all-but-forgotten Nate Schierholtz (.204/.250/.314) have lost playing time to surging Justin Ruggiano and Chris Coghlan.

Olt is now a backup to veteran utility man Valbuena, and the emergence of exciting rookie second baseman-outfielder Arismendy Alcantara may leave the Cubs with no other choice but to send Olt out when infielder-outfielder Emilio Bonifacio comes off the disabled list.

Even that has failed to get Renteria down. He called one team meeting after one early-season game to address sloppy play, but that's it.

"The biggest thing we try to focus and concentrate on is making sure they give us a good effort," he said. "That's the only thing I can tell you that bothers me the most, when we don't get a good effort. I think we all approach it differently. Out of sight, you have conversations when you have to to (deal) with things like that. But for the most part, these guys have been going out and giving us a good effort every day."

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