Breaking down Cubs, Sox standouts so far

The break is not the middle.

By the time the All-Star Game comes, on Tuesday, July 15, The White Sox will have played 96 of their 162 games, and the Cubs 94. You'll be inundated with midseason reports.

So since the Sox have played 82 and the Cubs 80, allow me to get the jump. This week we look at upside since Opening Day.

True excellence

Anthony Rizzo is one of the top first basemen in baseball. He's third in OBP, third in OPS, and fourth in WAR at the deepest position in the bigs. His astonishing improvement versus left-handed pitching, good for an OBP of .422, puts him ahead of righties like Encarnacion, Pujols and Cabrera. Best player in town.

Jose Abreu is tied for the league lead in home runs, fourth overall in RBI and sixth in OPS. He hasn't hit for average or gotten on base as much as desired (.329 OBP), but he's a bona fide slugger, at excellent cash value. His demeanor and maturity have impressed. I hope he sticks to his instincts and avoids the Home Run Derby.

Chris Sale is just under the innings pitched needed to qualify, but his stats among starting pitchers would rank him sixth in ERA, second in WHIP and third in K/BB ratio. He dominates often and is a threat to throw a no-hitter every time out. Best pitcher in town and one of very few true aces leaguewide.

Better than expected

Jeff Samardzija is 10th in ERA, top 20 in K/9, 30th in WHIP and is tied for third in quality starts. He's dropped off a bit from the torrid start, but is pitching like a good No. 2 starter and will command more than the $85 million the Cubs have offered.

In fact, all Cubs starters not named Edwin Jackson have been very good. Jason Hammel will join Paul Maholm and Scott Feldman as impressive "sign and flips." Travis Wood ought to be here into the competitive years.

The Cubs bullpen has featured breakout years from Brian Schlitter, Hector Rondon and most impressively Neil Ramirez. As a team, they have the seventh best bullpen ERA and third best OPS against. Ramirez has a K/9 rate over 12.

Starlin Castro looks like a building block again. The OPS is over .800, his error rate is a tick down, his fielding percentage a tick up. He's not a long term cleanup solution, but looks like a very solid 6 hitter on a good team.

Luis Valbuena has earned the playing time he's taken from Mike Olt, with the 5th best OBP among 3B, and consistently good at bats. Valbuena might be a utility infielder worth keeping or a surprisingly decent trade chip.

Alexei Ramirez started red hot, and has been terrific on defense, but on Friday picked up his first RBI since May 26th. He still deserves to be in the All Star game, and makes for intriguing trade bait.

Conor Gillaspie is hitting .321, with 19 doubles and a great line drive percentage. He should have hit second in more than five games by now.

Adam Eaton is 21st among all outfielders in OBP, owns a 2.0 WAR, has great range in center field and plays with a crackling energy that would help most teams. It certainly does the once comatose Sox.

John Danks has 12 quality starts among his 16, and shows signs of a successful reinvention as a soft tossing lefty. It doesn't look like he'll ever reach the power pitcher potential Kenny Williams strangely paid him for, but at least he's … serviceable.

Adam Dunn is not the flat out detriment he was in '11 or '13. Boy, that's a low bar.

Next week we'll look at those who've played below expectations or have been truly horrendous.

I promise it won't be solely about the White Sox bullpen.

• Matt Spiegel co-hosts "The McNeil & Spiegel Show" 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Monday-Friday on WSCR 670-AM. Follow him on Twitter @mattspiegel670.

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Associated PressCubs' Anthony Rizzo, right, scores on a single hit by Starlin Castro as Washington Nationals catcher Wilson Ramos looks to the field during the fourth inning of a baseball game Thursday in Chicago. Rizzo is one of the top first baseman in the game and arguably the best player in town.
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