The first half of 2009 has been a tremendous disappointment for the Chicago Cubs. Spin it whatever way you like, but going into the All-Star break at 43-43 is nowhere near where this team should be. Predicted by most to sail to a third straight division title, the Cubs look more likely to finish in third place.
Yes, the Cubs are still just 3 1/2 games back of first, but it's been this way going on two months now. It's a glass half full/half empty scenario at this point, fittingly the halfway point. But there's no two ways to view the fact that the Cubs have been the biggest disappointment in Major League Baseball.
There are countless stories that have marred the Cubs' first half this season, from Milton Bradley being the worst off-season signing to Geovany Soto smoking joints before the World Baseball Classic, so it would seem unfair to list an equal amount of highlights and lowlights. But let's just say I view the glass as being at .500.
- Randy Wells. My pick for first half MVP this season, Wells has been the only player on this Cubs team to actually go above and beyond expectations. Keeping in mind he plays for a .500 team, Wells is 4-4 with a 2.72 ERA in 12 starts as a rookie. With 17 walks, only All-Star has been more effective on the mound for the Cubs. If the Cubs were still fishing around for the No. 5 starter at this point, they'd easily be a handful of games under .500. Wells has kept the reputation of this rotation intact all season and unfortunately will get no credit unless the offense turns around.
- Derrek Lee. Lee began the season with a lot of doubters who didn't think he'd ever get to his 2005 numbers after his injuries the past three seasons, but he's turned his season around to be the Cubs' biggest run producer with 57 RBI (17 percent of the team's run production), on pace for a career high. Finishing April with a .189 average, Lee has hit .308 since, bringing his average up to .280, around his career numbers. More importantly, Lee is the only player who has struggled this year to significantly improve his game, making him the Cubs' saving grace on offense.
- Ted Lilly. With the best ERA (3.18) and most strikeouts (101) of any pitcher in the rotation, Lilly has solidified himself as the team's best free agent acquisition in the last three years. (My apologies to those still weeping over Mark DeRosa). He is easily the Cubs' only worthy All-Star.
Honorable Mention: Angel Guzman, who has been the only good news in the Cubs bullpen besides Sean Marshall not having to fill in as a starter. Guzman has a 2.60 ERA, the lowest in the bullpen among relievers that have gone 30 innings, and walks significantly less batters than the other set-up man, Carlos Marmol. If the Cubs contend in the second half, Guzman's value to this team will likely skyrocket.
- Alfonso Soriano. Nobody embodies the Cubs' first half disappointment like Soriano. Every time an analyst has said Milton Bradley is not the only reason this team is underperforming, they were blaming Soriano. The "old adage" of "when Soriano's hot, he can carry the whole team on his back" is annoying but proven to be true to this point, and at $17 M, I don't know how he deposits his paycheck every month without feeling as guilty as Bernie Madoff. Hitting .233 with no home runs since June 7, he needs fixing more than any one player on this team, and the worst of it is that he doesn't respond well to pressure, which he's only been getting more of as the slump continues.
- Milton Bradley. As much as I wanted to see if I could avoid giving Bradley a top three lowlights finish, it's impossible. His 21 RBI in 210 at-bats is the lowest RBI/at-bat ratio of any active position player on the roster next to Koyie Hill. He's hitting .192 from the left side of the plate and has a .209 average with runners in scoring position. Basically, they're the worst numbers Bradley's put up as a veteran. That's without mentioning the small injuries, suspension, forgetting how many outs there are and losing fly balls in the sun. He was brought in to help this team with a 3 yr/$30 M contract and he's only made it worse.
- Jim Hendry. The only thing worse about the last two players is that both were signed to terrible contracts by the Cubs' general manager. If the team doesn't turn around this season, Hendry has saddled the new owner with a sky-high payroll for at least the next two seasons on a team that doesn't contend. Soriano is signed through 2014, Fukudome and Ramirez through 2011 and Bradley, Lee and maybe most disgustingly, Aaron Miles through 2010. Hendry has thought that aggressively throwing money at big names means being a good GM. He's done a good job taking care of the Cubs own, but has not made a value signing of an outside position player.