The photo at the top of this post, I think, sums up the first half of the 2011 Cubs season perfectly.
The All-Star Game is over; thankfully, Starlin Castro did not get hurt in playing (always the biggest worry for any Cubs player). He stole two bases -- the first time anyone has had two SB in an ASG since Kenny Lofton in 1996 -- struck out batting, and made a throwing error. He does still need to work on his defense. But now, let's move on to examining the Cubs' season so far.
Since the team-loss-record-tying 1966 season, this is the third-worst mark any Cubs team has had at the All-Star break. The 2006 Cubs -- who lost 96 games -- were 20 games under at the break, and the 1982 Cubs were 17 under, before playing 37-36 ball in the second half to avoid 90 losses at 73-89.
This team doesn't seem capable of finishing the year with that sort of mark. But then again, last year's team didn't look like it could go 24-13 to finish the season when Mike Quade took over from Lou Piniella. Quade's managerial record, one of the reasons he was hired full-time, is now 61-68.
After the jump, letter grades for all of the key performers on the 2011 Cubs. Warning: many of them aren't pretty.
Geovany Soto: C- Once again, Geo has spent time on the disabled list this year and hasn't hit much when he's been playing. His 96 OPS+ seems high, actually, for the performance he's given. And his OPS in July -- .596 -- is bad.
Carlos Pena: C Really, Pena has been exactly as advertised when he was signed: low batting average, lots of walks, and some power. His .801 OPS translates to a 116 OPS+, which is decent. Since May 1 he's hitting .244/.354/.543 with 19 HR in 64 games. I expect him to wind up with over 30 HR and an OPS of .850 or more. He's also played excellent defense.
Darwin Barney: C Barney started out strong, but also spent time on the DL. He's hitting .306, but with no power and little OBA value past the BA. His defense is also solid, but he may be better suited to being a utility guy.
Starlin Castro: B+ I wish I could give Castro an A or even A-, but his defense still needs quite a bit of work. He'd probably be hitting even better than he is now if his manager would use him in the lineup spots to which he's best suited -- first or second. But this isn't news to you. Congrats to him on his All-Star appearance; let it be the first of many.
Aramis Ramirez: C+ A-Ram looked disinterested for two months, then turned it on in June and July and is on a tremendous hot streak. Over his last 17 games (16 starts) he's hitting .365/.414/.873 with 10 HR and 18 RBI. Keep that up and it just might be worth the Cubs keeping him (though at a lower price after paying his buyout).
Alfonso Soriano: C Soriano-bashers love to bring up his contract, which is, obviously, way too large. As has been said many times, if the Cubs had won the World Series in the first 2-3 years of that deal, we wouldn't care (at least, I wouldn't). His production is about the same as it was last year -- 111 OPS+, compared to 112 in 2010. He's walked a few less times than he has the past couple of years. We're probably stuck with him.
Marlon Byrd: Incomplete Byrd spent more than a month on the DL after the horrifying HBP in Boston. His 103 OPS+ is exactly what it was for the full season of 2010. He still plays hard and with a smile on his face. That's worth something; it may be that Byrd will be dealt before July 31.
Kosuke Fukudome: C- Fukudome is maddening. He'll have a hot streak where you think maybe he's finally figured things out -- from April 20 to May 13, for example, he hit .371/.458/.435 -- but then you look closer and realize he had just one RBI in that 18-game stretch. He still plays good defense, but his arm doesn't appear as strong or accurate as it once was. I think we'll all be glad when his contract expires at the end of this year. I'd take him back at a much lower cost -- he's not a bad platoon outfielder. But at $14 million a year -- no way.
Koyie Hill: D+ He's actually been somewhat productive at the plate; his .613 OPS isn't terrible for a backup catcher. But a lot of you are going to say he's useless anyway, so whatever I say will fall on deaf ears.
Jeff Baker: C+ Baker also spent some time on the DL. He absolutely pounds lefthanded pitching: .380/.397/.535 in 73 PA. He can play multiple positions. There may be a number of teams after him at the trade deadline. As a relatively inexpensive utility player, it may be worth keeping him rather than getting a marginal prospect in return (and that's all you'd get).
Reed Johnson: B Reed's had a real nice year as a backup/platoon/injury replacement outfielder. Like just about everyone else, he's been on the DL, but has been productive when active. He's played great defense and has a walkoff home run this season. I'd keep him around -- he'd be a useful veteran presence on a (presumably) younger 2012 Cubs team.
Blake DeWitt: D+ Would have been lower, but I give him major props for that three-run homer against the Nationals that helped solidify that comeback last week in Washington. Otherwise... I could see him being non-tendered this offseason.
Tony Campana: D He can run real fast. And he can usually catch up to fly balls that other outfielders can't. Otherwise, he really doesn't belong in the major leagues. Fun to watch, but...
Ryan Dempster: C Dempster really should be given two grades: an F for April, and a B+ for the rest of the time since then. Since May 1 he has made 13 starts. Although his personal record is only 5-3 in that time, the Cubs are 10-3 in those 13 outings and Dempster has posted a 3.25 ERA and 1.269 WHIP, very respectable numbers. He's not a No. 1 starter, but he's throwing well enough that his overall season numbers should look decent.
Carlos Zambrano: C- Big Z has spent time on the DL, and will be back on Saturday, having missed a pair of starts. He's been maddening this year -- he's got seven starts in which he's thrown at least seven innings and looked solid in all of them, but has been pretty mediocre in the rest of the outings. What we can hope for is a second half like he had last year, but of course, who knows what you're going to get with Big Z? At least there have been no blowups this season.
Matt Garza: C- Like Zambrano, Garza has been maddeningly inconsistent and also spent some time on the DL (though he balked at going). His start against the White Sox on July 2 was magnificent. Then he stunk out the joint in Washington in his next following start. Also, his defense is atrocious -- his five errors lead all MLB pitchers and have led to him allowing nine unearned runs, a huge number for half a season for one pitcher.
Randy Wells: D- I have to believe Wells is still hurt in some way. He just hasn't been anything close to the same pitcher he was even last year, and that wasn't as good as the year before. Since he returned from the DL, only one of his eight starts, on June 14 vs. the Brewers, was even decent.
Casey Coleman: D- I include Coleman because he's made as many MLB starts as Wells this year -- nine. He's been bad, and that's after being pretty decent in eight starts late in 2010. I still think Coleman can be a capable No. 5 MLB starter, if he can learn to locate, because his stuff isn't good enough by itself to win.
Jeff Samardzija: C- Sometimes Shark looks real good, like he's figured things out and can change speeds and throw three pitches for strikes. And then other times... he just walks everyone in sight. Maybe he's figured it out -- in six appearances in July covering 6.1 innings, he's walked only one and allowed no earned runs. Keep that up, and he can be a useful MLB setup man.
James Russell: F for starting, A- for relieving As a starter: five games, 18.1 innings, 32 hits, five walks, 10 strikeouts, 2.018 WHIP, 9.33 ERA. As a reliever: 30 games, 30.2 innings, 21 hits, five walks, 20 strikeouts, 0.848 WHIP, 1.47 ERA. Russell has become a very effective LOOGY/middle reliever. If you look at those numbers, why would you ever use a guy like that as a starter? That's his manager's fault. Russell will be a useful part of the Cubs bullpen for the next several years.
Sean Marshall: B+ Marshall was being discussed as an All-Star possibility before he had a few bad outings in June and early July -- the 0.95 ERA up to mid-June has ballooned to 2.47 (6.59 ERA in 14 games since June 11). Still, Marshall's one of the most solid guys on the team. Some here, I know, have discussed the idea of making him a starter again. For 2012? Maybe. Worth discussing, anyway.
John Grabow: F Bad. Just bad. I admit, this was a bad signing and I'll be glad when his deal is up.
Kerry Wood: C+ For all the bitching about Wood's performance, he hasn't been all that bad this year. What you remember, most likely, is the four blown saves and a couple of other games he lost when he was put into tie games and gave up the lead. I don't see any drop in his velocity; sometimes his pitches just don't work. Let's see what happens with him in the second half before we completely give up on him.
Carlos Marmol: B Sometimes his stuff looks electric, like it has in the past. And other times... he looks just unbelievably hittable. Last year, of the 332 batters he faced, only 134 put the ball in play, either getting hits or making outs. The rest were either walked, hit by a pitch or struck out. That's only 40.3%. This year, so far, that percentage is 56.4 -- many more hitters are able to at least put Marmol's pitches in play. It might not be a bad idea to try to deal him in the offseason for starting pitching. You could try Chris Carpenter at closer -- he's got the stuff to do it, just has to harness his command.
Chris Carpenter: C+ Speaking of Carpenter, he's got a real live fastball that occasionally touches 100 MPH. If he can harness his command, he's definitely closer material. He'll be a useful setup/middle relief guy the rest of the year. I like his potential a lot.
DJ LeMahieu: Incomplete Didn't really play enough to give a letter grade, but does show some promise both offensively and defensively.
Andrew Cashner: Incomplete Let's hope he comes back.
Tyler Colvin: Incomplete I have no idea what happened to him after last year's promise.
Mike Quade, Manager: D- Quade's inexplicable lineup selections, failed strategies and inexperienced coaching staff have all helped lead to this bad record over the first half of 2011. I don't know if anyone could have done much better with this group. I do know it would have been difficult for anyone to do worse.
I trust you don't need to hear any more about the following players, all of whom have been in at least one game for the 2011 Cubs: Lou Montanez, Welington Castillo, Brad Snyder, Doug Davis, Rodrigo Lopez, Ramon Ortiz, Jeff Stevens, Justin Berg, Marcos Mateo and Scott Maine.