After a season in which two franchise cornerstones struggled mightily, Chicago Cubs’ fans questioned a great deal moving forward.
However, after strong first halves by both Starlin Castro and Anthony Rizzo, the future appears much brighter for the bleacher bums of the Friendly Confines. In fact, the improvement has been so noted, both are making pushes for spots on the National League All-Star team.
Castro, who is coming off a dismal season in which he posted a triple-slash of just .245/.284/.347, has been the most improved piece of the entire Cubs team, already surpassing both his home run and RBI totals from 2013 in less than half as many at-bats.
2013: 666 AB – .245/.284/.347 – 10 HR – 44 RBI
2014: 318 AB – .283/.469/.798 – 11 HR – 47 RBI
The young shortstop has also racked up 24 doubles this season, after notching just 34 in the entire 2013 season. He entered play yesterday with the second-most hits and the second-highest average among all NL shortstops, trailing only Troy Tulowitzki of the Colorado Rockies. Although his defense still leaves something to be desired, Castro is one of the youngest core players on the team, and even in the entire league.
His counterpart, Rizzo, has been almost as good this season. After being held out of the Cubs’ lineup last season when opposing teams started lefties, the left-handed swinging first baseman has actually been better against southpaws than righties this year, hitting .301/.409/.534 as opposed to a .276/.388/.505 mark against righties.
That being said, his power has remained more prominent against right-handers, as 12 of his 17 long-balls have come against righties this season. His RBI totals are down from a year ago, as he had 54 runs batted in last season at the All-Star break, and has 44 RBIs. That being said, his average is 41 points higher than at this point last season, largely due to his improvement against left-handed pitching.
Rizzo also leads National League first baseman in home runs and is tied for third in the league, as a whole, trailing only the Miami Marlins’ Giancarlo Stanton (21) and Tulowitzki (18).
While the record may not reflect much of a difference, the fact that the Cubs are a legitimately competitive team this season – despite frustrating losses – can be attributed to the improvement of these two players, both of whom deserve All-Star nods.