Chicago Cubs Weekly Review: All-Star edition

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Normally in the weekly review we take a look back at the past week’s games. Highlighting the good and bad of the week. We’re going to change it up this week and take a look at the first half of the season. While the Cubs sit in last place in the NL Central, there are some things to be excited about.

Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel traded to the A’s – While most of us, I think, saw this coming in some fashion, I don’t think there were many who saw it being a package deal to one team. Hammel fell into the category of a surprise, similar to the fashion of Paul Maholm and Scott Feldman. The Cubs are already reaping the reward of the Feldman trade in Jake Arrieta and Pedro Strop.

The Maholm trade saw the Cubs acquire Arodys Vizcaino, who has been solid as he makes his way back from Tommy John surgery. It was a calculated risk at the time, but so far looks like it could pay off.

The Cubs this time acquired one of the A’s high-ranking prospects in Addison Russell, outfielder Billy McKinney and pitcher Dan Straily. Some have questioned the pickup of Russell, as he is a shortstop being brought into a system rich with middle-infield prospects. But the best players out of high school tend to play that position, and have the flexibility to adjust to a position switch. Where a player is in Single-A isn’t always the last position he’ll play.

Straily gets the start in Iowa, but may follow a similar blueprint to what Arrieta did upon his arrival – a short stint in Triple-A before a call-up to the big league roster.

The comeback seasons of Anthony Rizzo and Starlin Castro – The Cubs front office decided instead of waiting, they would begin the task of identifying the teams “core” players, and lock them up early on. 14 combined contract years and $101 million were committed to the two, and it looked like money down the drain in 2013. Both struggled. Castro looked lost and uninterested. Rizzo showed power, but struggled with runners in scoring position and against left-handers.

Now in the 2014 All-Star game in Minnesota, both will be participants. Castro has for whatever reason abandoned the “patience” the Cubs prior staff was trying to instill, using his aggressiveness at the plate to his advantage. Not every player will be a walk machine. Castro is a see it and rip it hitter, and that’s proving to be the right approach for him at the plate.

Rizzo, on the other hand, has become more selective, taking his walks while greatly improving his numbers with RISP and versus lefties. He’s actually hitting left-handers better this year than he is righties. He’s fourth in the league in walks, while sitting in third in home runs. He’s also learned to identify what opposing pitchers try to do to subdue him, and has learned to drive inside pitches into the seats early in the count.

It’s easy to understand why most of us freaked out last year, but the duo has gained back the trust and faith of the fans in 2014.