I know, the thought of the second half is daunting. What if the Cubs continue on this directionless spiral of break-even no-offense baseball? What if the offense comes back, but the starting rotation slips? With a disappointing first half, where does a fan draw his/her optimism that this team can make a second-half run?
The best I can suggest is the law of averages. This roster has all the pieces that won a division the last two years and there's no reason fans not to demand better second-half baseball.
After this week's series in Washington, the schedule will not be forgiving to a .500 team. The Cubs have two series left with the Phillies and two with the Mets, who are struggling but are not much worse than the Cubs and their last date with Florida is on the road. More notably, they have to travel to every team in the AL West except last place Arizona, playing four games a piece at Los Angeles, Colorado and San Francisco, all of whom are in playoff contention with winning records. That's not to mention three more at Petco Park where they were swept earlier this year by the Padres.
And they don't come face-to-face with the Brewers or Cardinals again until September. The only thing they can take solace in is seven games against Washington and nine against Pittsburgh.
Change, then, will have to come from within.
Needs to address:
Second base. With Aramis Ramirez back, the Cubs need to figure out what will happen at second base. The Cubs have Mike Fontenot, who has had some offensive slumps here and there, defensive force Andres Blanco, recently acquired utility man Jeff Baker and Aaron Miles who's on the DL.
Miles, might quietly be Jim Hendry's dumbest mistake in the off-season and should be cut despite his 2 yr/$ 4.9 M contract. Fontenot needs to be part of the equation, but he appears to need spelling frequently, the question being who with. Baker might not be any better of a solution than Ryan Freel was and Blanco's acrobatic skills might not be enough to outweigh his offense in the long-run.
Second base is the one position where the Cubs are not throwing someone a lot of money. (Ryan Theriot is a talent at shortstop and Soto still developing at catcher.) That makes trading for a second baseman like the Pirates' Freddy Sanchez. The 2006 NL batting champion guarantees better production at the position than anyone on the roster. He's making just over $6 M this year with an $8 M option for next season, which doesn't seem unreasonable as far as taking on new payroll mid-season. With the ownership change, this might be the only big move the Cubs could afford to make.
Turning around the outfielders: Getting Soriano on track alone could be enough to drastically reverse the Cubs' fortunes, that's the kind of player he can be. If not, that puts more pressure on Kosuke Fukudome or Milton Bradley to elevate their game. Since Reed Johnson is there to help out in left and center, it would be most beneficial for Bradley to start hitting. He showed signs of coming around from the left side of the plate before the break, but the Cubs need it to be for real. Hendry needs it to be for real. With players struggling, this outfield is in too much flux with Micah Hoffpauir, Jake Fox and Sam Fuld all contributing as well. That makes it hard for Piniella to figure out who he needs to keep on the bench.
Left-handed relief pitching: If the Cubs have more injury woes in the rotation, Sean Marshall shouldn't have to sit in the bullpen. The Cubs need to go out and bring in a promising southpaw for the pen if they do nothing else all season. Another Pittsburgh veteran, John Grabow, looks like an intriguing option. He has a 3.32 ERA this season after a great 2008 where he went 70 innings with a 2.84. Unfortunately, not too many other teams are completely out of it, so it hurts the Cubs chances of landing someone without giving up much.
Back-up catcher: If Geovany Soto's injury should be serious, nothing will be more important than picking up a free agent veteran catcher, and it could kill the Cubs' chances of making deal before the trade deadline. There are some notable veteran names out there such as Javier Valentin, Johnny Estrada and Paul Lo Duca, but it would be a shame if the Cubs had to go there.
Other things the Cubs need from their own players are a full recovery from Aramis Ramirez, a turnaround for Rich Harden and a Carlos Marmol with a consistent release point.