So we’ve reached the All Star break. I know it’s not the actual halfway mark as far as number of games, but this is generally considered the end of the first half of the season. So what have we learned? A few things jump out at me as I reflect on the first half.

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With all the hand-wringing, pearl clutching, and criticism of Crazy Joe, look who’s in first place. Not only that, After Yu Darvish being not just a non-factor, but probably considered a negative, after Kyle Hendricks having the worst season of his young career, after a disabled list stint for Kris Bryant, after an un-Rizzo like first half, after half the bullpen being hurt and the other half missing time having babies, the Cubs are right where we expected them to be: the owners of he best record in the National League. To me, this shows just how good this team really is. And while I still don’t care for Joe Maddon’s revolving door lineups and his sometime quick hook on the starters, he’s a pretty good skipper too.

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Don’t look now, but Javy Baez is no longer Dave Kingman. Yes he still strikes out a lot. This puts him in an exclusive group I like to call everybody in baseball. Did you know he’s hitting .292? That’s almost 30 points above his career average. Throw in 19 home runs, 72 RBI, and 18 steals, and you have the Cubs first half MVP. If anybody else but me seemingly, factored in his defense, and I’d say he’s on the short list for the League MVP. He’s young, and unlike a lot of people, the passion and emotion he displays doesn’t bother me at all. I welcome it. I know Mike Trout is considered the best player in the game, but he’s also incredibly boring outside of his play. The game needs more Javys. Celebrate when you hit a home run. Get upset when you strike out. There was an incident earlier where Javy was criticized by Pirates’ manager Clint “Get of My Lawn” Hurdle for this. My philosophy has always been this: if you don’t like when a guy admires his home run, or claps and cheers when he gets a big hit, maybe don’t let him get the home run or the big hit. I feel the same way about football. Oh you don’t like when Gronk spikes the ball after he scores a touchdown? Don’t let him score and you won’t have to worry about it. Keep on doing what you do Javy.

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Jon Lester is an ace. No, he’s not going to go out and strikeout 15 like Randy Johnson, or throw a no-hitter like Nolan Ryan, but he’s the guy who will battle for 7 innings and keep you in a game. You don’t have to be dominant to be an ace. You just have to be the guy the manager can count on to give the bullpen some rest and keep the team in it. When it’s a big game, he wants the ball. When you are on a bit of a slide and you really need someone to give you a chance to stop it, he wants the ball. Lester has been that guy. Oh his stats aren’t bad either. 12-2 with a 2.58 ERA and 111.2 innings in 19 starts. That averages to almost 6 innings per start. That’s pretty good in this day and age of the bullpen specialty.

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Albert Almora is a future star. If he’s not already a star. He should have been an All Star. Third in the league in average at .319, Gold Glove caliber defense, and done a good job leading off, when given the chance. I still keep wondering what he has to do to be the every day center fielder, but when he has had the chance he’s made the most of it.

The Cubs have the best bench in the N.L., if not all of baseball. On any given day, you can call of Ian Happ, Ben Zobrist, or Tommy LaStella, all guys who could start on a lot of teams. It doesn’t hurt that all 3 of those guys can play multiple positions either. A big unsung reason why the Cubs lead the majors in come from behind wins.

I’m sure I missed some things that have made the Cubs the best team in the league in the first half. And again, keep in mind they really haven’t been at full strength for much of the season. Good luck to Javy and Kyle Schwarber in the Home Run Derby and let’s keep things rolling in the second half.

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