The NL Central has the most teams of any division in baseball, so some may think it might be a very hard division to conquer. But followers of the division know better - all its occupants have fundamental flaws, so in fact there are harder divisions to win. The AL East, for example, has perennial spender contenders Boston and New York, as well as young, hungry Tampa Bay. Hell, the perennial fourth place Toronto Blue Jays would dominate the NL Central most years.
So logical people would tell you that it is wrong to count even a mediocre baseball team out of the NL Central race before the start of June. I agree 100% with logical people.
Ah, but. The 2011 Chicago Cubs are not even a mediocre baseball team. Simply put: if a club cannot put together a measly 3-game winning streak by the end of May, and if it cannot even manage to beat the lowly, demoralized Pittsburgh Pirates (and I will stop calling them Pissburgh until further notice) at home, then that club will not win any divisions in MLB, no matter how pitiful.
Are the Cardinals better than the Cubs? Damn right: their pitching is far superior, and they have Pujols and Holliday.
Are the Reds better than the Cubs? Have you SEEN their lineup? And Dusty Baker has not totally imploded the pitching staff yet, not for a lack of trying.
Are the Brewers better than the Cubs? Would you rather have Prince Fielder than Carlos Pena? Ryan Braun than Alfonso Soriano? Corey Hart than Kosuke Fukudome? Rickey Weeks over Darwin Barney? Hell...I'd rather have Casey McGehee than Aramis Ramirez...
Are the Pirates better than the Cubs? On paper...no. What a miserable looking bunch that is? Andrew McCutcheon and the Slithery Gobs of Mangoo. This same bunch that has beaten us over 80% of the time the past two seasons. So, I guess they ARE better than us.
The Cubs are NOT winning the NL Central in 2011. I will bet my life on it.
So, what to do?
What I would do: we need to find out who is going to be part of the Cubs, going forward. Aramis Ramirez, Kosuke Fukudome, Carlos Pena, Reed Johnson, Jeff Baker, and Koyie Hill would never get another at bat as a Cub ever again. If they are not tradeable, then they should be released. I would bring up everyone and anyone from the minors that is showing ANY promise as a prospect, put them in the lineup, and let them struggle.
Unfortunately, we are utterly stuck with Soriano. But there really is only room for ONE of him. Which means no room for everyone I mentioned above: expensive ballplayers at the end of their contracts, who are not producing and have no trade value.
Let's give Brian LaHair 200 ABs. Let's let Lou/Louis/Luis Montanez play his way out of the organization once and for all. Alternate Soto and Castillo. Let's get Ryan Flaherty some ABs. Let's see if Josh Vitters is really a third baseman or not. We need to see our organizational strengths using live ammo, and use what free agent money we will have next year to plug the most gaping hole(s).
What will probably happen: I am sure the Ricketts family has noticed the gleaming green seat backs that are still quite evident even after the start of ballgames. The Cubs will continue to run the big money players out there day after day in a futile attempt to capture their lost talents all in the name of 'winning ballgames' to attract more customers.
The problem with this plan is: except for one three-week period last fall, when our opponents were either a) cracking under late-season pressure or b) throwing in the towel, this bunch of assembled talent has played around .400 ball since opening day 2010. Yes, Mike Quade is overmatched as a manager; but doubtless, nobody could win with this bunch of slow banjo hitters, miserable defenders, and brutally inconsistent starting pitching.
Now, as previously mentioned, there is no pitching help down on the farm. We have rotated every 'deserving' arm from Iowa already this year, to unanimously miserable results. But there do seem to be some hitters in AA and AAA, and our prospects could not possibly field worse than the team currently on the field at Wrigley. Only Pena fields his position adequately, and just like Mark Grace and Derrek Lee before him, a fancy fielding first baseman on a team full of klutzes is like putting a Mercedes hood ornament on a 1997 Pontiac Grand Am with the plastic wrap-around molding falling off.
Just once, I'd like to see management do something bold, fresh, and hopeful.
I guess that isn't really fair: watching management spend $400 million in 2007 to bring in Soriano, Piniella, Lilly, Marquis, DeRosa, etc, etc. was bold and hopeful, at the time. Unfortunately, that plan backfired. So....let's try the OTHER bold, fresh, and hopeful.
Time to Rebuild.