Enough about hockey and basketball for the time being though... baseball is upon us. While the White Sox look to be loaded up for a legitimate postseason run with the acquisition of slugger Adam Dunn and the retention of Paul Konerko, Cub fans wonder if the return of Kerry Wood and other off-season moves will be enough to put the team into contention for the division.
The Cubs will contend for the NL's Central Division Championship this year, but that is only because it is the worst division in baseball. Because the Cardinals have already lost their ace for the year, in starter Adam Wainwright, and the Brewers are down their biggest acquisition of the offseason for at least a month in Zack Greinke, the Cubbies' time to strike is now.
The Cubs will need to get off to a fast start, hoping to put some early season distance in between them and the Brewers and Cardinals. Despite their injury problems, the Cardinals are always at least a competitive team, and the Brewers may have some unseen potential once Greinke returns to the rotation. Who knows if Dusty and Co. in Cincinatti will be able to repeat the Reds' success from last year, but its impossible to completely count them out at this point (although I wouldn't bet on them repeating as Division Champs).
The Cubs themselves are certainly improved from last year's disappointing squad, but how well will they perform in the revamped NL Central. The division still has to be considered the worst in baseball, but the Cubs have much to improve on to truly make a run at winning the division.
Defense is tops on the Cubby improvement list, but, as all Cub fans have seen before, a quick turnaround is not out of the question. The key to this turnaround is a fast start, and counting on some bad luck for those division rivals. The Cubs were absolutely man-handled by the pathetic Pittsburg Pirates last year, so starting things off right by winning at least two of three against them in the opening series of the year is a must.
The Cubs will have to beat up on the bad teams in the NL this year, win against their division rivals, and hope to be around .500 otherwise. While these trends may take place at times, the Cubs have too many questions to remain dominant year round. I see the team just barely winning more than half of their games, finishing at 83-79. While that may sound disappointing, it would be an improvement from last year.
However, 86 wins is the fewest that I can see winning the NL central. Despite the problems surrounding St. Louis, Milwaukee, and Cincinatti, I think it is likely that at least one of these teams will stay hot enough long enough and at the right time to claim the division. But, maybe, the Cubs improve a but more than we may think, and push past that 83 win mark themselves.
One must love the promise and open-ended summer that April baseball provides. My mind dances with thoughts of Chris Carpenter's elbow blowing up once again, and the Cardinals dwindling down to .500. I day dream about Zack Greinke staying in a season-long funk and simply helping the Brewers solidify their place in mediocrity. I lust to watch Dusty Baker ruin all the young arms he has in his clubhouse and alienate his team from the media and the fans en route to a disappointing follow-up to last year...
And everything for the Cubs will go super smooth: no Big Z meltdowns, no incredibly bad Aramis for the first five months of the season, no stunted defensive efforts plauging the team all year, and no Uncle Lou sleeping in the dugout. Wait. That one we actually can count on.
In any case, the Cubs will win 83 games this year and, likely, finish in second or third place in the division. However, that means hope is alive for Cub fans once again. Afterall, we have already seen an 83-win team from our division win it all just a few years ago, and maybe the competition in our sad division will be so close that each team will be hovering around .500 all season long.
Instead of looking forward to "next year," lets just be glad that this year is not last year. Go Cubs!