At the beginning of the football season, many fans and personalities alike saw the Bears as a team likely to finish well under .500. Even the most optimistic critics generally had them as average; going 8-8 or 9-7, far from something to get excited about. The Bears, as we all now know, won their division, won a playoff game, and made it to the NFC Championship, surprising everyone in this town and NFL fans across the nation.
Will this happen with the Chicago Cubs? Probably not; but that's what any of us would have said about the Bears during training camp. The 2011 edition of the Chicago Cubs is eerily similar to the 2010-11 Chicago Bears with respect to the unpredictability of the team.
The Cubs have added ace starting pitcher Matt Garza, brought back Kerry Wood to strengthen the bullpen, and added some left-handed power in the form of Carlos Pena. Unfortunately, Kosuke Fukudome, Alfonso Soriano, Carlos Zambrano and Carlos Silva are still on the roster too.
Assume that you will get some positive production from Soriano, but how long will it be until fans see his yearly numbers take a steep drop? Zambrano should give the team a number of quality starts, but how much time will he miss due to his temper and/or being bad? Can Kosuke give you anything productive after April has passed? The issues with these players are well-known, but in a special kind of year, all of these things will go right.
The Cubs need a special year similar to the one the Bears had; every bounce seemed to go their way after the bye-week and the team functioned well on all levels. If the Cubs can have a few of these major questions go the right way, they may be looking at a similar outcome.
The Cardinals have already lost their ace Adam Wainwright to surgery, and no one should trust the durability of Chris Carpenter anymore. Perhaps the constant questions aimed at Pujols regarding his upcoming free agency will wreak further havoc on the redbirds' clubhouse and help the Cubbies pass them in the standings. In any case, St. Louis must be viewed as the only legitimate threat to the Cubs' well-being this year.
As for Cincinnati and Milwaukee, I will believe it when I see it. The Brewers boast a much improved team, though namely in pitching with the acquisition of former Royal's ace Zack Greinke. But, still, they remain the Milwaukee Brewers. While this year's offseason did show the most improvement in recent memory for the Brew Crew, it seems that every year for the past five, the Brewers are a specialty pick to win the division. Every year people clamor that this is the year Milwaukee must be taken seriously, and every year they lose too many games once again.
The Reds are high off of their first divisional championship in "how long?" last year, but Dusty still has the reigns of that rickety ride. Assuming that the team will click as well as it did all of last year once more is not a good bet.
Either of these teams could end up twenty games better than the Cubs, but I wouldn't count on it. I can just as easily see both these team collapsing, and the Cubs, with a little luck, passing them in the standings by seasons' end.
Obviously, I am saying a lot of nothing here: the Cubs could be pretty good and compete for first place in their division, or they could just as easily sink to the bottom. No one has any true grasp on which is likelier at this point, but that sea of uncertainty lingering in the near future looks a lot like the one we saw during Bears' training camp.
In the end, only time will tell if the Cubs will be as surprising as the Bears were for us this year, but it should be an interesting ride.
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Tags: Adam Wainwright, Alfonso Soriano, Baseball, Carlos Pena, Carlos Silva, Carlos Zambrano, Chicago Bears, Chicago Cubs, Cincinnatie Reds, Football, Kerry Wood, Kosuke Fukudome, Matt Garza, Milwaukee Brewers, Playoffs, Preseason, Rosters, Spring Training, Spring Training 2011, St. Louis Cardinals, Zack Greinke