Sunday, April 18, 2004  
The Thoughts From Waveland

Since someone commented that last weeks post was hard to read, I thought that I'd completely change directions. After getting a few games out of the way, we can sit back and look at what we've seen. I think there are a few very important things that bear addressing as we progress into the next, very important stage of the season.

Before I delve into the details of the beginning of the season, I must confess that I am not old. Not at all. I apologize to those who I mislead in the previous column. Short of giving you my age (to protect the innocent, me), I cannot drink or smoke. If that gets me fired, that's too bad. Now that that's out of the way. Ahhh, much better.

The first very important thing that must be recognized is that our pitchers are not gods. I think that too many of us (including myself) came into the season thinking the staff would have a sub 3.50 ERA and just shut out the opponents. As has been shown, this is quite obviously not the case. The Cubs staff has been anything but spectacular. Carlos Zambrano and Kerry Wood have had good outings, and a great day by Sergio Mitre was spoiled by Andy Pratt and "Hit Me Out" Farnsworth. However, Mr. Expensive, Greg Maddux, has yet to impress. He is 0-2, and as I write this, he is getting hammered by the Reds. If the Cubs lose today, they could be 2.5 games out of first. That is not the start we envisioned from this team. Frankly, run support has not been a problem. The Cubs cannot keep the opposition from scoring runs. To add insult to injury, Prior will return, but that return could be delayed until the first of June. If the Cubs and Astros continue at the present pace (assuming it really does become the three team race we foresaw) the Cubs could be eight to ten games behind the front running Astros when Mark Prior returns.

The second problem that I see with the Cubs this year is the rest of the division. Now, Chicago cannot directly control this, but if they win the rest of their games, it's not an issue. However, as this is not going to happen, the situation in the NL Central is nightmarish for the Cubs. Before the season, many people said that the division would be a three-team race. Whoever said that did not look at the other teams in the division, and if the three other clubs (Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, and Milwaukee) stay around .400 to .500, there will be no gimme games. The Cubs don't have an easy schedule for a while. They can't lounge for even one day, or it could cost them the title. If the race is as close as last year (which, I believe, is the best the Cubs can hope for), then one game will be the difference.

That's the bad news. The good news is that I fully expect the Cubs to kick it in gear and win about five in a row. I am fairly certain that, by July, it will be a three-team race in the Central, and by late August, the Cubs and Astros will be slugging it out. The key is for the Cubs to win three out of every four series with the Astros and two out of every four with the Cardinals. Plain and simple, the Cubs cannot be swept by either of these teams. Not just for the standings sake, but for morale's sake.

Before I stop, let's quickly look at positive signs coming from the Cubs. Aramis Ramirez is heating up. Sammy Sosa has crushed two dingers today and looks good. Zambrano has looked relatively stable so far. Walker has filled in nicely for the injured Grudzielanek and may have earned himself an everyday job. Gonzalez has looked acceptable at the plate. The defense has been...okay, so that's not a positive.

The bottom line is that the Cubs will begin to win regularly. They will challenge the Astros for first place in the next two to three weeks. That's my story, and I'm sticking to it...for now.

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