In Chicago, the feeling I get right now about the Cubs is one of caution. The fans are taking nothing for granted. They have that wide-eyed look, as if they're saying, "Can we do it? Are we good enough? This hasn't been a fluke, right? We have a chance, right?"
The populace is definitely taking baby steps too. They're thinking about winning the division or the wild card, not winning the World Series. First things first.
|In 1992, the White Sox traded Sammy Sosa, then 23, across town to the Cubs.|
The one prevailing question locally is the same one being asked nationally: Do the Cubs have enough hitting? The answer is "no" -- not for the long haul. Sammy Sosa goes a long way and is playing inspired baseball. Rondell White has been good too. The rest of the lineup has under-performed, especially Todd Hundley, though they can look forward to the return of Bill Mueller.
The Cubs have done it so far with great pitching. They have a deep staff, though it is not star-studded like Arizona and Atlanta's. Jon Lieber really should be an All-Star. He has consistently delivered quality starts, which are so important to preserving the bullpen. Julian Tavarez, Kerry Wood and Kevin Tapani have also pitched wonderfully. And in that bullpen, Jeff Fassero was heroic in holding down the fort until Tom Gordon came back.
Still, when the heat rises and the bats warm up and the wind starts to blow, those famous Wrigley slugfests may start to happen more often. And that will not be good for these Cubs unless the hitting comes around. The Cubs are a woeful 6-22 when they have to score more than four runs.
This may be the right year for the Cubs to make a trade for a bat. The Cubs are known for having gotten nothing for Lou Brock and Greg Maddux. But they got Lieber for Brant Brown. General manager Andy MacPhail is on roll. They may be OK if Hundley wakes up, but I'd be working the phones if I were MacPhail.
Right now, the Cardinals look better over 162 games. Matt Morris, Darryl Kile and Andy Benes are really solid. Mark McGwire is back and Albert Pujols has been the breakout star of the year in baseball. J.D. Drew will be out for a while and Jim Edmonds is hurting, but I still think the Cards have more than the Cubs can handle.
The Cubs also have to keep an eye on the Brewers, who are very underrated. And the Astros could be a big factor if they ever get their hitting and pitching going at the same time. The unbalanced schedule will play a big role in the NL Central.
So it seems to me that the Cubs need to create some space in the standings between them and their pursuers. Thursday night's win over the Cardinals was a nice one. While they wait for more hitting, they need to make as much hay as they can before the other teams pull it together.
Still, if you ask a Cubs fan what he thinks about a six-game lead on June 22, he'll say he likes it just fine.
And then, of course, he'll ask you if you think it'll hold up.