First thing’s first. I’m a White Sox fan, and I took on the assignment of prescribing what the Cubs need to keep winning as an exercise in objectivity (or to try and magnify each flaw – viciously). You decide. But the truth is, it’s a very intriguing season when both Chicago’s North Siders and South Siders are in first place of their respective divisions. Oh and they meet for the first time this season in about four hours.
But before I descend into a point-by-point comparison of the two teams, allow me to switch gears and focus on the Cubbies.
Consistency is the key word. Lou Piniella’s Cubs hadn’t been swept all season until that pesky team from Florida took them to task this week. They did lose two in a row in a few occasions, but they usually followed those mini-streaks with a healthy string of wins (usually more than three) that have facilitated for that first-place 45 and 28 record (as of Friday, June 20, 10 a.m.).
On a statistical level, the Cubs are also on top. First in the National League in runs scored, team average, team on-base percentage, and second in RBIs; and first in team ERA and batting average against. So in essence, all they have to do is keep the engine running and coast into the playoffs. If you do the math, they have to play slightly better than .500 ball for the rest of the season, and they’ll win around 90 games. In a division where they already lead third-place Pittsburgh by double digits, and where an injured Albert Pujols won’t be a threat, the Cubs are almost a shoo-in to win it (and don’t give me any crap for the Brewers, their pitching is shoddy).
If they want to keep their consistency, however, the Cubs are gonna have to do something about injuries. Carlos Zambrano visits the doctor today to find out if his shoulder can hold up for the rest of the season. He’ll miss one start, but the tension in Cub land is palpable, almost to a point where the season is dependent on Big Z’s ability to go the distance this year. And don’t forget that Alfonso Soriano is out with a broken hand (though he may start taking batting practice on Monday).
It’s no surprise, then, that the Cubs have sent scout to watch pitchers like A.J. Burnett, and are increasingly being mentioned in trade talks for pitching.
But with the season going as it is, the Cubs are on a roll. Their free agent signings are producing, their starter-turned-closer has finally bit the bullet and gotten the hang of it. The fans are wired with expectations. And yes, even cross-town rivals like myself like the possibility of the Cubs and White Sox meeting in the World Series. So what do the Cubs need? Maybe a little hocus pocus to keep it going. Or another arm, whichever comes first.