Is this The Year for the Cubs?

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Dave
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This is the one. There, I said it. Of all the Cubs teams you've watched in your lifetime -- unless you're 110 years old, remember 1908 and rode to the West Side Grounds in Henry Ford's first Model T -- this is the club that has the best chance of tranquilizing your pain and letting you fathom the unfathomable.

These are the Cubs who could purge all images of black cats, billy goats and Bartmans. These are the Cubs who lead the major leagues in mashing and own baseball's best offensive lineup so far. These are the Cubs who think nothing of overcoming a deficit in the late innings and no longer need the "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" singer to bellow, "Let's get some runs!" These are the Cubs who could inundate the final All-Star Game at Yankee Stadium with a torrent of blue. These are the Cubs who never have had friendlier times at the confines, winning 26 of 34 games in front of a rapturous cult that believes every day is Game 7, belting out the cornballish "Go Cubs Go" without really knowing the words.

It's important for me to clarify this is not -- I repeat, not -- a forecast that they will win the World Series. To predict a Cubs championship under any circumstance is like investing in the future of Amy Winehouse, who sings very well but could wander into a gutter in her underwear at any moment. Like last year, what stops them from tickling, teasing and driving you to orgasmic levels, only to drop Cubdom from the top of an 'L'-draped flagpole head-first onto Waveland Avenue? Having baseball's best record on June 4, 2008, doesn't head off a century of cruelty to humans.

But it does give credence to theories that this team is uniquely equipped to blast through the bad karma, starting with a factoid: The last time the Cubs owned baseball's best record in early June was in ... 1908. When we've spent decades analyzing the metaphysical misfortune of a franchise, we're going to ignore something that curious? So efficient are these Cubs, fans aren't even thinking about the wicked past. They're just loving a joyride that, for the first time in memory, doesn't involve a single major crisis or reason to whine. All you have to know is that WSCR's Mike Murphy, who would nitpick if the Cubs were a strike away from victory in Game 7 of the Series, declared his contentment the other day.

Hell, how often have I complained about them? Or, better, Lou Piniella? Even when Carlos Zambrano was experiencing a mental wig-out the other night in San Diego, Piniella sounded more like a Maharishi than the tantrum-thrower in the Aquafina TV ad. "I told him expending all that energy fighting himself out there (is dumb). Relax, concentrate on the hitters and get people out," he said. "Why fight himself? It's not doing any good, and it's letting the other team know he's frustrated. It's defeating the purpose all the way around. It's hard enough to be at your best when you're under control."

If that's the only reason to mope -- the emotional comportment of an ace pitcher who might win the Cy Young Award -- then it must be a lovely season. It was Piniella who coined the perfect in-house phrase, "a Cubbie occurrence," but where are the Cubbie occurrences? Alfonso Soriano no longer qualifies. Neither does Kerry Wood, who is settling into his closer role and riding a fairy tale that ends with a strikeout to finish the Series. Jim Edmonds? I knew the fans would accept him and stop mocking him if he produced big hits and catches. Kosuke Fukudome has replaced Harry Caray as the leading Wrigleyville icon, right down to the insensitive t-shirts still peddled by sickos. If he remains erratic enough on the road to lose Rookie of the Year honors, Geovany Soto will catch the trophy.

A panic-free Cubs team. Who knew the concept was humanly possible?

"I don't think we're through," Soriano said. "We're playing baseball the way we're supposed to. We have a very good lineup, good starting pitching and a good bullpen. We'll see where we are after the (road trip), but what I see now makes me very happy. There's a very good feeling on this team right now. It's exciting for the fans and us, too."

That's some rally cry for a guy who has been booed by the fans and ripped here. Remember his class the next time you want to taunt him in left field.

OK, I'll identify one potential bugaboo: the rotation. Ted Lilly comes and goes, much as he did before the $40 million contract. Rich Hill is gone, long gone. Can Ryan Dempster maintain his first-half excellence? is Sean Gallagher a springtime wonder who will fade? Clearly, general manager Jim Hendry should be shopping for a quality starter to place between Zambrano and Dempster. But who am I to think Hendry won't get it done? Hasn't he done about everything right so far?

The ultimate prize would be C.C. Sabathia, who is Zambrano's equal in girth and talent. Could you imagine those two arms in October? For a trade to possibly go down, the Cleveland Indians have to fall out of the American League Central race, which won't happen as long as the White Sox have old men and stragglers in the middle of the order and Ozzie Guillen keeps getting the red Oz. Hendry has plenty of young talent to offer next month, including Gallagher and Sean Marshall. If Sabathia isn't available, the likes of Daniel Cabrera, Joe Blanton, Rich Harden, Jeremy Bonderman and Jarrod Washburn might be.

Greg Maddux, too, though this is no time for nostalgia.

Some dreamers are going so far to suggest an all-Chicago Series. Please don't go there. That would be in foolish defiance of conventional wisdom, which says any city that has won only one World Series in its last 189 collective seasons can't expect the unthinkable 4 1/2 months in advance. Yes, this is the first time since 1977 that the Cubs and Sox have been in first place as June begins. Yet when you consider the subsequent stumbles of those teams -- the Cubs finished .500, the Sox finished 12 games out -- you realize why caution always is advised when the roller coaster starts to make heady climbs through both sides of town.

Clearly, the Cubs are the better club with the better shot. Their legitimacy never seemed more real than last Friday, when they staged an all-time rally inspired in no way by Bobby Hull, now second on the revised list of worst-ever Wrigley singers (Ozzy Osbourne still leads, followed by Hull, Mike Ditka, Tony Romo and Jeff Gordon). Is it me, or did the most-crisis-ridden team in American sports rid itself of all paranoia that day? "It's been fun for us, and I'm sure it's been a blast for the fans," said Dempster, who proclaimed, "We are going to win the World Series" in February -- and has backed it up with a 7-2 start.

Read the rest of the article:

http://www.suntimes.com/sports/986090,m ... 08.article


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