The Cupcakes are the Problem
The cubs are coming off of a 97-win season, where the team went to the Playoffs in consecutive years for the first time since man took flight in an airplane. Changes have been made in this offseason to the players that will be on the field, and most hope to have a new ownership group in place by Opening Day. The 2009 Cubs' team looks to bring a more balanced attack offensivley, with an extremely nasty pitching staff, and a restructured bullpen to close out games.
However, I see one problem outside of the team's control that could have a significant impact on the way this season plays out: And that is playing in the CUPCAKE NL CENTRAL
In 2009 the Cubs will play close to 50% of their scheduled games (80) against their feeble counterparts in the NL Central. Its hard for me to view playing half of the season against second-rate opponents as a good precursor to the Playoffs. I think that playing so many games against a lower-level of competition puts the Cubs at a distinct disadvantage when October rolls around. Simply by being in the division they are in, the Cubs will not see the type of competition throughout the regular season that gets a team primed for the Postseason. I for one, believe that the Yankees/Red Sox/Rays are all better teams because of the intense competition throughout the season between the teams within the division. Look no further than last season, where the Cubs and Angels were each the best teams in their respective leagues throughout the regular season. But both had few meaningful games down the stretch and each team looked unprepared and exited the Postseason quickly. Consistently playing the best competition in the game is what makes a team get better. The Cubs are currently in a situation where they get to bully teams for the better part of the season, while at the same time being shielded from some of the better competition in the other divisions. Then the Playoffs roll around and the team has to suddenly "turn it on" because meaningful games are being played, but no one on the team is in a rhythym because none of the games the last 2 weeks meant anything anyway. Just look at the pitchers that are in the NL Central, where very few aces exist and most of what is there isn't going to get a team ready to face a Cole Hamels or Johan Santana in the Playoffs.
The cubs face one of the most difficult challenges a team can face; which is improving without having much quality competition to consistently challenge them.