Any questions before we start? WHY, yes, as a matter of fact. For instance: Will the Chicago Cubs win the World Series? Will the Philadelphia Phillies win the World Series of Poker? How long before Ozzie Smith is discarded? Can the New York Mets make hay without Straw? Can Barry (Zero Interest) Bonds find happiness and motivation in Pittsburgh?
What is the meaning of life? Or at the very least, what is the meaning of that baseball conundrum USA Today ran in February? "As he does every year," the paper noted, "Ryne Sandberg showed up five days earlier than expected." If Sandberg reports five days early every year, wouldn't the Cubs expect it? Just wondering.
And now, for a few answers.
1. CHICAGO CUBS
Ever since Chicago dropped $30 million to acquire free agents George Bell, Danny Jackson and Dave Smith during the off-season, manager Don Zimmer has looked like the gerbil that swallowed the canary. "This team, if it stays healthy, should win the division," says Zimmer. Then he fails to suppress a large grin.
"The first time someone mentioned the possibility of signing George Bell, I chuckled," says Zimmer. "Jackson, Smith and Bell? I didn't think that was possible. We're pretty excited about our lineup. And, hey, it didn't cost me a dime."
Bell alone will cost the Cubs $12.6 million over the next four years, but he, Sandberg and Andre Dawson could give the club its most prolific trio since guys named Hack, Gabby and Kiki combined for 106 home runs and an absurd 446 RBIs in 1930. Dawson, Bell and Sandberg each have had a 40-dinger, 100-RBI season.
Those sticks, plus a starting pitching staff filled with enough disabled veterans to people a VFW hall, will keep the over-under line for runs in games at Wrigley at around 30. True, righthander Greg Maddux has won more games (52) over the last three seasons than any other National League pitcher. But lefthander Jackson was given a four-year, $10.5 million contract because he won 23 games for Cincinnati three seasons ago, not because he has won only 12—and appeared five times on the disabled list—since.
If the rest of Chicago's starters—Mike Bielecki, Shawn Boskie, Mike Harkey and Rick Sutcliffe—can nurse a lead until Smith, the closer, appears, the Cubs will repeatedly realize Zimmer's vision for this season. He has told Bell, a laughably immobile leftfielder, that he sees him time and again hitting the go-ahead homer in the eighth inning, and then sitting next to his manager while a defensive replacement helps salt away the win in the ninth. The occasionally difficult Bell, who was furious when asked to DH in Toronto, has yet to balk at this notion. Says Dawson, "He's been very cordial so far."
2. PITTSBURGH PIRATES