On a recent Chicago talk show appearance, Cubs manager Lou Piniella confidently exclaimed "We're not here to finish second." But if you listen to his words, he was talking about winning the division, not going all the way.
Why is that significant?
Well, for one thing, it's been more than 100 years since we last won the World Series, as Cubs fans painfully know all too well. Look, simply winning the division, while nice, is no longer enough for many of us.
Therefore, it would appeal to many of us to have our manager be confident enough to consider the team worthy of such a proclamation.
While this team, as currently constituted, does not appear worthy of contender status, it is certainly more plausible to consider the Cubs as a division hopeful rather than a team good enough to compete for a championship.
So I understand that such a statement would take a leap of faith and some guts on the part of Piniella. Limiting your hopes to a division title is much safer.
Yes, the Cardinals appear to be the class of the division. But they have question marks, too, and the rest of the division is nothing to write home about, so it is certainly not beyond comprehension to consider the Cubs as NL Central winners in 2010.
I don't know about you, but I'm tired of "safe". Go for the jugular!
But more interestingly, this may be Lou's way of defusing the anxiety that comes with increased expectations. If it was intentional, then it shows that Lou has learned a thing or two from the 2008 experience.
That year, of course, the Cubs won 97 games and then flopped in the playoffs, crushed under the heavy weight of expectations.
Meanwhile, it seems we have our annual blame game being played by the Cubs. Not the "Billy Goat Curse", although that rears its ugly head from time to time.
No, I'm talking about coming to a conclusion about why the Cubs didn't win that season, and then overreacting to correct that perceived flaw.
After the 2007 season, on-base percentage became the watchword. While OBP is critical, and it helped the Cubs win a lot of games the next season, we were left with an overpaid, light-hitting outfielder (Kosuke Fukudome).
Following the 2008 season, Jim Hendry and his staff determined that we were too right-handed, so they went out to acquire every left-handed (or switch hitter) possible.
Whether that player simply wasn't a good fit (Milton Bradley) or was overrated (Aaron Miles) didn't matter, they were going to solve a problem that didn't really exist.
Now, this winter, the annual excuse is bad clubhouse chemistry.
While I'm not smart enough to know whether improved chemistry helps you succeed, I do know that I would rather build a ballclub based on statistically proven talent than to base my hopes on the premise that guys getting along translates to more wins.
It's kind of a "chicken or the egg" type of argument, really. Does winning breed good chemistry or does good chemistry lead to winning?
So, Lou can say whatever he wants and we, as fans, can believe anything we want. But it will all be decided on the field.
And when it's all over, I wonder what the excuse will be next time? Hey, there's always that damn goat...