CHANGE GIVES CUBS THE EDGE
The Chicago Cubs have an under-the-radar chance of being competitively mediocre.
That's not something that will wind up on the cover of Vine Line, but the doom and gloom that has surrounded the club since the first pitch of the 2008 postseason might be overshadowing the Cubs' prospects.
I'm all for optimism and think, in a slightly weakened division, the Cubs could provide their fans the fašade of being competent. That is to say they could flirt with being a .500 team or even, dare I say, finish with 81 wins.
Back in January, when I asked team president Theo Epstein if the Cubs would compete in 2012 rather than build for the future, he gave a Theo-like answer that included this sentence: "If we stay healthy and one or two or three or four of the players we have actually take a big developmental step forward, I think you might look up and be surprised in the middle of the summer."
Some of those players, such as newly acquired pitcher Travis Wood, have already taken a step back, but there are plenty with ample chances to better their recent performances. Fans should worry this team won't have much power, but if the defense and situational hitting improves -- and the pitching doesn't stink -- the Cubs could put together an even-keeled season.
The White Sox should be better with the old Adam Dunn seemingly back, but with such little change on the South Side, besides the manager, I foresee another summer of doldrums.
The Cubs, seemingly free of ennui, feel rejuvenated under Dale, Theo and Jed. Bunting contests! Tattoos! No more nicknames! It's all coming together.
The middle of the summer, like Epstein predicted, is where things will get interesting. Brett Jackson and Anthony Rizzo, if all goes well, should be up then, and that could bolster the lineup of fill-ins and veterans.
Jon Greenberg is a columnist for ESPNChicago.com.
RESURGENT PEAVY, DUNN PUT SOX AHEAD OF CUBS
Two things automatically work in favor of the White Sox having a better season than the Cubs: The Jake Peavy experiment has to begin to pay off and there's no way in hell Adam Dunn can play any worse than he did last season.
And then there's a third thing, less automatic, yet the one that stands the chance of having a greater impact on the White Sox this season than any performance of any player on their roster: The Voice of Ozzie gone. Not saying that Ozzie Guillén wasn't a great manager or good for the club, but after eight years and constantly having the 2005 World Series used as a barometer of what they failed to do again, they needed a reset. Change was overdue.
Ozzie's way of motivating the players had run its course, and now that he -- and his presence -- is a ghost (he'll probably win or have Miami in the World Series within the next three years) the Sox will play this season with a sense of freedom that hasn't been seen on the South Side since Dick Allen was smoking squares in the dugout.
Alexei Ramirez will return from injury to his 2008-2010 form, hitting over .280 and Alejandro De Aza should be the leadoff hitter and baserunner that (and no disrespect here) Juan Pierre didn't become when he was in a Sox uni.
So even with the Cardinals and the Brewers getting worse and the Tigers getting better, there's still a chance the Sox play better ball than the Cubs this season and contend for a spot in the new wild-card game in October. Also, there is no "World Series or bust" immediate pressure on the Sox to win the way there is with the Cubs.
The Sox aren't looking for and don't need a miracle. And they didn't hire a miracle worker (Theo Epstein) who is going to have a "LeBron-to-Miami" kind of pressure on his team to instantly win.
Scoop Jackson is a columnist for ESPN.com.