In my last article, I wrote that Cubs fans need not be worried about the division title.  And even though I still believe that, a couple of developments have occurred since that article that may lead to the St. Louis Cardinals and Milwuakee Brewers having more staying power than I initially thought.

First it was reported that Cardinals longtime pitching anchor Adam Wainwright was coming back soon from a elbow problem.  This was a surprise to me, since I had heard he may be out until mid-season.  But Wainwright was in San Diego yesterday, making a start in the series finale against the Padres.  He didn’t get out of the 3rd inning though with inflammation in his troublesome elbow.  He is going back to the disabled list to get re-examined.  This is good and bad for the Cubs.

It is kind of remarkable that St.Louis is even over .500 and in the race with the Cubs.  Where do I start?  The Cardinals are more like the Walking Dead than a baseball team right now.  Their ace Wainwright was rushing back from injury because they have so many injuries in the bullpen already.  Then 10 days ago catcher Yadier Molina’s testicle exploded when an errant pitch bounced in the dirt and caught him just right, as his protective cup shattered on impact.  Molina is going to be out for a while, they say a month, I would think longer…wouldn’t you?

Molina’s replacement has one hit since then and team captains Matt Carpenter and Dexter Fowler are off to horrific starts batting .146 and .145 respectively.  Now you know Carpenter and Fowler will get their bats going soon and finish near career averages, at least that’s what the St Louis front office and myself believe.

What the Cardinals front office couldn’t count on, the career best starts from shortstop Paul Dejong, 2nd baseman Jedd Gyorko, outfielder Tommy Pham and 1st baseman Jose Martinez, means the Cardinals front office won’t waste an opportunity to challenge the Cubs.  If the Cardinals get enough offense from those 6 players to carry them and keep them near the top, I would bet that the Cardinals will be buyers at the trade deadline.  They will be looking for Wainwright’s future replacement and relief help, where St. Louis has been burning through pitchers and has sustained more injuries.  My guess is that St. Louis will target former Cub Chris Archer, the ace of the Tampa Bay Ray’s staff.  Even as a rent-a-player, acquiring Archer makes a lot of sense for the Cardinals and even the Brewers.

Archer, at 29, has never been heavily used by Tampa.  He is the kind of existing #1 or #2 pitcher that can put a team over the top in the playoff’s.  It is believed the Cubs inquired about him a year ago, but were turned off by the price, as they were for Justin Verlander, who won the world series for Houston.

The Brewers may have more assets for a trade than St Louis though.  Freddy Peralta, the 22 year old sensation of the Brewers farm system, made a spectacular pro debut this past weekend.  He struck out 13, going 5 and 2/3 innings and allowing just one hit.  The Dominican is the third rookie to join the starting rotation already this year.  And their triple-a team in Colorado Springs seems loaded with pitching talent.

After making a big investment acquiring right fielder Christian Yelich in a trade and signing Lorenzo Cain to a big free agent contract to play center field, I would think that this year the Brewers seem pretty serious about trying to challenge the Cubs.  Either the Brewers are close and make a trade for someone like Archer, or they wait for their homegrown talent to develop and a couple of their veterans to return from shoulder problems.

Will the Brewers and Cardinals gamble and chase the Cubs this year or do they stand pat and wait til next year.  It will be an entertaining summer for Cub fans as I would expect them to outlast their challengers, move or no move.

Speaking of gambling:

The Supreme Court has ruled in the State of New Jersey’s favor, saying the federal ban on state-sanctioned sports betting is unconstitutional.  This now allows other states besides Nevada to have sports gambling.

I am personally in favor of sports gambling.  It’s fun for me and I’m pretty good at it.  I have been able to gamble without the state telling me it’s o.k. to do so.  People that want to gamble are going to do it, one way or another.  For a lot of people it is a sickness because they have personalities that are prone to addiction.  I am not prone to addiction.  I like to think I’m smart about most things and am willing to put a few dollars behind my thinking.  Most times I lose, of course, but there are enough times that I have won, that it is a suitable and enjoyable entertainment for me.  I have never regretted what I have lost, and have only regretted not putting more at stake when I have won.  I’m cautious and conservative and hope that everyone is as careful and as frugal with their money as I am.

Time will tell if this is a good thing or not.  But it will be nice to walk up to a booth at a stadium or storefront on the street and put a couple of dollars down on a prop bet of who will score first, or how many points will be scored in the first half.  Or if your team is in tanking mode, put a couple bucks against your team and you’ll be happy if they win or lose.  You might win enough to pay for your ticket or your ride home.

If I do have any questions about how things will work, it would be the referees or game officials that are responsible for the games outcome.  How do they do it in England, where they have had legal sports betting for years?  Are the officials allowed to bet, and how much transparency is there?  I guess we’ll soon find out.  It’s too bad that it has come to this, that state’s need more and more revenue streams, because they can’t budget or act with financial restraint for all their citizens.  

Speaking of gambling, Bears fans…

The first post-draft rookie mini-camp took place this past weekend and there was the usual praise and patting on their own backs done by the Bears personnel department, and the suck up beat writers who try to make their own existence easier, by showering the Bears management, coaches, staff and players with affection.

Just like every coach that has come before him post Ditka, Matt Nagy laid out his vision for the Bears to be the usual; fast and athletic, tough and smart, aggressive like the Monsters of old, and to be innovative on offense.

From Wannstedt, to Lovie, to Trestman and now Nagy, they have all said the exact same thing.  The Bears coaches who didn’t say those things were Dick Jauron after Wannie, and Fox after Trestman.

Jauron and Fox were not about being innovative, they were conservative defensive coaches who believed the game was played by and won with men in the trenches.  Ditka and Buddy Ryan believed that same exact thing along with the architects of the 1985 Super Bowl team, Jim Finks and Jerry Vainisi.

To me the most noteworthy thing that Nagy said over the weekend was that he wants his team to be faster and smaller, if that’s what comes with the speed.

That is bad news Bears fans.  How do I know, because that is exactly what Wannie and Lovie wanted and had as well.  Going smaller to be faster is ultimately what failed both of those coaches.  And Wannie and Lovie coached at a time when the Bears had nearly equal talent to the rest of the division.  Nagy’s current Bears do not.  The Bears are decidedly behind Minnesota and behind Green Bay and Detroit.

Football is a game of power, it’s why they measure strength as well as speed at the combine.  For example, the best team the Bears have had in the last 30 years was Dick Jauron’s 2001 team.  With Ted Washington and Keith (tractor) Traylor in the middle of their defense that year, the Bears defense was ranked #1 in the league and only gave up 203 points for the year.  With Brian Urlacher and Mike Brown patrolling deep and plugging holes, the Bears were the #2 seed in the playoffs with Jim Miller, a career backup, at quarterback.  Washington got hurt the next season.  He and Traylor would be sent out of town by Lovie a year later and the Bears have never been as big or as physical since.

And Nagy is just like Wannie and Lovie in the other respect that he wants to have an innovative offense.  Remember Gary Crowton and Terry Shea?  They were Wannie and Lovie’s versions of Mark Helferich, Nagy’s guy, all of them innovators of offense.  The parralel’s are unbeleivable, and there is no reason to suspect the results will be much different.  Especially after Roquon Smith’s playbook was stolen.