I would really like the Cubs to keep a close eye on the Bulls and Blackhawks as they both continue on in their respective playoff series.
Neither team is considered a serious contender for the championship in their respective league. The Bulls weren't even favored to get out of the first round against the Celtics.
Nevertheless, both teams have been quite impressive in their opening round series.
The Bulls have given the Celtics all they can handle, and the Celtics have to feel a bit relieved to be tied 1-1 in the series, instead of down 0-2 and heading to Chicago. Granted, the Celtics are without Kevin Garnett, but this is a very talented team that has an improved Rajon Rondo who is worlds ahead of where he was last year, plus they are the defending champions.
If you watched the Celtics during the games, you can tell they are shocked that the Bulls are giving them such fits. They have been awed by Derrick Rose in Game 1, and by Ben Gordon in Game 2. They have work ahead of them to steal a game back when they come to the United Center.
The Blackhawks are still a very young team, but they have fought back from deficits to win the first two games against a much more physical opponent. Their two stars Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews were pre-teens the last time the Blackhawks were in the playoffs, and the rest of the roster is a bit thin in playoff experience.
But there they were skating circles around a slower Calgary team that can't keep up if they can't slam someone into the boards. Calgary took a game last night on their home ice with Patrick Kane sitting out, combined with some good old-fashioned, survival instinct desperation on their parts.
We'll see how these series finish (personally, I think the Hawks will win theirs and the Bulls will lose), but I couldn't be prouder of the two teams for showing up and making their opponents earn the victories against them. Neither the Bulls nor the Blackhawks have given anything away so far.
Which brings us to the Cubs...
If the Cubs had lost their last nine playoff games despite bringing their "A" game, I could live with it. If I had simply seen an opposing team(s) outplay the Cubs, despite their best efforts, I would be crushed, but I would be able to have a ray of optimism that the next time would be better.
Instead, we watch pitchers walk batters left and right, fielders messing up routine defensive plays, batters swinging for the fences for the big homerun instead of working the count and just hitting the ball hard somewhere, constantly leaving men on base, etc., etc. They have handed the games away - pure and simple.
There was talk last year about how the atmosphere at the ballpark was different for the playoffs. It was a more corporate crowd. Well, welcome to the side effects of every player out on the field being a multi-millionaire, and as a result, having playoff seat prices jacked up into the stratosphere. But I was at Game 1 last year and the only difference I felt was due to there being nothing to cheer about.
DeRosa hit the two-run homer to put the Cubs up (which was the last good thing to happen for the Cubs in the series) and the place was as loud as one could expect in the SECOND INNING OF GAME ONE. I'm not sure how many boisterous crowds would remain ever faithful and enthusiatic after watching the horrow show that unfolded before them in the innings that followed.
The simple fact of the matter is that whatever team that was on the field wearing the Cubs uniforms, they were NOT the same people who I had watched all season long. For some reason, despite not having won anything of any significance for 100 years, the Cubs went into the series with some sort of sense that they were destined to win it. When it went sour, they were incapable of imposing their will on the series to turn it back.
They need to figure that out. I know Lou read some books over the off-season. If Milton Bradley is still in one piece come playoff time, his presence in the lineup should help on a couple of levels. Hopefully, Lou and Jim will have a cohesive competent bullpen by then. That should all help.
But seriously, guys, watch the Blackhawks and the Bulls. They'll show you how to approach a playoff series.