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Realignment could be the solution to all the Cubs’ problems

Cubs batter StarlCastro bounces out second base 4th inning game two Crosstown Classic between host Chicago White Sox Chicago Cubs

Cubs batter Starlin Castro bounces out to second base in the 4th inning of game two of the Crosstown Classic between the host Chicago White Sox and the Chicago Cubs Tuesday June 21, 2011 at US Cellular Field. | Tom Cruze~Sun-Times

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Updated: July 22, 2011 2:50AM



On this day, the longest of the year, the reflective summer solstice complete with a crackling thunderstorm, there was extra time to look at the Cubs.

And there was extra time during the crosstown series to ponder what White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen said of the Cubs’ lineup: ‘‘I think they have a chance to win the division. Look at the lineup. I don’t follow them, but look at that lineup.’’

Let’s.

Center fielder Reed Johnson leading off.

Journeyman-in-the-making DH Jeff Baker batting third.

Five-homer Aramis Ramirez at cleanup.

Fifteen-RBI catcher Geovany Soto batting fifth.

Fading Alfonso Soriano batting sixth.

Uncertain Carlos Pena batting seventh.

Right fielder Lou ‘‘Who?’’ Montanez — last home run, 25 months ago — batting eighth.

And in the ninth position, in this American League-rules game, we have second baseman and recent Class AA minor-league call-up D.J. (available for weddings and bar mitzvahs) LeMahieu.

So is Ozzie just playing coy, blowing bubbles, or is he nuts? Or, bless his sneaky soul, just being Ozzie?

Yes, the Cubs have the amazing Starlin Castro at shortstop and outfielder Marlon Byrd and his busted facial bones ready to come back someday. But win the division?

They’d only have to move ahead of Milwaukee, St. Louis, Cincinnati and Pittsburgh to do it. This is a team — the only team — that hasn’t won three games in a row this season.

Right now the Cubs’ battle cry is, ‘‘Thank God for Houston!’’

Saving the Cubs

Told of Guillen’s praise, Cubs manager Mike Quade said, ‘‘I feel that way. I hope Ozzie’s a really good handicapper.’’

Of course, any manager is going to say his daily lineup is good (unless he manages the Kansas City Royals, the major leagues’ only Triple-A team).

And Quade wobbled a little, adding, ‘‘I think there’s a lot more, a lot of things we’ve got to get straightened out. Our pitching hasn’t been nearly what I thought it would be.’’

Yes, pitching is kind of important.

The Cubs are 12 games under .500, with the highest payroll in the National League. They have a lot of no-trade messes on their hands. They have a ballpark that was modern in the 1930s. They have stasis, ennui and vertigo.

If there was an award they deserve more than any club, ever, it would be Treading Water, Lifetime.

So here’s what could save the Cubs, possibly the only thing that can save them, and I mean this seriously: realignment.

Interestingly, there have been serious talks by Major League Baseball and the players union to restructure the majors into two 15-team leagues, with one team leaving the 16-team National League and going to the 14-team AL.

That team, most likely, would be the Astros, who could simply zip into the four-team AL West. After all, Houston has more in common with the Texas Rangers than it does the Pirates.

That the Astros don’t want to be in the AL is too bad. Shove ’em in, Bud, screaming and kicking, for the sake of the Cubs.

How would this help?

Starlin’s a star

Along with the Cubs no longer being in the only six-team division in baseball, the NL Central, they also might just be in a loosey-goosey 15-team free-for-all.

The playoff details haven’t come close to being worked out if there’s realignment, but whatever comes up couldn’t be worse than it is now for the Cubs, who have ‘‘St. Louis’’ tattooed on their foreheads and ‘‘100+’’ on their rears.

There could be more interleague play, more odd rivalries, more wild-card teams, more . . . chances!

Which, dear God, is what the Cubs need.

Chances.

Before the storm hit, it was splendid to sit here at the Cell and watch Starlin Castro make his effortless work afield. Smooth and sudden, he is the definition of phenom.

‘‘That kid shortstop is amazing. Amazing player,’’ Guillen said of the young Cub. About this, he was sincere.

And Castro could help in the future.

But, for now, the Cubs need something like a Roto-Rooter for their entire history.

The optimistic Johnson said Monday, ‘‘I still think we have time to put a run together.’’

They don’t, not this year.

But what a great thing realignment would be for them.

It wouldn’t be just a breath of fresh air. It would be pure oxygen.



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