Believe It Or Not, These Are Your First Place Cubs

After a tumultuous first half, the Cubs reassume the Central Division mantle

Think of the turmoil. The Milton Bradley escapades. The weirdly consistent string of stories, not quite day-after-day but almost, about Lou Piniella's lost fire. ("Where'd the fire go?" "Lou, how do you respond to those who say you've lost your fire?" Ad infinitum.) The injuries -- oh, the injuries, one seemingly more crucial than the next, plaguing the first two months -- plus of what has been altogether a very boring, mediocre, and disappointing season. For a team picked to win the NL Central for the third time -- this time going away -- the Cubs have been a major letdown.

And now they're in first place.

How does this work? Let's take it from the top: The NL Central in 2009 is a bad division. Don't get us wrong; it's been bad for a while. But it's especially bad in 2009. None of the teams can distinguish themselves, or even push very hard to separate from the pack. Albert Pujols is having a once-in-a-generation season for the Cardinals, and they can barely score enough runs to stay above .500. The Brewers have some of the best young talent in the league and are hardly afloat. The Reds are the Reds; they should be better than they are, but never seem to figure it out. And the Pirates are historically, comically bad.

Put it all together and you get a very forgiving environment for a team that's barely capable itself. Cubs fans who thrived during the team's 2008 run, when the Cubs rattled off win after win at Wrigley Field, when they played in sync and battled injuries and were just generally a very fun team to watch, have to be wincing this year. The 2009 Cubs are aggressively mediocre. Or they're playing that way. Whatever the case, it hasn't been an entertaining or fun season by any stretch. And yet, like we said, first place.

It's either a testament to this team's natural talent -- and to Piniella's managerial acumen, if you want to go there -- or to just how bad this division is. Either way, to be sitting at first place on July 27? Cubs fans should count their blessings.

Eamonn Brennan is a Chicago-based writer, editor and blogger. You can also read him at Yahoo! Sports, Mouthpiece Sports Blog, and Inside The Hall, or at his personal site, Follow him on Twitter.

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