Four Weeks “Prior,” Cubs Were Over .500

For those who read my blog (yes, all eight of you), I want you to know why you haven’t seen any new entries the past couple weeks.  It’s quite simple really.  I’ve been on strike.  I made a promise to myself awhile back that I wouldn’t write another entry until Mark Prior took the mound at Wrigley Field.

You may be saying thinking, "But isn’t Mark Prior still rehabbing from his ‘shoulder strain’, cloaked in mystery and firing 86 mph heaters in relative obscurity?"  Technically yes.  But unless I want to wait until 2007 to write again, Prior’s start in Peoriais as good as it’s going to get for awhile.  He threw real pitches from a real mound with a real baseball in the state of Illinois against professional, albeit minor-league, baseball players.  And even though he had a Glendon Rusch-like pitching line, at least Cubs fans finally have concrete evidence that he’s still alive.  Good to know his right arm isn’t going to show up at next year’s Wrigley Garage Sale.

So now that I’m back in business, what did I miss? 

Well, I missed five (count them, 1-2-3-4-5) big May wins.  Five out of 21 ain’t bad.  Wait, yes it is.  It’s very, very bad.  But at least we’re less than 13.5 games out of first place, right?  Right?  WHAT? 

Kerry Wood looks like he’s rounding into form, destined for the disabled list after showing his amazing potential against the Reds yesterday.  If Kerry follows his normal schedule, he’ll make one or two more above-average starts and then leave the next one early with “crankiness.”  And that will be the last we see of Kerry in 2006. 

The White Sox took two of three in the “Windy City Classic” or “Crosstown Series” or whatever it’s called these days.  But the Cubs managed to take the last game of the series, one day after Michael Barrett inexplicably punched AJ Pierzynski in the face following a home plate collision.  There was no reason for Barrett to throw the punch, because it was a clean play at the plate.  But I fully support his decision to do so.  He threw that punch for Cubs Nation.  He threw that punch for all of us that have had to watch the losses pile up day after day (after day).  Plus, if anyone in major league baseball deserves to get punched in the face, it’s AJ Pierzynski.

The Cubs got swept by the Marlins.  No really, they did.  Can you believe it?  Yeah, me neither.

Neifi Perez and Aramis Ramirez did all they could to ensure an Atlanta sweep over Memorial Day weekend.  The capper was Dusty Baker telling us what we’d kind of figured out by this point ”That was just terrible. I don’t know what’s going on now.”  (He said this after watching Neifi drop a throw from Jacque Jones and subsequently air mail Michael Barrett on the relay, letting two runs score on a sacrifice fly.)  Dusty must have been even more bewildered after the Cubs lost the next game when Aramis Ramirez tried to catch an 11th inning pop-up with his forehead.  Predictably, the runner scored later in the inning, and the Cubs lost…again. 

And who could forget Neifi putting down that spectacular sac bunt with two outs in the bottom of the ninth and the tying run at first base against the Nationals?  Can you believe that didn’t work?  Neither can Neifi.  Instead of apologizing and making up some excuse (like "I had a minor stroke that lasted exactly two pitches and made me think bunting in that situation was an AWESOME idea"), he claimed in the post-game press conference that he’d do it all over again.  Guess what Niefi?  We’d lose by two runs all over again too. 

Yep, it’s sure been an awesome month.  Glad the Cubs were able to tread water without Derrek Lee.

But I truly believe the worst is over.  Now, there’s no reason for me to think this.  I just do.  Kerry’s back (for now), Greg Maddux and Carlos Zambrano are throwing well.  Sean Marshall makes more good starts than bad.  And Mark Prior may just grace us with his presence some time in June.  Derrek Lee gets his cast off any day now, and Aramis Ramirez has finally stopped hitting pop-up after pop-up to the second baseman. 

Unfortunately, unless the Cubs go on a prolific winning streak, it doesn’t matter anymore.  This season, for all intents and purposes, ended when D Lee broke his wrist.  I’ll still watch the games, but I know deep down that it’s over.  Regardless, the next four months should be much more enjoyable than “Gray May,” as Dusty called it yesterday.

Go Cubs!

(p.s.  As I typed this, Corey Patterson hit his second home run of the evening.  He also stole his 18th base.  Somewhere Jim Hendry is curled up in the fetal position, weeping.)

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Bad Times

It’s not a whole lot of fun to be a Cubs fan right now. 

Last night the Cubs managed one run against Tony Batista.  Read that again.  And if that’s not bad enough, they just split a series with the Pirates…at home…and they lost the second game 8-0.  To the Pirates. 

Derrek Lee’s hurt, more than half of the rotation is made up of minor leaguers, and either Neifi Perez or John Mabry are now starting every game. 

Just when I thought it couldn’t get worse, I read this in today’s Sun-Times:

"Pitching coach Larry Rothschild said Prior is battling food poisoning that he picked up here in Arizona. Rothschild added that Prior will resume his throwing program once he is able, but no one can be certain right now when that might be and how long it will take him to feel at full strength again."

Food poisoning?  If a cold can put Prior out for four months, how much time will he miss now?  And does anybody care anymore?  Remember when we had "Prior Watch"?  We genuinely cared about him getting better and couldn’t wait to see him return to the rotation.  That seems like a long, long time ago.  Good luck with your food poisoning, Mark.  That’s an illness from which most 25-year-old "athletes" never fully recover.

Je suis désolé

Jacque Jones had this to say after his game winning three-run home run against the Marlins Monday night:

"I’m angry right know, you know what I mean?  It’s almost funny.  I’m not confused at all.  I’ve seen friends go through it.  Sammy Sosa hit 60 home runs three years in a row, went into a little slump, and . . . hey, like I said earlier, they have a right to voice whatever opinion they want to voice.  But it’s not going to make me play any better.  It’s not going to make me play any worse.  I’m just going to play the game the way I know how."

I can only take Jacque’s comments to mean that he visits this blog regularly.  He must be one of the five people that does so.  And so I’d like to take this opportunity to apologize to Jacque and his fragile ego. 

Jacque, I’m sorry.  I’m sorry you can’t get on base at least once a game.  I’m sorry you swing so hard you almost fall down.  I’m sorry you only have 6 hits so far this season.  I’m sorry Chicago Cubs fans don’t have the same level of passion and intensity as those baseball junkies in Minnesota.  I’m sorry you have a three year contract.  I’m sorry you will never hit for a decent average.  But most of all, I’m sorry that booing you is not going to make you play better.  However, because you said it’s not going to make you play worse, I think Cubs fans can now continue to boo you with a clear conscience.  Keep swinging for the fences, Jacque.

Last night Carlos Zambrano got so mad after striking out, he broke his bat over his knee.  And that got me thinking . . .

If Mark Prior had half the heart and determination as Carlos Zambrano, he’d be making his fourth start for the Cubs tonight instead of throwing batting practice in Arizona.  After almost three years of hearing Larry Rothschild, Dusty Baker, and Jim Hendry cover for Mark Prior, Cubs fans are starting to figure it out.  Mark Prior can’t get on the mound.  Not because his body won’t allow it.  He can’t get on the mound because his mind and his will won’t allow it.  And apparently his pride doesn’t see fit to intercede.  All that potential, all that ability, and none of Carlos Zambrano’s and Greg Maddux’s drive to excel. 

The Mark Prior situation makes you appreciate Greg Maddux and Carlos Zambrano even more.  Maddux will take the ball every four or five days, like he has for almost two decades.  And Carlos Zambrano will do everything in his power to win.  Meanwhile Mark Prior bides his time in Arizona, rehabbing from an injury that he may or may not have actually suffered.   

Looking Forward to Spring Training 2007

Well, here we are again Cubs fans.  You know the drill by now.  A key player gets hurt, Mark O’ Neal says something in the post-game press conference that gives us false hope, and then the ESPN Bottom Line confirms what we’d feared all along.  Last year it happened to Todd Walker (knee), Nomar (groin), Mark Prior (elbow), and Aramis Ramirez (hamstring).  That’s not including the oft-injured Kerry Wood (shoulder/elbow/arm/back).

And last night it happened with Derrek Lee, the best position player the Cubs have had since Dawson and Sandberg.  After the game, we were told Derrek Lee had a "sprain" and that x-rays were "inconclusive."  Naively, I figured Lee would miss a week or so.  I fell for it again.  A lot of us did.  And ESPN’s Bottom Line set us straight for about the 10th time in two years.  Lee has two broken bones in his wrist.  Apparently they didn’t x-ray him yesterday night with an x-ray machine,  or they probably would have seen that. 

There were tons of indications that Lee’s injury was more than just a sprain.  The post-game locker room scene was described in a few articles as "somber."  Dusty mentioned that he would be praying for Derrek.  You don’t pray for strains.  This morning Buster Olney on his ESPN.com blog wrote that inconclusive x-rays are a bad omen.  He’s right about 98% of the time when it comes to anything baseball related.  Tim Kurkjan stopped in on Mike and Mike in the Morning to discuss Lee’s injury and it’s impact to the Cubs.  Turns out Lee’s injury impacts the Cubs negatively.  And finally, Cubs.com didn’t post any positive news all day.  If Derrek Lee really had a sprain, the Cubs front office would have rushed that news to the media and the fans. 

But despite all the signs, I refused to believe that Derrek Lee has a broken wrist.  Yet, he we are again.  Same place, different year.  A Cubs player falls to the ground holding a body part, and we hold our collective breath. 

Lee’s injury cripples the Cubs.  With suspect pitching, this team can’t produce enough offense to keep pace in the NL Central.  The Brewers are better, the Astros have started hot, the Cardinals will do well again, and the Reds own us.  We’ve gone from legitimate playoff contender to slightly better than Pittsburgh. 

At least we still have a healthy Freddie Bynum.

See you guys next year.   

Ladies and Gentlemen, Your Chicago Cubs

Tonight I saw something I’ve never seen before.  And that’s really what being a Cubs fan is all about.

All-world first baseman Derrek Lee and the Cubs’ best lefty reliever, Scott Eyre, were both injured on the same play.  And it wasn’t like they ran into each other. They both hurt themselves in their own unique way.

Rafael Furcal pushed a ball up the first base line.  Eyre attempted to glove it and flip it to Lee all in one motion.  Unfortunately that motion also included 1) leading Derrek Lee into the runner, 2) throwing the ball 5 feet over Lee’s head, and 3) landing awkwardly on his right knee.  Furcal and Lee collided, and Lee grabbed his right wrist in pain.  You know, like Mark Prior grabbed his elbow and Nomar grabbed his nether region last year.

Derrek Lee appeared as if he was going to stay in the game, but trainer Mark O’ Neil ran out onto the field to remind Derrek that he is, in fact, a Cub.  So Derrek walked to the dugout with a dejected look on his face, holding his wrist.  Maybe it’s bruised, maybe it’s broken.  Who knows?  One thing’s for sure, there’s definitely "no time table for his return."

While this was going on, Scott Eyre was stretching out his right leg.  He hurt it trying to recreate the Jeter to Posada in the 2001 ALDS underhanded flip play.  The one big difference, Derek Jeter isn’t an overweight lefthanded pitcher.  Eyre tried to throw some practice pitches, but he too left the game.  Lord knows when he’ll be back.

Good times.

By the way, why did Michael Wuertz’s jersey say "Aardsma" tonight? 

Edited at 1:30 (gotta love the west coast games). . .

Okay, so we won.  And it was a great come from behind victory.  And even though Ronnie Cedeno most likely concussed someone in the 8th row, he did come up with the big hit and a huge diving catch to end the game.  If I were Ron Santo, I’d give him the Chevrolet Player of the Game. 

They’re calling Lee’s injury a "sprain."  Naturally the xrays are inconclusive.  I don’t think the Cubs really have an xray machine.  They just shake the Magic 8 Ball when someone gets hurt.  Regardless, it sounds like Lee’s injury isn’t too severe. 

Scott Eyre was diagnosed with "having uncool facial hair."  He’ll be back soon too.

Youth Movement

You won’t see tonight’s game on ESPN Classic.  But the Cubs won, and that’s all that matters.

Sean Marshall pitched well, for the second straight game.  For a guy making his first two major league starts, he’s performed better than anyone could have hoped.  Matt Murton had a couple of extra base hits, including a bases-clearing triple.  Ronny Cedeno made a couple of great defensive plays.  The young guys are getting it done.  Now if the fatter, older guys would just fall in line (like you, Glendon Rusch). 

On the injury front, Kerry Wood will pretend like he’s actually a member of the team when he and simulated game guru Larry Rothschild get together in Mesa on Saturday.

According to Cubs.com, "Kerry Wood, coming back from arthroscopic shoulder surgery, will face hitters on Saturday in Mesa, in what will amount to a three-inning simulated game. Wood is slated to throw 15 pitches each "inning." Rothschild said the session will be more than just batting practice because they will have pretend counts and keep track of outs."

Well super.  Uh Kerry?  IT’S APRIL 14TH!  But have fun pretending. 

This just in.  The Cardinals lost a 1-0 game to the Reds.  This is funny for 3 reasons:

  1. It’s the Reds.  You have to be able to score at least one run against the Reds.  Here’s the pitchers that combined for the shutout:  Aaron Harang, Kent "Don’t You Dare Say Good Things About Roy Oswalt on WGN Television" Mercker, Todd Coffey, and David Weathers. 
  2. Jim Edmonds struck out with the bases loaded in the 8th. 
  3. Okay, there’s only two reasons.  But seriously, it’s the Reds.  When the Cubs lost two of three to the Reds, it was embarrassing.  But at least they didn’t get shut out by those four guys. 

Go Cubs.