For the last three seasons, the Cubs have built around the 1-2 punch of Mark Prior and Kerry Wood. Now that Prior and Wood are once again on the disabled list as Opening Day draws near, perhaps it’s time to go to Plan B. It’s not easy to fault the front office for hitching the Cubs’ wagon to these guys. Everyone remembers 2003. And everyone remembers how well Prior and Wood pitched down the stretch. But it’s been over two and a half years since the miracle 2003 season grinded to a halt, and neither of these guys are going to be ready to take the mound when the 2006 season begins.
It has become an all-too-familiar trend. First Kerry Wood gets shut down, then Mark Prior follows shortly after. And now that this has happened three times, it’s really starting to get old. Perhaps it’s time to give up on these two talented but flawed right arms and start over. With Zambrano at the front of the rotation, a solid #2 starter would go a long way in shoring up the Cubs’ depleted pitching staff. Matt Clement’s name has come up in trade rumors. So has David Wells’ and Barry Zito’s. It’s time to make one of these trades happen. And I don’t want to hear anything about how Angel Guzman, Felix Pie, Bobby Brownlie, or any of the other "can’t miss" Cubs’ prospects are "untouchable." Corey Patterson was untouchable once. So was Hee Seop Choi. So was Bobby Hill. Remember how well all of them turned out? Me too.
I love watching Mark Prior and Kerry Wood pitch. Whenever they take the mound, you get the feeling you may see something special. At the very least, you’re likely to see a Cubs victory. But these guys will probably never be back in the rotation at the same time. Last year it happened for about two weeks, before Kerry Wood let lose an 86 MPH "fastball" that Ken Griffey, Jr. hit into the stratosphere. Kerry left that game and didn’t return as a starter.
I’m sure everyone is aware of "fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me." Well, this is the third year in a row that the Cubs’ front office is relying heavily on the health of two great but fragile pitchers that will most likely never reach their potential. If February 2007 rolls around and the success of the team once again depends on Wood and Prior, I will be very disappointed.
FYI, I think Glendon Rusch and Jerome Williams are having a contest to see which one can turn in the worst outing of the spring. It’s neck and neck right now. Rusch threw down the gauntlet yesterday by giving up a ton of hits, a monster home run, and a screaming line drive that whacked him in the shin. Not not to be outdone, Williams answered with an equally poor outing today against the Athletics. He gave up four hits, walked four, and allowed four runs over four innings. His ERA right now is 9.00. I know Spring stats can be deceiving, but his ERA is fairly indicative of how he’s pitched thus far. Rusch’s is 9.82. Rich Hill, a candidate for the fifth spot in the rotation, has an ERA of 13.50.
And here’s some more Spring Training news from today’s Cubs.com "Notes" article: "Reliver Roberto Novoa has been diagnosed with ‘Valley Fever,’ a respiratory infection. ‘It’s not contagious,’ Baker said, ‘but it takes a long time to get over.’" Naturally. Good thing Mark Prior doesn’t have this. He’d be out for the year.
And finally, some good news. Carlos Zambrano looks unbelievable so far. He struck out seven Rangers in five innings today. I wish WGN would televise every one of Zambrano’s starts. He’s the best.