the best bad luck in baseball
Ok, so you have high expectations from your team at the start of the season. They have what should be lights out pitching, and a solid lineup even if the corner outfield positions have been turned over. You expect them to win, win often, and win the World Series.
Then, their veteran second baseman gets seriously hurt during a freak play. Their All Star caliber shortstop suffers from a groinsplosion and might miss the entire year. Their third baseman can't get a drink of water without spraining something. Their veteran ace pitcher suffers some bizarre shoulder injury that doctors are unfamiliar with. Their young ace has his elbow fractured off a freak line drive. Their OTHER young ace keeps leaving games early because he's apparently using the internet too much and it's hurting his pitching arm. Their manager decides for some strange reason to start a guy in left field who couldn't hit water if he fell out of a boat. He insists on using a proven failed closer rather than try a rookie.
In other words, waaaaaay too much has gone wrong. Too many freak injuries, too much bad pitching from the bullpen, too many blunders made on the bench by the manager.
And here the Cubs are, 4 games over .500, one of the hottest teams in baseball at the moment. How? How did this happen? Can someone explain?
Hell, I'll take a shot.
So, the Cubs lost their veteran second baseman for what, six weeks? It worked out. Jerry Hairston Jr. (who has apparently impressed nobody but me) batted a respectable .268 in the month of May, but also got on base at a .368 clip. Impressive, and essential for a leadoff guy. Too bad he's back on the bench.
The Cubs lost Nomar for potentially the rest of the season. It's ok, he was apparently just blocking the way for Neifi! Perez, a guy who is outhitting Sammy Sosa. The Neifi! is batting .318 with an OPS of .824, and is on pace for 27 doubles, 21 homers, 78 RBI, and 12 steals. (He's also on pace for only 18 walks, but hey, that never stopped Dusty from batting a guy leadoff, right Corey?)
Aramis Ramirez proved to have a fragile groin, ankle, back, you name it. Yet there he is, still playing, finally getting hot. After batting .241 in April, Aramis has raised his average to .271, and is now on pace for 33 homeruns and nearly 40 doubles. Chances are, those numbers will only get better.
Then we have Jason Dubois, delegated to the bench at the start of the season. Since then, he's played some solid baseball and stole the starting job in left field from Todd Hollandsworth. Dubois has cooled down a bit since he started playing every day, but he's still a damned sight better than Hollandsworth, and will probably keep getting better as time goes on.
And what about the pitching? Kerry Wood and Mark Prior are both on the DL, again. And like last year, the Cubs aren't sweating it. Glendon Rusch was forced back into the rotation. He's only gone 3-1 with a 1.82 ERA in 6 starts. The Cubs have also been forced to resort to youngsters Sergio Mitre and John Koronka, who aren't doing fantastic. However, the Cubs keep winning.
As far as the bullpen goes, LaTroy Hawkins was an early season disaster. So, Jim Hendry traded him for two pitchers who might help the Cubs this year and for years after, and Ryan Dempster became the closer. As a reliever, Dempster is 1-0 with 6 saves in 7 tries, with an ERA of 3.27. And he's only walked 2 in 11 innings.
There's still the problem with Dusty Baker being manage. I remain unimpressed. But at this point, we're stuck with him for at least the rest of the year. I certainly don't want to see Dusty fail, so he has my reluctant support. He's supposed to be a great player's manager, and I'm willing to say that he might have played a part in keeping the team positive and turning things around. So, I still want him gone, but I want him to win even more.
I can't forget to mention Jeromy Burnitz, who's playing with a gritty determination and a healthy attitude - something we haven't seen from right field in a few years. I'm glad Jeromy is a Cub and I'm glad he's working out.
Finally, I can't write an article without mentioning my man-love for Derrek Lee and Carlos Zambrano. Derrek is akin to a god. He's quickly becoming my favorite player, and I don't even feel guilty liking him, as was the case with Sammy Sosa, even in his glory days. (You just knew that Sammy was a royal dick, but he was a dick who hit 60+ homeruns, so that was ok.) He may become my favorite Cub since Andre Dawson, and since the Hawk is also my favorite player all time, that's actually saying something.
The Big Z, on the other hand, is quite clearly insane. Hence the reason I love him. He's fiery, and he desperately wants to win. He always wants the ball and is willing to pitch through pain. The Cubs couldn't win without Carlos.
So, all said, it's been a hectic year. It's not about to get any easier. The Cubs have an immensely tough schedule through the All Star break. But they could hang on. They've had terribly bad luck, but they've also had some good breaks. It's no guarantee that they'll make the playoffs, or finish over .500, but these guys have heart. That's something I never felt about last year's team.
Hopefully, it'll make all the difference.