Goatriders of the Apocalypse

Freak Injuries

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Game and Series Recap: Cubs 5, Rockies 11 (1-3) -- Moving on!

The Cubs did not look very good this weekend.

A lot of that had to do with injuries. Carlos Zambrano was unable to take the mound for his scheduled start; perhaps more detrimental was the fact that he was unable to inform the team of that fact until moments before the first pitch was scheduled.

Tom Gorzelanny was hit in the foot with a comebacker that ended his start prematurely. Actually, maybe that Caridad guy pitched better than Gorgonzola would have, but still, injuries suck.

Also, Aramis Ramirez' shoulder is acting up again. I've even seen rumors that he might be headed to the DL. That would really suck, although perhaps this time around we'd see more Jake Fox at 3B, and less Mike Fontenot.

Having said all that, I think the real head scratcher (that's a technical term) from this past series was Sunday's game.

On the one hand, the Cubs had to be disappointed by the untimeliness of Randy Wells' first failure as the team's most recently anointed stopper. After having allowed just one earned run in his last 15.1 innings pitched, Wells was decidedly less-than-shutdown against the Rox, allowing five runs in 5.1 innings pitched.

Then again, there's also the flat out astounding issue of the hit column in that game.

If I told you the Cubs outhit their opponent, 17 to 14, and lost, you may have been a bit surprised. But how do those numbers translate to an 11-5 rout?

Let's look specifically at some of the missed opportunities from that game.

  • 1st inning: men on 2nd and 3rd, 2 out, Kosuke K's.
  • 2nd inning: men on 1st and 3rd, 1 out, Wells grounds into a DP (instead of bunting...?).
  • 3rd inning: men on 2nd and 3rd, 1 out, Soriano flies out softly and Baker K's (after MB failed to score from 2nd on a Kosuke single).
  • 6th inning: man on 2nd, 1 out, Theriot and MB both strike out.
  • 7th inning: men on 1st and 2nd, no outs, K-flyout-flyout.

That's not even a comprehensive list of every time the Cubs had runners in scoring position. It's just an arbitrary selection from a simply staggering number of opportunities that the Cubs had to turn Sunday's game into something a bit more interesting.

As it happened, though, the Cubs lost the game on Sunday. And they lost the series, which gave them a losing record for the road trip (4-6).

As a Cub fan, would you have been having a better Tuesday morning if, after last night's loss, the Cubs had ended up splitting the series, and the road trip? That one game difference has a bigger psychological impact than it deserves to make, I think. It's just one game, after all--one game out of what's getting to be a smaller and smaller number of chances to get back into this playoff race, unfortunately.

I give AJ credit for all the detail -- it's not easy writing about suck.

Just a couple of extra thoughts to bridge the gap between now and tonight...

One of the reasons I believe this blog is a pretty good place to get your Cubs content is because we do not all agree.  In fact, sometimes we disagree with each other into the point of ridiculousness.  Despite what detractors would tell you, we do not stifle contrary opinions as long as they are constructive.  Hating Milton Bradley or Alfonso Soriano because they aren't earning their salary is an opinion I cannot contest -- although I'll probably never think of Soriano as being "selfish."  I got to see selfish patrol in right field for the Cubs for a decade, and Sori's not that.  But calling Cub players epithets will get you banned from GROTA; just ask the douchebag who keeps trying to come back.  You can even tell me I'm an idiot, or a hater, or a moron, none of that will get you in trouble... probably because I am too much of an idiot to prevent people from trying to chip away at my ego.  (This again is something that marks us as being different from most places.  I have a feeling that if you headed over to BCB and started calling Al names, you wouldn't be allowed to do so for very long.)

When it comes to our expectations -- and our hopes -- for the '09 season, at this point my personal take is very, very different from Rob's.  I believe first and foremost that the Cubs are capable of making the playoffs -- which isn't the same as an expectation.  I wouldn't be surprised if they did, I wouldn't be surprised if they didn't.  They've shown me enough good and bad to leave me thinking that they might be an 83 win team or an 87 win team, and in the NL Central 87 wins might be enough to get them into the dance.

I'm not 100% sure if Rob has completely ruled out a playoff appearance at this point, but I suspect he expects them to not get there.  That's cool, I can understand that.

But this is where we differ strongly in opinion -- I believe that history has taught us that great teams do not win championships, although winning a championship can make a team great.  I have seen in my lifetime no-name teams win, poor teams beat rich teams, 83-win teams collect titles, 116-win teams fail to even get there to lose, and so-on.  I've seen enough to know that the playoffs are unpredictable, at least to a layman like me.  Therefore, I have concluded that if the Cubs reach the playoffs, then they are capable -- again, not the same as expected, or even anticipated -- of winning the whole she-bang. 

Rob, on the other hand, believes that this is impossible.  Why?  Because they're the Cubs.  Their long history of losing, mixed with their long season of underperforming, sprinkled on top of by the immense pressure a playoff appearance would bring, leaves them as being absolutely, undeniably sad participants should they waste our time and theirs by reaching the playoffs.

That I have disagreed with Rob on this point makes me guilty of "shouting your false hopes into the cruel winds."  But I think we all know the difference between an expectation and being free of them, and I definitely fall into the latter category.  And so long as I have a pulpit here, anybody who wants to prematurely stick a fork into the Cubs will learn that their wielded implement is double-edged. 

Odds are, the Cubs will prove Rob right.  If they even make the playoffs, they are likely to get their asses handed to them by whichever opponent they face.  The same is true of pretty much all post season teams ... the playoffs favor nobody but the team with the most momentum and the greatest amount of luck.  Even the Cubs -- yes, even the Cubs -- can fall into that category if they get there.  We've seen it before with the '04 Red Sox, and the '06 Cardinals, just to name two recent examples -- two examples that cannot be countered by any facsimile of reason or logic.

And if the statement I've just made is in contrast to your opinion of baseball, if you honestly believe that Christmas has been canceled and the kitchen has been closed here on August 11th, with a month and a half of baseball left to be played, then do yourself a favor and pretend the season is over.  You're just causing yourself anxiety by following along in this season of unavoidable woe.  Get geared up for football, or hell, soccer.  The CFL is already in full swing and it's a pretty exciting league.  The NFL promises many storylines this season.  And if the Cubs should shock you and make the playoffs, do yourself a favor and don't watch -- you've already written them off for dead.  And if they should happen to win the first series they play -- which you know won't happen -- then continue your avoidance of the post season.  Keep it to overhearing hallway talk and cubical chatter.  And if they should happen to reach the World Series -- a truly ridiculous proposition that you already know can't possibly happen -- then whether you enjoy it or not, whether you are excited or not, I hope you never forget that you quit on an under-performing team long before they were ruled out of anything.  May the words "I always knew" never escape your mouth.  But I won't wish guilt upon you because I get why you would've given up so soon. 

Anyway.  Strong words from me honestly not directed at Rob but at anybody who thinks that way -- and there are plenty of Cub fans out there who do.  But to go back to the very first thing I said, this blog kicks ass because we do not all agree, we do not all subscribe, we do not all swill, and no matter how frustrating it is, or how angry we make one another, GROTA is better because of the debate.  Besides, if Dave Kaplan has taught us anything it's that controversy drives readership.  So, consider this my open plea to Rob to continue disagreeing and debating on this topic openly and, if necessary viciously -- because we're all better because of it.  Not to mention the fact that he's probably right... even if for the wrong reasons.

Current Record: 58-52
Position in the NL Central: 2nd place, 3 games back of the Cardinals
Magic Number: 54 (thanks to cubsmagicnumber.com)
Best Possible Record: 110-52
Worst Possible Record: 58-104
Record needed to win 90: 32-20
On Pace For: 85-78

Good teams / Big Expectations

As we nervously ponder the fate of Zambrano, I just felt the need to make a few points:

  • I have to disagree with Rob. Today is not must-win, although it'll be huge if the Cubs do win. GOATDIRECTIVE #1 - DISAGREEING WITH ME IS FORBIDDEN! FAIL!!
    Rebuttal from Kurt:
    Up yours, old man!
  • The New York Yankees will be unable to use their Wang until September. This is unfortunate for them, as the uber-hot Shannon Elizabeth will be coming to visit them in August, and she apparently wants to get it on. Regardless, the Yankees are playing hot right now, and are 5.5 games out of first place.
  • Boston, who is in first place in the hard-fought AL East, has an All Star rotation on the DL. They are without their Colon, Schilling, and Dice-K. (So they've lost an important body part and their money, but they can't gamble anyway because they are without their dice. Fine, this one wasn't as funny as the Wang joke.)

There are probably other relevant examples, but the point is simple - good teams can win without their best pitcher, or pitchers in some cases. While I am somehow optimistic that Carlos will be back soon, should the worst happen I will still expect the Cubs to compete and win. But, especially, I will have to hope and demand for an upgrade in the rotation. It will be a necessity ... if it wasn't one already.

The quick DON'T PANIC YET pre-bedtime post

I'm sure that more than one Cub fan out there has his stomach in knots tonight as we wait to find out what's up with Carlos. Was it another neck/shoulder cramp? Is it something more serious?

Because I don't flinch in the face of bad news, one scary thing to consider: somebody correct me if I'm wrong, but I'm pretty sure that there has yet to be a pitcher who's signed a contract as long and expensive as Carlos's without suffering a major arm or shoulder injury before the deal was complete.

Now for the good news: Carlos has had plenty of weird cramping/soreness injuries in the past, but he's never shown warning signs for arm or shoulder damage. Point of fact, he's worked a heavy load for his age, but he's beyond the age where he shouldn't be working a heavy load. Statistical guys make a big deal about PAP - pitcher abuse points - but my understanding is that they are supposed to serve as a gauge for young pitchers, and that it's a different case once a guy gets past a certain age (in fact, I may have learned that from Colin, who may have mentioned it on this very website in the recent past about this very same pitcher). My suspicion is that Carlos is more likely to eventually lose movement/velocity than he is likely to Tommy John or Mark Prior himself.

So, don't worry. Or worry, but don't panic. As a wise man recently told me, there's no need to panic for tomorrow, as today has enough worry of its own. That's two wise men I'm referring to, in case you misunderstood - the one who said it, and the one who repeated it to me.

Oh, and apparently, Jim Edmonds might also be hurt.

Cub injuries are like caffeine - they keep you up all night, and with too much over a short period of time you run the risk of ulcers, getting the jitters, and anxiety. That's a photoshop if I ever thought of one.

Update: ESPN is reporting that Carlos will have an MRI.   On a positive note, the Big Moose said after the game, "I'm feeling better already," and he came very close to convincing Piniella to let him stay in... which hopefully lends to the Just Being Cautious theory.

Alfonso Soriano may return early

When Alfonso Soriano retires from baseball, he could probably get a job in the horror movie industry. Just when you think his body's been riddled with enough bullets that the threat of doom is over, the Fonz would slowly rise up once more and descend on the horrified teenage campers. He heals that fast. We'll call the movie "The Return of the Fonz," which will be followed by "The Return of the Fonz... Returns Again." We'll make millions!

According to the Tribune, The Fonz - who leads National League outfielders in votes - will shortly be re-examined by doctors in order to determine if he's healing as freakishly fast as it appears. Not surprisingly, Alfonso wants to play in the All Star Game, and he's hoping to be ready before then.

Just keep in mind that Alfonso healing quickly and producing strongly are not synonymous. He may be back in early July, maybe, but he might not be his old productive self until August - if at all this year. That said, it doesn't appear as though Jim Hendry has even thought to consider my sensible idea of cheaply signing Kenny Lofton to bat leadoff until Alfonso's return, so let's hope for two things - a) Alfonso recovers as quickly as he thinks he will and 2) the growing flock of scrubs used to start in his place produce a little.

Soriano out six weeks

For the second straight season, Alfonso Soriano is going to miss a tremendous amount of time due to a freak injury.  Last year, the Fonz injured his leg while hustling for third.  This year, he'll be out for more than a month after suffering from a broken hand on what may have been a bean ball.

So much for the advantage of a St. Louis team without Albert Pujols.

Unlike his leg injury of last year, which merely cost him his speed, Soriano's injury is likely going to effect his production for the rest of the season.  Much as Derrek Lee wasn't the same after breaking his wrist a few years back, it's likely that when the Fonz returns, he won't be coming back with his homerun swing.

Well, silver lining - maybe he'll be a better leadoff guy if he can't rely on hitting homeruns.

Minus the silver lining - the Cubs are in for a rough six weeks; this may very well be the test of who they are as a team.  They are complete enough to win even without Soriano, or at least, that's what I keep telling myself.  But the objectives have changed - where before the Cubs were perhaps a 100-win team, we now have to lower our expectations.  If they can exhibit even a .500 record in the next six weeks, we'll have to be satisfied.  If they perform worse than that, we'll have to accept that they could and should get better when he returns.  And while Jim Edmonds and his offensive production was before a luxery, it now becomes a necessity - the Cubs will need him to step up and perform while Soriano recovers.

All that said, the Cubs are well on their way to winning again tonight, and they could and should sweep the Braves tomorrow.  But, as I mentioned not too long ago, they have an incredibly rough stretch of games coming up.  2008, which until recently looked very, very easy, just got stressful. 

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