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From Regret to Relief and Back Again
by Derek Smart
Funny how these things go. One minute you're deep in the dumps, next you're on top of the world. That's life in the world of double-headers, and that's how I imagine most of our days went yesterday. Lousy work from Kerry Wood and an offense handcuffed by Jake Peavy, followed by the fine return of Mark Prior and Brian Lawrence reduced to a puddle of goo.
There was fun to be had for all, and despite seeing only highlights of the action, I still have some thoughts on the goings on. To the Bullet Cave!
While I was visually privy to none of it, I can tell from the line he posted that Mark Prior had a fine outing yesterday, allowing no runs on only four hits and one walk, while striking out six over his six innings: six innings that only took 92 pitches to complete, by the way.
Needless to say, that's an encouraging performance, but I wouldn't relax just yet. Unable as I am to resist the role of wet blanket, I'd like to point out this stat line from last year:
6 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 0 BB, 8 K, 85 PIT
In case you haven't already guessed, that was Prior's first outing of 2004, a June 4 tilt against the Pirates. Now, I'm not saying that we should expect performance vicissitude similar to last year this time around, but I think it's important to note that, while he did it against a patently inferior offensive squad, his initial outing last season bore eerie similarities to yesterday's start.
There's nothing concrete to be learned from the comparison, other than the lesson we all should take from 2004, which is to proceed with caution. Prior's work yesterday was reason for hope, but far from reason for celebration. Keep an eye out, your fingers crossed, and maybe we'll finally get a reminder of how he got nicknamed The Franchise.
How good is Derrek Lee's start to 2005 versus his past performance? Assuming that his PA/G remain constant over the remainder of this month, Lee would have to hit approximately .155/.241/.276 over the next fifteen games to get down to his .233/.333/.411 line posted last April.
That's great stuff, and while I wouldn't expect him to be able to sustain a .364/.488/.636 line for the entire month, let alone the year, being able to play well in the early going has been the one thing keeping Lee from making the jump from good to great. If he can tack on this type of early season performance to the work he usually does from June on, the Cubs have an All-Star on their hands, and a fairly cheap one at that.
I'm unable to root against someone in a Cub uniform. Just can't do it. And the fact is, that while I give some of the players on the roster a lot of guff, my ire isn't so much directed at them as the man who decides how they're used. Therefore, I'm thrilled to death that Neifi! had a banner day during yesterday's twin bill, going 6 for 9 over the two games and scoring three runs.
What doesn't thrill me is the potential that fine performance has for justifying the misuse of roster parts in the mind of Dusty Baker. Nice as his work was yesterday, Neifi! can't hit. Simple as that. He's a fine defender, and should definitely be used in late inning situations when prudence dictates a better glove in the middle infield. However, he doesn't have the bat to start, or even pinch hit, and using him in lieu of Jerry Hairston at any point is more ridiculous than the special effects in Krull.
I wouldn't want a change in results, certainly no decline in wins, but I'd gladly accept a decreased margin of victory or increased margin of defeat if it meant the performance from Neifi! was bad enough to get Hairston in the lineup and improve the Cubs' probability of winning in the long term.
Off days stink, especially when they follow something as fun as yesterday's second game. It's on to Pittsburgh tomorrow, and hopefully, more of that kind of fun to come.