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Good to See Ya Dr. Jeckyl
by Derek Smart
It was an evening of home run firsts: Mike Mahoney's first Major League homer; Matt Lawton's first Cub homer; Corey Patterson's first homer since returning from Iowa, and his first multi-run homer of the season. It was all for a good cause, too, as the Cubs took last night's game 5-4, and the series 3-1.
I could say something about not being able to figure this team out, or how if they could only play this well against decent to bad teams that they would still be in it this year, but I'm not going to waste my breath. I'd rather just fire off a few rounds.
Mark Prior has now given up a career-high 20 home runs on the season. He's been missing up in the zone a lot, and it certainly cost him on the third pitch he threw to Mike Mahoney. Which is why it was odd that his biggest problem on the night might have been that he wasn't getting the ball up enough.
It was an issue peculiar to left-handers, but time and again last night Blanco would set up to bust a lefty up and in, and the heat would be inside alright, just at around mid-thigh, tasty and asking to be smacked. That he didn't get completely murdelated on those pitches was more luck than anything else.
The Franchise simply hasn't been sharp of late, and while he didn't get the kind of power rocking he's been the victim of in his last few starts, it's fair to say we've seen better. I'm not concerned - it's not like he's getting regularly annihilated - but I'll certainly feel better once we see a couple of more Prior-esqe starts in a row.
This weekend was my first look at the "new and improved" Corey Patterson, and at first glance there doesn't seem to be much that's different. There was a lot of talk about shortening his swing, but I have yet to see any evidence of that, and there's very little different about his stance - perhaps his hands are lower, but I'd have to consult old footage that I don't have to be sure.
However, that doesn't mean that improvements weren't made, and the biggest one was evident after the multiple replays of his home run off Matt Morris.
Perhaps the most prominent mechanical issue that Patterson had before being shipped out last month was that his front shoulder was flying open, and not just occasionally - on every swing. What that translated into as far as results were concerned was less ability to drive the ball due to reduced involvement of his lower body, and less ability to adjust to the pitch, as his hands were committed too early on.
What we saw on his dinger was his hips rotating out nice and early while his upper body hung back, giving him that extra split-second to choose not to swing or to adjust to the ball's location that he didn't have when he led with his upper body, as well as generating torque and force that was then smoothly transferred through his torso until he finally snapped his hands through the zone.
His swing is still pretty long, but fixing the flaws in his hips and shoulders should not only make him more able to drive the ball with authority, but allow him to be selective by delaying the moment when his hands are committed, which should also have the happy accident of reducing his strikeouts a bit.
We'll see if this really helps him patience-wise - I'll admit some wishcasting and speaking from you-know-where on that score - but it certainly seems like it could, and I'm anxious to find out if it will.
If I didn't know any better, I'd say we might be in for some of that yummy "Spring Training Nomar" pretty soon. Already since his return he's hitting .344/.382/.469, and he's looking more and more comfortable at the dish every day. I still flinch every time I see him forced to do something athletic, like tying his shoe, but it's been a pleasure to see him back and doing reasonably well - ninth inning errant throws aside.
I'm going to say this again - I don't like it long-term, but for now it sure is fun having Kerry Wood come out of the bullpen. Talk all you want about the wasteland that was third base between Santo and Ramirez, there's been nearly the same kind of recent dearth when it comes to shut-down relievers.
Randy Myers circa 1993 is the nearest I can come in my recollection to such a beast, and that seems like a stretch. More likely mid-eighties Lee Smith is the most recent version, and that's a long time to be without someone to come out of your pen and dominate. I'm not saying Wood should be that guy next season, but I'd sure feel better going into the year if someone like that was around.
It's the start of three at Houston tonight. Glendon Rusch will take the hill tonight, with the bad news being that he isn't likely to last very long since he's spent so much recent time in the pen. However, the good news is the Astros are sending Wandy Rodriguez to face him - a weak link in an otherwise deadly rotation.
While these games might not be meaningful in relation to the outcome of this season, that doesn't mean I don't want to spend the next three days pounding Houston into submission. If we can't get the Wildcard, why should they? Go get 'em, boys!