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by Alex Ciepley
The best case scenario would be to have a healthy, effective Kerry Wood taking the mound every five turns. A Kerry Wood that, in September 2003, came into his own, helping carry the Cubs to a division title by throwing 36 innings with a 1.00 ERA.
Maybe it isn't terribly uncommon for a pitcher to have a month with those numbers, but it was a span of days--and a postseason--that seemed to solidify Wood's status as an ace in many Cubs fans' minds. The verdict has since become a bit cloudy, with a regular refrain, Wood's not really a number one, he's just paid like one.
Still... since breaking into the NL in 1998, he ranks 10th in the league in career ERA (700 innings pitched minimum), first in lowest hits per nine innings, third in strikeouts, and best in show at the Craig Wilson lookalike pageant. He's a mean cookie, frustrating for sure, but worthy of the moniker "ace."
So far in 2005, Kerry Wood is not right. The 6.15 ERA in April looks especially bad because it comes in the first month of the season--as opposed to occuring in, say, July of 2003 (5.63 ERA) or June of 2002 (6.75 ERA)--but his shoulder woes are holding him back, limiting his innings and effectiveness. And now he's out for at least 3 weeks with a muscle strain in his right shoulder.
Can the Cubs win without Wood? Sure, but they'll need Glendon Rusch to step in, rediscover his control (10 walks in 15.3 innings, ouch), and do his best rendition of... Glendon Rusch, v.2004. You might consider it a reauditioning of the fifth starter role on the team--while Wood is out, Rusch and Dempster can go mano a mano through the month of May, with the loser to the 'pen when Kerry comes back. Here's hoping they make the decision difficult, each tossing 36 innings of 1.00 ERA ball...