Why have Cubs fans turned on Kerry Wood?

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Why have Cubs fans turned on Kerry Wood?

Kerry Wood is not off to a very good start in 2012. There's no denying that.

He has an 8.64 ERA and 2.28 WHIP in 9 appearances, has blown two saves and disposed of one glove.

Let's rewind a couple months, first, though.

In November and December, it seemed as if Wood returning to the Cubs was imminent. But a deal just never got done. Then, there was talk of interest from other teams, like the Tigers and Phillies.

And Cubs fans were upset at that. Understandably so. As a fanbase, we see Wood as ours. Even when he was on the Indians and Yankees, he was still a Cub.

Then, of course, the Cubs threw everybody a curveball when they announced Wood at the Convention in January. It was a great PR move and the fans went wild.

Now, in mid-May, it seems as if the fanbase has turned on "the new Mr. Cub."

Just about any time Wood comes into the game now, Twitter blows up with people uttering such lunacies as "he's finished" and "isn't it time for him to just retire?"

How did that happen so suddenly?

This is a guy who won't even turn 35 for another month. Sure, he's had a laundry list of elbow and shoulder problems in his career, so his right arm is much more advanced in years.

But last season, he had a 3.35 ERA and 1.29 WHIP, with 57 strikeouts in 51 innings. His 2.71 KBB ratio was his best mark since 2008.

Yet people think he suddenly lost the ability to pitch? Does talent disappear that fast?

Where were all these people saying "he's finished" and "it's time for him to retire" last season? Where were all these people back in December and early January?

How has that all changed after nine bad outings?

Wood only got five innings of work in during spring training and then was forced to the DL just two weeks into the season with shoulder fatigue. He didn't go on a rehab assignment before returning and subsequently gave up two runs in each of his first two appearances off the disabled list.

Since then, he's given up just one run in four innings, even if he has walked five guys in that span.

Why is everybody running so quickly to the fact that Wood is "finished"? Why is it suddenly that Wood lost his talent and can't pitch anymore rather than the fact that the shoulder injury and time off has affected his performance?

Wood isn't really getting hit around, but he is walking the world, with 11 free passes in 8.1 innings. His command is the issue, not his talent. It takes time for a pitcher to get his command, and with the missed time in both spring training and earlier this season, Wood hasn't had that opportunity to develop a good feel for his pitches. There's also talk that his arm slot is off, which is a mechanical issue.

Wood has been able to dial up his famous fastball into the mid-90s since returning from the DL, even touching 95 on occasion. Does that sound like a guy whose career is finished?

Now, I'm not saying Wood will return to his 2011 form and be dominant throughout the rest of this year. Especially considering shoulder injuries have a propensity to linger throughout a season.

And maybe the time is coming for Wood to be "finished" in a Cubs uniform or in MLB. But for a loyal fanbase to turn on the most popular player over the last decade, that just doesn't make sense to me. I don't see how that happened so quickly, especially in a season in which Cubs fans were not expecting their team to challenge for a playoff spot.

American sweep and European rally at Ryder Cup

American sweep and European rally at Ryder Cup

CHASKA, Minn. (AP) -- Even with the first opening-session sweep in four decades, the Americans were reminded anew Friday that no lead is safe in the Ryder Cup.

Not after one session. Not after one day.

And based on the last Ryder Cup on American soil, not until it's over.

Europe battled back from a 4-0 deficit behind its best tandem, Henrik Stenson and Justin Rose, and capped off a long and rowdy day at Hazeltine when its best player, Rory McIlroy, holed a 20-foot eagle putt and then mocked the crowd by taking a bow.

The American celebration turned into a consolation.

They had a 5-3 lead, the margin after the first day at Medinah four years ago that ended in another European victory. They lost a chance to really put Europe in a hole.

"It's frustrating not to come out a little bit more ahead," U.S. captain Davis Love III said.

Love could not have scripted a better start - a symbolic one, too.

To honor Arnold Palmer, who died Sunday night, Ryder Cup officials placed on the first tee Palmer's golf bag from when he was captain of the 1975 Ryder Cup team. Jordan Spieth and Patrick Reed then set the tone with a 3-and-2 foursomes victory over Stenson and Rose, and the Americans delivered the first sweep of the opening session since that 1975 team at Laurel Valley.

Phil Mickelson, feeling more pressure than usual because of his influence on changes and on this team, also produced big shots. His wedge into 5 feet that Rickie Fowler converted was key in the Americans winning three straight holes for a 1-up victory over McIlroy and Andy Sullivan.

"With everything going on - me not having a point and Phil being a big part of getting the players a lot more involved to Arnie passing and him being a huge part of the week, this is big for us," Fowler said.

It just didn't last.

"The guys were disappointed with the way they played this morning and the way they performed," European captain Darren Clarke said. "But they showed tremendous bravery and heart and desire to go out and play the way they have done this afternoon."

Beaten for the first time, Rose and Stenson went right back out against Spieth and Reed and handed the American duo its first Ryder Cup loss. The Europeans made nine birdies in 13 holes for a 5-and-4 victory in an afternoon session in which the board was filled with European blue.

Sergio Garcia, who along with Martin Kaymer made only one birdie in a foursomes loss, teamed with fellow Spaniard Rafa Cabrera Bello to dismantle J.B. Holmes and Ryan Moore. McIlroy and Pieters never trailed against Johnson and Kuchar, handing them their first loss in four Ryder Cup matches.

The lone American point in the afternoon came from Brandt Snedeker and Brooks Koepka, who had no trouble against Kaymer and Danny Willett.

Willett had a little trouble with the crowd, especially when they lampooned him around Hazeltine with references to hot dogs and his brother, Pete, who had written a column in a British publication disparaging American galleries.

"It was anticipated," Willett said. "Coming to America is a tough one, just like when the Americans come to Europe. They gave me a little bit more. I think it was exactly what we thought it was going to be."

It wasn't just directed at Willett, however.

The crowd was loud and boisterous from the opening tee shot in misty conditions. There were a few rude comments, not unusual in America for a Ryder Cup. McIlroy had a 20-foot birdie putt to halve the morning foursomes match against Mickelson and Fowler when a fan from across 100 yards away shouted, "Get an American to putt it for you." That was a reference to McIlroy and Rose losing a playful $100 bet to an American fan who made a putt in Thursday's practice session.

Most striking was how quickly the crowd cheered bad shots for Europe. Typically, there is the slightest delay. Not on Friday. Sullivan, one of six rookies for Europe, hit his tee shot into the water on the 17th that put Europe 1 down and effectively ended the match. The crowd cheered before there was a ripple.

That's what inspired McIlroy in the final match of the day. He and Pieters were 2 up on the 16th hole, with Kuchar already in for a birdie, when the four-time major champion drained his 20-foot putt. Turning to the crowd, he bowed twice and screamed out, "C'mon!"

"I wanted to put an exclamation on that session for us," McIlroy said. "I thought about that celebration before I hit the putt."

More than a celebration, it was a message from McIlroy to what he felt was a hostile crowd.

"I'm not fazed by anything said by the crowd," McIlroy said. "And I'm not fazed by anything the U.S. throws at us."

Joe Maddon keeping thoughts on Cubs’ playoff rotation to himself

Joe Maddon keeping thoughts on Cubs’ playoff rotation to himself

CINCINNATI – After Cincinnati Reds manager Bryan Price dropped 77 F-bombs on reporters during an epic rant that went viral last year, Joe Maddon explained his dealing-with-the-media philosophy by saying: “At the end of the day, we’re not trying to conceal weaponry being sold to Iran.”

Maddon’s had a clear understanding of how the Cubs want to align their playoff rotation for about a week now, but the manager who will thoughtfully answer just about any misinformed or off-the-wall question doesn’t want to reveal those plans yet.  

“We have an idea of what we want to do,” Maddon said Friday at Great American Ball Park. “But we haven’t had that final conversation with Theo (Epstein) and Jed (Hoyer) and everybody else (in the front office) and all of our coaches.

“What I like to do under these circumstances is talk to the players first before they have to read about it in the newspaper.”

Do the pitchers already know?

“They’re not stupid,” Maddon said.

That type of scenario sparked Price’s meltdown last April, when it looked like one of Maddon’s former players – they worked together in 1985 and 1986 in Midland, Texas, at a Double-A affiliate for the California Angels – could get fired midseason. Price survived 98 losses, and even with the team heading toward another last-place finish this season, the Reds announced a one-year contract extension with a club option for 2018 before Friday’s game against the Cubs.   

Where the manager’s hot seat used to be the dominant storyline around this team at this time of year, the Cubs have now lined up Jon Lester (19-4, 2.28 ERA) and Kyle Hendricks (16-8, 1.99 ERA) for Games 161 and 162 this weekend, giving them two leading Cy Young Award candidates for the front of their playoff rotation.

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Maddon indicated the opponent – whoever emerges from the three-team battle among the New York Mets, San Francisco Giants and St. Louis Cardinals and wins the National League wild-card game – won’t change how the Cubs set their pitching matchups.

In theory, the Cubs can also rearrange Jake Arrieta (18-8, 3.10 ERA) and John Lackey (11-8, 3.35 ERA) in a different order for Games 3 and 4, but it sounds like the brass has already made that decision, whatever it is. 

“You could if you wanted to, but I don’t anticipate that,” Maddon said. “Again, I want to make sure before we make that announcement.”

However it shakes out, Arrieta and Lackey will have to wait almost two full weeks from their last regular-season start until their first playoff action on Oct. 10-11, on the road, in a best-of-five series where anything can happen.   

“That’s always been the major complaint I’ve heard,” Maddon said. “It’s just up to us to handle it properly. Now, of course, it may be difficult or rusty or whatever you want to call it. I don’t know. And then again, the rest might just do somebody really good. It just depends on the individual. These are the kind of things that are kind of outside of your control.

“You do your best in order to meet the challenge. That’s it. And you don’t make excuses. You don’t cry about it. You just do it, because, in advance, you know this is how it is set up.

“Otherwise, there’s nothing you can do about it, man.”

The Cubs have first-division problems, avoiding the major arm injuries that decimated the Mets. The Giants would have to burn a Madison Bumgarner start in the one-game playoff. The Cardinals are in this precarious position because their rotation has been so inconsistent.

“We are where we are because of our starters,” Arrieta said. “Our offense has been, obviously, spectacular, (but) we’ve all pitched really well throughout the year. I think we’re in a situation where we should be able to enjoy that for a little while.

“We’ll be ready for the first round.”