In NL Central, injuries could shift balance of power

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In NL Central, injuries could shift balance of power

Monday, March 28, 2011
Posted 6:31 p.m.

By Patrick Mooney
CSNChicago.com

Talk to enough Cubs people in Arizona and you notice they return to the same point: As long as we stay healthy

It will take months before anyone can finish that thought. But there is a sense of guarded optimism around camp, especially when you take a look at the rest of the National League Central.

The Cardinals have already lost 20-game winner Adam Wainwright, who will spend this year recovering from Tommy John surgery.

The Brewers are waiting for their Cy Young candidate Zack Greinke to heal from a fractured left rib suffered while playing pickup basketball. Milwaukee could begin the season with five players on the disabled list: Greinke; outfielder Corey Hart; catcher Jonathan Lucroy; and pitchers Manny Parra and LaTroy Hawkins.

The Reds rotation has also taken a hit, with Johnny Cueto and Homer Bailey expected to be placed on the disabled list this week.

Through the course of 162 games, my guess is we will all have to deal with these situations from time to time, Cubs manager Mike Quade said. A couple of (teams) are going to have to deal with it early. If youre fortunate enough to stay healthy knock on wood we have all spring and I hope we do all summer then, yeah, thats a good thing.

But rarely does that happen. So whether its pitchers or regulars, during the course of (a season) youre usually going to be down some of your prime people.

Sure, injuries could shred what looks to be a very solid bullpen on paper. Check back in September to see if Kerry Wood wound up on the disabled list for the 15th time in his career, and confirm that John Grabows left knee held up for an entire season.

Both Ryan Dempster and Matt Garza have made at least 30 starts in each of the past three years. During that time, Carlos Marmol has averaged 79 appearances per season.

That means they are extremely durable or you could argue that theyre eventually due for a physical breakdown, given all the collective stress on their right arms.

But this close to Opening Day, the Cubs are going to focus on the positives.

Aramis Ramirez and Alfonso Soriano worked out extensively at the teams facility in the Dominican Republic this winter. Not only are they in better shape, they say they were energized by being around all those hungry, young players.

Marlon Byrd took up boxing and didnt sprint as much in the offseason in order to save his legs. He feels his body is better prepared for all the day games at Wrigley Field. He vows to stay strong in the outfield and through the second half.

Catcher Geovany Soto hasnt felt this good in years, and has no restrictions after undergoing arthroscopic surgery on his right shoulder last September.

Carlos Zambrano was joking when he said that the psychologist gave him approval to be alone by himself. Either way the Cubs will be reminded of these two words: Im cured.

Zambranos mental health is a major issue in a division where the margins could be very thin.

Baseball Prospectus rates the Cubs as an 80-win team though thats not far behind the Brewers, projected to be in first place at 85-77.

Even without Wainwright, it would be foolish to dismiss the Cardinals, who have had one losing season in the past 11 years. Tony La Russa and Albert Pujols could be free agents at seasons end, but they wont make that a distraction.

The Reds are still the defending champions in the Central. Their core of young players should make them a factor for years to come.

But it wont take an unbelievable season to contend in a division without an overwhelming favorite. An NL Central team hasnt won a postseason series since the Cardinals won it all in 2006. To get in the tournament, the key could just be staying healthy.

We fully expect to be in contention in the National League Central. (I) dont have any doubt we can do that, Cubs general manager Jim Hendry said. We won two divisions in a row and then we were supposed to kind of cruise and St. Louis won easily (in 2009). Then they were supposed to cruise and Cincinnati had a great year. The division (got) better.

PatrickMooney is CSNChicago.com's Cubs beat writer. FollowPatrick on Twitter @CSNMooneyfor up-to-the-minute Cubs news and views.

Joe Maddon ‘Anchorman’ vision for Cubs road trip: ‘We got the Sex Panther in today’

Joe Maddon ‘Anchorman’ vision for Cubs road trip: ‘We got the Sex Panther in today’

A homestand that has already featured Cincinnati Reds manager Bryan Price grumbling “Hail to the Cubs” after a game ended on an overturned replay review – and Milwaukee Brewers officials complaining about a premature rainout – will end with Joe Maddon’s team walking out of Wrigley Field dressed as “Anchorman” characters. 

The Cubs are hovering around .500 as a baseball product, but the defending World Series champs are already back in terms of getting under people’s skin and going viral on social media. That will happen again on Thursday, when the Cubs start posting photos of their 1970s outfits to Twitter and Instagram before boarding their flight to Southern California.

“We got the Sex Panther in today,” Maddon said during Wednesday’s pregame media session, sounding nothing like San Francisco Giants manager Bruce Bochy.

Q: You got the what?

“Sex Panther,” Maddon said, “60 percent of the time, it works every time, you’re not aware of that?”

Q: Does it growl when you open it?

“It does,” Maddon said. “It growls.”

The official theme for the road trip through Los Angeles and (Stay Classy) San Diego would be…

“It’s the Ron Burgundy/Brick Tamland – and I also wanted to include Tommy La Stella – Tribute Road Trip, where 60 percent of the time, it works every time, sponsored by Sex Panther cologne,” Maddon said.

La Stella is the enigmatic pinch-hitter/backup infielder now playing at Triple-A Iowa. Steve Carell played Tamland – the weatherman for the Channel 4 news team – in the movie. 

“I just see him like Brick Tamland,” Maddon said. “I just see him kind of like Brick. It’s almost like two interchangeable guys. I see Brick, I see Tommy, I see Tommy, I see Brick. Put some glasses on Tommy like that, dress him up, some sideburns and have him scream a little bit, I got Brick.”     

And when the Cubs return home next week, it will be interesting to see if the St. Louis Cardinals notice the celebration shots on the big video board and find any amusement in the dancing relievers.

“Oh my God, absolutely, I love it,” Maddon said. “I think it’s very entertaining. I would have to believe two things: I believe the fans will really appreciate it, and I don’t think it’s disrespectful to the other side. 

“I just think it’s funny. I really believe if we’re on the road and the other bullpen did that, I would laugh. So whoever’s thought it was in the beginning, I commend them. I think it’s pretty funny.

“It really makes you look forward to the next home run, to see what these guys are going to do, so I’m all for it.”

Nick Offerman wants Jon Lester to grow a Ron Swanson-esque mustache

Nick Offerman wants Jon Lester to grow a Ron Swanson-esque mustache

Nick Offerman gave Cubs ace Jon Lester a shout-out after the southpaw's incredible outing Tuesday night at Wrigley Field and it led to a delightful exchange:

Lester responded in kind, quoting Offerman's most famous character, Ron Swanson of "Parks and Rec" fame:

Offerman — a Chicago native who just waited out a two-hour rain delay Friday at Wrigley to sing the Seventh Inning Stretch — believes Lester has a little Ron Swanson in him, too.

Except for the mustache, of course.

But Lester is just fine stick with his standard beard:

Lester's dominance against the San Francisco Giants continued with Tuesday night's complete game effort. In his last three starts — including Game 1 of last fall's — Lester has a 0.69 ERA and 0.54 WHIP against the Giants, striking out 19 batters in 26 innings.