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There is nothing that epitomizes this catastrophe of a season more than the visual image of Glendon Rusch standing on the PNC Park mound, in front of 12,666 (and isn't THAT an appropriate number?) disinterested fans, pitching in a meaningless game in a driving rainstorm.

(I've searched around for a photo of this, but haven't been able to locate one. I suppose no photographer wanted to record that soggy moment.)

The Cubs lost to the Pirates 11-6 last night, giving up ten runs for the second day in a row. That keeps them dead last (553) in runs scored, almost 200 behind the leader (Yankees, 734), and twenty-fourth (677) in runs allowed. They lead the majors in walks allowed (551) by an enormous margin (the Royals at 522 have the second-most), and...

I guess it's pointless to continue this sort of statistical list. You all know this anyway, and it simply points out what we all also know -- that this team was poorly constructed in both offense and pitching.

Oh, but Dusty Baker knows better. When asked what difference Derrek Lee, who returned last night, might have made, he said:

"You can figure he'd make up 10, 12, 15 games by himself," Baker said. "Our offense would have been in a lot better situation. He's a Gold Glove, a Silver Bat. He'd have made a tremendous difference as well as some of the other guys we lost. Angel Pagan would have been our fourth outfielder. We really miss [Kerry] Wood and [Mark] Prior. You deal with what's at hand and who you have to work with right now."
That's so ridiculous I don't even know where to begin to deconstruct it. One player simply cannot make up "10, 12, 15 games" by himself, not even a MVP-caliber player such as Derrek Lee. Would the Cub offense have been better? Of course it would, particularly considering that during the 18-40 stretch when Lee was out the first time, his replacement in the lineup consisted primarily of a combination of Neifi Perez, Jerry Hairston and Tony Womack, none of whom are on the team any more (and that also speaks volumes). Ten games better would have the Cubs at 64-67; in this bizarre mishmash of an NL season that record would have them 2.5 games out of the wild card lead.

Do not let stuff like that fool you into thinking this club is only a healthy Derrek Lee away from contention. It is not. The starting pitching this season has been catastrophically bad, apart from Carlos Zambrano and a month's worth of Greg Maddux. That must be addressed in the off-season. Cub rookie pitchers have now made 58 starts, which is second only to the 1966 team's 74. That team, as you know, tied the club record with 103 losses -- and of course, no one could have predicted that rookie Fergie Jenkins would become a perennial 20-game winner, or that Bill Hands, who had a 4.58 ERA in a pitcher's era, would also become a 20-game winner three years later. If this team is going to contend in 2007, they must acquire a couple of quality major league starters (or their Japanese equivalent, hint hint), and have a couple of the seven rookies who have started this year, to come out of the pack and be effective major league starters.

Baker also said in that quote, "We miss Wood and Prior." Well, that's just delusional. Jim Hendry put too much in the Wood/Prior basket, and yes, I was one of those hoping they'd return to form this year as well. I can see now that I was wrong, for various reasons -- Wood probably should have come back as a reliever first (and still could, next year), and Prior seems to be a head case.

As you can see, I have very little to say about last night's game. Angel Guzman, who was once spoken of as a prospect in the same breath as Wood and Prior, sucked again last night, now has a WGN ERA (7.20, get it?) and has failed to win a major league game in ten appearances, seven starts. The only thing of note was Juan Pierre's leadoff home run. That was the 11th home run of Pierre's career -- and oddly, the third one which has led off a game. Here are the boxscores from the other two.

Oh, and two hundred and two pitches??? That's just insane.

Well, a real pitcher (Carlos Zambrano) takes the mound tonight; Arizona's Brandon Webb tied Z last night with his 14th win, a game he said he was pitching in memory of his college teammate and friend Jon Hooker, who died in the Kentucky plane crash on Sunday. The Cubs have 31 games left; Z should get six more starts after tonight. That's all we have left this year -- rooting for Z to win a major award, in a year worse than any I can remember.

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