Thank heavens, injured and absent Cubs will begin to return today.
Aramis Ramirez, in the Dominican Republic the last three days for the birth of a child, will return in time for today's odd-starting-time 4 pm (PDT) game, and Reed Johnson will be activated from the DL (starting the guessing game: who goes? Matt Murton and Eric Patterson are the likely choices, and I'm thinking it's Murton, since he's a right-handed-hitting outfielder and so is Johnson). And tomorrow, Carlos Zambrano will return from the DL to start against the Cardinals and smartly, the Cubs will send him ahead to St. Louis early today to rest up.
And so, after last night's 6-5 win over the Giants, achieved with the help of a tiebreaking HR by the littlest Cub, 5-7 Mike Fontenot, the Cubs will have a real shot at accomplishing what they needed to coming into this series, a series win, three of four, despite facing the toughest pitcher on the Giants' staff, Tim Lincecum.
Once again, I didn't see most of this game, having to wake at 3 am for work. For the third day in a row, my feeling upon shutting the TV off was how the game finished: I was confident they'd win Monday night, had a feeling they wouldn't come back on Tuesday, and again felt good last night, as Ryan Dempster started off well and even though they should have scored more runs in the second inning, having loaded the bases with nobody out. Dempster should have had his 10th win, but Carlos Marmol had yet another shaky outing. Thanks to Jim Edmonds and Fontenot, and Kerry Wood's 21st save (and even that could have been better), the Cubs maintained their 2.5 game lead over the Cardinals, who waited out a long rain delay and came from behind to beat the Mets 8-7. (Mets. Remember them? Supposed to run away with the NL? They're two games under .500.)
Getting back to Lincecum for a moment, Tom Verducci of Sports Illustrated wrote a long feature on Lincecum which was the cover story in this week's issue, which arrived in my mailbox yesterday -- say, with the fabled SI cover jinx, maybe that's a good sign for the Cubs. Much of the article deals with how Lincecum, not a large man, throws as hard as he does with his unusual mechanics. In discussing mechanics, Verducci goes into detail about a certain former Employee of the Cubs:
Mark Prior is a classic example of a high-performing pitcher who was permitted to break down because of poor mechanics. Ironically, Prior was often hailed for his "flawless" mechanics when the Cubs drafted the righthander out of USC with the No. 2 pick in 2001, though that assessment seems to have been influenced by scouts' preference for his 6' 5", 225-pound body type. Studied closely, his mechanics included two severe red flags: 1) Prior lifted his throwing elbow higher than his shoulder before reaching the loaded position, increasing the stress on his elbow and shoulder; and 2) unlike Lincecum's dynamic late torso rotation, Prior rotated his hips and torso before getting to the loaded position. With the letters of Prior's jersey already facing the target, his arm could not simply "go along for the ride" -- the ride was over, so his arm had to generate all of its own power.
So now we know. Verducci also writes about former Cub #1 draft pick Bobby Brownlie:
Bobby Brownlie was supposed to be Tim Lincecum. A 6-foot righthander from Rutgers who hit 97 mph on the gun, Brownlie was regarded as one of the top pitchers in the 2002 draft. [Rick] Peterson was working as the A's pitching coach at the time. Just before the draft, Oakland G.M. Billy Beane gave Peterson videotapes of some 20 pitchers the A's were considering as draft picks and told him to break down each pitcher not by stuff and performance but by the biomechanics of their deliveries.
The previous winter Peterson had met Brownlie at a banquet and told him, "Hey, I hear you're great. Congratulations, I hear you're going to be a [first round] pick." But when he watched Brownlie on the tape Beane had given him, Peterson says, "I'm literally sick to my stomach. I'm going, 'This is so sad.' "
A few days later, when Beane asked Peterson what he thought of Brownlie, the pitching coach replied, "He has certain characteristics in his delivery that will lead to shoulder problems."
Bingo again. This article should be required reading not only for major league scouts, pitching coaches, managers and general managers, but for all young pitchers who have great arms -- there's a lot of hints in it, many of them from Tim Lincecum's dad, who helped him develop his unconventional style, on how to avoid injury by doing something that's not a natural human motion, pitching a baseball.
Onward to tonight. Let's win this series and then take two of three in St. Louis.