Field, Pretty; Beer, Not So Good

Cubshome Running a baseball team is a game of calculated risks. The Mets gave Pedro Martinez a bunch of money and it’s paid off for them big time; the Astros chose to let Carlos Beltran go and they’re dying. Whatever you think of the job Jim Hendry is doing as GM of the Cubs, you can’t possibly say that you knew this many things were going to go wrong for the Chicago NL team.

The Cubs let Matt Clement leave as a free agent because they figured they had Ryan Dempster ready to take his place in the rotation. They gave Nomar Garciaparra a one-year prove-you’re-healthy deal and brought Todd Walker back to play second. After he became persona non grata in the clubhouse, they had no choice but to trade Sammy Sosa, and his bloated contract guaranteed that they’d get nothing back. Jeromy Burnitz is certainly no Sosa in his prime, but he came cheaply and has not to this point been accused of cheating, doping, or jaking. The Cubs needed bullpen help, but they chose not to go overboard getting a guy like Troy Percival, and they traded useful young gun Kyle Farnsworth after TV cameras caught him sleeping in the bullpen during a game. Hendry made team chemistry a priority, and bet that the strength of his returning starters would offset the loss of power Sosa and Moises Alou’s absences would create.

So far just about every bet Hendry made has been a loser. Garciparra went down hard, and so did Walker. Mark Prior, Carlos Zambrano, and Kerry Wood have made rotating DL appearances. Burnitz and Todd Hollandsworth have been iffy, and Dusty Baker won’t play rookie Jason Dubois for mysterious Dusty reasons. Closer/head case LaTroy Hawkins has been disastrous, forcing the Cubs to move Dempster from the rotation to the bullpen. Catcher Michael Barrett‘s progress from last year has disappeared, and backup Henry Blanco has been spectacularly bad. Like J.D. Closser bad. Reliever Chad Fox‘s arm exploded on the mound. Zambrano developed tennis elbow from excessive e-mailing. Lefty Mike Remlinger was recently attacked by a killer clubhouse chair. Only the stellar play of first baseman Derrek Lee and Greg Maddux‘s steady presence have kept the Cubs afloat. Cubs fans, who have expectations now after the near-miss of 2003, are calling for Baker’s head, and perhaps Hendry’s as well. Steve Stone and Chip Caray got out while the getting was good.

All this matters little to the Rockies, who are much, much worse than the Cubs and will face their two best pitchers, Zambrano and Prior, to begin this four-game series. Glendon Rusch, who was supposed to be the second lefty out of the pen, goes on Saturday and quadruple-A-ish Sergio Mitre works Sunday’s game. All four of the contests in this series are day games — got to love Wrigley Field. The Rockies counter with Jason Jennings, who is afraid to throw strikes, Joe Kennedy, who is afraid of radar guns, Shawn Chacon, who is afraid of what might happen if Colorado actually scored some runs in one of his starts, and Jeff Francis, who fears nothing but is sick and tired of hearing about how he doesn’t have #1 starter stuff. The Cubs have a guy like Francis, albeit a righty, doesn’t throw hard but moves the ball around pretty good. Greg something. His brother is the pitching coach in Milwaukee. He’s won a few games at this level.

If the Rockies only win one game in this series, I’ll be happy. If it’s the one I’m going to, on Friday, so much the better.

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