Well, the Chicago Cubs are about halfway through Spring Training, and things do not appear to be going there way at all. The injuries in Cubs camp seem to be piling up, and even the most optimistic of fans have got to be getting at least a little worried. The Cubs would be in a great spot to compete, if they were to just stay healthy. So far though, the staying healthy part seems to be a major problem. A few of the more important pieces to the Cubs roster are the ones who are facing these injury concerns. Hopefully they are able to get healthy before the start of the season, which is just three weeks away.
As we know by now, the man who was supposed to be the main right handed setup pitcher in the Cubs Bullpen, Angel Guzman, is done for the year and needs arm surgery. Unfortunately for Guzman, not only will the surgery for his injured arm put him out for the season, he could also be facing the end of his career. The Cubs already had several questions in the bullpen this year, and losing Guzman adds several more questions to the list. Now, the Cubs must find a new reliever who can be a dependable setup man from the right side of the mound. That will be a daunting task, as there were already several questions about what other right handed pitchers they would be able to realistically depend on to give stability to the bullpen. Currently, the plan is to throw Esmailin Caridad into the right handed setup role. With him looking like one of the main competitors to fill one of the voids in the bullpen, they Cubs must now search even harder to fill an empty slot. That wont be the easiest thing to do, especially considering that the Cubs are lacking in dependable right handed pitching arms. The Cubs biggest trouble spot on the team, has become an even bigger problem.
As long as we are on the topic of losing a player that the Cubs can not afford to lose, the most important piece of the Cubs offense has gone down with an injury. Aramis Ramirez, who missed half of last year with a separated shoulder, left the game on Saturday with what they are calling sore triceps. While they are currently saying that the injury isn’t serious, and they are not too concerned with things at the moment, how many times have we heard that line before? Hopefully the sore triceps are of no concern, and he was just taken out of the game for precautionary reasons. Much like with Guzman, losing Ramirez for any length of time would be a devastating blow to the Cubs lineup. There is no side stepping the issue, if Ramirez is seriously injured, you can write off the Cubs for the 2010 season. Even though the Cubs are better equipped if Ramirez goes down, with Jeff Baker and possibly Chad Tracy in camp for the start of the season, the drop off from Ramirez to either one of those too is too great.
Another player who is currently facing injury woes is the gold glove first baseman, Derrek Lee. In a game earlier in the week, Lee fouled a ball off of his foot, and was taken out of the game. Currently, the reports are stating that he only has bruising on the top of his foot, but that doesn’t mean there is no need for concern. His return date to game action keeps getting pushed back, and he has yet to return to game action. He was scratched from the lineup for Thursday’s game and the Cubs announced he would be in the lineup on Saturday. Well, the game came, and Lee was nowhere to be found, he had been scratched again. Now, the Cubs are saying he will return to game action on Tuesday. My guess would be, the Cubs are just being overly cautious with him. If this were not Spring Training, Lee could very well be in the starting lineup and be ready to contribute every day. Perhaps they are thinking that they would rather be safe than sorry. Most likely, this is the reason Lee has not returned, but one can never be too sure. Anytime a player fouls a ball off their foot, you have to be worried about the chance they broke a bone, much like Reed Johnson did last year. The reports say Lee only has a bruise, but teams have been known to not tell the whole story when talking about players injuries. Hopefully this is not the case with Lee.
I wish the injury concerns stopped there though, but alas they do not. Starting pitcher Ted Lilly is also on the road to recovery. He has had a few setbacks along the way, but appears to be back on track, and maybe even ahead of schedule. Lilly is currently trying to fight his way back from a minor off season surgery to his shoulder, but has missed time with his rehabilitation with a sore knee and a case of the flu. Both of which forced him to sit out for a few days. Recent reports though are good, as he is back to throwing off of a mound, and he has said that he is determined to pitch in at least one Cactus League game this Spring. If he is able to do so, he may not miss nearly as much time as feared, and could be back by early May at the latest. This would be the best news we could get, because the battle for the fifth spot in the starting rotation and the starter who will be a place holder for Lilly, has given mixed results from every pitcher who is a contender. In a perfect world, Lilly will be good to go by the middle of April; that would be the first time the Cubs would realistically need a fifth starter. If Lilly can not make his return until late May or early June, the Cubs starting pitching staff will not look strong at all. Jeff Samardzija had a great first outing of the spring, but got knocked around in his second outing. The exact opposite can be said about Carlos Silva though. He became public enemy number one after his first spring outing, but looked great in his second. Personally, I don’t look too much into Spring Training stats, but Id rather see my starting pitching contenders not get knocked around.
So far in camp, these are the four main injuries to cast a shadow of concern on Cubs camp. With three weeks remaining, the only one which we know will hurt us for the regular season is the loss of Guzman, as he is done for the year at very least. If Lee and Ramirez are only day to day, then they will be fine to start the year. However, if the Cub are not being completely truthful on their injuries, we could be in for a very long season. Lilly’s injury is the Wild Card though, as we know what his status is and how much time he is estimated to miss.
The question you need to ask yourselves though, is this too early to start panicking about injuries? The Cubs are saying that Ramirez and Lee are not sitting out with serious injuries, but any injury which will limit them is a serious blow to the Cubs chances. Missing a few games here or there wont hurt them in the long run. But if they are forced to sit out for a stretch of games at the start of the season, even with the Cubs “light schedule” could be a blow to any chance they have of competing.