Commentary

Survival new Cubs' watchword

Injuries to Lilly, Dempster should mean Cubs make a deal

Originally Published: July 24, 2009
By Melissa Isaacson | ESPNChicago.com

Holliday, Halladay, it seems someone is always celebrating except for the injury-a-day Cubs.

Waking up Friday morning after coming off a 5-2 road trip, within a game and a half of first-place St. Louis and heading into a seven-game homestand, the Cubs' objective seemed clear:

Make a move, already!

By noon, however, they were down another starting pitcher, they still had just one catcher and ESPN was reporting that the Cardinals had acquired hot-hitting Oakland outfielder Matt Holliday. All the Cubs needed was for the Astros or Brewers to announce they had picked up Roy Halladay.

Unlikely as that was, and despite the euphoria of Friday's 8-5 victory over Cincinnati, Cubs fans still need to lower their sights a bit. Survival should be the new buzzword.

The news Friday that pitcher Ted Lilly was sent for an MRI on his left shoulder after complaining of soreness was, well, not good.

[+] EnlargeLou Piniella
G Fiume/Getty ImagesEvery time Cubs manager Lou Piniella gets one player back, he loses another one to injury.
"Oh gosh, we were just talking about getting [Ryan] Dempster back, and we were happy about that," manager Lou Piniella said, "and all of a sudden the Lilly situation happens. It seems like every time we get a player, we lose one.

The team reported that Lilly was bothered with soreness in his left knee after giving up a career-high nine runs against Philadelphia on Monday. But now you wonder whether the shoulder wasn't the main issue.

"I was surprised," Piniella said after Friday's game. "I didn't know anything about [the shoulder] before the ballgame. [Pitching coach] Larry [Rothschild] got a hold of me in batting practice and said, 'We're going to have to make some adjustments.'

"When he said that, I thought he was talking about Dempster, but he mentioned Lilly's shoulder. He's got some tendinitis."

The Cubs won't have MRI results until Saturday, but a stint on the disabled list is certainly not out of the question.

"From talking to Lilly, he had this when he was in Toronto and it took him a couple weeks, so there's a possibility there," Piniella acknowledged.

For now, the Cubs' lone All-Star representative definitely will miss Saturday's start against Cincinnati, which moves Kevin Hart up a day and Rich Harden, who insists he never demanded to pitch at night but maybe should, will pitch another day game on Sunday.

Piniella is planning to have Dempster back from the DL to go against Houston on Tuesday, but what the team will get right away from the right-hander after nearly a month off with a broken toe is uncertain at best.

Oh yes, and there is still no projected return date for Geovany Soto.

"We're clinging to the first week in August for him," Piniella said before Friday's game. "We know we're in a little bit of a precarious situation [with Koyie Hill as the only legitimate catcher on the roster] but we're trying to ride this thing out. We don't want to send down our 12th pitcher and we're comfortable with the way our bench is set up now. …

"How about if [starting pitcher Randy] Wells makes it the first seven innings and catches the last two? Now that would be something we could give ESPN and the rest of the networks to talk about."

All things considered, Friday's victory -- and, until further notice, every one after this -- should be savored and appreciated. The most encouraging news? A 4-for-5 day from Aramis Ramirez, who had a home run, two doubles, a run scored and three runs batted in.

Not far behind was the six innings of three-run, seven-hit ball from Wells, with all three runs coming on a home run by Reds pitcher Aaron Harang on a hanging slider. Mike Fontenot, Jeff Baker and Derrek Lee also homered. Kosuke Fukudome went 2-for-4 with a double and two runs scored. And yes, the Cubs stranded nine runners, but we're not nitpicking, remember?

Ryan Theriot, who batted in the second of four ninth-inning runs with a two-out single, even goes so far as to quibble with the survival theory.

"I wouldn't say [we're in] survival mode; there's no more time for survival mode," he said. "It's time to start winning games and make our move. We have about two more months left in the season, and this is when teams either go forward or go backwards, so it's looking like we're going in the right direction.

"Obviously, we'd love to have Ted and Geo, but it is what it is and we'll see what happens. Maybe there will be another Randy Wells who will come up and throw the ball great for us." And maybe the Cubs will wake up one day soon without having to duck for cover.

Melissa Isaacson

Columnist, ESPNChicago.com
Melissa Isaacson is a columnist for espnW.com, ESPN Chicago and ESPN.com. The award-winning writer has covered Chicago sports for most of her 31-year career, including at the Chicago Tribune before joining ESPN in 2009. Isaacson has also covered tennis since 1986.