With Prior, Cubs in good hands
If he remains healthy, the return of Mark Prior should provide the spark the Cubs need to win the NL Central.
Finally. Everybody's favorite Cy Young candidate three months ago is finally going to pitch in a game that matters. I don't know about you, but baseball just wasn't as interesting without Mark Prior.
He's great for us, of course. But how great is he for the Cubs?
Ergo, over 20 starts he'll be worth four wins, which might not seem like much but really is. According to The Baseball Encyclopedia, in 2003 only three National League pitchers were more than four wins better than average: Prior (4.9), Eric Gagne (4.9) and Kevin Brown (4.1). Think about it like this ... if you take a .500 team and add four players as valuable as Mark Prior, you might win 100 games.
So yeah, four or five wins is actually quite a lot. But will Prior's wins ... and remember, we're assuming that 1) he's healthy, and 2) he pitches like the Cy Young candidate he was in 2003 ... will Prior's wins have the Cubs in first place on the last day of the season?
They've got some work to do, that's for sure. It's one thing to be in fourth place, and it's another to be 4½ games behind the team in first place. But when you're in fourth and you're four-and-a-half out, you have to be worried.
Am I bearish on the Cubs? No, but I'm not bullish, either. Call me cubbish.
On the plus side:
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On the minus side:
A lot of these things might wind up canceling each other out, so let's get to the important stuff (and yes, I know I took my own sweet time, but I do get paid by the word, so that's your cross to bear) ... If the Cubs have Mark Prior and Kerry Wood and Sammy Sosa in the second half of the season, they're going to win the NL Central. If they don't, they're going to finish second or third, and Houston's Killer B's will get another shot at proving they're not chokers.
Senior writer Rob Neyer writes four columns per week during the baseball season. This spring, Fireside will publish Rob's next book, "The Neyer/James Guide to Pitchers" (co-written with Bill James); for more information, visit Rob's Web site. Also, click here to send a question for possible use on ESPNEWS.