Will the Training Table Kill the Cubs Season?

Tab BamfordSenior Writer IAugust 8, 2009

CHICAGO - JUNE 28: Carlos Zambrano #38 of the Chicago Cubs wipes off the pitching rubber with his glove during a game against the Chicago White Sox on June 28, 2009 at U.S. Cellular Field in Chicago, Illinois. The White Sox defeated the Cubs 6-0. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

The only statistic that's been impressive for the Chicago Cubs this year has been the list of players to get hurt.

On Friday night, which marked the beginning of an important series in Colorado against a Rockies team the Cubs are currently chasing in the Wild Card standings, the Cubs lost their ace after a handful of warmup pitches before the game ever started.

Carlos Zambrano left his previous start in Florida with a stiff back, and the Cubs had hoped he was simply suffering from dehydration issues; it was in the upper 90s with high humidity when he threw against the Marlins.

But ten minutes before Friday night's game in Colorado, it was Sean Marshall sucking up his pride and being the team-first player he's been all season, getting loose in a hurry to start the game.

Marshall threw more pitches in the first two innings than he had since the first week of June, when he initially left the rotation to be a spot reliever.

Marshall was surprisingly effective as the only lefty in the Cubs bullpen for two months before John Grabow joined the team at the trade deadline.

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Now, with Marshall and Jeff Samardzija both throwing extended innings to cover for the Cubs' latest injury, how will the team move forward?

Ted Lilly is currently on the disabled list.

Geovany Soto just came back from missing a month.

Aramis Ramirez has already missed two months.

Ryan Dempster missed time with a busted toe.

Reed Johnson is also hurting right now.

And now, Zambrano's next couple of weeks are still up in the air.

Oh, and Rich Harden usually takes a couple weeks off every few months.

Adding Grabow and Tom Gorzelanny is certainly going to help, but do the Cubs have enough pitching depth to sustain any length of time without the ace of their staff?

The team got extremely lucky earlier this year when Zambrano missed some time (he was both hurt and then suspended for his volcano impersonation) when they opted to bring up Randy Wells.

Wells is making a strong case for Rookie of the Year honors.

Wells has also probably been one of the Cubs' most valuable players this year, and, because of injuries, has owned a spot in the Cubs' rotation since coming to Chicago.

But with Kevin Hart going to Pittsburgh in the Grabow/Gorzelanny trade, there doesn't appear to be another Wells in the system.

The Cubs have two of their potential starters, Marshall and Samardzija, throwing out of their bullpen right now and don't have time to stretch either of them out to the point that they could throw six or seven innings.

The schedule isn't going to help the Cubs get past an injury now,either. The Cubs have only a handful of days off in the coming two months, and don't have another day off until August 24.

Some media outlets in Chicago are saying the Cubs should add John Smoltz to their bullpen. Others are wondering if the Cubs are good enough to do it with what they've got.

Optimists believe the Gorzelanny that threw so well in his first start with the organization can do that every time out and should get a chance at the rotation.

It doesn't matter what the bandaid is that the Cubs throw onto the batting order, the bullpen or the rotation, if they can't keep their core players healthy there's no chance for them to advance into October.

But this, of course, is nothing new for Cubs fans.

It was just a few days ago that Cubs fans were reminded of the greatest what-ifs for the organization of the last 20 years, when the Padres released Mark Prior. Between Prior and Kerry Wood, an entire generation of Cubs fans had their hearts broken one missed start at a time.

But those were two specific players that had a laundry list of issues. Now it's the entire roster spending time on the training room table.

In fact, it's a miracle Lou Piniella hasn't pulled a hamstring flying up the dugout stairs to get Kevin Gregg or Aaron Heilman off the mound before they gave away more than the Salvation Army.

If Gorzelanny can cover for Zambrano, and if Lilly comes back at 100 percent health, and Wells doesn't decline as his innings pile up, the Cubs might have a fighter's chance in the division and the wild card races.

But if the Cubs continue getting hurt, there's no chance for them to succeed.

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