Friday morning you will probably read how not much has changed with the Cubs after a 2-1 opening day loss to the Washington Nationals.
Surprise, surprise. It takes longer than a few months to turn around the franchise that had sunk to lows that even the die-hard fans couldn't believe over the last couple of seasons. Yes, the Cubs have been bad before, but this sustained period of bad baseball -- not just losing, but playing dumb baseball -- is not normal, not even on the North side of Chicago.
You will read about more bullpen collapses. You just won't read about the reasons for bullpen collapses.
I am not even talking about Carlos Marmol. Marmol is his own issue. His trade value, because the team fails to work on the issues with his delivery and pitch selection, declines day by day.
This is about Kerry Wood. Wood was held back during spring training, with the idea that he would be needed later in the season. That made March less important.
But why was later in the season important to this Cubs team? Why this year? What did they they think were saving Wood for?
This Cubs team isn't going to win anything. Sure, hope springs eternal on the first day of the season, but no logical person can see the Cubs competing with St. Louis, or Cincinnati, or even Milwaukee. The "need" for a late inning reliever is so minuscule on this club as to be a joke. There is no way that Theo Epstein, or Dale Sveum can believe that as the words come out of their mouths.
Yet the Cubs did hold Wood back, to a total of five innings. Not to put too much emphasis on spring training stats, but the results over those five innings were not pretty. How anyone could believe that Wood was "ready" for the regular season is beyond me.
There was absolutely no reason to save Wood. There are no guarantees that he will even be available past this season, so an injury risk would be somewhat important. There may be value in what he theoretically means to the franchise, but that doesn't matter when it comes to performance. Wood should be used and used hard. He should be treated as if the name on his back just said "RHP" and get the most possible out of that arm.
You get him ready for the season, or he shouldn't be pitching in game one, no matter what his name is.
If you need proof that five innings isn't enough for a pitcher, look at what happened in game one for Cleveland, not more than an hour after Wood blew the 1-run lead the Cubs had scraped together against Stephen Strasburg.
Chris Perez was called on to save a 3-run lead for the Indians. With an even bigger margin for error, Perez, who pitched all of three innings in the spring, blew the lead with shaky command and mistake after mistake. By not being ready to throw, Perez inadvertently blew his team's bullpen on the first game of the season. The Indians and Blue Jays played 16 innings, and if it weren't for the quirky first week of scheduling, the team would still be feeling the effects a week from now. By comparison, the Cubs got off lightly.
The fact remains that you can't throw 30 or 50 pitches in the spring and hope to perform when called on during the season. This is not a sim league. You aren't a Strat-o-Matic card. You need to get your arm ready to perform.
Wood might deny that his lack of preparation was responsible for today, but you shouldn't believe it.
The Cubs were burned because they didn't get one of their better assets ready to do that. That should reflect on Sveum's performance as manager, as he is primarily responsible for making sure his team gets through the spring prepared to play.
You can take physical errors -- there were some -- you can take slow hitting -- it was Strasburg after all -- you can even take being unprepared for playing at Wrigley Field --- David DeJesus, I am looking at you.
But you cannot overlook the ability to train a team for the season ahead of it. That is the whole season, not game 160 before you have played game one.
Wood should have been better prepared to pitch Thursday, and it is only the first failure of Sveum as a manager, no matter how small the sample size involved.