Everybody who had Milton Bradley or Rich Harden in the "First Cub to Miss a Start Due to Injury" Pool came up empty last night. Geovany Soto felt discomfort in his shoulder on a throw to second on a steal by Kaz Matsui. He will sit out the series finale in Houston for sure, and probably at least a couple more games after that.
"'I kind of over-exposed my shoulder a little bit,' Soto said. 'There was a little discomfort in my shoulder. I felt some weakness in it, and I felt I didn't have a shot if somebody else [tried to steal]. I need to keep up my exercises, and we'll see how it is in a couple days.'"
Cubs fans, always ready to roll with whatever obstacles that come up in a season, have started to react fairly predictably. Some people are already blaming the WBC for this turn of events. There are comments on message boards bemoaning the loss of Henry Blanco over the off-season.
Personally, I blame Len and Bob for awaking the baseball gods by pointing out during the broadcast that this was the first time since 1986 that the Cubs did not have someone on the disabled list to start the season. By the way, that team made it all the way to April 21 before Lee Smith went down.
Hopefully, and most likely, this is nothing more than the minor irritation that Soto is making it out to be. But as Cub fans, we usually have to deal with worst-case scenarios just so we are prepared and we don't kill ourselves when it turns out Soto is having season-ending surgery.
I wrote yesterday about how difficult a job Piniella and Hendry have in front of them in figuring out the Fukudome issue. If it does turn out that Soto is out for any significant period of time, it makes the Fukudome offensive blackout even more of an emergent problem.
Hardly any team has depth at catcher. It's just a luxury that most teams can't afford, so there is usually a precipitous drop-off in quality from the starting catcher to the back-up catcher. The Twins are without Joe Mauer and they have to turn to Mark Redmond. If something happens to Russell Martin in Los Angeles, the Dodgers will be seeing more of Brad Ausmus. In Atlanta, somebody named Clint Sammons is backing up Brian McCann until the great David Ross is healthy enough to join the team.
The only time that there isn't a huge dip in talent between starting and back-up catchers on a roster is when they suck equally. The Cubs managed to make it to the playoffs with a three-headed monster consisting of Scott Servais, Sandy Martinez, and Tyler Houston behind the plate in 1998, so if we can't agree that Koyie Hill can match Hank White's output, can we all at least get on board with the idea that he probably can't get much worse than Tyler Houston?
So the problem going forward is not so much that we now have a hole in our lineup at catcher. Most teams have a hole in their lineup at catcher, so that is nothing catastrophic.
The problem now becomes that we have TWO holes in the lineup because Fukudome is pretty much an automatic out at the moment. Couple that with the pitchers' spot and we have one third of our lineup as a non-factor offensively, with Alfonso Soriano sitting in the middle of the gaping hole and never ever seeing a fastball to hit as a result.
Jim, Lou - I just want to tell you both good luck, and we're all counting on you.