Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Wells, The New Wood? -- This Year's Rookie Makes His Mark

Randy Wells pitching at Nationals Park, July 2009. Photo By: R.H. Levitin

It’s been almost a year since Chicago northsiders said farewell to their favorite homegrown pitcher of recent memory – Kerry Wood. The man who started his career with the Cubs as the 1998 Rookie of the Year cemented what became a disappointing version of what we all knew and thought would end up being a Hall of Fame tenure. But we know how that story ends.

The 2003 season didn’t just spell disaster for the Cubs but for one of the best starting line-ups the team had ever utilized. From there on out, the once invincible pitcher found himself a regular spot on the disabled list due to shoulder/elbow problems (we can all thank Dusty Baker for that). Since then, Wood has shifted from an ace starter to set-up man to closer and no longer sports the blue and red of Chicago, but rather the navy and red of Cleveland.

Chicago lost one of their favorite sons in off-season trades between the 2008 and 2009 seasons but there was a gain in all of this – Randy Wells.

The Cubs came off of back-to-back National League Central Division championships with the hope that this year would end up being “the year” all Cubs fans and team members hope to achieve. This is a club that came into 2009 with a $135 million payroll and 6 former All-Stars and somehow they managed to mess up Piniella’s plan for victory.

"Names don't win baseball games," Piniella told the Chicago Tribune. "Production wins baseball games.”

And the Cubs offense is doing the opposite of that.

"We're going to score about 160-170 runs less than we did last year," Piniella continued. "That's a lot of offense to lose. That's a dozen or 15 games on a win or loss column. ... To me, that's the biggest reason we find ourselves in the position we're in."

What the Cubs do have is a rookie pitcher who is the sole member of this year’s pitching staff to surpass single digits in the win column.

Wells is one hell of a pitcher. In Tuesday night’s 4-1 victory over the Houston Astros, he allowed one unearned run over 6 2/3 innings which is the first time a Cubs rookie has reached a double digit victory count since Wood’s 13 in 1998. Only five other Cubs rookies have compiled a record of double digit wins over the last 40 seasons: Rick Reuschel (10 wins in 1972), Burt Hooton (11 wins in 1972), Mike Harkey (12 wins in 1990), and Geremi Gonzalez (11 in 1997).

Is it possible that we have a new Kerry Wood on our hands? It might very well be. Wells remains positive about the rest of the season while staying modest about his rookie achievements.

"I'm not trying to reach any plateaus or win any awards," Wells told the Tribune. "Every time they give me the ball, I just try to do my job."

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