A New Wood
There is no doubt Wood hates coming out of the pen. But it is impossible to argue against the results. Wood has only allowed one hit in 7 innings while striking out 12. With Wood reaching 99 mph on the radar gun, he is finally showing flashes of his '98 self. Yes, Wood is the most expensive set-up man in the game but if he is also the best doesn't that matter more? Wood is a gamer and wants to be a starter. But as a reliever he is pitching in innings he rarely reached as a starter. Isn't there more drama to be found pitching in the latter inning than the first 5? With Wood and Ryan Dempster in the pen, the Cubs have finally found a way to shorten the game. For the first time in his three years managing the Cubs, Dusty Baker can actually trust his bullpen.
The challenge now is how the Cubs plan on using Wood next year. In his eight years with the team, in only 2 of them has Wood topped 200 innings. While Wood has been effective as a starter he has struggled with durability. My suggestion is not to make Wood a one inning reliever be it in a set up role or closer. Wood can give the team a lot more than that. Rather could the Cubs figure out a way to use Wood in a way closers like Mike Marshall and Bruce Sutter were used in the 70s, going more than an inning at a time. Imagine Wood entering in the seventh and closing the game out. This would truly allow Baker to not overwork his starting pitchers. There is no reason to think that a closer only has to pitch an inning at a time. With Wood and Dempster the Cubs could have two closers at the same time. The options are quite intriguing. Managers often like to think in conventional ways, but if Dusty Baker can think differently he could be hailed as a genius.
2005 will turn out to be another frustrating season for the Cubs. But for the first time I feel like there could be hope for 2006. However if Wood returns to the rotation, 2006 could be very similar to 2005. What Wood wants to do matters a lot less than what is best for the team. We have finally seen Wood dominant once again. The only way for that to continue is to keep him in the bullpen.