Duelling Absences

In Wednesday’s thumping of the Giants, the Cubs were 100% Lee-free, as Derrek chose to drop an appeal of his pending five-game suspension and begin serving the sentence immediately. As Carrie Muskat wrote today at cubs.com, it wasn’t pangs of guilt that motivated Lee, but rather…

“(Lee) fouled a ball off his left ankle in the eighth inning Tuesday night. He could've played Wednesday, but he'll benefit from the rest. His ankle was a factor in his decision.

“Lee said, ‘I probably could've played today but rather than limp through a couple games -- I have to serve it sometime. The feeling was I was going to get at the most one game reduced. Serve it now. We looked at Arizona and they didn't have many lefties. Daryle [Ward] can face them.’"

Ward, in fact, started Wednesday’s game against righty Matt Cain and the Giants, going 1-for-4 plus a walk. The veteran is now hitting .323/.449/.419 (AVG/OBP/SLG) with, surprisingly, no home runs and 8 RBI, the vast majority of his appearances coming as a pinch-hitter.

With the Cubs scheduled to face four right-handers over the next four days, it seems likely Ward will get at least a couple more starts before Lee’s return next week. (Another option would be to play Mark DeRosa at first and let Mike Fontenot play second.)

Coincidentally, this is all playing out for the Cubs at the same time the front-running Brewers are facing a four- to six-week stretch without disabled ace Ben Sheets. Is it too much to suggest that the Central Division race could come down to how the Cubs fare in their five games without Derrek Lee versus how the Brewers fare in Ben Sheets’s six or seven missed starts?

Of course it’s too much to suggest that. Nonetheless, it was certainly swell to see the Lee-less Cubs put 12 runs up on the board today against San Francisco. As Mike Fontenot caught the game-ending pop-up this afternoon, my first thought was, one down, four to go.

And Thursday afternoon, when young Yovani Gallardo makes his first start as Sheets’s replacement in the Milwaukee rotation against the Diamondbacks, all Cub fans should be watching closely.


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