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It is officially time to worry.
In his first game pitching after the All-Star break, Mark Prior felt some pain in his elbow and left before completing the second inning. This is not good. Not good at all.
We don't even know if this is serious, yet. If its not, false alarm. If it is serious though, it's officially time to worry. But while it may be time to worry, its not time to panic. Yet.
Without Mark Prior, the Cubs will never catch the Cardinals, who hold a seven game lead in the Central. Keeping that all in perspective, without Mark Prior and/or Kerry Wood, the Cubs have still been good enough to keep pace with the best in the NL. They are only a game back of San Francisco for the wild card (who were 15-23 on May 16th, incidentally). The Cubs are also only a game and a half back of the 2nd best record in the National League. So considering the injuries they have had to work through, including significant time missed by their three best players, the Cubs are still ok. It just looks a lot worse because St. Louis is putting together a good imitation of the 2002 Anaheim "career year" Angels.
The Cubs still need to be worried, however, because by getting outpaced in their division, they have essentially cut their playoff chances in half. That's not good. If they do make the playoffs though, I still like a healthy Cub team over anyone in MLB, not including a healthy Yankees or Red Sox.
At this point I am more worried about the progress of Prior's career, the best young pitcher since Roger Clemens (or Rick Ankiel if you happen to be a Cardinal fan). Prior's career has been seriously derailed by injuries in only his second full season. Remember the rumors earlier in the year of Prior needing Tommy John surgery? Expect those to start re-surfacing again. Unfounded? Who knows. It's very easy to speculate now, after only 7 starts, that Prior's elbow wasn't completely healthy coming off the DL.
To start his career, Prior had everything pointing in the right direction, everything said that this kid would put together a hall of fame career.
That is, if he stayed healthy.
That is a big "if" for any young pitcher, more so one lucky enough to answer to Dusty Baker's leash. It will be bad for the game if Prior's injury proneness turns out to be a real issue. Have you paid attention to all the attention surrounding Roger Clemens? Baseball fans want to see historic seasons and historic careers. Mark Prior had a better chance than almost anyone to give fans exactly that. This is turning into a very scary trend to start his career.