Tuesday, May 22, 2001

Same problems hit Reds, Cubs

Bad hitting, injuries dropped Chicago from first

By Chris Haft
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        CHICAGO — On May 1, the Reds and Chicago Cubs were tied for first place in the National League Central Division with 15-10 records. See how quickly things can change?

        As was the case with the Reds, Chicago (23-20), which opens a three-game series against Cincinnati tonight at Wrigley Field, have suffered from bad hitting and bad luck.

        The Cubs thought they had stopped the revolving door at third base by acquiring Bill Mueller from San Francisco. But Mueller, who was batting .317, fractured his left kneecap on May 13 in St. Louis. He's likely to be sidelined for two months.

        “We'll see how they can deal with injuries. Obviously, we're faced with that right now,” Reds general manager Jim Bowden said.

        The Cubs have received paltry hitting from three spots. Catcher Todd Hundley is hitting .214. First basemen Julio Zuleta (.231) and Matt Stairs (.225) are lagging, which could mean that utilityman Ron Coomer (.328) will spend more time at first. Center fielder Damon Buford was released after hitting .176 in 35 games.

        With Mueller out, the other Cubs hit .208 during an eight-game losing streak that ended Saturday while being outscored 59-20. Those 20 runs resulted from nine homers and just five other hits.

        Still, Bowden was justified in calling the Cubs “obviously improved.” The Cubs' pitching, which ranked 14th in the NL last year with a 5.25 ERA, has risen to the middle of the pack with a 4.19 figure.

        “They have their best pitching staff in 15 years,” said one National League coach.

        Right-hander Julian Tavar ez, who pitches tonight's series opener, briefly led the league in ERA. Wednesday's starter, ex-Red Jason Bere, has 47 strikeouts in 45 innings.

        Other standouts in the starting rotation who won't pitch in this series are 1998 Rookie of the Year Kerry Wood, who has 78 strikeouts in 51 innings, and Kevin Tapani, who's 6-1.


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