Are Cubs Fans Prepared For A Rich Harden Letdown?

Will Harden let fans down?

There's a subtext to every Rich Harden start. It's not the typical vague concerns fans have about most pitchers. It goes deeper than wondering if four days is enough rest, or if 120 pitches is too much. (It is.) It is a special case entirely, one brought on by the confluence of Harden's talent and his injury history. It's constantly gnawing: Will this be the day Rich Harden gets hurt?

Cubs fans feel it. We know we do. When he takes the mound, we get excited -- excited to watch a pitcher with such precision control, excited to watch him invariably mow down batter after batter with sneaky sliders and cutters that just graze the edge of the plate. It's a thing of beauty. It's also painful. Harden's mechanics aren't fluid or smooth. They're jerky and slightly awkward. It creates the underwritten knowledge that at any point, those mechanics could once again fail Harden, and his arm could explode.

It's grotesque, watching baseball this way. Fortunately, the Cubs have been extra cautious with Harden. They've limited his innings and his starts. In last year's post-trade-deadline push, there was no rush by Lou Piniella or Jim Hendry to force Harden into more innings than he can handle.

Unfortunately, even a good handle on Harden's workload is no guarantee he'll make it through the 2009 season. He's always injured, except for last year. So 2009 feels like flipping a coin: Will steady, not-too-overworked Harden stay healthy? Or will the old Rich Harden sneak back into Wrigley Field? And are Cubs fans ready for it, if it happens?

Either way, it's a mental state of mind Cubs fans are relatively familiar with. Harden is a microcosm of the team's own struggles. Optimism can at times be both grounded in reality and completely unrealistic.

Eamonn Brennan is a Chicago-based writer, editor and blogger who really hopes he's just worrying too much. You can also read him at Yahoo! Sports, Mouthpiece Sports Blog, and Inside The Hall, or at his personal site, Follow him on Twitter.

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