Friday, November 14, 2008

Don't got Wood

I'm checking in for the first time in more than a month because yesterday was such a significant day for Chicago baseball: Kerry Wood will be leaving the Cubs, after GM Jim Hendry declined to pursue a contract with him. It's not totally surprising because even if Wood would (heh-heh) have settled for less than market value to stay in Chicago, he would have commanded a multi-year deal that wouldn't have made sense, given Carlos Marmol's apparent readiness to be the closer.

The Cubs also traded once-ballyhooed minor league pitcher Jose Ceda to the Marlins yesterday for Kevin Gregg, who is now the Cubs' closer insurance if Marmol isn't ready. At least, I'm assuming that will be the case, and not that Gregg will be given the closer job out-right. If Gregg is presumed to be the new closer, the Cubs just downgraded slightly, as Gregg walked twice as many men as Woody did last season (36 to 18) in about the same number of innings (68.1 to 66.1). I do worry about Marmol's emotional readiness. Part of Wood's successful transition to closer was that he became very cold-blooded early last season, a state which was never more apparent than when he paralyzed Prince Fielder with that well-placed curveball on Sept. 16 to end a 10-pitch at-bat and the game. That had to be one of my favorite moments from last year.

Wood will be missed, especially if he does well somewhere else--and that could even be in the Central Division, with Milwaukee and St. Louis both wondering who their closers will be. Wood had such a star-crossed career here that some may say the Cubs and Wood should have parted ways sooner. Say what you want about his durability, but ultimately, Woody has reached the postseason four times in 10 years as a Cub, and that's how I will choose to remember him.

The next question is, what will the Cubs do with the money they may have saved by cutting Wood loose. The talk about Peavy has been intriguing. Will the Cubs pull off a trade that may involve Dempster and then fish for another free agent starter? We'll see.

On the other side of town, the White Sox traded Nick "Dirty 30" Swisher and minor league pitcher Kanekoa Texeira to the Yankees for two minor league pitchers and Wilson Betemit, who a multi-position Mark DeRosa type. That could mean Juan Uribe won't be back, though we have all heard that before.

Betemit is a good acquisition, though he has never really fulfilled his promise as a hitter. If you look at Swisher's stats from last season, you have to say the Sox got a great deal, but many observers, SBW included, think Swish will rebound in '09. It's a little disconcerting the Sox also shipped Texeira, who was unhittable last year at A and AA. The Sox received two somewhat more experienced hurlers in Jeff Marquez and Jhonny Nunez, but neither seems to be a real stand-out.

The Sox had earlier picked up one-time Rockie Jayson Nix to press Chris Getz at second base. Nix actually lost the starting job in Colorado last year and went to the minors, but he's decent hitter and has the speed asset Ozzie highly valued by the Sox. Other news we've all heard: Junior Griffey and Toby Hall are gone, and center field remains open.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Your 2009 Chicago White Sox

I was waiting a while to post my thoughts on what the off-season may have in store for the White Sox, partly because I couldn't get over how quickly White Sox GM Kenny Williams tried to promote Chris Getz as a starting second baseman next season. Within a day after the ALDS-concluding Game 4 loss, the papers speculated on the Sox' plans for 2009, and Williams strategically mentioned the injured and somewhat forgotten Getz as a possible key figure next year.

That's assuming everyone's favorite new player, Alexei Ramirez, moves to shortstop with the departure of free agent Orlando Cabrera. This is the one change for next year that everyone seems to agree will happen.

The other news of the past week that had me re-thinking various scenarios was Junior Griffey's knee surgery and the likelihood that he will play another year somewhere. Would the Sox consider picking up his option and operating a power/speed platoon of Junior and B.A. or Jerry Owens (remember him?) in center field? I'm probably the only one who feels this way, but I still kinda like the idea of a healthier Junior hitting in The Cell. But, with the reality of the rest of the line-up, it's not going to happen.

Since I lasted posted, my friend The Commish weighed in with potential conservative and aggressive designs on the 2009 Sox. I like his idea of pursuing Willy Taveras a lot, and that's just the kind of speedy CF and lead-off man the Sox need to play Ozzie Ball. He had a bad year hitting in Colorado (.251) but still stole 68 bases. Take a few more pitches and bunt a little more, and he could end up with 80 SBs. I agree the Sox would need to ship Dirty 30 to make it happen, which would be fine, though the Rockies could want one of our young pitchers and a speedy outfielder (B.A., Dewayne Wise, Owens?) instead. Dirty 30 will have a better 2009 than his horrible 2009, but I would still rather see the first deal than the second.

However, trading 1B/OF Swisher would make it harder to do another attractive deal--moving Paulie to the Angels, as The Commish suggests in his more aggressive scenario, for crafty, speedy, useful lead-off man Chone Figgins. I think it would be a coup, and would give the Sox their 2B replacement for the Missile.

There's also a possibility, however, that the Sox may re-commit to Paulie the way that he has promised to re-commit to getting in better shape for next year. If they did somehow trade both Swisher and Paulie, it would be imperative for them to sign a 1B free agent like Kevin Millar or Tony Clark (forget Texeira). Thome is no longer a full-season option at 1B.

That's a lot of different pieces falling into place. If Paulie-for-Figgy doesn't happen, you still need to fill that 2B spot, if only because there are proven second baseman better than Getz on the free agent market:

Orlando Hudson
Mark Loretta
Mark Ellis
Ray Durham (!)

Then, there's the issue of 3B--re-sign Joe Crede or take a shot with Josh Fields or Juan Uribe who somehow manages to keep providing enough value to hang around? Could the Sox do the above deals AND sign a free-agent second baseman, which would move Figgins to 3B? Wow... I don't see all this falling into place at all. Here's my three different scenarios:

Your 2009 Chicago White Sox starting line-up

Likely version:

CF Taveras
SS Ramirez
LF Quentin
DH Thome
RF Dye
1B Konerko
C A.J.
2B Getz
3B Fields or Uribe

Radical version:

2B Figgins
DH Thome
LF Quentin
RF Dye
C A.J.
SS Ramirez
CF Taveras
1B Millar or Clark
3B Fields or Uribe

Totally radical version:

3B Figgins
2B Hudson or Loretta
LF Quentin
DH Thome
RF Dye
C A.J.
SS Ramirez
1B Millar or Clark
CF Taveras

In my likely version, I want to be clear that I think Kenny is sticking to this idea of Getz starting at 2B despite the other possibilities. If he then pushes hard for Taveras and gets him, he'll call the off-season a success and watch his own free agents go bye-bye. That would be a step in the right direction, but not what the Sox will need to win it all next year. Move Paulie while you can and pack the line-up with speed.

One last thing: Jake Peavy apparently is available. Trading young pitchers and position players for him sounds like a Kenny Williams move, but Peavy I think would not do as well in The Cell or in the A.L. Could the Sox, as The Commish says, trade Gavin Floyd, maybe Clayton Richard and others for Peavy? If not, I predict the sox will have three southpaws--Buehrle, Danks and Richard--in the starting rotation next year.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Your 2009 Chicago Cubs

Consider this the first of many off-season posts on the subject of how our teams could shape up for next season...

It was ironic that Alfonso Soriano said after the Cubs' NLDS disaster that part of the problem was the team's "make-up," since it is Al-So who is one of the albatrosses in the line-up. I would like to trade him, as Sox fan Paul Reis suggests, even for just a couple of young supporting players, but who wants him without the Cubs paying most of his contract off? Could he be part of a Brian Roberts deal? Could he be sent to Atlanta, a team that, aside from Chipper Jones, is full of utility men and could use a power-hitting left-fielder enough that they would let him hit lead-off? Toronto, which desparately wants access to the A.L. East race?

I would like to see it happening, but I don't see it happening. So, what about other possible trades? Everyone's upset with the second albatross, Fukudome, but he's almost as untradeable as Soriano. I think teams like the Sox, Yankees, Oakland and others with a keen interest in plate patience, strong defense and good base-running skills, could be interested, but probably wouldn't part with much, would demand more than just Fukudome and would need contract help from the Cubs. The thing is, Fukudome could prove to have a much better second year if he makes a few adjustments, or the Cubs can get him to spend some time at AAA or in an off-season hitting program. I wouldn't give up on him just yet.

Then, there's Jason Marquis. I could see Marquis having value in big parks like Detroit or Seattle, or maybe Baltimore, but it might be good to keep him if Samarzdija isn't ready for a starting role.

More radical trade ideas: Derrek Lee, Marquis and Ronny Cedeno to the Orioles for Brian Roberts, Kevin Millar and whoever else they are willing to give; Soriano and Samarzdija to the Rockies for Matt Holliday; Soriano OR Lee to Toronto for OF Adam Lind, RHP Brandon League and LHP Brian Tallet (all up-and-comers).

Why the pre-occupation with trading D-Lee? Despite brief glimpses at greater potential, he's a low .290s hitter with his best power and speed years behind him at age 33. Yet, he could prove very valuable for a team that needs a 1B with a reliable bat, plate patience and a good glove. He does have a no-trade clause, and probably would rather go home to California than East or North, but maybe he would wave it for a welcoming situation where there wasn't a 100-year burden on everyone's back.

I also don't see the Cubs spending much money of the free agent market after the spending of the last couple years, the realization that free agent spending hasn't brought postseason success and the questions surrounding the timing of the team's sale in a crappy economic climate. I wouldn't be surprised is Jim Hendry is hand-cuffed by the Tribune company from spending much beyond what's needed to extend Harden (done) and re-sign Dempster, Woody and maybe Tatts Blanco. That would mean good-bye to Jim Edmonds, Daryle Ward and Bob Howry, among others. The departure of the first two is seen as likely by many people, but Howry, I think, needs to re-start--again--somewhere else.

Could the Cubs use a free agent like Mark Texeira if they move D-Lee? Definitely. Could they use a free agent like Raul Ibanez if they somehow ship Soriano or Fukudome? Absolutely. Interesting scenarios, but unlikely.

A couple lower-cost free agent signings could include a Howry replacement like Jorge Julio (3.60 ERA, 34 Ks in 30 IP for the Braves this year), and a southpaw specialist--maybe Brian Shouse (2.81 ERA for the Brewers this year). These guys are not total studs, but that is sort of the point.

What other positions are in question? Well, there's manager. I know, Lou's deal was extended to 2010--before the NLDS fiasco that made him look like the rickety old man he appears to be every time he drags his butt out to the mound. Lou's package of confidence-building, occasional risk-taking and subtle line-up tinkering is a big part of what drove the Cubs to two straight division titles. Yet, as the pressure builds again next year, I wouldn't be surprised if we start to see more of crotchity Lou, the one who showed up in Tampa more often than not. I'll say right now I do not think that extension will be fulfilled for one of three possible reasons: 1) The Cubs finish out of division contention next year 2) The Cubs win the division and lose again in the NLDS 3) The Cubs win the World Series. The first two scenarios I think could result in a situation where Lou gets fed up and wants to leave as much as the Cubs (be then under a new owner) want to him to leave. Under the third, Lou decides he can't do any better and it was just to darn stressful, so the Cubs agree to let him retire--oh, and with teh Cubs having won it all, the planet explodes, and there is no 2010 season anyway...

Your 2009 Chicago Cubs starting line-up

Likely version:
LF Soriano
SS Theriot
1B Lee
3B Ramirez
C Soto
RF DeRosa
2B Fontenot
CF Fukudome/Johnson

Radical version:
2B Fontenot (.395 OBP this year)
SS Theriot (the Cajun Connection!)
LF Soriano (Ks dip, HRs and BBs up)
3B Ramirez (More solo HRs, but same overall RBIs)
1B Lee (fading, but still potent N0. 5)
C Soto (they'll pay for walking D-Lee)
RF DeRosa (still streaky good, great value at No. 7)
CF Johnson (Fukie backs up, occasionally starts vs. righties or gets demoted)

Radically unrealistic overhauled-by-trade version:
2B Brian Roberts (Mighty Might again a Sub-Cub)
SS Theriot (some things never change)
3B Ramirez (sees great pitches)
LF Holliday (.388, 74 HRs, 192 RBIs--and has no problem not hitting lead-off)
C Soto (lots of solo HRs)
1B Hoffpauir/Millar (Hoff's power + Millar's fun = D-Lee forgotten)
RF DeRosa (finally settles into one position)
CF Johnson (With Fukie traded, Reed says, "Hey guys, what about me?")

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

The fan in me

I would have rooted for the Cubs. If you really know me, it probably comes as no surprise that, had the Cubs and White Sox met in the World Series this year, I would have rooted for the Cubs. I would have done it as a return to abandoned childhood allegiance, and also for my father, a true-blue Cubs fan who passed away last January and was unable to experience the amazing, eventful, sad-but-not-too-sad 2008 Cubs season.

I abandoned the Cubs at some point within a few years after the 1984 season. I know it's hard for Cubs fans who don't remember or weren't around for that season, but the play-off collapse that year, with the Cubs up two games, was far worse than what happened this year and in 2003 (when, many of us conveniently have forgotten, the Cubs were long-shots to begin with). I was heart-broken and felt all the other feelings that a lot of Cubs fans are expressing now.

But, over the next few years, attending a few Cubs games here and there while going to my first few Sox games, the heartache started to turn into a sense of pity for the entitlement that I had felt as a Cubs fan in 1984. You don't get to win simply because you want it badly, because you haven't won in a while, or because your ballpark is a really fun place to hang out. You don't get to win because you've lost badly before, or unfairly (in your eyes), or because you feel the experience of rooting for your team contains some essential magic. Baseball is magical. Baseball is fun. Baseball is tough. Baseball is real. Good teams win, and great teams beat them.

When the experience of rooting for a team starts to be more about desperation and entitlement than anything else, it ceases to be worthwhile. It saddens me to see a lot of Cubs fans still wearing their entitlement on their sleeves after this year's postseason failure.

I started to have more fun watching the Sox than I did watching the Cubs because a ballgame on the Southside was just a ballgame. It wasn't a small thing, mind you. It was important and loaded with implications, but it did not feel so burdened by past events, or by fear, or by fate, or by entitlement.

Anyway, that was years ago, and in the years since, my appreciation of the Sox has grown, and my appreciation for the Cubs has gradually returned. The people who have become involved in the Cubs as players, coaches and management truly have begun to change the perception of the team as a bunch of lovable losers. This has been especially clear in recent years under Jim Hendry, who really won me over when he made critical mid-season moves in 2003.

The Cubs and Sox both annoy me on occasion, but that's part of being a fan. Because I come from a generation before interleague play, I could always compartmentalize my passion for both teams. It's a lot harder to that now. I want them both to win. If they ever do meet in the World Series, I probably still would root for the Cubs though I wonder if that would change if the Cubs had already won a World Series by then. I don't know. I sometimes wonder if the Cubs were to win the World Series in the next few years against anyone, would I finally leave them behind? I don't think so. Like the Sox, they are a Chicago team, and I'm a Chicagoan. A fan of Chicago baseball.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

An ill-timed glitch, then we came to the end

Sorry, folks, problems with Blogger again yesterday morning prevented me from making some timely comments on our city's one, very lonely postseason win. As it turned out, there wasn't much time to enjoy the celebration after the White Sox' 5-3 Game 3 ALDS win over the Rays, as barely 24 hours later, those same Rays were celebrating their first play-off series victory on our own carpet.

But, let's not gloss over Game 3: Danks proved to be the big-game pitcher we knew he could be. He mostly mowed down a Rays line-up that no one else seemed to have an answer for, striking out seven in 6.2 IP. The few jams he got himself into, he managed is way out of, and was one out from notching 7 IP when he gave up a two-run shot to B.J. Upton, who had been silent the whole series until then. For once, the Sox bullpen held, as Matt Thornton and Bobby Jenks kept the Rays in check the rest of the way.

Ozzie was aggressive with the base-running plan, unless it was all the players. With the bases jammed with piano movers (Thome on 3rd, Paulie on 2nd, Junior on 1st), the Missile hit a sacrifice fly. Thome scored, but the real surprise was seeing Paulie, who seriously must be the slowest man in the league, tag and take 3rd, while Junior, whose aged thickening around the middle belies his nickname, took off and made it to second. They may have both been seriously winded, but their improved position helped them score on a double by DeWayne Wise, who might have been ALDS MVP in a parallel universe. It's hard to believe the Great and Powerful Oz didn't have something to do with the tag-up calls, but he didn't let on after the game that this was the case, and in true Ozzie fashion, blabbed that he thought Junior didn't actually tag.

Wise also had a stolen base, and so did B.A., who replaced Junior in the sixth when the future HOFer walked. I thought at the time that with Junior building a nice afternoon with two hits and a walk, Ozzie was really taking a chance removing his bat from the line-up so early against the comeback-kid Rays, but it proved to be a golden move when Juan Uribe came up with a two-out hit that scored B.A.

Game 3 was great overall effort, and the Sox looked as ready for big things as they did going into Game 163 the week before...

The Commish and I were at Game 4, sitting in the upper tank, and I have to say it is a very strange experience watching another team celebrate like that on your field. Painful, yes, but almost more strange than painful, as it's a bit like watching a silent movie (at least for those of us too far up to hear what the Rays were probably yelling and laughing about) or maybe a car crash on the other side of the expressway. The Rolling Black Out tried to keep emotions high throughout yesterday's contest, even with a four-run deficit that looked like an eight-run spread the way the Sox were hitting (which is to say, not much), but by the bottom of the 9th, there was mostly a lot of sighing, and I have never heard a ballpark more quiet than when the fans were exiting and the Rays were dancing for the cameras around the pitcher's mound, celebrating their 6-2 victory. The most touching moment may have been when the handful of fans still left starting cheering "Let's go, White Sox!" as Bobby Jenks and a couple other bullpen pitchers made their way across left field toward the clubhouse. The Sox were done, but the appreciation wasn't.

The Sox offense never had it yesterday against Andy Sonnanstine, one of those guys with a 4+ ERA who suddenly becomes unhittable in the postseason because everyone is too amped up to wait for his 78 mph junk. The last time I saw the Sox flail this badly was in Game 1 of the 2005 ALCS (yes, the only loss of the play-offs) against well-traveled junkball tosser Paul Byrd.

Unfortunately, Gavin Floyd couldn't stay even, giving up 2 HRS to Upton in two straight at-bats. In the 4th inning, the ex-Cub factor reared its head when Cliff Floyd doubled home a run and later score. The Great and Powerful Oz pulled Floyd for young Clayton Richard, who managed 3 IP, 1 ER in another performance that suggests a 5th rotation spot may be in his future. Octavio Dotel turned in an out-less performance and was charged with a run, but the damage was done. All the Sox could muster were solo HRs by Paulie and JeDye in a toothless, four-hit attack.

Some fans on the train ride North tried to keep it together by bragging that the Sox had lasted longer than the Cubs this postseason, but for most, the 3-1 ALDS series provides little to console. What's at stake is so much bigger than cross-town rivalries, as this postseason has painfully made clear. SBW began with the hope, now brutally dashed, that we would see our "great in 2008" Cubs and Sox teams meet for the MLB title. We're embarrassed about the end result, but we'll continue to carry the torch for both teams into the off-season and into 2009. Check back in the days to come as we talk about potential off-season moves for both teams, and list some of our favorite moments from the season that was.

One more thing: I said I would tell you on the eve of the Windy City World Series who I would root for, the Cubs or the Sox. I guess I don't have to tell you now, but I will... my next post.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Dream deferred

There will be no Windy City World Series this year. There will be no Chicago Cubs in the World Series this year. Swings Both Ways will, true to form, still root for the White Sox to at least get our city a postseason win today, but let's have a moment of silence for a Cubs team that was darn good, but not good enough, at least not in their final three games.

"How can we not be cursed?" That's what one sad Cubs fan said in today's Trib. It is hard in the early hours of Sunday morning (Yes, the glorious sun has risen again...) to think about the last two seasons and postseasons and not feel that way, but after the hangover fades, remember this: The wait and the expectation for a championship carries no value whatsoever, so forget about it. You are entitled to nothing. Your willingness to vent your misery so openly and dramatically only gives the gawkers reason to look--it cannot affect anything that happens on the field. Enjoy what happens on the field for as long as it is enjoyable. If you believe in anything, believe in the moment--and not that the departed souls of Cubs fans crowding heaven will light the way to the promised land. Being great in the regular season doesn't guarantee anything. A five-game play-off series is filled with pressure unlike anything else in the regular season and postseason. There is little time to execute, little time to make up for mistakes.

The Cubs were swept out out of the NLDS and the postseason 3-1 by the Dodgers, a Dodgers team that looks almost nothing like it did July 31. This not only speaks to the addition of Manny (who is like a dreadlocked version of Roy Hobbs, hitting, as The Commish noted in a text last night, at will) but also Casey Blake, the return of Rafael Furcal (who played like an MVP earlier this year before getting hurt), not to mention the replacement of Jeff Kent with the speedier, craftier, better-fielding Angel Berroa/Blake DeWitt combo. There was also an unheralded career .303 hitter named James Loney, who Cubs pitchers might have forgotten about amid the pressure of dealing with Manny.

Yes, the Dodger are good, but the Cubs made a lot of mistakes. They made six errors in three games. There were also mistakes that didn't officially count as errors, but were errors--Mighty Mite's poor throw from the cut-off post last night that allowed Manny to score when he should have been out with the score stuck at 1-0; A-Ram's apparent poor tag of Russell Martin sliding into 3rd base earlier that inning (it may have been a bad call, but waiting for Martin to slide into the tag only creates an opportunity for a bad call). Had those two things not happened, the game remains 0-0. Still, Rich Harden didn't have his best stuff.

Offensively, the Cubs came up short throughout the series, straight through the entire game last night. Hideki Kuroda is very good, always providing very limited opportunity for homers and walks (as the Cubs could attest from being shut-out by him earlier this year), but he was not as good last night. The Cubs managed six hits off him (and eight for the night, more than the Dodgers for the second time in this NLDS), and forced two walks but couldn't come through with run-scoring hits (the only run coming off the bat of Sub-Cub Daryle Ward with two outs in the 8th inning). D-Lee hit .545 (!) in this series and was 3-4 last night, but Soriano and A-Ram aseemed unable to hit in key situations in all three games, and Soto didn;t have ROTY-like numbers in the postseason. Soriano might be the biggest disappointment, making a lot of Cubs fans yearn for a real lead-off hitter. Ultimately, the team that had more five-runs-plus innings during the regular season than any other could not manage to score five runs in a game during the postseason.

The Cubs were the winningest team in the National League this year, and if you want to believe in fate, then that fact may have fated the Cubs to lose: Phil Rogers points out in today's Trib that nine times in the last 14 years, the winningest team in its league has failed to advance past the first round.

I can't argue with a lot of the choices Lou made. I do wish he was a bit more urgent to change pitchers in a few situations, and to bring in pinch-hitters at other times, but perhaps all of that only comes from hindsight. It is pretty bad that the best Cubs pitcher in the final month of the season, Ted Lilly, didn't make it into this series at all. How did that happen? Was Lou afraid he would throw his glove? I wonder if he could have made a difference starting Game 2--though Zammy wasn't bad, Lilly's gritty tough-guy act on the mound might have calmed the bumbling Cubs fielders more than Zammy's outward fretfulness--or maybe relieving early in Game 1 when it was obvious Dempster was stumbling. If the Cubs have a pitcher that good on the bench in a five-game series on don't use him, maybe the lesson is each game needs to be managed like it's do-or-die. Bring that starter in the moment the first guy shows he doesn't have his stuff. Coaches and players from all teams hate to use that phrase--do-or-die--but maybe it's the only way this sort of Cubs team can gain the play-off edge. It will be another year before we have the chance to find out.

So, there is still another Chicago team in the postseason, and they are playing at home today with a decent chance to stave off being swept like the Cubs. The Sox seem to do OK in do-or-die games lately. Maybe they can still keep part of the SBW dream alive.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Fade to black out

The Sox started ALDS Game 2 against the Rays in encouraging fashion. After the 1st inning ended, I felt the same way I did after the top of the 3rd in Game 1--which should have been my first warning. The Sox had a 2-0 lead after the 1st, they had hit well, moved runners and used plate patience, making young Scott Kazmir throw something like 40 pitches. They left the bases loaded, but it seemed like a sign of good things to come. In the bottom half of the first Buehrle looked like his usual self, working fast and not wasting pitches.

But, the Rays fought back, and even though the Sox kept putting guys on base--in every inning but one, and they had two men on bases in three separate innings--they couldn't grind out another run against Kazmir, or Balfour, or J.P. Howell or even more interesting-than-good submariner Chad Bradford. Balfour and Howell in particular were nasty in getting out of jams, and made me wonder if the Rays have some kind of training program that encourages their pitchers to jabber to themselves on the mound--in any case, it seems to work. Sox hitters argued some called strikes, but honestly, they just seemed fooled by some good breaking pitches.

Buehrle toughed it out, minimizing a 2nd inning attack by the Rays by closing out the inning with a double play and yielding only one run. Later though, he gave up a 2-run, opposite-field HR to lefty Akinori Iwamura (nice to at least someone from Japan doing well in the postseason). It was almost more a nice piece of hitting by Iwamura than it was a real mistake by Buehrle.

The Rays broke it open in the 8th, with Buehrle still in and under 100 pitches, but getting ineffective. I know Ozzie wanted to wait until the last possible moment to go to the pen, but in this instance, Buehrle quickly gave up a triple and a single to score a run. Dotel and Thornton couldn't stop the bleeding before the Rays worked up the eventual final score, 6-2.

So, the Sox are now down 0-2 and headed back to The Cell. After failing to steal Game 1, and missing a pretty good chance to take Game 2, it will be Danks vs. Matt Garza in Game 3 tomorrow. Garza is talented, but can be had when he's not pitching in the dome. I don't know how often Sox fans want to resort to the black out (is it the next Rally Monkey?), but in any case, tomorrow's big game would be a great time for some Southside energy.

Friday, October 3, 2008

It can't get much worse

It can't get much worse for the Cubs, and I mean that quite literally: If they lose again, there are no more games left. What will happen in Game 3? Will Harden's arm fall off? Will the Cubs suffer sun stroke from being out in the field so long? Will Piniella and Sinatro get lost on the L.A. freeways, end up in San Diego instead, and decide not to come back?

The Cubs aren't that cursed. They aren't cursed at all. They just play like it. Two years running, they have played in October like the weight (or wait) of the world is upon them--and is upon anyone who chooses to feel it (somebody should hire a hypnotist, not a priest). Piniella was right when he said Games 1 and 2 of the NLDS were the two worst games the Cubs played all year. They were the two worst since Game 3 of the NLDS last year, when they completely rolled over after losing Games 1 and 2.

So, were the 2003 Cubs that good? They won six play-off games and were really close to winning a seventh, losing the NLCS to a team with a better record that eventually won the World Series pretty handily. Is true you need to play your way right into the play-offs to keep your edge? That is only part of the recipe, of course, as the 1998 Cubs and this year's Milwaukee Brewers and Chicago White Sox will tell you. The other part is--I don't know, but it's roughly got something to do with just playing like you know you can.

The Cubs dropped and booted four balls in Game 2, becoming the first team ever to post four errors in an NLDS game. Zambrano, who we were so worried about, was actually pretty good, striking out seven and giving up 3 earned runs. Unfortunately, the Dodgers scored a total of 10 runs--seven while Zammy was in the mound--in winning 10-3. And let's not let Zammy totally off the hook for this one--he's got to step up after errors and minimize the damage; instead, he maximized it.

The Cubs are hitting OK, not great, but enough to score a few runs late in this one. De-Ro, despite committing perhaps the most signifiant error of the four, had two RBI for the second game in a row. Here's some positive thinking: If the Cubs come back and win the NLDS, maybe De-Ro will take MVP honors. D-Lee had two hits (and an error), and Edmonds had an RBI (and showed his age in the field by taking eons to reach a couple balls). The weak spots in the offense: Fukie is done after going 0 for 8 in the series so far, and I was surprised Piniella even started him in this one. he at least might have hit for him after it became clear last night's game would not be one in which pristine fielding was much valued. Theriot (error) also came up empty last night, and Soriano is now 1 for 9 in Gmes 1 and 2. Al-So, of course, is not your typical lead-off hitter, which is never more apparent than the games in which the Cubs just need to scratch out a few runs. True, he won some games for the Cubs this year with his bat, but against Dodger pitching, it has been a liability. By the way, with Mighty Mite likely to start in Game 3, I wouldn't mind seeing Reed Johnson, suddenly a forgotten man, in Game 3, too.

There is both much more to say, and not much else to say. We'll go with the latter: Harden pitches tomorrow night for the Cubs. He proved to be a great second-half acquisition, though he has struggled lately. He's 1-2 in the postseason, though he only started one of those games, I believe. Again, positive thinking: Rich Harden in a pitcher's park against a lot of hitters who haven't seen him (Manny is 1 for 8, 1 HR; Casey Blake is 0 for 1; Nomar hitless as far as I could tell) is a good thing. The Dodger's Kuroda doesn't walk a lot of guys, so the Cubs will need to hit. Getting away from the scene of the crime might help, and if they win Game 3, Lilly, their best pitcher in the last month, will go in Game 4.

What else? The Cubs' regular season record was 13 wins better than the Dodgers' record, but this is such a different Dodgers team than they played earlier in the year. The Cubs have been bad, but L.A. has been pretty darn good.

And after all that, there's still the White Sox to talk about. They had me feeling good all the way until the bottom of the 3rd inning. They eventually lost 6-4. Actually, concern about Javy Vazquez starting this game was tremendously mitigated by a quick 1st inning, and a 2nd inning in which he let the lead-off man homer, but then powered through the next two guys with strikeouts. 4 Ks in 2 IP kinda sounded like the Vaz of 2007, but there is a Vaz difference (you know I'd go there, eventually) between the Vaz of 2007 and the one we've seen in 2008, especially lately.

DeWayne Wise came up with another surprising homer, this one a three-run shot that put the Sox up 3-1 in the top of the 3rd. I was listening on the radio at the time, and though the Trop crowded quieted a bit, it sounded to me like there were a fair number of Sox fans at this game. Could the Sox really steal this one? It would change eveything if they did, but alas, the 2008 version of Vazquez showed up and left in the 5th inning behind 6-3. Clayton Richard relieved and was stellar, striking out five in 3.1 scoreless IP. It probably earned him more time on the mound if the Sox go a little further, and went a long way toward staking a claim on rotation spot next year. Vaz, on the other handed, pitched himself out of this series. If it goes to five games, expect Buehrle to get the ball again.

Buehrle will go in Game 2, which is something to feel good about. The Sox hitters also have to deal with a lefty, Scott Kazmir, who can be unhittable when he is not pretty hittable. If Kazmir wavers or comes off a bit nervous, Sox righty hitters like Paulie, The Missile and the O.C. may do well in this one--sounds like anotehr game that could be stolen. The offensive attack was not great in Game 1, but not really lacking. Paulie came up with a later homer. The big moment of failure was when the Sox had the bases loaded with one out in the 7th inning. Grant Balfour, who was amazing all year, by the way, struck out Uribe. Then, the next batter, the O.C., seemed to get in a shouting match with Balfour even though the count started in his favor, 1-0. Orlando Cabrera is intense, but one thing you don't want to do with the Rays, even if Balfour started it, is feed their fighting instinct. They are young, but not in the cute puppy sense. There are some pretty brash brawlers over there. A pumped Balfour struck out the O.C. to end the threat, but there was a moment even then when it looked like both benches could empty.

Our teams are not making SBW look very good. We believed--and still believe, because it is still in fact possible--that both our Chicago basebal teams could make the World Series this year. They already have made history, both making the postseason in the same year for the first time in 102 years, but we want more. So far, their attempts have failed, and they are 0-3. As Mrs. SBW is fond of saying when the Cubs are losing, "We need runs, bitches."

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Fight back against despair

The Cubs blew Game 1 of the NLDS, losing to the Dodgers 7-2 at Wrigley, which by the accounts of some who were there, was as somber as a tomb from the moment the gates opened. Not that the Cubs and their fans look to the Southside for lessons on anything, but the fan-unifying "black out" at The Cell earlier in the week showed how a team and their fans can forget the past and throw themselves into the moment at hand. The Sox stumbled their way to Game 163, but the entire park was nothing but focused energy and excitement.

It's the players, of course, who carry the responsibility to win, energy or not, and Ryan Dempster looked completely uncomfortable in a park where he won 14 games this year. His supposed cold-weather throwing regimen during the 0ff-season seemed to prepare him well for the chilly October night at Wrigley, but he was wild from the start. Seven walks in five innings will doom any pitcher in any game, but issuing two of those walks to the opposing pitcher is an urgent cry for help, a cry that was not heard urgently enough in the dugout. Lou and Larry seemed to want to give Demp the benefit of the doubt, but as some columnists have pointed out this morning, why wait for your starter to find himself in a play-off game when you have other would-be starters sitting in the bullpen? On a cold night, it would not have been a bad idea anyway to get a couple guys up a bit earlier than usual to warm up. True, it's only Game 1, but is is the freakin' play-offs.

Dempster has proven adept all year at getting himself out of jams and avoiding the big inning. his two moments of collapse this year occurred at The Cell, and more recently when he fed Albert Pujols a three-run HR down in St. Louis. But this time, with the bases loaded, Demp hung one right in front of James Loney, an extremely good, but fairly unheralded contact hitter. I would say Demp committed the sin of going of the middle of the plate with a 1-2 count, but it looked like he meant to drop something in front of Loney to either get him fishing or ground into a force play. But, he didn't have the command last night to make it happen--something which was obvious to a lot of us at least a few batters earlier.

The Cubs had their chances on offense to right the ship, of course. They got a wind-blown homer from De-Ro and actually out-hit the Dodgers. Here's perhaps the most amazing fact from last night's game: The Cubs had players reach base in every inning of the game. This one was really a missed opportunity in every respect.

But, getting back to the fan behavior, erasing the collective memory of Cub fandom is not an option. When one thing goes wrong, most Cubs fans are bound to fear the worst. I know my stomach was churning even before the fateful 5th inning, when Demp loaded the bases in the 3rd with Cub-killer Andre Ethier at the plate. But, for lack of a better phrase, we need to find out nuts. We need to bring as much energy and excitement to the task as we expect our teams to bring, even when they let us down a little. I'm not saying cheer mistakes, but at least boo them vigorously for a limited moment and get onto to the next thing. And even when the Cubs are behind, make your voice heard during every Cub at-bat and every big pitch. I'm not an advocate of standing early in games our in favorable pitching counts when there are less than two outs, but there's nothing wrong with using your outside voice a little more. That's what seemed to be happening at Wrigley late in the regular season even when the Cubs were behind, but it seemed absent last night. Lord knows, it may add to the pressure for some and there's more pressure on the Cubs than most, but the pressure is there and the only thing to do is focus and play through it.

Game 2 starts tonight at the chilly hour of 8:37 p.m. The Cubs send Zammy against young strikeout-artist Chad Billingsley, but where last night's L.A. pitcher Derek Lowe is postseason-seasoned and tough to hit, young Chad can be had when he doesn't over-power. If he strikes out a few guys early, the Cubs should be able to learn something for later in the game. So, don't panic. And, someone remind Zammy that even though the situation calls for heroes, actually actually trying to be a hero usually doesn't get him very far. Don't you knda wish Lilly was starting tonight?

Meanwhile, the Sox go early down in Florida, and I like their chance in Game 1, coming off of the energy in Game 163 against a young team that has been sitting around waiting for them. Game on.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

The dream is alive

Two Chicago baseball teams have reached the postseason for the first time since 1906. The Sox didn't do much in Game 163, but they did exactly enough in beating the Piranhas 1-0 to seal the A.L. Central Division crown. Only four things of note happened:

1) John Danks pitched 8 "black-out" innings, yielding just 2 hits.

2) Jim Thome hit a towering homer over the centerfield wall.

3) A.J.caught what looked like a tough throw at the plate from Junior on a would-be sac fly, blocked Michael Cuddyer's way and held onto the ball, keeping the shut-out intact.

4) B.A. made a diving catch on a sinking woulda-been-a-hit-in-the-dome blooper to end the game.

The dream is alive for the Sox, who are headed for the ALDS, and the dream is alive for SBW, which was founded on the premise that this could be the year for a crosstown Windy City World Series. The Cubs host the Dodgers tomorrow night in a series that has to start soon so I can stop worrying about it. The Sox begin their postseason journey on Thursday, which doesn't afford much rest for a tired team. That's OK. We'll all take a nice long nap in November.

Game 163 and counting

Alexei Ramirez became the first rookie to hit four grand slams in a single season, pushing the White Sox to a 8-2 victory in their make-up game against the Tigers, and forcing a play-in game against the Piranhas. It may seem unfair to the Piranhas that this game will be at The Cell--the site decided by a coin toss, rather than by who led the season series--but they had their chances to win the division earlier. So did the Sox, of course, but all that is in the past now. As the Great and Powerful Oz said, "162 games mean nothing." Well, we wouldn't go quite that far.

Back to The Missile: He still makes baby mistakes sometimes, but has come very far in just one season, and deserves to win Rookie of the Year. He has already proven himself such a clutch player that the grand slam seemed almost destined to happen. As he stood in and The Cell rocked, it seemed like all he needed was the pitch.

I went nuts when it happened, and with the window open on a cool, wet day, I could hear three or four other guys in my neighborhood doing the same. My favorite sign in the crowd, shown moments after the big hit: "Just like we planned it."

After I texted my Sox fan friend The Commish in my excitement, his response brought me back to cold reality: "But can the pen hold it?" True, with three innings left, it would be a big job for a bullpen running on fumes, but they managed, and tonight, The Cell hosts Game 163. Let's hope they copy the route the Rockies took last year from a play-in game to the World Series.

It's Danks vs. Blackburn. Danks was not good the last time out and has had little luck with the Piranhas, but I like a lefty power pitcher against the Piranhas line-up. The Sox offense has its edge back and, with everyone attending urged to wear black, they will have a park full of raucous fans, a park, which for better or worse, will be open to the elements rather than sealed under a dome on a very cool final night of September.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Delayed gratification

How appropriate is it that the start of today's make-up game between the White Sox and the Tigers is being delayed by rain? Our hopes for the postseason have been in delay mode since last week, and even if the Sox win today, they still need to wait for tomorrow to get a real chance at the postseason.

But, they only have that chance because they woke up and won yesterday behind a tough performance from Mark Buehrle on three days rest. Buehrle wasn't perfect by any means, but when he let guys on base, he was able to lock down (maybe he can teach Vazquez how to do that), and the Sox won 3-1. Paulie stayed hot with a homer, and the rest of the Sox were able to nudge two more runs across in what was a full team effort despite the low score.

The Piranhas, wouldn't you know, were done losing themselves, and shut out K.C. 6-0. So, it's all on the Sox again to extend their season. Even if they can, the odds are certainly stacked more against them than against our Cubs to make our dream of a Windy City World Series come true. The T.B. Rays closed the season out in strong fashion, and look even tougher than the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim and Orange County, who had MLB's best regular season record at 100-62. But, maybe the Sox will surprise--some of us our surprised they are still fighting for a spot at all.

The Cubs sent everyone except Santo out to the mound as they closed the season with a 3-1 loss to the Brewers that let the Beermakers into the postseason club. Actually, emptying the bullpen wasn't a bad idea, as it kept the Cubs in this one for the entire game. Bob Howry, who I hope we don't see too much of in the next few weeks, gave up a two-run HR to Ryan Braun that gave Milwaukee a timely 8th inning lead. CC got his CG, closing out the Cubs in the 9th without too much of a fuss. Let's hope the line-up was just saving their strength for this Wednesday's NLDS opener against the Dodgers.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Falling backward

The Sox don't want it, the Piranhas don't want it--is there a scenario in which K.C. can still win the A.L. Central Division? The White Sox are hitting again, and for power, with Paulie pounding 2 HRs last night, The Missile going yard and JeDye homering again, but the Sox lost 12-6 behind a starter and bullpen that have completely fallen apart.

Javier Vazquez is either too tired to go on from pitching twice on three-days rest, or just plain incapable of finding his edge. He was charged with seven runs and didn't make it out of the 5th inning, only finding his aggressive side when A.J. went out to the mound. It looked like maybe Vaz took issue with A.J.'s pitch calls? Or maybe A.J., disgusted, said something that made Vaz drop what looks like an F-bomb in the photo fronting the sports section in today's Trib. Either way, it wasn't too late to win the game after Vaz departed, but Clayton Richard (despite three mostly good innings), Lance Broadway and especially Scott Linebrink (who has proven himself three years running to be half-season pitcher) all faltered by giving up key hits.

Maybe this late-season collapse was inevitable after the loss of Jose Contreras--just time and extensive bullpen labors catching up with the Sox. Maybe Richard or Broadway should have been used in a couple more spot starts. Post-game radio chatter had a lot of people wishing that Richard had started this particular game. Perhaps Ozzie would have been lambasted if Richard started and lost, but Vazquez has proven amazingly lame in big games (just ask the Yankees, though he did get a victory out of the pen during the infamous 2004 play-offs against Boston). Maybe going with Richard to start and then Broadway for three innings would have shaken the pitching blahs. But hindsight of course is 20/20, and not many managers would pass up a veteran in a situation like last night's game.

The Piranhas lost again to K.C., and though they looked WS-caliber against the Sox, it is again becoming clear that this Minnesota team is not necessarily like the division winners of past years. Too bad the Sox couldn't figure out where the holes were. The Sox are of course still in it, and get another bit of luck falling their way today, as they will not have to face injured 22-game winner Cliff Lee. If fate was ever sending the Sox a gift, this is it.

The Cubs won 7-3 behind a stellar performance from Ted Lilly, who no-hit the Brew Crew into the 7th inning. The Brewers scratched back, but Fukie, who loves Brewer pitching even when he's not hitting anyone else's, added insurance runs with a homer in the 9th. Marquis didn't look good in a bullpen showing intended to get him ready for his October role. The Cubs will go with Sub-Cub pitchers today instead of a limited turn by Zammy, which is fine by me--maybe he can come back strong from extra rest to do well next week. In starting Angel Guzman and probably going to the pen early and often, the Cubs may gift-wrap the wild card for the Brewers, while setting themselves up for a first-round match with the tricky Dodgers. There's not much other choice, but if they beat the Brewers today and the Mets somehow managed to win despite increasing fatigue--well, that would be nice.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Danks tanks, part 2

Remember this post? I had made this mistake of identifying John Danks as a possible big-game pitcher, and he then proceeded to disappoint me and other Sox fans with a run of sub-par games. That cold streak extended into last night's excruciating 11-8 loss to the Indians. It was excruciating because:

1) Minnesota got killed at home by K.C. (What do the Royals have that the Sox don't? Starter Kyle Davies, who has shut down both the Sox and the Twins in the last week.)

2) Regardless of what was happening in Minnesota, the Sox had to approach this game as a must-win, but Danks, who was ineffective from the first batter, and D.J. Carrasco, who served up a grand slam to Ryan Garko, didn't get the memo. The Sox batters picked away at the big lead, but never could develop a big enough inning to catch up.

3) The Sox offense looked obviously better than it had recently, combining long balls by Paulie, A.J. and JeDye with sound, fundamental small ball--well-placed singles and right-side grounders that moved runners and scored runs. A wasted effort.

The Sox again face a must-win game today, because they can't go on assuming the Piranhas will lose. The difference today is that they were handed 1st place last night, and couldn't collect.

So, what's going on with the Cubs? Well, they split a four-game series at Shea Stadium, which is not a bad outcome. However, they won the third game of that series so effortlessly--a 9-6, extra innings win that actually somehow looked easy--against a Mets team that squandered so many chances, you expected them to win the fourth game and teh series as well. Harden led an all Sub-Cub team against Pedro Martinez in that one. The subs performed well against Pedro, and better after he left, especially Micah Hoffpauir, who had his much-anticipated coming-out party with a 5 for 5, 2 HR performance. Unfortunate, Harden wasn't great and the bullpen eventually let the Mets walk away with a 7-6 win.

Last night, the Cubs looked like a 1st place team with nothing to play for until next week, which is not what anyone wanted to see. They lost 5-1 to the Brewers, which gave the Brewers help in the wild card race. Would you rather see the Mets win the wild card and have the Cubs face them in the first round, or watch the Brewers win it, see the Cubs take on the Dodgers in Round 1, and know a possible I-94 match-up might decide the NLCS?

The Mets, even though they have Santana, Wright and Delgado, seem like an easier Round 1 candidate than the sill-hot Dodgers. The Mets needed a full game of fighting and scratching the other night just to beat the Sub-Cubs. At this point, a Brewers team that makes the postseason after all they have been through would be very a dangerous team. Regardless of everything else, I would like they Cubs to go into October on a winning streak.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Are the Sox done?

Worst fears realized. That's what I was thinking watching the White Sox get swept out of Minnesota and out of 1st place last night. Not only did they get swept, but the Piranhas did so in the most infuriating and demoralizing way possible. It is true that they hit and run the bases and field as if they knew the score already--knew they were going to win. But, that is just good baseball by a team perfectly designed to the venue they call home--that horrible dome, as my friend The Commish calls it.

The Sox didn't seem to be out-matched coming in, but their starters never got started (with the exception of Buehrle, who pitched well, but not well enough), their closer and bullpen did not close when the game--the season--was in their hands. Their hitters did not hit (with the exception of Junior Griffey, who had 2 HRs, 3 RBIs, and 3 runs scored in the series) There was also Uribe's pitcher-plunking, bases-clearing line drive last night--that was the only piece of luck that went the Sox's way in a series where they ended up on the wrong end over several questionable calls.

Ultimately, they didn't have enough in the tank to render those calls and other bits of misfortune meaningless, and the Piranhas took advantage of them everytime. The O.C., who was brought in precisely to get this team through this sort of crunch-time, again criticized the team's intensity, and got slapped on the wrist by Ozzie, who may think there's still a chance...

Is there still a chance? Of course, if the Sox run the table, including the make-up game with Detroit that shouldn't have needed to be played, and the Piranhas sweep K.C. to end their season, the teams will be tied with a play-in game deciding who gets October honors. Oh, and there is always the chance the Piranhas could lose a couple to K.C.--who wants to take that bet?

The Sox are not done yet, but a couple of players seem to have given in. Sadly, JeDye did not show up for the Minnesota series in any form, Konerko's hot streal went cold, the Missile fizzled, Wise came off as an unwise choice. It is true that Junior and JeDye and their aged bodies were a poor match for the Dome's spacious, stale-aired, ball-velocity-killing outfield. Sox fans were actually calling for B.A. to save the day--yes, it got that bad. But, the Sox had no answer to what the Piranhas proposed. They played the last two games of this series with more apparent toughness than the first one, and Ozzie's choice in-game can't be argued against too vigorously.

So, what's next? Well, they are at least three games left. How's that for optimism?

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

False start

Well, Javier Vazquez blew his chance in what was a big game for the Sox. The Great and Powerful Oz tried to downplay the series opener in Minnesota before it began, which itself was a strange occurrence, but maybe who had an inkling of what would happen. The Sox were beaten 9-3, and amazingly it was not even as close as that ugly score would indicate.

The Sox blew some chances against Scott Baker, a pitcher in whose games against the Sox this year the Twins have gone 2-0. Junior hit into a run-scoring double play in the 2nd inning and hit a two-run HR in the 9th long after this one was over. Other than that, the Sox loaded the bases in the 5th with nothing gained. Yet, it was definitely Vazquez who threw the game away, leaving everything over the plate. He's a strike-zone pitcher, and that may not be a good match-up to begin with against a contact team like the Twins, but Vazquez seemed to bring nothing extra to this one, no ability to deceive or find a higher speed gear when he needed it.

Seeing all the Piranhas' lefties attack Vazquez, I was yearning for southpaw John Danks to have a start somewhere on this series, but that won't happen. The Sox do have reliable lefty Mark Buehrle going tonight, but he's just 1-2 against Minnesota this year (It also was Buehrle who once famously spotted the Piranhas a 7-run 1st inning lead in a game the Sox later won 9-7). Nick Blackburn goes for the Twinkies, and is 1-2 vs. our Sox.

The Cubs started well against mighty Johan Santana last night, scoring two runs early, but they eventually lost 6-2 in a game the Mets needed to win. I was hoping for a surprise victory against Santana, which could have further demoralized the Mets, which is exactly how I would like them to be if the Cubs end up facing them in the division series next week. That can still be accomplished if the Cubs win the next two.

Much chatter today on sports talk radio about how Piniella will handle the Milwaukee series. He had earlier said the Cubs owe it to the league to play out their schedule with vigor, but the starting rotation for the division series remains up in the air. If the Lou Crew takes a soft route against the Brew Crew, it could set the course for a potential NLCS match-up against the Brewers, both an exciting and scary thought.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Time to shine

OK, White Sox, you're in control of your own destiny as you start your biggest three-game series of the year tonight in Minnesota. If you're good enough, you came back home Central Division champs with three days to get your postseason plans in order. I would say 2 out of 3 would be just fine, but why settle for anything less than a sweep. Think about the four games in a row in June when you beat Minnesota at home, not the three out of four you lost to them at the Dome the following month.

Paulie's hitting, Thome's hitting, the Missile is ready to launch, DeWayne Wise is ready to run. If Junior wants to be a hero for the Sox, the time is now. Vazquez is due for one of his lock-down performances. Let's get thee to the postseason to compete for the Windy City World Series match-up SBW was found upon almost 40 games ago.

Since last we posted, the Sox took care of business on Sunday, shutting out K.C. 3-0 on a strong performance by Danks, and with help from a two-run HR by Paulie. It would have been so much better and easier going up to Piranha-land with a three-game hold on 1st place, but the Sox could only take 2 out of 3 in K.C. If they don't have the best of luck in Minnesota, Cleveland certainly won't be a pushover, and Minnesota has an easier season-closing assignment vs. K.C.

Most Sox fans would cringe at this, but what the Sox need right now is a little of the so-called Cubbie Swagger (Piniella's words). The Cubs still seem to have it, despite clinxhing the division over the weekend, and certainly will need it for the long road ahead. They beat the Cards 5-1 on Sunday to take the regular season Wrigley Field finale, and last night beat up a Mets team that is supposed to be competing for a play-off spot. Marquis was pretty solid and helped himself by hitting a grand slam, which proved to be the margin of victory in the 9-5 win by the Cubs.

Who would you like to see the Cubs take on in their first postseason series? The Mets, with their terrible bullpen, seem like the easiest mark, but they still have Johan Santana to possibly start two first round games if they get in and make the series last long enough--let's see what the Cubs do against Santana tonight before we go any further with that one. The Dodgers would be a challenge. The Cubs took the season series, but that was before Manny showed up. they have a couple good young pitchers and a decent older one by the name of Maddux. They also have great young hitters like Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier. Personally, I'm most scared of the Phillies, who have those big left-handed bats. Though Scott Eyre had a tough year with the Cubs before being dumped and later picked up by the Phils, I think he would be a better postseason late-inning southpaw option than anything the Cubs have to offer. Neal Cotts may have a World Series ring from the Southside, but I don't think he has any edge vs. Chase Utley or Ryan Howard. And, Phillies starters were very good in a four-gamer last month against the Cubs, which the Cubs split, but only just barely.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Cubs clinch, Sox wait

Finally and decisively, though hardly easily, the Cubs clinched the Central Division title for the second straight year, giving them a postseason berth for the second straight year for the first time in 100 years.

The Cubs beat the Cardinals 5-4, and were able to take advantage of some poor fielding early in the game on a base-loaded single by Al-So that turned into a double and scored three runs. DeRo added an RBI later, and even Lilly drove in a run on a squueze bunt. Lilly was pretty good, except for a four-run 6th, and Marmol and Woody made almost no mistakes in preserving the close victory.

There was much debate about whether or not the Cubs would celebrate--or perhaps how they would celebrate--given that the World Series is the ultimate target and this team is supposed to be so different than past Cubs teams. To me, it looked like the usually bubbly bath over fresh Division Champ T-shirts and caps for everyone, complete with stupid observations from media and fans about how there's just nothing better than this. Sure there is, and getting to the World Series would be just a start.

Sorry if I sound a bit sour. Maybe, I'm still mad that they didn't clinch when I was at Wrigley yesterday, but my desire to stay serious--even through the next week just to go into the postseason on the right foot--is also just a reflection of how far the Cubs have to go, and how hard it will be. I was happy to hear many of the Cubs players take the same tone in their post-game interview today.

For the rest of the way, I'd like to see the Cubs play their regulars, with a couple exceptions: Theriot should maybe get some prolonged rest, while putting in additional time at the batting cage to get out of his awful slump. Also, while Fukie used to be a regular, he no longer is, and I think Lou should actually start him the rest of the way against whatever right handers are left, perhaps make him a bunt a few times and work hard on drawing walks and stealing bases if he gets on. His main value right now is as a glove man, but his experience and training give him some valuable tools that could be key during the postseason--and he may night have to drive the ball anywhere to make something happen. If the Cubs get in some close games during the next week, I'd also like to see them use Samarzdija and Howry in set-up and closer roles at least once--maybe give Marmol and Woody a night off, though not every night off, and get the Notre Dame kid and the embattled Howry into a few more tight situations.

The White Sox won last night 9-4 and, witrh a Piranhas loss, got their magic number down to 7. Today, the Sox lost, but the with the Piranhas still being tortured by the now-postseason-bound
Rays, the magic number slid down to 6. It's looking an awful lot like this week's trip to Minnesota will be the crucible.

Last night, Buehrle was on short rest, but pretty solid through 6 IP, and didn't implode after giving up a 3-run HR to Sox nemesis Mark Teahen. The big blast for the Sox was The Missile's third grand slam of the year, which came after an epic nine-pitch at-bat where you could tell Alexei had K.C. pitcher Brian Bannister under his thumb. With CQ out, the young, skinny Cuban has become the most surprisingly potent offensive threat for this team.

And what about DeWayne Wise? He hit two HRs Friday night and has four in the last week. The Great and Powerful Oz should play him as often as possible the rest of the way, since Dirty 30 can not necessarily be counted on.

The Sox have pitchers working on short rest now with mixed results. Gavin Floyd seemed like a sure thing today, but was not good, as far as what we have come to expect from him. He gave up 5 runs in just over 6 IP. The Sox never really got it together at the plate either. The Missile homered again, but this time with only one man on base, and very late in the game. The Sox managed only three other hits. When they are off the mark, they are way, way off. The division still belongs to the White Sox, though, and it will be their division to win or lose the rest of the way.

Friday, September 19, 2008

We are having technical difficulties

I tried to post after yesterday's amazing comeback, extra-inning victory by the Cubs, and last evening's complete breakdown by the Sox, but kept getting errors when I tried to save. Just as well, because I might have been over-reacting to both events at the time.

The Cubs 7-6 win happened after the Cubs had been four runs down in the mottom of the 9th with two out. I was literally in the act of changing the channel as A-Ram took his first swing and saw the ball trip through Ryan Braun's legs before it the channel actually flipped over. I turned back to the game, of course, and had almost no chance to think about the possibilities before Geo tied the game 6-6 on a three-run no-doubter HR. At that point, I refused to entertain the idea the Cubs would lose this one, even after Woody had put two men on in scoring position with no out in the 11th. D-Lee came through in the 12th, and like that the magic number when from stuck at 4 on down to 2.

Piniella joked with reporters afterward about tying one on after the game, and from the looks of today's peformance, which I unfortunately witnessed live, everyone tied one on last night. Zambrano, in his first appareance since his no-hitter, was awful, the worst he could possibly be, and I'm not just talking about his pitching. He was charged with eight runs in less than two inning, and looked the polar opposite of the guy who no-hit Houston less than a week ago. But, the worst part was that as Piniella came to remove him, he stormed off the mound before his glacially slow manager made it all the way out to the mound. Piniella looked absolutely livid and pointed Z back to the mound. It looked like Z Big Cry Baby had a few more words for Piniella before departing and ripping at the buttons on his jersey.

Reportedly, Zambrano's grandmother just passed away, and no one can blame him for feeling bad about that, but at this time of all times, the Cubs needed him to handle that pain, and his apparent disappointment in himself, like a grown man. The Cubs will clinch the division, hopefully this weekend, but this is the last kind of distraction anyone needs. How could this guy go from unhittable and gracious on Sunday night to awful and immature on Friday afternoon? Grow up now, Z, because the postseason is not for big babies.

The Cubs went on to lose 12-6. Most of the starters played like they were hung over (though I'm sure they are all too professional to let that happen), but the scrubs (Casey McGeehee?) tried to make a game of it. Tune in tomorrow to find out if the Cubs are ready to win this thing.

The White Sox rolled over and played dead last night, and just when you thought the Piranhas would help out again as they started a series vs. the Amazin' Rays, they actually won and cut the Sox lead to 1-1/2 games.

Vazquez was not as bad last night as Zammy was today, but he was not good, and left in the 4th inning down 4-1. The bullpen let that lead build to 7-1, and the cause not helped by a key error by the Missile, who is great and everything, but really needs to concentrate a bit better sometimes. The bullpen overall was better than Vazquez, but is really starting raise concerns.

Meanwhile, Paulie took most of the season to start hitting, but now he's the only one. He had a run-scoring double and homer last night. The Sox have failed to fully take advantage of a recent tailspin by the Piranhas (I know, the metaphor doesn't work), and had better be ready to play some very important games next week in Minnesota.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Bump in the road

The only Cub that really showed up Wednesday against Brewers was Aramis Ramirez, who homered and is now 6-10 in his last three games. Maybe that isn't fair to Jason Marquis, who pitch very well after a rocky 1st inning that put the Beermakers ahead 3-0, but thos 3 runs were all Milwaukee needed in a 6-2 victory over the Cubs. The magic number froze--hopefully for just a day--at 4.

The Brewers finally awoke from a multi-game slumber, but the Cubs bats fell asleep. Ben Sheets left after just two innings with an injury, and I'm sure I was not the only one salivating at the idea of the Cubs getting several innings of cuts at the often ineffective Brewer bullpen. So, what happened?

Perhaps it's crazy to think megatively at this point, but the Cubs looked like they gave up after the Brewers got ahead early, which is very much how they looked in some of their losses earlier this month. Hopefully, they can straighten things out today and clinch tomorrow when I'm at the game against the Cards.

The White Sox fell asleep, too, with the exception of Clayton Richard, in losing 5-1. Going into the second game of the series against the Yanks, many of us probably hoped the Sox could get five or six not too horrible innings out of Richard, but the kids gave a good show, limiting the dying Yanks to just two runs in 6.2 solid innings.

Junior and O.C. had two hits each, but the lone Sox run scored on a JeDye ground out. Later, Linebrink came in and made share the game was good and lost by giving up a pair of homers. Maybe Richard can be counted on in the pstseason if Linebrink can't.

The Piranhas lost again in Cleveland, and the magic number goes down to 9, but we're not so, so happy. The Sox missed a great chance to get to the three-game 1st place cushion SBW requires to feel safe before the Sox head to Minnesota.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Feel the magic

SBW took a couple days off to tend to real life, and look what happened: The Cubs' magic number is down to 4 and the White Sox' magic number is down to 10. We're getting closer...

The last two games for the Cubs: Oh, not much happened at all, just another near no-hitter, this one by Ted Lilly, followed by another of Woody's heart attack specials. The Cubs finished their "road trip" playing Houston in Milwaukee by demoralizing the Astros for the second straight game, winning 6-1 behind Lilly, who no-hit the Astros into the 7th (though he was not nearly as dominating as Zambrano the night before). The Cubs actually scored in three different innings, which hasn't happened a whole lot lately. Power was back in vogue at the plate, with D-Lee, Geo and Old Man Edmonds all going yard. A-Ram also had a sac fly. the Astros are not out of it yet, but with this two-game run, the Cubs kinda killed the 'Stros momentum. They not only beat a team they have had trouble with this year, but also cooled off the hottest team in the Central Division since the second half started.

We won't give back the wins, but it's terribly unfortunate that these games had to be moved to what was definitely not a neutral site. How can a Cubs fan talk that way? I'm a baseball fan, too, and I don't like when MLB appears to give teams that can provide better postseason ratings a leg up. Moving the games elsewhere may have changed the course of history--maybe Zammy wouldn't have thrown a no-hitter, and maybe the Cubs would have had a tougher time winning both, but it would have been the right thing to do. Instead, I think MLB's favorable treament gave other teams even more reasons to want to beat the Cubs. The third game of the series likely will now go un-played, unless the Astros remain in contention to the final weekend.

Last night, the Cubs came back home from their vacation home in Milwaukee to face... Milwaukee. When the Cubs were swooning, I was not looking forward to this series at all, but the Brewers have been swooning even worse since, and fired manager Ned Yost, a shocking move. Yost may have overseen the Beermakers' swoon, but he was torpedoed by tightly-wound hitters and a terrible bullpen. Still, maybe it's what the Brewers need to make the postseason.

But, if they do make it into October, it will be as a wild card. The Cubs virtually assured themselves the division flag with last night's 5-4 win. If they can sweep the series, they win the Central and make what looked like a murderous stretch of games from now until the end of the season almost meaningless. This one wasn't easy. The Cubs had to face CC, and did well against him for the second time, scoring three runs in the first three innings, but he got better as the game went on. Meanwhile, Dempster piled up Ks early on, but later let Prince Fielder chip away with a mammoth right field HR. Al-So added a solo HR that gave the Cubs a 4-2 edge, but Fielder added another HR, this one almost more impressive because it was muscled out opposite field against filthy Carlos Marmol.

The Cubs added another run for a 5-3 edge in the 9th, which is more often than not the kind of cushion Woody needs. He gave up a run-scoring double to Ray Durham, who is a great clutch hitter going back to his days on the Sox, but if it's possible to make a 96 MPH fastball easy to hit, Woody did just that, pushing it over the middle of the plate just above the knees. After a cheap infield single by Ryan Braun, Woody stared down Fielder with men on 1st and 3rd, two outs. Woody ended up facing the one guy no one wanted to see him face, and as Fielder worked to a 3-2 count and kept fouling of fastballs, this looked like the kind of at-bat the pitcher can't win. But, Woody dropped in a waist-high slider (or curve, some said) that shocked everyone watching, most of all Fielder. Again Woody turned in a final inning that makes you queasy when you think of October games, but he got it done.

The last two games for the White Sox: The bullpen imploded on Sunday, and though the Sox still managed to win, it didn't make you feel good about Monday's game against the Yankees. The Yanks have almost nothing to play for except a small amount of pride in leaving their old stadium on a winning note. Still, with Buehrle starting Monday, things looked OK early on. DeWayne Wise homered for the second straight game, but after Buehrle left the game 2-2, the bullpen couldn't hold and the Sox eventually lost 4-2. More concerning than the bullpen performance, however, was a flat performance by the offense. Dirty 30, filling in for the still-injured Paulie, was 0 for 3 and saw his average go down to .220, though he wasn't the only culprit. The Sox seemed to lack play-off race urgency, but the Piranhas may be having more problems: After losing in Baltimore Sunday despite crushing the O's earlier in the weekend, the Twins lost in Cleveland Monday night. The Sox often have seen the Twins become their main nemesis in the play-off hunt, and the Twins have ruthlessly dispatched the Sox more than once, but this year, it seems like the Twins want to give it away.

Tuesday night was much better for the Sox. Gavin Floyd again proved to be exactly what they needed on the mound, while the offense scored often with power (The Missile fired on into the left field seats) and finesse (Paulie was back and delivered a run-scoring hit, Junior delivered and RBI and both B.A. and uribe and two-out RBIs). Paulie has been building back to full strength, and only last week, his sprained MCL looked like it would kill his momentum, but he seems to have lost no steam at all. The Sox won 6-2, and even though the bullpen had a big lead to work with, scoreless innings by Thornton and Jenks meant a lot in this one. And, hard to believe, but the toothless Piranhas lost again. Thanks, Cleveland.

The Sox are now again 2.5 games up on Minnesota. They have reached this threshold before only to give games back. If they can manage to add just one game to that lead in the next five very winnable games against the Yanks and K.C., they will be in great position going into Minnesota next week. And, while it would be great to clinch the division at home (especially Sept. 26, when I will next be at The Cell), it would also be fun to do it in Minnesota, wouldn't it?

Monday, September 15, 2008

No-no means YES! YES!

We've all seen the footage from Milt Pappas' no-hitter for the Cubs in 1972--will Big Z's highlights now replace the shoestring catch, Milt's anger at his perfect game being ruined by a walk with just one out remaining, and the images of early '70s fly-away hair and tight uniforms. I have always adored Jack Brickhouse and prefer his call of practically anything to most Cubs announcers since, but have come to really enjoy Len Kasper's enthusiasm and and even-handed exchanges with Bob Brenly.

Kasper's call of the final out of Zammy's no-hitter was just about perfect, though his "Oh, baby!" tagline was mocked by ESPN today and my get a little tiresome sooner rather than later. In any case, he reminded us that the Pappas no-hitter was 36 years (and 12 days) ago. It was the last during a four-year period that was especially fertile for Cubs no-nos--they had four no-hitters in the span of four season from 1968 to 1972, two of them by Ken Holtzman (Why do we never get to see that footage? Was it on TV, or no?) It was also the second of 1972, after Burt Hooton's on April 16. Those 1972 no-hitter were the best that a good, but not-good-enough Cubs team had to offer on the way to second place behind the Pirates.

The 5-0 no-hitter victory also was marked but timely two-out hitting by the Cubs, with 4 of their runs scoring in that manner. now, let's hope Big Z's big moment is just one more fine moment building toward the best possible moment.

The White Sox had their own amazing (good and bad) moments last night, predictably lost in the background of Zambrano's performance. They swept the Tigers 4-2 and 11-7 to stay 1-1/2 games up in first place after a loss by the Piranhas. The amazingly bad moment was when the Tigers tied the score in the 8th inning of the second game, 7-7, on a grand slam by Marcus Thames. It was the culmination of a 7-run implosion by the bullpen after Danks left in the 7th with the Sox up 7-0. The amazingly good moment was just an inning later, when DeWayne Wise (!) sent the Sox ahead 11-7 with his own grand slam. A surprising hero gave the Sox a great end to a horrible, rainy weekend in Chicago that didn't give the Sox very good conditions to work in, or a very large live crowd to support them

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Big Z now stands for ZERO hits

A season full of memories already, and Zambrano just topped it all, no-hitting the Astros in Milwaukee, of all places. What a bizarre turn of events. Is it fate at work again for the Cubs, or just damn good baseball? We have been hard on Zammy for his implosions, but all is forgiven, and hopefully, this is the postseason jump-start teh Cubs have been needing... this is also just what a lot of Cubs fans needed after a horribly wet weekend back home.

Dry and well-fed

8:24 a.m., Sunday--The NYC baseball odyssey culminated last night in our rain-forced Shea-Bronx double-header. We took an epic subway ride out to Queens for the afternoon Mets-Braves contest, allowing some time for photos of nearby Arthur Ashe Stadium, and also of Shea and the neighboring new Citi Field, from the boardwalk outside the parks.

We had cool pressbox level seats at Shea, but it took a while to find them, and it was the kind of club-level thing where one cranky, elderly waitress is serving about 100 people. While Johan Santana mostly mowed down the Braves in the early going, we noted Shea's lack of character--I guess except for the Big Apple that rises out of the hat for homeruns. It actually looks like part of the area beyond the center field wall already has been dismantled. Though the blue and orange color scheme is kinda cool if you're from Chicago (for different sports-related reasons), there's some other pretty bad '60s-'70s era aesthetic detailing outside and throughout the park. Yet, the much more open concourses tell you this hulk was built well after (1964) Yankee Stadium (1923).

We were able to watch some of the game from the Diamond Club behind our seats, where we filled up on a great buffet--roasted pork, about 8 different pastas, about 3 different seafood salads, marinated eggplant and a whole bunch of other stuff. Overall, the food definitely was better than Yankee Stadium, but it was also the premium stuff and not the regular concessions. Good thing the food was good, because the Mets collapsed and lost 3-2. The new Citi Field is extremely cool, by the way, modeled on old Ebbetts Field, we were told. Thanks to Dan and Monte for the Mets tickets.

Monte said we should skip the hour-long subway ride and take a car service up to the Bronx for the second game of our double-header. It was definitely the way to go, took only about 20 minutes in air conditioned, leather Cadillac comfort. The price was not for the faint of heart, but we did what we had to do to make the first inning in the Bronx.

The Yanks won a close one against the 1st place Rays, 6-5, though the Sandman came close to blowing 2-run lead. Jeter was as good as we wanted him to be, 3 0f 3 with some fine plays at short. A-Rod had a sac fly and some high deep drives, but nothing over the fence. Best of all, Yankee Stadium was a whole different place when dry and at least half full with a rowdy crowd--New Yawkers are absolutely merciless with one another about missing foul balls. We stayed after the game as long as we could, watching many people taking photos of their seats as they enjoyed them for the last time. When you walk through that park seeing constant references to championships, and you walk out and see the years of World Series victories scrawled at the very top of the stadium near the iconic blue "Yankee Stadium" neon sign, you realize what a special place this is. And, did I mention we saw Kareem Abdul-Jabar at the game?

The whole day and night was dry in New York, which I know was not the case back home.... Hope the delays and PPD games won't hurt our teams' chance to vie for this year's championship.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Long night, longer day to come

10:14 a.m. Eastern time Saturday--It never stopped raining here in NYC Friday night, and the Yankees finally postponed their game with the Rays just before 9 p.m. Along with the rest of the half-capacity crowd, the Commish and I had been sitting in our seats--which were luckily, under an over-hang--for about two hours, taking in the atmosphere and listening to the locals ("Nicky, looka that tawp out theah-see how much it's rainin'?").

It was not a lost evening, and a pretty good time as rainy nights at the ballpark go. The best part is that we are headed back there tonight. Both the Mets and Yankees will play rain-forced double-headers today, and the 7:05 p.m. ET start of our postponed game at Yankee Stadium should doevtail nicely with our 3:55 p.m. ET date at Shea (Anyone know how to take the Subway from Shea to the Babe's House with minimum hassle?)

Yankee Stadium is a strange place, a definite old-time ballpark with cramped subterranean hallways and old-time loge-style box seats with no more than six seats to a row in many sections. The rows come with these odd-looking metal dividers separating two seats from the other four in a given row. And everything is blue, not necessarily Yankee blue, but more like the sickening blue of the old seats from The Cell. The fences, walls, and many nooks and crannies are laden with advertising, though much of it is local (Utz potato chips, anyone?), which I think helps the park retain a sort of early 20th century charm. In any case, we had a great view from just beyond the first section, third base side toward home plate.

The Commish and I missed our chance to see Monument Park, but apparently you have to line up well before gates-open time, and the close the line shortly thereafter. Instead, we visited the food court and other shops below deck. Beer-wise, its mostly Miller Lite and the occasional Bud. There was a Foster's stand serving 24 oz.-ers right where we entered the park, but the $12.50 asking price got under the Commish's skin. The beer gem in this park is the "Beers of the World Stand" in the cramped (everything's cramped) food court--Stella, Blue Moon, Yuengling and others for $8.50 (You're not in Kansas anymore... or even at Clark and Addison). Unfortunately, there is only one of these stands in the whole stadium as far as we could tell, so the lines were long.

The food choices at Yankee Stadium are predictably diverse and interesting, though quality-wise, left something to be desired. It must be NY law or something that food stands have to list calories--it was strange to see light beer with a calorie count in parentheses before the sale price, and the same goes for much of the food here, which I think is information a lot of people don't want to know. For instance, I tried to ignore the 700-something calorie count of my prosciutto and mozarella sandwich from the Little Italy stand, and didn't even look at the menu board later on when I got a hot Italian sausage sandwich with hot peppers (neither were actually hot). You can also get a lot of Chinese down at the food court, and sushi, for I think about $15. The most interesting food court stop was the Goya Cuban stand. I have seen sushi and other Asian delicacies at ballparks in California and elsewhere along the East Coast, but never in all my years going to ball games have I seen "alcapurrias," (242 calories) a Cuban specialty of plaintains and beef. I was full, but maybe I'll try it tonight. The Commish got a Cuban sandwich with plaintain chips, and while the sandwich looked pretty good, he said it was dry. We were surprised how much of the food was pre-packaged, rather than pulled off a grill.

That's a lot of food talk, but there wasn't much baseball last night, in NYC or anywhere else for that matter. Lots of doubleheaders today, which kind of makes it feel like another time... in a very good way.

After getting the boot from the ballpark, we headed over to Stan's sports bar ("college bar" or "livestock pen" might be a better description--the livestock reference intended to convey not the clientele, but how crowded it was.) But, Stan does well, apparently running a whole block of storefronts outside Yankee Stadium. Unlike Wrigley and more like The Cell, there don't seem to be many other palatable drinking options within view, but what do a couple of Midwest hicks know about it? Strangely, Stan's was showing the Red Sox-Jays game, but only until it was apparent the BoSox wouldn't blow it.

I wonder if Stan's business will suffer when the team moves to the new stadium a little further down the street. As we awaited our train back to Manhattan, we could see the new Yankee Stadium across the street. It is an impressive, classical-looking structure, though in the manner of many new things that try very hard to look like the classics. Recapturing a rich tradition may not come so easily.

Friday, September 12, 2008

It's raining in NYC

3:45 p.m. Eastern time--It's raining in NYC, just like it was raining in Chicago when the Commish and I left this morning for our NYC baseball stadium tour. Hopefully, the Yankees will get their game in tonight, or at least give us enough time to take in the atmosphere at that baseball shrine and visit the monuments before they postpone. If for some reason the game gets moved to tomorrow, we'll have an interesting day, trying to hit both Shea and that other ballpark in the Bronx. If they postpone until Sunday, we're sunk because we're headed back home at mid-day. Pray for the rain to end.

A weekend to refresh, weather permitting

The Commish and I are headed to NYC today to pay our respects to Yankee Stadium and Shea Stadium before thay go to ballpark heaven. We are taking in the Yankees-Rays contest tonight, and the Mets-Braves game late Saturday afternoon. This is all weather permitting, of course. Not only is it a rainy day in Chicago, by NYC is supposed to get rain late tonight through Sunday. In any case, I'll be blogging from NYC this weekend, and will attempt to scout the Yanks for the Sox, who face them for an upcoming four-game series, and will do the same for the Cubs with the Mets, who they face for four games later this month.

Weather already has had its way with the Cubs-Astros series, as Hurricane Ike, arriving in Houston, forced the first two games of a weekend series to be postponed. The Cubs my fly down Saturday for a Sunday game and Monday double-header, or the games may take place at a neutral site. The break will let the Cubs refresh, though they now have a two-game winning streak after slipping by the Cards 3-2 last night.

The bad thing about the break is that it's the last one for this season, and I wonder if the Astros will make the Cubs pay by bringing Roy Oswalt back for a Monday game. The Astros are the hottest team in MLB since the All-Star break, but Oswalt is hotter, having pitched his second straight complete-game shut-out last night, and it would have been three in a row if Cecil Cooper had let him pitch the final 2/3 on the 9th inning in his 3-0 demoralizing of the Cubs in Wrigley Field on Labor Day.

Anyway, before the break, the Cubs again didn't muster much offense, but it was enough, their first two runs scored on a base-loaded walk and then an error, but we'll take what's given. The third run came on consecutive doubles by De-Ro and Mighty Mite, but with Fontenot on 2nd base and no outs, the Cubs couldn't manage to bring him home. Harden was mostly terrific, as usual; Marmol was shaky, but was helped by two fantastic game-saving catches by Al-So and Fukie; Woody was again not very good, but was helped by a bad slide into 3rd base that resulted in a very-close-call out. Woody had to get Pujols with the tying run at 2nd, and got him to harmlessly pop out to end this one. After Woody's bad September so far, that was a pleasant surprise. And, the Brewers lost.

The Sox need a break this weekend, and hopefully will be able to beat up on some Detroit pitching after losing the series finale to the Blue Jays last night 6-4. This was a stange one in that both Gavin Floyd and Jays starter Marcum were spotless until the 8th inning. All season, Floyd has been great for long stretches, with his mistakes and losses usually coming from one big, bad inning. Last night, he was extremely efficient with his pitch count until the 8th, when he gave up 4 runs during a 6-run rally by the Jays.

The Sox did what they could to come back, scoring 4 in the bottom of the inning off a homerun and 2-run double from Thome and JeDye, but it was too late in this one. Good news there is that the Twins lost, too. The Tigers come to town now, and though they score a lot of runs, their pitching has been awful. It will be interesting to see if this series is broken up somewhat by rain, as it expected throughout the weekend. Maybe, we'll see sunny days in October...

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Closer than we would have liked

I predicted the White Sox would do a little something against Roy Halladay and they did, scoring five runs off him without the benefit of a homer, which is encouraging rather than not. The final was 6-5, so the Sox just got by a hot Jays team, but more on that later.

A.J. and B.A. both had key two-out, run-scoring hits, and the Missile and Thome kept the line moving, too. Best of all, Buehrle was smooth, quieting a Blue Jays line-up that had won 10 in a row, and putting the Sox in position to split the series. The game only got terrifyingly close when Jenks gave up 3 runs in the top of the 9th. B.A.'s two-out insurance RBI turned out to be the difference. Jinxie's blow-up was not terribly re-assuring as the season winds down, though he struck out a great hitter, Alex Rios, with the tying run on 3rd to end it.

A supposed closer also gave the Cubs a scare/ Don't worry, the Cubs finally won 4-3 Wednesday night, though Woody came perilously close to guiding the Cubs to what would have been their 3rd straight bottom-9th loss. Woody was definitely throwing some heat, but a lot of it was right over the middle of the plate. He looked angry and in a hurry, and after giving up a double and a HR to Pujols and this year's unforseen star, Ryan Ludwick, he got the next batter, No-Name Phelps on a high fly that Phelps really could have smashed out of the park, such was the plate location of Woody's pitch.

I'm not complaining... not about the win at least. A win is a win is a win, Yogi should have said, and we'll take it. The Cubs again only managed to score in one inning early on, the 2nd, and didn't have any hits after the 5th inning. Also, two errors by Felipe Lopez actually helped the Cubs to 3 of their 4 runs, so a disturbing trend of a quiet offense continues. A-Ram is hitting well, though, and had 2 hits. Al-So threw out a man at home. Nice.

Someone else who looked angry and in a hurry was Ted Lilly. For the most part, that worked for him, as he got Cards hitters to swing into outs quickly, often early in hitters' counts. Lilly also pulled a Butkus move on Yadier Molina, trying, apparently against coach's advice, to score from 3rd on a grounder to 3rd in the 2nd inning. Not sure why Lilly took off--maybe he wanted to get back to the dugout and get ready for his next inning--but he was a dead duck. Unfortunately for Molina, he (Molina) stood square in front of the plate, probably expecting from Lilly a kindly acceptance of a gentle tag. Instead, Lilly leveled him, and the talented Molina later left the game.

Lilly was great through 8 IP, and a quick, confident performance was exactly what the Cubs needed from their starter, but curiosity lingers: Is anger the Cubs' new act? Is that the way you get back on track toward the World Series? I'm not so sure...

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Fate and hunger

Do you feel like fate, as usual, is having its way with the Cubs? Did fate give us just a taste of something incredible, and now it's making the Cubs choke? Perhaps fate is at work here, and if you are a fatalist, you will believe that the Cubs' September swoon is a sign they won't win it all this year, or may not even win at all the rest of the way.

But, another way to look at this swoon is that fate is influencing matters in a positive way: The Cubs are losing, but the Brewers are losing right along with them. The Cubs are still 4-1/2 games up in 1st place after losing another heartbreaker last night to the Cards 4-3, but the Brewers have having trouble handling the same Lowly Cinci team that so vexed the Cubs last weekend. Milwaukee lost 5-4 last night for the second straight game. So maybe what fate really has in store is a plan to kick the Cubs' butts until they find some true postseason hunger.

Last night, the scoring stopped for the Cubs in the 3rd inning, and they swung away for the next few innings like they felt a 3-0 lead was enough and the had a plane to catch after the game. Later, after Dempster gave up a 3-run HR to Pujols on a pretty meaty pitch, the Cubs had chances that were squandered by two double plays, one of them on a bunt by Geo, who is not a great candidate to bunt. I know, all players need to have that fundamental skill and need to deliever when called upon, but if you want a great bunt, bring in Reed Johnson or Fukie, someone who's done it successfully and has a little speed to spice things up. Geo is slow, and apparently not a great bunter. What he is: A .292 hitter who was 2 for 3 at the plate before that bunt.

The White Sox quietly lost both ends of a double header against Toronto (3-1 and 8-2), the hottest team this side of Houston. There wasn't much they could do against the Jays' starters, and it may look like it only gets worse tonight with Halladay on the mound for Toronto. But, I like the Sox' chances to scrape out some hits and runs against Halladay, and they can still split this series. They are 1 game up in first after the Piranhas won last night.

The most troubling aspect of last night's debacles was the loss of Paulie to what was called a sprained MCL, but looked a lot worse. Paulie really has been coming around, and it looked like he might fill the loss of power from CQ's injury.

The Sox offense was asleep in both games, almost nothing good at all to say except that Thome continues to play like he is hungry for a World Series ring, and JeDye is still delivering like he wants another one. The thing about Toronto's hot streak, which now stands at 9 wins in a row, is that the Jays believe they can make they play-offs. Though they have a great team, the odds really are against them unless Boston or Tampa completely falls apart, but one thing is certain: thos Blue Jays are hungry.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Rainy days and Mondays

The White Sox were rained out last night, so I had the evening free to take casual interest in MNF and ponder the challenges both our teams face in getting to the World Series. For starters, the Sox need to at least split a four-game set against the surging Toronto Blue Jays, especially with the Piranhas, though sucking of late, facng the Lowly K.C. Royals this week.

With 20 games left and a 2.5 game lead, of course, the Sox need to win as often as possible, and probably need to win a series like this rather than split. But, it seems regardless of what happens, they have a date with destiny in Minnesota later this month. Barring a massive winning streak by the Sox and losing streak by the Piranhas to match, the season really comes down to the three-game set up north Sept. 23-25. Lots of Sox fans don't like that and don't want to hear about it, but they should embrace the notion, and the Sox should, too.

The Sox, despite the loss and unlikely return of CQ, are set up well for the run, with several players running hot right now and the bullpen healthy. The fun starts with today's make-up game.

The Cubs are in St. Louis starting tonight for three games. This would be a nice setting for Edmonds to rediscover whatever vitality he managed to find a few months back when it seemed the Cubs were about to cut him. Don't want to pin the poor offense of late on just two guys, but Edmonds and Fukie need to hit and make the Cubs feel good about their left-handed hitter options in order to string some wins together. Daryle Ward will get you a walk occasionally, but not much else. That leaves Hoffpauir and Mighty Mite as the most likely producers from the left side of the plate.

A sweep by the Cubs would send St. Lou stumbling further out of the wild card race, though it would help this weekend's Cubs opponent, Houston, strengthen its wild card position. That's the squeeze the Cubs are now, if a 1st place team could be said to be in a squeeze. With 100 percent of their remaining games against postseason hopefuls, winning every series is not incredibly likely. With 19 games left, the Cubs can go just 10-9 in their remaining games and probably still win the division, a scenario which would force the Beermakers to go 14-4 just to tie the Cubs for 1st. The Brewers are capable of better, but so are the Cubs. Both teams have stumbled.