Thursday, December 31, 2009

The Sox are shaping up

I have been neglecting the White Sox lately, not even finding time during the busy holiday season to comment on the Juan Pierre trade. It's partly because I'm not as worried about the Sox. I was hoping they would land a key free agent or two, and they have disappointed to some degree by passing on big names and settling for the nostalgia signings of Omar Vizquel and Andruw Jones. However, I feel like the Sox, unlike the Cubs, are at least addressing their top need areas in one way or another.

Here's who they added:

Juan Pierre, LF: The 2010 team will be faster with a proven lead-off hitter. Nothing against the resurgent Scott Podsednik, but Pierre is faster. He's also a better lead-off man and hitter overall, and a better glove, though he may have one of the worst outfield arms in MLB history (Someone needs to tell The Missile to run further out into left-field for cut-off throws). Honestly, I wish the Cubs never got rid of Pierre, who started very slowly with them in 2006, but eventually led the National League in hits that year. He's definitely not Chone Figgins or Bobby Abreu, but is an upgrade over Pods and more of an everyday option that Dewayne Wise.

Omar Vizquel, SS: One of the all-time greats, the Venezuelan shortstop should be a good fit with his Venezuelan, one-time SS manager. Despite his age, he's a proven competitor who provides an obvious defensive upgrade in the infield.

Andruw Jones, OF: A laughable, but low-risk acquisition. If the Sox have 45 losses at the All-Star break, this signing over other free agent outfielder options will haunt them, but if Jones hits 20 HRs as a back-up or DH and makes a few good plays in the field, this signing will look like a big win. Still, would have been nice to land Hideki Matsui...

Mark Teahen, IF: Some decent power, fielding and overall positional flexibility. The trade, in exchange for Josh Fields and Chris Getz, allows Gordon Beckham to move to 2nd base, so it is actually an upgrade at 2nd over Getz, as well as an upgrade over any other option the Sox would have had at 3rd once they committed to move Beckham to 2nd.

J.J. Putz, RP: The Commish, a rapid Sox fan, has hated Putz for reasons stemming from where he drafted him in our fantasy baseball league in 2008, when Putz began a run of injuries and poor performance. But, Putz (allegedly pronounced like "puts." and not "putts" or, well, "putz") is a former star closer, and a nice choice as a set-up man and potential back-up option for the shaky Bobby Jenks. He could hardly have more problems than he has had the last two years, which I realize is not a great endorsement, but on the whole a bullpen led by Jenks and Putz looks like a pretty good way to follow a starting five that will be the best asset of the 2010 Sox.

So, in my estimation, the modestly-modified Sox have done better than the do-little Cubs this off-season so far. The Sox may be done making moves, and the Cubs are possibly barely started, but there's good reason to believe the Sox will field a better team in 2010 than they did in 2009, while the Cubs, despite cutting dead weight like Kevin Gregg and cancerous growth Milton Bradley, will have to truck in some January fireworks if they hope to have the same said of them.

Besides, the Sox are just looser and more fun, as this recent story about their fantasy football league highlights. A.J. Pierzynski alone has more loosey-gooseyness, to coin a possibly non-existent phrase, than the entire jittery Cubs organization.

The Byrdman cometh

This just in: The Cubs have signed Marlon Byrd, the free agent outfielder whose name has lingered almost since the end of last season as a possible replacement for Milton Bradley. Byrd has talent, a decent hitter and good fielder (only 3 errors in 142 games last year), one of those guys who has always been kind of clutch (.285 BA w/RISP lifetime), which should make him popular at Wrigley. Plus, he's coming off the best season of his career in Texas, which came under the hitting coach, Rudy Jaramillo, whom the Cubs signed weeks ago.

What's not to like? Well, Byrd is 32, and his batting average has gone down the last three seasons as his playing time increased in Texas (His career highs last year were for homers--20--and RBIs--89--while he hit .283, south of the .307 he recorded in 2007.) He's also a righty, which I never cared about much before last winter, when the Cubs used righthandedness as an excuse for getting rid of Mark DeRosa. Now, the Cubs have taught me to care, but they bring in a righty to replace a switch-hitter (Bradley). The Cubs supposedly were looking at lefties Scott Podsednik and Rick Ankiel, so what happened there? They lost out on Curtis Granderson, too, but it would have been nice to see the Cubs take a look at other lefty free agent outfielders like Johnny Damon or Randy Winn.

Still, if the Cubs get .275, 17 HRs, and 80 RBIs out of Byrd, and if he doesn't once fling a live ball into the bleachers with 2 outs, he'll be an offensive upgrade over Bradley (He could actually play centerfield while Kosuke Fukudome moves back to rightfield). Though, to clarify, those numbers would make him an upgrade over the Bradley of 2009. If you look at career stats, it looks an awful lot like a downgrade. At least, he's got a better glove.

Of course, there are intangibles: Maybe Byrd is a "good clubhouse guy." It is looking more likely that the Cubs will need those types of players in 2010 as they continue to take a pass on the big-time free agents. They have also been jilted this off-season by the likes of reliever Matt Capps, who felt like last-place Washington was a better destination than Chicago. The team that is shaping up for next year certainly doesn't look very much like the 97-win team of 2007, or even the 2nd place team of 2009.

Meanwhile, rumors abound that Carlos Zambrano could be trade bait, though the Cubs have denied it and Zambrano reportedly has been against waving his no-trade clause. Unless the deal is for at least two even-keeled, proven winners, I can't imagine the rumors will amount to anything.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Milton's gone

Yes, it has been a while. I would say that I was staging a silent protest until the Cubs unloaded Milton Bradley, but that isn't the truth. Both of our teams have made some minor deals in recent weeks, though nothing that was close to what they needed to do.

Before the Cubs traded Bradley a few days ago to Seattle for over-ripe pitcher Carlos Silva, I had come to terms with the Cubs keeping Bradley for next season. As many of us--but apparently not Cubs GM Jim Hendry--realized when Hendry suspended Bradley near the end of the season, unloading Bradley during the off-season was going to be tougher than previously thought (and it was already going to be tough).

The only potential trade before the Silva deal was the possible exchange of Bradley for power-hitting Tampa outfielder Pat Burrell. That would not have been a great deal, as Burrell had a horrible 2009 in Tampa after two previously strong years with Philadelphia, but Burrell has at times shown plate patience and the type of HR-RBI potency that could be rediscovered in Wrigley Field. The problem was the Cubs would have had to throw in money. Amazingly, they actually got money in the Silva deal that they could apply to a free agent signing elsewhere, but as a pure baseball move, the Silva trade stinks. But, the Cubs really only wanted the money anyway.

Once promising, but now looking over-the-hill and with injury problems in his recent past, it's hard to imagine Silva paying off. Meanwhile, had the Cubs kept Bradley, at least they know his minimum contribution still involves a very good on-base percentage. Though I called for Bradley to be dumped last season, I thought the Cubs could get a decent prospect from a desperate team in play-off contention. Instead, they went about this all wrong, keeping him through the second half of last season and then basically labeling him as damaged goods by suspending him right before the end of the season. Then, they couldn't do much during the off-season until they got rid of him. That they actually got money in this deal could help them now sign one or two other players, but who's left? Oh, right, Marlon Byrd. Not Chone Figgins, Curtis Granderson or even Mike Cameron. Well, maybe Rudy Jaramillo, new Cubs hitting coach/former Texas hitting tutor of Byrd's, can get another career year out of him.

Interestingly, proven winner Johnny Damon is suddenly available as a nice solution for centerfield, but don't expect the Cubs to go after him. Another high-priced signing of an old free agent could be enough to sink Hendry--even if this one sounds much more attractive than the Bradley, Kosuke Fukudome or Alfonso Soriano signing.

I'll be back soon to size up all of the Cubs and White Sox off-season moves so far...

Monday, November 23, 2009

Oh, man: Sox get Omar

The White Sox made good on recent rumors and signed 42-year-old shortstop Omar Vizquel as a tutor for their young, promising infielders Alexei Ramirez and Gordon Beckham. Actually, though a lot of his value will come as a defensive mentor and tutor to The Missile specifically, Omar can still play, and he could play a great late-inning defensive role for the Sox at 2nd, shortstop or 3rd.

I'm guessing this is another move--along with the Mark Teahen deal, the re-signing of Mark Kotsay and the likelihood that the Sox won't trade the already expensive Dayan Viciedo--that signals that GM Kenny Williams probably will not attempt to bring in Chone Figgins.

That's a shame, because the Sox could really use him in the lead-off spot, where Vizquel will give you no help at all. But, Vizquel brings the Sox a step closer to their commitment to win with string defense, and that's definitely a good thing.

The Cubs, meanwhile, recently traded Aaron Heilman, re-signed John Grabow and still haven't moved Milton Bradley. There has been some buzz about possibly acquiring Chicago product and talented Detroit centerfielder Curtis Granderson. That would be nice, and though Granderson strikes out a lot as a lead-off man, he's got the speed and power of a younger Alfonso Soriano with that much-desired left-handed bat. But, I'll believe this one when I see it.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Fickle about Figgins

As we move a little deeper into off-season action, it might be getting more apparent that neither of our Chicago teams will make a strong case to sign speedy, multi-position free agent lead-off man Chone Figgins.

One school of thought has it that the Cubs won't make a run on Figgins because that already have too much committed salary (around$120 million) for next year, and probably will have to commit even more to re-signing other players who have filed or are expected to file for free agency--Rich Harden, Reed Johnson and John Grabow being some examples. The Tribune reported that Harden and Johnson already filed for free agent status.

I think the Cubs should wave good-bye to both at this point. While Harden is spectacular in short stretches, he doesn't go deep enough in most games. His health issues have lessened, but that makes his 4.00-plus ERA for the 2009 campaign even more troubling. Maybe the Cubs could go after a non-glitzy bottom-rotation known for relaiability, like Joel Piniero, who was great for the Cardinals in '09. As for Grabow, the Cubs need the southpaw in the bullpen.

Johnson has a lot of defensive value and the scrappiness factor that so often defines winning teams, but he is already 32. If the Cubs do unload Milton Bradley and don't sign another outfielder (Jake Fox and Micah Hoffpauir aside), Johnson probably would be worth keeping. I'm back to suspecting the Cubs may keep Bradley, despite the reports of interest in him elsewhere. The Cubs may assume the worst is over with Bradley, though it's hard to believe that until we see it.

The Cubs seem indecisive about offensive contributors/defensive liabilities Fox and Hoffpauir, which make me think we will see another season of spot duty for both, though there is potential that an American League team could make an offer for Fox (a potentially great DH) that the Cubs won't be able to refuse. All of this, plus new owners, suggests no Figgins for the Cubs.

The Sox, meanwhile, might be more interested in giving Jordan Danks an outfield job than spending money on Figgins. I wouldn't mind taking a gamble on Danks (who may feel at home with his brother in the dugout) and keeping the resurgent Scott Podsednik as an insurance policy, but it sounds like the Sox don't have much interest in re-signing Pods (visions of 2006, I guess).

Signing Figgins would end all outfield questions (except whether or not Alex Rios actually will hit next year). But, the Sox might making signing a new DH a higher priority, unless Carlos Quentin moves into that role. though that again would heighten the need to sign a player like Figgins.

Decisions, decisions...

Friday, November 6, 2009

Bye, bye, JeDye

Jermaine Dye, the MVP the 2005 World Series for the White Sox, is probably done as a Southsider. The Sox, as expected, declined their option on JeDye, who now will become a free agent.

The Sox also confirmed the reports that they have traded Chris Getz and Josh Field for Mark Teahen. At first glance, it would seem the multi-position Teahen might take Dye's spot in right field, but Sox GM Kenny Williams is already saying that Gordon Beckham will move to 2nd base, while Teahen comes in to play 3rd.

That's definitely workable, though a little surprising. Why not move Beckham to his original position at shortstop, where Alexei Ramirez has had defensive troubles, and move The Missile back over to 2nd? Meanwhile, we hope the Sox are still thinking about going after Chone Figgins as a possible off-season signing. He's speedy, a great lead-off hitter and can play right field, or 3rd base or pretty much anywhere.

The loss of Getz generates mixed emotions. He hit in the .260s and never developed into the lead-off hitter the Sox might have expected (Last year at this time, Kenny was pitching Getz as a solid starter at 2nd), but he displayed nice speed base-running skills, and had his moments last season. It is good to see the Sox got something for Fields, whose time with the Sox started ticking away when Beckham became a star.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Abreu's off the table

The hot stove season isn't even warmed up yet, and one of the players who would have been a great fit with either the Cubs or the White Sox has been taken off the table. Bobby Abreu, the L.A. Angels' southpaw outfielder with power, speed, a decent batting average and plate patience, has re-upped with the Angels.

He would have made a nice replacement for Jermaine Dye on the Sox, or a much better follow-up to Milton Bradley on the Cubs. Now, both teams could end up setting sights on another Angel, Chone Figgins.

Incidentally, it had been reported earlier Thursday that the Sox had traded Chris Getz and Josh Fields to Kansas City for Mark Teahen, another potential Dye replacement, though by the end of the day, the veracity of those reports was in doubt. Well see. Teahen also plays third base, so maybe Gordon Beckham would move to second?

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Family guy

The Cubs are now a family-owned team, and the guy who seems to be driving the family's agenda, Tom Ricketts, said all the things yesterday that Cubs fans wanted to here: The new owners are committed to getting the Cubs a championship; there is no curse on the Cubs; they will stay most out of the way and let baseball people do their jobs.

Ricketts' mere presence suggests a changing of the Cubs from a corporate entity into a family business, but will that really be the case? The club should not be confused with a mom-and-pop store that cares about its customers more than a corporate behemoth. This team was just sold for several hundred million dollars, and at the end of the day, it's a business that will be owned by people who have business success in their blood.

Aside from endorsements for GM Jim Hendry and manager Lou Piniella to continue their work for another year, there was not much real baseball talk at yesterday's coming-out party for the Rickettseseseses... The World Series has barely started, so it may be a while before the real baseball moves begin, but much of the coverage of yesterday's press conference suggested that the Cubs will not be spending much money over the off-season. I can only hope that means they will unload Milton Bradley's salary in favor of Chone Figgins or Bobby Abreu, though more likely it could mean a fairly inactive off-season for the Cubs--not exactly the best way to begin the charge toward a championship.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Off to see the Wizard

White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen, known in these parts as "the Great and Powerful Oz," (though he sure didn't earn the "Great" part this year) is set to make his debut as a World Series TV commentator tonight on Fox. A lot of jokes are being made about how the censor will earn his pay with Ozzie on board. I predict he will be on good behavior (though I still wouldn't rule out some cheesy Fox skit or stunt during the telecast that play's on Ozzie's propensity to earn bleeps).

Hopefully, someone will remind him before he goes on the air that he needs to slow down and speak as clearly as possible, though that might also drain him of some essential Ozzie-ness. Ozzie is a lot of fun, and usually even more fun when he says what's on his mind, but I and probably many other fans judge most of his post-game press conferences on their emotional volatility rather than the content of what he is actually saying (or might be saying? What did he say?)

I do wonder what Ozzie will have to say about former-Sox player/current Yankee Nick Swisher. Speculatuve quote: "Sure, he's good now, but he was a f------ piece of s--- for us."

Cubs fans may not find much of interest in the World Series, though Yankee manager and former Cub Joe Girardi is someone we like to think of as a Cub in spirit, even though everything he learned about winning at this level happened when he played in New York (and don't forget the Cubs had a chance to land Girardi as manager and went with Lou Piniella instead). Meanwhile, Scott Eyre has a chance to win a second consecutive World Series ring--who would have predicted that in the summer of 2008 when the Cubs gave up on him?

Monday, October 19, 2009

Ru-dy! Ru-dy! Ru-dy!

The Cubs reportedly have been talking to Texas Rangers hitting coach and widely-respected guru Rudy Jaramillo, and now Sports Illustrated says the Cubs and Jaramillo may be closing in on a deal.

That would be the best news the Cubs have gotten since Milton Bradley was benched. Incidentally, it could also mean Bradley's days with the Cubs may not be over if they believe Rudy can get good things out of one of his former pupils (Bradley played for the Rangers before the Cubs). Jaramillo also potential could be a savior for Alfonso Soriano, who also used to take Jaramillo's hitting advice when he played for Texas.

After Bradley's terrible year and Soriano's career-worst year, I still wouldn't mind if both of them were somehow shipped out of town, but Bradley will be a hard sell, and the Cubs probably will not try to move Soriano at all.

Can a bonafide hitting guru helps the Cubs reach their offensive potential? It seemed like that's what Gerald Perry did in 2008, and then he took the blame for poor performance in 2009. It seems like hitting coaches are always in the hot seat. Greg Walker has survived as the White Sox hitting coach for years, despite calls for his head on a seasonal basis. Jaramillo may be in a different class than many others though: Before declining the Rangers' latest contract offer, he had been coaching hugely productive line-ups in Texas going back to the mid-1990s.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Cubs file for bankruptcy protection

The Cubs filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, a move that had been expected in order to allow the organization's sale to the Rickettseseses... to move toward completion. All I want to know is if this will get in the way of Cubs' efforts to sign their new right fielder Bobby Abreu, new multi-position stud Chone Figgins and new No. 4 starter John Lackey.

All three of those guys are in the L.A, Angels, who are about the enter the ALCS and give the Yankees a run for their money. So, I guess they won't be available for a while, which is exactly why the Cubs might want them--and why the Sox should want them, too. My guess is the Cubs will take a look at all three, but might be (finally) gun-shy about big free agent contracts.

I like the chances that the Sox might actually end up signing Abreu to take over in right field after Jermaine Dye lost his job with a dreadful late-season slump. Both teams really could use Figgins, though I wonder if both will be part of a group of teams that drive up the bidding before the Red Sox swoop in and sign him.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Quick with the pen

So, the hated Piranhas now know what it's like to win Game 163. When the Twins beat the Tigers 6-5 in extras last night--a game that I have to admit was more epic than last year's Game 163 Blackout win by the Sox--it proved what we Sox fans had been saying all season: Detroit just isn't that good, and the division can be won by another team. But, we also assumed that other team would be the Sox, and watching the Twins prove our claim to be true provides no satisfaction at all. If anything, it makes the season seem like even more of a disaster.

While the Piranhas moved on, the White Sox were busy with the pen--both the ink pen and the bullpen. Yesterday, they signed on to 2010 options for possible closer Matt Thornton and aging starter Freddy Garcia. I actually doubt that Thornton will be the closer, though I'm also waffling about current closer Bobby Jenks being with the Sox at all next year.

Meanwhile, Garcia wins the right to come to Arizona next spring and compete with Daniel Hudson and Carlos Torres and maybe some new arrivals for the No. 5 starter job. Contrary to how the year ended, I don't think Garcia has that spot locked up at all. In fact, I sort of wonder how long it will be before he is hampered by an injury and gets criticized for a lack of intensity (the latter being an old complaint that dogged Garcia after he allegedly tested positive for pot in 2006).

I still wonder if the Sox will throw another proven arm into the starter mix, or come up with other ideas at closer. Perhaps Tony Pena should have been the closer mix toward the end--he really under-performed for the Sox, but was considered a closer candidate the last couple years when he played for Arizona.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Cold reality

It was a chilly-but-not-so-chilly night at Wrigley last night for my final Cubs game of the season. It was actually fairly comfortable as the wind from earlier this week had died down a bit, and also because the Funhouse on Addison was not filled to the brim as usual. It's a strange thing to look out and see the bleachers maybe only two-thirds full. On the 200 level, an usher who saw me and my brother standing against the railing walked up and told us to just sit where we want.

I hadn't seen Wrigley that way for a night game since 2002, possibly earlier. Of course, the fan vibe following the club this last week of the season is something like it was back then, before we got used to winning but not winning it all, a feeling perhaps more frustrating than anyone would have expected back in 2002.

The Cubs have been very good for the last 10 games or so, a time period that directly coincides with the suspension of Milton Bradley. They are also 17-10 as they enter the last two games of September (double header today), a final month record that would suggest postseason any other year. They have gotten two complete-game shutouts from their starting rotation within the last few games, including last night's 6-0 low-pressure win over the Pirates by Ryan Dempster. The Cubs, with an 82-74 record, also are in a good position to finish the season with a better record than they did when the won the division in 2007 at 85-77.

But, the cold reality is that the Cubs were mathematically eliminated from play-off contention last night with a win by the Colorado Rockies. The cold reality is that they may finish stronger than any National League team except the Wild Card-hopeful Braves, yet the season for them will end this Sunday when the final regular season pitch is thrown.

They still sang "Go, Cubs, Go" when Demp finished off the Pirates last night, but everyone in the crowd, which was surely somewhere under the paid attendance of about 35,000 and shrank further after the 7th inning stretch, knew the remaining wins will not add up to much but positive thoughts for next year, and maybe more regret about what could have been this year.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Pair of aces

Jake Peavy, the new ace of the White Sox pitching staff (even though Mark Buehrle still officially holds that place in the rotation) and Carlos Zambrano, the old ace of the Cub staff (the new one is Ted Lilly) both pitched last night like it meant something, like their respective teams still might have a chance to make the postseason. This is not true of the Sox, and only barely mathematically-supportable for the Cubs.

Peavy through 7 shut-out inning and put his superior National League fielding stuff on display in a 2-0 Sox win over Detroit, which is still in 1st place but looking susceptible to a last-minute surge by the Twins. (How would Sox fans like it if prevailing in this weekend's final home series against Detroit actually helped the dreaded Piranhas move into 1st place? Honestly, I would rather the Sox roll over this weekend--Detroit sucks, yes, but it deserves a little uplift, if only for Ernie Harwell's sake.)

Peavy gave the Sox a glimpse of what could have been had he not suffered from lingering injuries the last couple months, as well as a glimpse of what is to come. Let's hope his mental toughness can inspire the Sox bats to wake up next year, too. His effort last night was saved only by a two-run homer from Gordon Beckham. Peavy will provide a nice foundation for next year, but the Sox will need a busy off-season and tough spring training to build on that foundation.

Zambrano pitched a 3-0 complete game victory against a legitimate play-off contender, the Giants (though their hopes are fading fast), and with Cy Young winner (reigning and possibly still champion after this year's votes are tallied) Tim Lincecum throwing for the Giants. It was Zambrano best game since his no-hitter against the Astros more than a year ago. Yes, once in a while, Big Z keeps his alter ego, Zammy the Clown, at bay and shows you what he is truly capable of: Complete-game shut-out stuff on the mound, including 8 Ks, 1 BB and just 2 hits allowed; and success at the plate--2 RBIs out of the Cubs' 3 total, including a run-scoring double and a tremendous effort to beat out a throw at 1st base, which thwarted what would have been an inning-ending double play and allowed a run to score.

But, is it enough to see this version of Zambrano just once or twice a year? He says he wants to stay in Chicago, but has never been able to remain composed enough to show us a performance like this on a consistent basis. Will next year be the year?

Friday, September 25, 2009

Sox out of it, Cubs still alive

A few days ago, I wouldn't have believed you if you told me the White Sox would be mathematically eliminated from winning the A.L. Central Division before the Cubs would be mathematically eliminated from winning the N.L. Central Division. (I know they have both essentialy been out of it for a while, but indulge me.)

A lot of us were looking ahead to 6 remaining games against Detroit for the Sox, with the assumption they first would take at least 2 of 3 from the visiting Twins (who of course would be haunted by their late-season failure against the Sox last year) and Detroit would continue to stumble their way into the Windy City this weekend.

Instead, the Sox were swept by Minnesota and Detroit kept winning through last night, officially eliminating the Sox from contention (With 9 games left, they are also listed as 18 games out of the Wild Card, so...). Now, the Sox have to win all of their remaining games just to have a winning record this year. Ouch.

The Cubs, despite all their troubles and distractions, somehow still survive for at least one more day after posting an unlikely 3-2 win in San Francisco last night. How unlikely? They were down to their last strike, losing 2-1 (which of course means the Cardinals magic number of 1 was a strike away from dropping to 0), but Jeff Baker hit a 2-run homer to give them the lead and Carlos Marmol survived a shaky 9th inning (Get used to those last seven words, as you're likely to hear them a lot next year).

The Cubs also are 6.5 out of the Wild Card with 10 games left. If the Rockies go 2-7 in their own remaining 9 games, the still-contending Braves go 6-4 in their own remaining 10 games, and the still-contending Giants and Marlins each go 6-3 in their own remaining 9 games, well, the Cubs could have a shot at the Wild Card--they would only have to avoid losing for the rest of the season, finishing with an 11-game winning streak and 15 of 16 run. Do you believe in miracles?

Monday, September 21, 2009

Suspending belief

Milton Bradley was suspended for the rest of the season after taking almost all season to find the limit of Cubs GM Jim Hendry patience. Good move, I guess. It really doesn't matter at this point after they spent too much time trying to salvage something of value from the wreckage caused by the collision of his hitting slump and his attitude.

I'm actually a little surprised that it happened at this point. Won't suspending him now before the season is over and talking to everyone about what a jerk he is actually make it even harder to trade him than it would have been before? If the Cubs had shipped him out a couple months ago, they probably wouldn't have gotten much and still would be paying his salary, they could have claimed "it just wasn't a good fit," and that they were just trying to "do the right thing" for Bradley, etc. Now, they will in effect be saying, "This guy's a cancer. You want him? And, by the way, can you give us a player of modest value in return?"

Good luck, Jim. Or, maybe it will be another GM trying to make that move...

It seems like Bradley's suspension also opens the door for him to make more accusations about the Cubs and their fans. I'm surprised we haven't heard anything yet.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Giving up

"If they give up on me, then I give up on them." --White Sox Manager Ozzie Guillen, after Thursday's 4-3 loss to Seattle.

If you are the type who believes that Guillen is a great manager because he "tells it like it is," then you may be getting a little bit of perverse enjoyment of the Sox' current late-season implosion. The vitriol spilling from Guillen in the last few days rivals anything he's said this season and perhaps any of the toughest lashings he's administered in his time leading the team.

His answer to the loss in Seattle was to beat up the team after the game and to do it again before last night's game against the Royals, which the Sox eventually lost 11-0, and in which they didn't even look as good as the "0" suggests.

Perhaps they are as terrible as Guillen has repeatedly said, but at what point is he going to try a tactic other than magnifying how bad things are going? It may be too late now, but perhaps Guillen should try (or should have tried) some different motivational techniques, like reminding the players how close they are to 1st place, reminding the veterans that they never gave up last year and won Game 163 and reminding all of them that the core and spirit of a World Series Champion lives on in this group. In short, issue a wake-up call instead of a beating.

Meanwhile, though Guillen finally moved the slumping Jermaine Dye and Alex Rios out of the line-up Friday night (though it didn't seem to help), he previously had complained a lot about the limp line-up without really doing anything to change it up.

Finally, though the line-up is the glaring disappointment, the bullpen has been pretty bad, pitching the Sox out of many games recently. The bullpen's make-up has changed a lot, and recent acquistions and call-ups haven't worked out, but the real disappointments there have been Scott Linebrink and Bobby Jenks. Linebrink really seems to fall off his game as the season progresses--he showed it last year with the Sox and in Milwaukee before that. Jenks has as many blown saves as Kevin Gregg, the guy who lost his closer's job across town. There may be few other options for the Sox, and that's why Guillen and Ron Cooper need to figure out what's really going on with those vets.

Maybe the Sox have problems that only off-season personnel changes can fix, and that Guillen ultimately can't affect the necessary change on his own. But, I think there's a good debate to have about who's giving up on whom. This is the same song we hear from Guillen every time things get tough, and the players either have tuned it out, or no longer automatically respond. So, maybe Guillen needs to re-think his approach. If the players give up, or appear to, that's when the manager really has to earn his keep.

Guillen will have a Cy Young winner, Jake Peavy, starting for him tonight. I wonder what Peavy, the notoriously tough competitor, will think about his new manager's attitude.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Trade fate

Carlos Zambrano couldn't hold onto a 4-0 lead Tuesday night after a promising and antic-free first four innings of the game. As he let the Brewers take a 5-4 lead with 2 outs in the 5th inning, the emotions rose to surface once again with on-field displays of disgust both at his fielders and seemingly at his pitching coach--Zammy the Clown acted like Larry Rothschild was invisible as he came out to the mound (Rothschild, by the way, hasn't always earned his great rep with the Cubs in my opinion, but his starters have been great for the most part this year and in any case no one deserves the baby-sitting duty of handling Zambrano).

You could tell then and there before Rothschild left the mound that Zambrano was done for the night. The Cubs were not, though, as they went on to win 13-7, showing a rare patience for accepting walks. Geovany Soto also homered, continuing a recent quiet comeback in what has otherwise been a disappointing year for Geo.

With losses by the Cardinals and Rockies, the Cubs are now 8.5 games out of 1st place in the NL Central and 6 games out of the Wild Card, just enough in both cases to keep fans interested in how close the Cubs may get before their time is up. Should we dare to dream that the Cubs can sweep the Cards in St. Louis and get back in the race? (Don't, just don't)

Instead, let's stick with speculating on the fate of Big Z. The Tribune suggests today that Zambrano could be asked to wave his no-trade clause during the off-season as they shop him around. Zambrano has toyed and teased with fans this year that he wanted out of Chicago, and his ongoing cry-baby act (alternating with ill-advised machismo about his hitting) has not exactly further endeared him to anyone.

There are a number of teams that probably would be willing to put up with Zambrano's flashes of kookiness for the smattering of games where he shows off his true talent as a pitcher. I would like to see him traded (along with Milton Bradley, which I think would give the Cubs the happy and tension-free clubhouse they seemed to have in 2008). However, I think when faced with that possibility and having the decision put in his hands, Zambrano will flinch and re-commit himself to the Cubs.

Do I think he'll change? No. There will be more antics next year, but as long as the Cubs put their faith in Ted Lilly as their ace and Ryan Dempster as a reliable No. 2, they can settle for Zambrano going something like 11-10 next year as the No. 3 starter. Who knows--maybe Randy Wells or Rich Harden (or Harden's replacment) becomes the No. 3. Then, the Cubs can take what they can get out of Zambrano, maybe even occasionally using him as a pinch-hitter since it would only be an end-of-rotation starter they're risking. Zambrano would love that, and then when the Cubs get to the postseason, they won't have to risk handing the ball to the head case at the end of the rotation. Zambrano can sit in the dugout and sulk until the Cubs let him finish off a 12-0 laugher in Game 3 of the 2010 World Series against the Yankees, as the Cubs save their more valuable arms for Game 4 and the sweep.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Meaningless games

The Cubs and Brewers are set to tilt at Wrigley field tonight (with SBW in the house) to start a four-game series that back in April (or even in July) looked like it would be critical to the postseason chances of both the Cubs and Brewers. Alas, the Cubs faded and the Brewers never really got going.

What you get instead is a series of meaningless games, though if the Cubs sweep and the Colorado Rockies get swept in San Francisco this week, which is a realistic possibility, they could put themselves back in the Wild Card mix (though still behind the Giants, the Marlins, the Braves and, yes, the Rockies). Likewise, the Brewers could makes the Cubs season even more disappointing with their own four-game sweep.

In any case, Wrigley crowds have seemed lackluster lately, late-arriving, early-leaving and, unlike a few weeks ago, barely mustering the energy to boo. I'm not expecting a full house tonight, though it will be a lovely night for a ball game. And you can probably get tickets for every game in the series at bargain basement prices by Wrigleyville standards. Friends of mine coming in from out of town have already scored a pack of bleacher tix for Wednesday night's game for less than half face value.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Zammy on the prowl

Carlos Zambrano's alter ego, the clown called "Zammy," was at it again today. After 2 runs scored when Kosuke Fukudome narrowly missed a diving catch for the 3rd out with 2 runners on base in the 3rd inning against the Pirates, Zammy the Clown showed up and started huffing and puffing, throwing several pitches wildly to the next batter, talking to himself and generally looking frustrated.

He even made an almost wild pick-off attempt on the runner at 2nd base. Was Zammy mad that Fukie didn't make the catch despite a valiant effort? Was he mad at himself for giving up the run-scoring hit? Was he mad at the ball for being just a ball? Who knows... Zammy also showed that the back pain that caused him to miss starts sill can't stop him from swinging for the fences. In one at-bat today, he lofted a monster fly ball to the deepest part of PNC park in centerfield, clearly trying to hit a homerun, and when it was caught then jogged back to the dugout shaking his head the whole way. I was shaking my head, too.

At least the Cubs won 8-5, so he didn't completely self-destruct.

Firing line

White Sox Manager Ozzie Guillen says he's not worried about getting fired. He joins Cubs Manager Lou Piniella in that sentiment. Both teams have disappointed this year, the Cubs certainly more than the Sox. Yet, while the possibility of Piniella getting fired before he finishes out his contract next year has been discussed openly, I don't think anyone has been calling for Ozzie's head.

The Cubs are above .500, but that's not enough, of course, and they have a lot of excuses for they did not excel this year: Injuries, poorly-executed changes to a 97-win team, a few bad free agent signings, unexpected player slumps. Even so, this team should have done better, and Lou deserves a portion of the blame--along with GM Jim Hendry, certain individual players and the Cubs fan's eternal friend--fate. You could argue Lou shouldn't be back, though the team, despite new ownership, will not be re-building over the off-season. A few changes here and there, but if Lou gets fired at some point, it will be because of a poor start in 2010, not the disappointment of 2009.

Meanwhile, the Sox entered this year, like the Cubs, coming off a first-place finish in 2008. But, the most glaring needs-an everyday offensive and defensive threat in centerfield, better pitchers to round out the starting rotation--weren't addressed, or at least not until very recently. And the solution is more an effort to set the table for 2010 than to improve the team's chances now. The Sox are under .500 in a division that, despite Detroit's best efforts, is seen as under-achieving. GM Kenny Williams has stated as much, though he waited until late in the season to address obvious lingering problems.

So, should we be blaming Ozzie for the poor results? The Cubs have fallen further, but the Sox don't have nearly as many excuses for failing. The Carlos Quentin injury was a big factor, but players like Paul Konerko, Gordon Beckham and Scott Podsednik have had very strong years. Jermaine Dye started strong, but faded; Alexei Ramirez started poorly, but mostly came out of it; the starters, except for Mark Buehrle, slumped for the first two months of the season; and the bullpen was inconsistent. Kenny did acquire players like Jayson Nix, Wilson Betemit and Brent Lillibridge to add depth, though only has had much of an effect.

I guess it all depends on whether you want to blame the players for not performing up to par, blame the manager for not getting their best out of them, or blame the GM for tinkering too much or too little with last year's squad. When I look at the Cubs, I see a manager stuck between a GM who made the wrong moves and players who either under-performed, were injured for long stretches or became selfish distractions. When I look at the Sox, I see a manager whose GM made some moves, though not enough of them, but who still had his core line-up from last season to work with, plus two nice additions (Pods and Beck).

I feel like Ozzie should have gotten more out of this team, though I think he's the best man for the job next year managing a team that is already set up to improve. Basically, like Lou, he needs to start very strong and not allow his team to fall back for any reason. If there were a lot of great manager candidates out there, I might feel differently about both of them.

For the Cubs, I think Lou is the best option and regardless of what happens in 2010 probably will provide a bridge to Ryne Sandberg to manage the Cubs in 2011. If the Cubs win the World Series next year, I think Lou will retire, and if they don't, that there will be a mutual parting of ways. Meanwhile, Ozzie gamely and predictably has said that management will have to fire him eventually--that it's the only way he'll go. Will that be in 2010, or beyond?

Monday, September 7, 2009

Steve Johnson Swings Both Ways!

SBW welcomes Chicago Tribune columnist Steve Johnson to the ranks of Chicago baseball fans who lead double lives as both Cubs and Sox fans. S.J.'s column today talks about doing away with the tribal loyalties at a time when neither team seems to deserve our exclusive loyalty.

My own evolution as a Cubs-and-Sox fan rose many years ago from feeling some frustration in rooting only for the Cubs, but also the notion that I didn't have to chose between two local teams who never played one another (a tradition which of course has changed over the years). In any case, I think S.J. is dead-on that there are more Chicago baseball fans who SBW than will admit to it.

Increasingly, I'm meeting more casual baseball fans who SBW, or at least claim they do, so perhaps it is coming into fashion, and I hope to have contributed in at least some small part to the new wave, or at least help to chronicle it. The main challenge that these true Chicago baseball fans will face after this season is maintaining dual status as both teams hopefully will improve. It's easy to say you like both teams when both are going nowhere fast this year (though I cling to the possibility that the Sox will survive a late September three-team A.L. Central cataclysm), but the true test comes when they both are doing well and feeding the crazy possibility that we could see another Windy City World Series.

Another big challenge--and one that the column touches on--is surviving the Crosstown Classic North and South Series without tearing your hair out. There's a lot of taunting and ill will that must be endured during each of these three-game sets, but to survive with your sanity intact, just follow SBW's one simple rule:

Always root for the home team.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

A little flag-waving music?

So, Kenny Williams denied that shipping out Jim Thome and Jose Contreras were white-flag trades, even after he indicated he was looking to help Thome get a World Series (sort of implying he wouldn't have that chance if he stayed with the White Sox this season). Then, it's reported in the Tribune and elsewhere that the GM shopped a number of guys last week.

Kenny being Kenny, he said he was just trying to wake up his team, and the 4 wins that followed those trades suggested he did. The debate about whether or not the GM gave up and whether or not he was being sneaky is over-shadowing the fact that both moves were timely and correct. The Thome move is certaintly hard for fans to swallow, and the Sox only got one iffy minor leaguer for him, but it sets the Sox up well for next year, and is already giving Manager Ozzie Guillen more line-up and field position flexibility. It's been interesting seeing Carlos Quentin and Scott Podsednik in the DH role this week, the latter hinting at a creative way of redefining the DH spot with small-ball speed.

The Sox are no worse off right now without Thome. They dropped today's game to the Red Sox, and Podsednik went 3-4 on the DH spot. Rather, they lost because the rest of the line-up only managed 3 hits and Paul Konerko, Alex Rios and Quentin are pretty well mired in slumps.

Meanwhile, the Tigers had another amazing late comeback win and are looking awful tough to beat. The Sox are now 8 games out of 1st place. They play only division foes after Sept. 16, and with 6 games left against the Tigers, and 3 left against the Twins, it's time to hope for the best that those games will actually mean something when the dates arrive. For that to happen, the Sox need to get some help from the Tigers, while also refusing to think about whether or not their GM has waved the white flag.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Summer stays, patience fades

It was a beautiful day for a crosstown, make-up game, but the home team felt none of the sun, nor any warming adulation from the fans. The White Sox beat the Cubs 5-0 Thursday to formally end the Crosstown Classic North series from back in June.

How differently things looked then for the Cubs. Yes, there were injuries and players sunk into slumps at the plate (some things never change), but the Cubs had a stunning comeback win against the Sox back in June that looked at the time like it might launch them into a much-anticipated run of victories that would result in a division title.

Now, the division title is all but mathematically lost, and the wild card is only marginally more attainable. The Cubs were booed left and right Thursday as the sun and late summer warmth failed to mellow the crowd. The fans now seem to come only to boo and make plans for their post-7th inning stretch social calendars, but the darn Cubs keeping inviting them to do nothing more. Fielding miscues by Alfonso Soriano and others let the game slip away, and each strikeout by Cubs hitters (there were 9, including 3 by Al-So and 2 by Milton Bradley) were met with boos that seemed to build to the shower of ill affection that met Al-So's game-ending K.

The Sox, meanwhile, now in third place and clinging to the hope offered by division match-ups later this month, had to do almost nothing to win this one except run the bases without tripping. The highlight of the game to my mind was the nice throw DeWayne Wise made to nail Jake Fox at the plate in the 7th inning when it was still 1-0 Sox (Should we call it "The Throw" or "The Assist"?) Carlos Torres als had a great start, pitch 7 innings with 6 Ks and no walks, though the Cubs made it easy for him.

Amid the boos, Cubs fans may be somewhat under-appreciating a club that is still in second place, still has a winning record, and won 2 of 3 against the Mets and Astros before Thursday's crosstown loss. We would have been just fine with 67-65 and a shot at the postseason a few years ago. But, who wants to hear that when you were promised another division title (promised it, at least, by last year's amazing success)?

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

The comeback

The White Sox had "The Catch" earlier this summer to save Mark Buehrle's perfect game, and now they have "The Comeback," a sweet 4-2 victory in Minnesota. This Sox team has already done something last year's version couldn't do--win in the Horror Dome in September. And, improbable as it seems, they can now say they beat the Twins the last time the two teams ever met on the Horror Dome--it's history after this season.

The Sox scored all 4 runs in the top of the 9th, which they entered down 2-0 and facing Joe Nathan. What could be better than that? All 4 runs were scored with 2 outs? What could be better than that? All 4 runs came after Nathan the Sox were down to their very last strike with Gordon Beckham at the plate. Beckham homered, then Paul Konerko homered, and the hits and walks kept coming as "Joe Cool" completely lost composure.

The division is still there for the taking, despite what you may have heard about white flag trades.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Thome-time is up

Kenny Williams is as hit-and-miss with trades as any other GM, but the Sox' main man has got to be 10 times more coldly decisive than the Cubs' Jim Hendry, who is sometimes artful and imaginative where Kenny is more pragmatic. And a pragmatic GM is what Sox fans want, even if doing what must logically be done hurts sometimes.

Trading Jim Thome was probably something that had to happen now, even though many of us would have loved to see the hometown boy (sort of--Peoria) and all-around great guy hit his 600th career homerun while in a Sox uniform. But, Thome's also 39, and the already limited dimensions of his value are growing fewer.

Some may say the Sox players already hung out the white flag. If not, this may be it, though the Sox have some able-bodied and speedier players they can get in the line-up a bit more often (Jayson Nix?). Jose Contreras was traded, too, but the Sox may soon get an upgrade with Jake Peavy coming back--assuming he comes back this season. Best to re-assess this season after the exit from Minnesota, however that turns out.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Sign him up

Mrs. SBW has been bugging me to post a couple of photos I took while sitting in the cheap seats at the 15-6 drubbing the Cubs took from the Washington Nationals earlier this week.

You can't tell, of course, but that is Pearl Jam's Eddie Vedder throwing out the first pitch, what seemed like an exceptionally hard strike for a ceremonial first pitch (He had actually been warming up with Ryan Theriot in front of the Cubs dugout for several minutes before).

As many of you know, Eddie loves his Cubs. He also led the 7th inning stretch sing-along, always one of my least favorite moments of any Cubs game, but of course much better with someone who can actually sing. At least I got something for my money.

Sox: Swoon update

The Sox just lost to the Yankees 10-0, and much like the Cubs have looked lately, the Sox to a man looked slow and lost in this one. So, maybe there is no reason to believe they still have a chance this season.

You know how I go hot and cold on our teams when they start swooning, but this was the worst Sox game I have seen in a long time that didn't take place in the Piranhas' Horror Dome. The Sox were almost no-hit by none other than Sergio Mitre--who they beat earlier this month--and Chad Gaudin (yes, folks, two Cubs rejects). And the one hit by Jim Thome really was a once-in-a-blue-moon misplay by Yanks 1B Mark Texeira (or maybe not even a misplay if you get a chance to see the replay).

Meanwhile, Jose Contreras continues to... decompose. He's basically reserving a spot in the rotation for Jake Peavy, but isn't even doing that much anymore.

Sox on the wane

As the Sox stayed in the game last night against the Yankees, I was still feeling pretty good about their play-off chances. The debacles against Baltimore and K.C. recently had me down, but I reminded myself they had won consecutive series against the Yanks and the Angels at home, and still have 6 games left against Detroit, with the Tigers only four games ahead as of last night.

I think a lot of Sox fans have given up already, and the dire talk from Kenny Williams and the Great and Powerful Oz about how much this team has under-achieved hasn't helped sway their opinions. Shouldn't the Jake Peavy and Alex Rios deals have bolstered the belief that this particular team can still win the division?

Instead, everyone is happily embracing the idea of having Peavy and Rios under long-term contracts and kissing this season good-bye. Don't forget, this still looks more than anything like the team that won Game 163 last year.

The Sox went on to lose 5-2 last night, and more than one person has reminded me since that even if they do win their own crappy division, it's merely an invitation to get spanked by the Yanks in the ALDS the same way they got spanked by the Rays last year.

You got me there, but going into today's game the Sox are still ahead of the Yanks in their season series 3-2, and they won 3 of 4 at The Cell, so there's still reason to believe, isn't there?

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Mr. Unhappy

The Cubs need to get rid of Milton Bradley, the sooner the better. I was half-expecting this would happen before the Sept. 1 waiver deadline, though that's increasingly unlikely. Will he be traded during the off-season? Bradley has been playing very well lately, but it's becoming clear he uses his own unhappiness and the hatred he claims to feel from others as fuel.

He has said he faces racial hatred daily at Wrigley Field, which is a sad accusation that must be taken seriously--though as Steve Rosenbloom noted recently, it's hard to address the problem when Bradley pulls it into the spotlight, but doesn't take it seriously himself.

Does it actually happen the way Bradley said? Undoubtedly, there are a few idiots out there whose criticism of poor play becomes racially-tinged, and who might tell a joke with a racist punch line in front of dozens of other people around them in the stands. Some of us might vocally object, but most of us silently protest and maybe we should start speaking up. It probably happens in all ballparks, not to mention everwhere in America--something that having an African-American President doesn't automatically cure, even though we would like that to be the case. Wherever and whenever it happens, it's unforgivable behavior, and the Cubs should do more to investigate than simply tell Bradley not to listen.

However, it's also true that the vast majority of fans don't take part in such behavior. Bradley decided to label all of us racists, which is unfair and makes it harder to enjoy this already hard-to-enjoy season. Being a fan is a two-way relationship. You appreciate the players, applauding a great effort and booing a poor, under-achieving, and you want to have a sense that they appeciate your appreciation and know that your criticism will pass as their own effort improves.

As a participant in many fantasy baseball leagues, I have liked Bradley as a hitter for many years. He has always had a real knack for getting on base and driving in runs and even stealing a base or two. That's what the Cubs saw, too, when they signed him at a time that other teams probably were afraid to sign him because of his past confrontations with umpires, other players and the media. Some people might argue to cut Bradley now or trade him because he hasn't played up to par, but the fact is that he is now playing up to his potential. Is it enough to bring the Cubs all the way back and win the division or capture the wild card? Those ships probably have sailed too far toward the horizon to catch now, but you've got to applaud Bradley's effort either way, and if he wasn't earning his salary before, he is earning it now.

Yet, it makes me sad that while I watched him--and applauded him on--the other night when he went 4-4, he wasn't feeling my appreciation at all, and in fact felt the opposite. I guess we are both unhappy, and if he will be happier somewhere else, the Cubs should make that move possible ASAP regardless of how well he continues to hit.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Jim and Lou

I haven't written anything about the Cubs lately because the West Coast trip was predictably disasterous, and I was just plain sick of the Cubs. That happens sometimes, and makes me glad I have the White Sox, too, though the Sox haven't exactly been tearing it up (more on that later this week).

In fact, maybe semi-seaonal sickness of the Cubs is what originally drove me to become a passionate White Sox follower. When things go wrong with the Cubs, they really go wrong, and I think we all need an outler from that.

Having said this, the other reason I haven't posted is because the sale of the Cubs, finally maybe almost very close to happening, doesn't intrigue me much as a fan. Sure, the Rickettses could make a lot of changes, including changes at the GM and manager level, but those changes would be debated anyway, regardless of whether or not a sale was happening. The sale to me is just another promise, just another reason to believe, and I don't want to have anymore than I already do. I'd prefer just to think of it as business-as-usual.

Because, when you get down to it, whatever changes after this year depends on whether Jim Hendry or Lou Piniella gets the blame for the Cubs not making the playoffs (of course, there's still a chance--I only speak hypothetically). I do buy the argument that Hendry's hands may have been tied some by the pending sale, though coming into this year, there wasn't much reason to tamper with a 97-win team unless it was to move an aging first baseman or obsolete lead-off man/left-fielder.

Instead, Hendry acquired another pricy free agent, this one with a shaky rep, and let go of the loosest-seeming guy on the club--looseness being a quality that the rest of the team seemed to be lacking last year.

To me, Hendry's long-ago acquisition of Alfonso Soriano was his biggest blunder, and one he has yet to pay for. The potent but incredibly streaky, poor-fielding Soriano fools you with tape-measure homers, but will never help you win against play-off caliber pitching.

Hendry's done a lot of good for the Cubs. Division wins in 2003, 2007 and 2008 prove that, and the nature of the GM job is that bad deals will be made. Ultimately, has he made too many bad deals? No. The Cubs should have been able to overcome the loss of Mark DeRosa this year but haven't, and that's where Lou comes in...

Lou is suddenly looking an awful lot like Dusty Baker circa late 2004/early 2005. He acts as though he doesn't understand why the players aren't hitting, which is sort of OK if you actually then do something about it, Some media analysis that he waited too long for Milton Bradley and Soriano to come around is right on (though safer to say in hindsight, of course). What's mystifying is ongoing faith in his veterans (just like Dusty) even when they aren't winning and potnetially viable replacements (Sam Fuld and Jake Fox) present themselves.

Ultimately, it doesn't seem like Lou has instilled a sense of urgency or hunger in this team, preferring let them fall back on injuries as an excuse for not winning. No one has used that excuse, of course, but it's there just the same. It gives some of us a reason to say, "It just wasn't their year."

Lou has a year left on his contract, while Jim has a few more. I think that barring the emergence of a GM candidate with a radically different plan, Hendry should return. I think he's an above average GM that has built, on the whole, better teams than we have seen in the decades before. He should be told, however, by new ownership that he needs to unload Soriano and Bradley in whatever way possible. The Cubs, and the new owners, will have eat a lot of money to make that happen, but I'm wondering if both of them could be packaged for delivery to a small-market A.L. team like the A's or Royals. And, Jim: Just say no to high-priced, multi-year free agents.

And Lou? He is still a solid manager, and has gotten a lot out of this year's team in stretches. He says he wants to be back. You could say he has nothing to prove in the last year of what might be his last-ever contract as an MLB manager, but that's exactly why he might be able to make some magic next year. And again, if there's a better option out there, I don't see who it is right now. I would keep him, but only for as long as he keeps the Cubs in contention next year.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Seeing the Sox

Here's a couple photos taken from the Scout Seats at The Cell Monday night, when Mrs. SBW and I made our annual pilgrimage. The Great and Powerful Oz is on his way back to the dugout after arguing a close play at second base. Mark Buehrle started for the Sox and wasn't bad (6 IP, 4 ER), but didn't get the win.

Meanwhile, the pre-game buffet was great as usual, though one of my favorite Scout Seat rituals is my mid-game stroll back to the ice cream cooler for an Oreo ice cream sandwich. This time around, I sent the Missus back to fetch me "an ice cream sandwich" when she went back to go to the bathroom, but she came back with a standard-issue Good Humor style ice cream sandwich.

Nothing wrong with that, mind you, and those bar-style treats take me back to the days in the 1970s growing up in Grayslake when the ice cream man came down our street once a week, with his truck playing that mind-numbing jingle the whole way. My standard order was an ice cream sandwich, my brother favored Push-Ups (even though he probably doesn't remember), my dad liked the chocolate ice cream bars with the thick plank of solid chocolate in the middle and my mom liked the toasted almond bars.

Anyway, while I wouldn't normally turn down any old ice cream sandwich, I was aware that the Powers-That-Be with the White Sox organization usually are very attentive in such matters, making sure a wide variety of food choices are available. I have in the past enjoyed both the Oreo sandwich and the Toll House chocolate-chip cookie variety while watching from the Scout Seats (the cooler also features drumsticks, but the less said of those the better), so I went back and, sure enough, my frozen, racially-integrated treat was waiting for me. Good stuff. (I gave the original and now rapidly melting, plain-old ice cream sandwich to Mrs. SBW, who gladly ate it, lest I consume two, which I clearly would have done.)

By the way, the Sox won 8-7, though not before Scott Linebrink tried to give up the game. He has since been demoted to middle relief (finally).

Friday, August 14, 2009

Cubs win 17-2. So what?

The Cubs offense lived up to its billing Friday, producing 17 runs and a win, but it all came against the second-worst team in the National League, the hapless Pirates. And since it's August and after the trading deadline, the Pirates are, as usual, are stitched with the type of talent that either isn't quite there yet, was never there or is already long gone.

This win comes after the Cubs only won 1 of 7 against the types of teams they need to beat for postseason success--and they looked even worse doing that than the record indicates.

If the Cubs can pound the Pirates around Wrigley this weekend, the masses will go home happy, and if the Cardinals happen to lose 1 or 2 in the meantime, then the Cubs wins will gain more meaning--at least until the Cubs next have to battle a team like the Rockies, Phillies or Cardinals...

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Should we still believe?

The Sox are 2 games out of 1st place and the Cubs are 3 games out. Both are in the thick of very crowded wild card races. Seems like the same story we have been telling and listening to all season. Should we still believe that both our teams can make the play-offs?

Reasons to believe the Sox will make it:

1) Jake Peavy. Nuff said.

2) Alex Rios is the first multi-tool centerfielder the Sox have had since... maybe since Mike Cameron... Even Aaron Rowand didn't have Rios' power.

3) Mark Buehrle is a lot better than he has been in the last few weeks. He'll show up for September... won't he?

4) Speed and confidence. Rios is the latest fleet-footed addition to a group, including Scott Podsednik, Chris Getz, Jayson Nix, Alexei Ramirez and others--that has gotten very aggressive on the bases. Add to that a sense of confidence: This team seems to be in every game right to the end, and is often best in do-or-die 9th inning situations.

Reasons to believe the Cubs will make it:

1) Ted Lilly and Carlos Zambrano both should be back for the play-off run. The Cubs full starting staff is the best in the divison top to bottom.

2) Milton Bradley is on fire... in a good way. He's finally hitting. Of course, Aramis Ramirez and Geovany Soto are not, for reasons related to injuries, but Bradley as a run-producer may rival anyone in the line-up, and we'll see even more of that in the month or so to come.

3) Jake Fox. He's here to stay. With two catchers now reasonably healthy, Lou can use him selwhere without reservation, and at least hitting-wise he could prove to be a fine replacement for A-Ram.

4) Lotsa lefties. The bullpen isn't as bad as it's been recently. The pen for a while was keeping this team afloat. Getting southpaw John Grabow more opprtunities could be the key to avoiding Carlos Marmol meltdowns and the occasional Kevin Gregg misstep. When the starters are full healthy again, the Cubs will be able to turn to Grabow, Sean Marshall and Tom Gorzelanny in the bullpen in key situations rather than trying to decide how late to wait before using the only left arm in the pen--that was a problem the last two years, and is a big problem still for most teams.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Tired arms

Maybe Jose Contreras has the same problem as Kevin Gregg--a tired arm--and maybe like Gregg, he is not telling anyone about it, until it's too late. Contreras hasn't pitched many innings this year, but perhaps his age, whatever it might be, is finally getting to him.

Contreras didn't even make it to the 4th inning last night, walking 5 guys and hitting 1. The Sox won anyway, as thet eventually beat the tough LA Angels 5-4 in last-inning heroics by Scott Podsednik, who drove in Jayson Nix, who had doubled with 2 outs. But, Contreras' recent problems show Jake Peavy can't get well soon enough.

Meanwhile, the Cubs' solution for Gregg's tired arm, which cost them a win Sunday in Florida, is to use either Carlos Marmol, who got in trouble and then out of it (as is his way) on Monday when the Cubs beat the Reds 4-2, or Angel Guzman, who has shown mostly good stuff all year but gave up a 2-run homer in the 9th inning last night before closing out the Reds in a 6-3 victory.

I'm a bit worried about the whole Gregg situation because he is not a stranger to the DL. He is on a pace to give up more hits this year than in previous years, so he has been working hard for his saves, and he has shockingly given up 10 homers, the most of any NL reliever (though 3 of those came in his last 2 fated outings). Both Marmol and Guzman are too wild and emotional to close games on a regular basis, which leaves... newly-acquired John Grabow? Tom Gorzelanny, who pitched so well as a starter Tuesday? Sean Marshall? All 3 are lefties, but the Cubs suddenly have a surplus of southpaws that will only increase when Ted Lilly returns.

What about Ryan Dempster in a pinch?

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Almost fish-fried

When the Cubs picked up Kevin Gregg last November, I felt it was a slight downgrade at the closer position. I kept going back to a game last August when his then-employer the Florida Marlins were leading the Cubs 5-3 in the 9th and Gregg fed a 3-run homer to Daryle Ward. The Cubs won that game 6-5.

This year, however, Gregg has built a strong season from a crappy start, and with Carlos Marmol struggling nearly all year, Gregg arguably has been the MVP of the bullpen. He hasn't had any spectacular failures like the one from last August--until last night, that is.

With one strike left to gain a save and give the Cubs a victory in an 8-5 game, Gregg gave up a solo homerun and then three straight hits--two singles and a triple--that sent the game into extras at a score of 8-8.

This was one of those games that the Cubs seemed destined to lose depsite taking a 6-0 lead after two innings. Carlos Zambrano was throwing poorly and had to leave in the 3rd inning with a sore back. The bullpen gave free passes to the Marlins left and right, and the Cubs offense mostly was shut down by the Marlins' pen after the 2nd inning, striking out 11 times in the following six innings.

So, in that sense, Gregg's way-blown save fit the script. Luckily, former (actually long-ago at this point) Marlin Derrek Lee forgot to read the script. He pounded a no-doubter homerun to lead off the 10th inning, and Aaron Heilman came in for the clean save in the bottom of the 10th. The Cubs also resorted to some funny fielding moves in the 10th because they were short-handed after Aramis Ramirez had to leave the game in the top of the 10th after being hit.

So, it was a tough one, but the Cubs managed a victory in a stadium that is to them what the Metrodome is to the White Sox--a chamber of horrors. Gregg got the win, and hopefully will not have another blemish like this one in what has been a very good year for him.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Welcome, Jake Peavy

A couple of months ago, I was not crazy about the idea of the White Sox trading for Jake Peavy, who despite being a former Cy Young winner, also seems to get injured frequently (though not his arm... yet), and seemed hesitant to come play for the Sox and compete in the American League in general. I also didn't want to see the Sox give up both promising lefties Clayton Richard and Aaron Poreda.

Now that the Sox have snared Peavy in a last-minute trading deadline, I'm still nervous, though I have to admit there is a lot to like and little to complain about when you land a 28-year-old superstar pitcher who immediately becomes the rotation's only true power pitcher. Of course, we'll have to wait another few weeks for Peavy to come off the DL to see how much help he can be in this year's quest. Things could be very interesting in particular if the rotation gets lined up so that both Peavy and Mark Buehrle face the Twins and Tigers on what could be very decisive series late next month.

Meanwhile, the Peavy era started for the Sox with a bt of good luck, as they beat the Yankees 10-5 last night in a game that they almost forfeited at the start. Because Richard was the scheduled starter, the Sox had to send out middle reliever D.J. Carrasco, who looked uncomfotable from the very beginning, not covering 1st base quickly enough on a ground ball by Derek Jeter. But, the Sox piled on the hits, and the bullpen held. They have now won the first two games of a four-game series against a team that entered with the second best record in baseball.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Re-visiting Buehrle's perfect game

Mark Buehrle's perfect game last Thursday seemed to come and go with very quick Buehrle-like efficiency, and one of my Sox fan friends has already been on me for not talking it up enough. At this point, I'm more upset about the Sox losing 3 of 4 in Detroit to go back to the happy place where I was last week, but my favorite stat of all the stats and facts thrown around in the last several days was that Buehrle only spent 32 minutes of game-time on the mound during the "PG."

That's just wild, and it's not like who threw 70 pitches. He threw 116 pitches in 32 minutes. This probably isn't always the case with every opponent, but the game-pace Buehrle sets often seems to get hitters off balance.

There also has been a lot of talk in the last week about Buehrle's chance for the Hall of Fame. He certainly has a great shot at 300 wins for his career (133 now), but has also strongly hinted he might quit after 2011. A Cy Young Award this year would definitely help his case, and he's definitely in the running for it right now, but even two more very strong seasons (near 20 wins, which he has never accomplished) after this one, would leave him well short of 200 wins. being a World Series Champion helps, too, but short of 200 wins, I think he would probably need another no-hitter, a couple Cy Youngs or another World Series under his belt.

And, if he does that, we're not letting him walk away. I would let him fly in from Missouri for his starts if it made a difference, though you also have to figure a good guy like Buehrle would never go for that star treatment.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

The case for keeping Milton Bradley

There was a rumor in the last few days--now shot down by just about everybody--that the Detroit Tigers were looking to acquire free agent disappointment Milton Bradley from the Cubs. I think most people have viewed Bradley as basically untradeable at this point unless the Cubs are looking for nothing better than a set of steak knives. Heck, that's what I thought.

In any case, there won't be a trade, apparently, and after seeing Bradley sometimes succeeding/still essentially struggling in the last several games, I'm starting to like the idea of keeping him. Why? Three little letters: OBP.

Bradley's on-base percentage going into Sunday's game was .377, the second-best of any player on the current roster (second to Aramis Ramirez). With 44 walks, Bradley has only six fewer walks than team leader Kosuke Fukudome. I think that, used pretty strategically, which Lou Piniella has begun to do by limiting Bradley's left-handed at-bats against righty pitchers, Bradley could be a very valuable contributor down the line even if he continues to hits around .250 (at .246 now)--as long as he keeps the BBs coming and keeps that OBP at a healthy level.

Bradley's current .131 spread between his batting average and OBP is a remarkable stat. Without Derrek Lee and Aramis Ramirez, among others, hitting well, it may not amount to much, and when Bradley was slumping along with Lee and A-Ram was out with his shoulder injury, Bradley's few walks and a whole lot of nothing otherwise wasn't acceptable.

But, now, it's another cog, an important one, in the run-scoring machine that the Cubs finally having running smoothly. And, if Bradley starts to hit a little more--let's just say the Cubs visit to first place today, could be a long-term visit.

Thursday, July 23, 2009


Need I say more?

Floored by Parque's HGH confession

Little Jim Parque, he of the one pretty good season with the 2000 A.L. Central Divison winning White Sox, has a lengthy (and I do mean lengthy) confession about having used HGH during the latter part of his career after his arm injury suffered in the 2000 ALDS, in which Parque started the opener in a series known best for its complete lack of offense by a Sox team that had scored 978 runs during the season.

I want to read it through a couple times before I offering too many impressions, but 1) I'm surprised 2) He comes off noth as very apologetic, but also looking for a little justification--saying essentially he did what he felt he had to do to stay in the game. Interesting...

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Missed opportunity

With the White Sox up 2-1 on the Rays at the opening of the 8th inning last night, I was hoping the Sox were ready for an extra inning game. The Great and Powerful Oz had trotted Clayton Richard out to pitch the 8th, though he was already at the 106-pitch mark. Even if Richard didn't blow it, I figured, Bobby Jenks, who barely escaped a bases-loaded jam for the Sox' 4-3 win Monday, surely would blow it.

Richard turned out to be impressive in his final inning, giving up a single, but using only 10 pitches, which made me wonder for a moment if we might see him in the 9th, conventional pitcher management philosophies cast aside. Instead, we saw Jenks load the bases again, this time before he recorded a single out, on the way to a 3-2 Sox loss.

Black Jack sees it as another example of a team handing off a game to a closer without a thought, because that's the foolish way of modern baseball. There are times when I would agree with that perspective, and last night might be one of them. Richard did indeed look great, though it was already his longest outing ever. I thought the key move was leaving him in after the 8th inning single. I thought that was an inidcation Ozzie was determined to stay with him for th 9th as well.

Yet, two excellent right-handed hitters (Jason Bartlett and Evan Longoria) were due up in the 9th, which would have made sticking with Richard a very high risk situation. The problem was that the only other apparent answer was Jenks, who in July before last night had pitched 5 inning and given up 5 runs (4 ER). Ugly choices, and maybe a great spot to do something really unconventional, but the fact was that even though Jenks has not been greatly lately, he had not actually blown a save since June 11.

Ozzie may have felt his hands were tied in trying to save his bullpen for tonight, when the Sox will start minor-leaguer Carlos Torres in place of John Danks, who has a blister, but what the Sox end up with is a missed opportunity to go 2 games up in a four-game series, while also losing a game in the standings to 1st place Detroit.

Monday, July 20, 2009

C.Q. is back, B.A. is gone

Carlos Quentin officially is back from the disabled list, and to answer your next question, yes, Brian Anderson was indeed sent down to the minors to make room for him. In recent games, as B.A.'s average has again headed south while Scott Podsednik was still managing to somehow channel the 2005 version of himself, it has become clear that Pods would move over to centerfield when C.Q. returned.

At least, that's what we think is happening. Tonight's line-up for the first of four games against last year's hated play-off foe, the Rays, was not yet posted as of this writing. Maybe we'll also see a variation in coming games with C.Q. DH-ing against lefties, though Jim Thome has been hot enough lately, hasn't he?

Thursday, July 16, 2009

B.J. and the baby bears

The Cubs have signed one-time superstar closer B.J. Ryan, according to the Chicago Tribune. More recently, Ryan has been a huge bust in Toronto, and was recently released. But, this looks like a low-risk move by the Cubs, landing a lefty with credentials who has only pitched in the American League thus far and could potentially do well against National Leaguers who haven't seen him.

Ryan is being sent to the Iowa Cubs, but I'll bet he gets to Wrigley before too long.

The Cubs have needed another southpaw and true bullpen-type pitcher (unlike Sean Marshall, whose good stuff and durable arm often goes to waste in short outings out of the pen). Signing Ryan also gives them some late-inning flexibility, particularly at a time when Carlos Marmol continues to amble along his strike-'em-out-or-walk-'em-in path.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Second half, second chance

At the beginning of the season, I predicted a 90-72 record for the Cubs and a first-place finish for the third year in the row. At 43-43, it's hard to imagine them going 47-29 the rest of the way, especially with ongoing injuries being an issue. Still, I'm not completely ready to give up on them winning the Central Division or at least getting the Wild Card with a lesser record.

It could be one of those years, like 2007, when an 85-77 record or something worse could win the division. The Cubs still face stiff competition from the Cardinals and Brewers, though I think the Brewers may fade unless they pull off another trade for a big-time starter like Cliff Lee or Roy Halladay.

I'm going to revise my prediction to 84-78. Whether or not that's good enough to take them any farther I don't want to say. I just want to hope.

Meanwhile, I had the White Sox finishing in second place with an 86-76 record--behind Cleveland. Wow. Safe to say the Cleveland won't be a threat, and happy to say that the Sox, with a first-half record of 45-43, are in a great position to go on a run and finish in first place.

Is 41-33 too much to ask in the second half? I don't think so, and with Detroit relying on young starters and an iffy bullpen, I like the Sox' chances to win the division. What about the Twins? Let's not talk about the Twins...

Monday, July 13, 2009

Are the Cubs considering bankruptcy?

By all appearances, the Chicago Cubs look like a money machine, from the ticket and concession prices at numerous sold-out games to the vast national merchandising reach evidenced at every road game. So, why would they file for bankruptcy protection, as published reports from Bloomberg News in the Tribune and elsewhere suggest?

Is it to get away from those huge liabilities--you know, the massive contracts being paid to under-performing players like Milton Bradley, Kosuke Fukudome and Alfonso Soriano? If only...

Actually, the reports suggest that getting some protection from creditors will make the still-pending Cubs sale easier to close. Still, it would be another embarrassment for a team with plenty of them.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Somewhere along the way to 81 wins

Only a week ago, the Cubs were taking three of four from the powerfull Brew Crew, and looked like a team that had their offense and pitching in synch with their best hitter about to return from injury. Since then, they have lost three in a row in such woeful fashion, that they seem less a first-place 89-90 game winner waiting to bust out, and a lot more like the 41-42 team their record says they are. It's hard to look at the last three games and see anyting greater than an 81-81 record at the end of the season.

Not only has the offense gone back to bad habits (even Derrek Lee, though he did manage a 3-run homer yesterday in an 8-3 loss against the Cards), but the injury bug bit again with the Cubbie Moment-style injuries (We prefer Cubbie Moment to Lou's Cubbie Occurrence) to Ryan Dempster and Geovany Soto, outting both out for a month.

Meanwhile, the Cubs sale still lingers incomplete, and you have to wonder how much that ties Jim Hendry's hands as the trading deadline approaches. Not that he would move anyone anyway. He basically has a bunch of under-achieving stars (Whatever happened to Rich Harden by the way? 5 IP, 4 ER, 4 BB yesterday) and a few too-highly-paid, untradeable free agent types.

The funny thing is that the Central Division is so winnable. No one is taking charge. The Brewers and the Cards have both had bad spells, and the Cubs clearly have the best pitching staff among the three (though I'll bet the Cards and Brewers will fight hard over top-tier trade bait such as Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee). If the Cubs could go on a run, winning 5 of 7 here, 3 of 5 there--nothing as demanding as a major winning streak--they could find themselves in 1st place. But, when they win a few this year, they immediately give them back. That's the story of the 2009 Cubs.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Three cheers for Paulie

Paul Konerko hit 3 homeruns last night, including a grand slam. Wow. It's always amazing and kind of shocking when you are watching something like that happen.

In one sense, it seems like the possibility is always there with a hitter like Paulie or Alfonso Soriano, who has done as a Cub within the last two years, or Aramis Ramirez, who did it twice in 2004. Yet, homeruns are so unexpected, and even last night after Paulie had hit a grand slam and a solo shot, I was stunned by his third round-tripper, a ball that looked like at had no business going over the fence. And then there were 3.

The Sox won 10-6, and are pushing toward a strong close to the first half of the season. And for Paulie, 3 HRs and 7 RBIs in a single game is a nice capper on a great first half of the season. He's an All-Star in my book.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

7 and counting

The White Sox have won 7 games in a row, and while the streak has come against teams best described as "troubled"--the Royals, the Indians and the Cubs--they have definitely found a rhythm.

Great pitching has been the top reason for the streak, and in a 5-0 trouncing of the Royals last night, John Danks contonued his recent comeback from a string of inconsistent starts: 7.1 IP, 5 Ks, 0 BB, 0 ER. Danks and Gavin Floyd, getting the Star-Spangled start today, have gradually found their way back to 2008 form. With Jose Contreras pitching like the second half of 2005 and Mark Buehrle throwing more like its 2001, the Sox staff has figured out how to bottle their best moments and tap into them when need (OK, maybe not the best metaphor in the era of PEDs).

The offense is starting to show up as well. Newly rejuvenated by lead-off man Scott Podsednik, these Sox hitters do not look like the same ones who have been shut out 9 times this year. They are keeping the line moving, taking advantage of whatever opposition errors fall their way and not relying too much on the long ball, though homeruns certainly have helped, like A.J. Pierzynski's tone-setting solo shot last night against Zack Greinke.

Pods proves an effective lead-off man doesn't always have to draw a walk. Just the threat of something else, like the combination of speed with a bunt or a swinging bunt, which Pods has started to do very well, is enough. That may be the only element that the Cubs are missing with Alfonso Soriano, who reportedly is being moved out of the lead-off spot. Sam Fuld, in a few games leading off for the Cubs this week, looked more like Pods than anyone else in compiling a .600 OBP in his first 10 at-bats.

The rest of the Sox line-up is hitting, too, with Gordon Beckham really finding his stroke and his confidence. Could the Sox have a Rookie of the Year candidate two years running?

Friday, July 3, 2009

First-half surprises: D-Lee, Buehrle, Paulie

There have been a number of bright spots to celebrate about our Chicago teams this season, but also plenty to criticize. One of the most surprising things to me is that three of the players I felt would be embarking on career wanes this season have come up big.

1) Derrek Lee: 2 Hrs and 7 RBIs last night for a career-best game marked the high point of a strong couple of months for D-Lee. During the off-season, I was actually hoping the Cubs would find a way to move him despite his steady consistency of past years for more power, a left-handed or more speed at another position. But, D-Lee has virtually carried the Cubs in several game during their tough May and June slates. Still, the Cubs will need to re-assess after this season is over, whener that may be...

2) Mark Buehrle: His 8-2, 3.09 ERA says it all. After a couple years of being just good enough, he is back to being the rock of the pitching staff. Some of the other starters have struggled at times, but No. 56 has kept the Sox afloat. He very nearly had a complete game shutout last night, and continues to be effective in his own underpowering way. He only had one strikeout last night, but retired frustrated K.C. batters on a steady stream of grounders and pop-flies.

3) Paul Konerko: More than the other two, I thought Paulie might be a true liability this year, and that his ongoing service with the Sox would only result in a series of benchings, with a rotating cast of characters, including out-of-practice Jim Thome, playing 1st base. But, Paulie, while not pounding too many homers (13), is on a pace for 100 RBIs (49 right now) that primarily have been collected with timely, effective contact hitting. He's a notorious slow starter, yet has a .293 batting average, that hovered above .300 for much of the first half.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Pressure on Hendry; Zammy being Zammy

Couple of thoughts from the past week:

Cubs general manager Jim Hendry is finally getting some of the blame or the under-achieving Cubs. You can blame the players or Sweet Lou's supposed lack of fire, but sooner or later, you have got to question some of the moves Hendry has made--and we aren't talking about the DeRosa trade, because of course that has been mention plenty of times already.

Hendry loves to tinker, and sometimes it turns out well, when you come up with Aramis Ramirez or Rich Harden, but his love of long-term free agent deals may have finally caught up to him, with under-achieving, but hard-to-tade players like Alfonso Soriano, Milton Bradley and Kosuke Fukudome. Each of them do have value on different ways, just not enough to validate big hard-to-move contracts.

Hendry is still tinkering, trading today for Jeff Baker, a multi-position infielder with a decent bat, but also 85 strikeouts in 299 at-bats last year. The Cubs designated multi-position whiz Ryan Freel for assignment. Freel had done very little, but his aggresive base-running and visible attitude on the field was kind of encouraging on the otherwise tight, jittery Cubs.

The second thing is the whole get-rid-of-Zambrano movement. We've been tired of Carlos Zambrano's antics for a while now, though curiously, the recent uproar came after a relatively benign plunking of Dewayne Wise during the finale Crosstown Classic South series. The HBP came right after the wild pitch/steal of home by Chris Getz, a play that made Zambrano look pretty stupid and set up his rather obvious method of acting out.

Next thing you know, the Tribune is saying get rid of Zambrano and conducting a fan poll on the issue after arguing its case. Not surprisingly, the vast majority of fans voted to dump Zambrano. I'm fine with him leaving town, but not for nothing or less. He's still a young. talented arm that has pitched a no-hitter, and I don't think the Cubs should part with him for less than a couple a strong bullpen vets or a position player who starts somewhere else with one or two minor leaguers thrown in.

The funny part to me is that it took this long to get the dump-Zambrano bandwagon moving. his antics against the Sox were nothing but Zammy being Zammy.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Pods and Beck bring it home

Scott Podsednik had maybe his best overall day offensively for the White Sox, even going back to his stint as chief fire-starter in 2005. He was 4-5 with a homerun--as we all know, he rarely goes deep, so when he does, it's worth a big celebration--and had 3 RBIs. But, the biggest blow of the 8-7 Sox victory over the Cubs in the second game of the Crosstown Classic South series was delivered by rookie Gordon Beckham, who came up with the walk-off single in the bottom of the 9th.

Beckham has had his share of struggles while learning how to be a pro ballplayer on the fly, and until late in this one it seemed like a typical tough day has he had an error at 3rd base and was 0-3 heading into the 8th inning. But, he had 2 hits in the lat 2 innings, scoring the tying run before bring home the winning run in the 9th and getting mobbed by his mates (He also got the ritual shaving cream pie treatment later during a post-game interview).

This was probably the most exciting game so far this year between the Cubs and Sox, and that includes the Cubs comeback at Wrigley and their very close 5-4 win Friday. The lead changed hands several times, with both teams scoring in all different ways. For fans who were bored by Friday's close, but somewhat lifeless (except for the Milton Bradley flare-up) game, this contest had a bit of everything, even suspenseful pitcher-batter face-offs, like the 9-pitch 8th inning at-bat between Podsednik and the shaky-as-usual Carlos Marmol.

The Cubs also had some nice defensive plays, though the Sox were again particularly weak on the left side of the infield. In addition to Beck's bobble, Alexei Ramirez cam up with 2 more errors, and failed to look Ryan Freel back to 3rd base on a routine grounder with the infield drawn in. Freel scored-he's fast, but not that fast, and you have to wonder if The Missile's throw to 1st base was a bit soft, too. That makes 8 errors for the Sox in the last four games. Ugh.

Meanwhile, Pods' success continues to amaze. I would have thought he'd cool off by now, but maybe there is something to his new funky-motion in the batter's box. Or, maybe it's just his comfort in playing alongside fellow champs like Paulie, A.J., JeDye, Burls and Jenks