The Cubs have lost four in a row, and though the offense has been ever so slightly more productive in recent games, the previosuly-solid pitching has fallen off somewhat. The White Sox impressively won a series from the best team in baseball, the L.A. Dodgers. They have scored 16 runs in their last two games.
That's where we are as the Crosstown Classic heads South this weekend, and here's some news of note:
--Milton Bradley has been benched, and Jake Fox, the hottest current hitter on the team after Derrek Lee, is getting more playing time. What happens with Bradley at this point is anyone's guess, but it's June 26, and he's still only hitting .241. More alarming, he seems to routinely fail with men on scoring position, with a RISP average of .229. That's why we hired him, right? Sadly, the Cubs probably have no alternative. The answer to every woe right now is to wait until Aramis Ramirez comes back, a return which at this point is being counted on for a pretty massive ripple effect. Maybe the extra line-up beef can help Bradley to see better pitches.
--Manager Lou Piniella defended himself today in the Tribune against critics who have said he lacks fire this year. He might, but for most of theseason it has seemed a suitable response to a team all wound up and tense after last year's play-off failure. Playing Fox more is a move in the right direction, but Piniella won't have a whole lot more option unless there's a trade. He too is counting on the A-Ram effect.
--It has become fashionable to bash the idea that Mark DeRosa's absence is at the core of the Cubs' troubles. Go ahead and say his value now that he's gone is being much over-hyped, but when you look at the line-up of 2008, which helped win 97 games, and the line-up of 2009, what other reasons can you come up with? If you say Bradley's the problem, well, he was chosen over DeRosa, who is having possibly a career year with the Cleveland Indians. If you say slumps by Kosuke Fukudome, Mike Fontenot or Aaron Miles have been the issue, or that it's the offenseive drop-off at 3rd base with A-Ram gone, guess who figures as a potential solution: DeRo. He certainly is not Babe Ruth, but he's not Mick Kelleher either.
--Carlos Quentin's return is not imminent. This is not necessarily a bad thing right now, though if the ripple effect of C.Q. returning is anything like the A-Ram ripple effect is supposed to be, the Sox may win the division again. Scott Podsednik is still running hot, coming up with the walk-off winning hit yesterday in the 6-5 win over the Dodgers. Brian Anderson has picked up his hitting just a bit, though I'm guessing he will be the odd man out upon C.Q.'s return, and Pods will be asked to take centerfield, except late in games in B.A. is called on for defense.
--Another story in the Trib today questions the lack of fire in the Crosstown Classic this year, using last week's split at Wrigley as the case in point. I wonder how much that has to do with the lackluster Cubs and the rain-out of game 1. I think most Sox fans are too gruff to let this weekend's series pass quietly.
--The Sox are 35-37 and 6 games out of 1st place. The Cubs failed to help them gain ground against Detroit by getting swept out of the Motor City this week. Still, the Sox are looking pretty good, about where they need to be, the C.Q.'s return, a more robust offensive effort and ongoing good pitching will be needed to help them eat away at the Tigers' lead. they only won 2 of 5 against Detroit in a massive home series this month, and now have numerous divison games facing them in July, including a 3-game trip to Detroit starting July 24. This will be the most important stretch and the most important month of the season for the Sox.