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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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).
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...
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.
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.
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.
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.