Saturday, April 10, 2010

Plenty to fix, but plenty of time

The Cubs and White Sox are both 1-3 after four games. I'd say it's about what I expected from the Cubs, but I really thought the Sox might be 3-1 at this point, licking their wounds today after their first loss of the season to the Piranhas.

Panic time? No way. Though there have been some troubling trends--bullpen ineptitude and lack of hitting in key spots has bothered both teams--there's plenty of time to work things out. Here's what our teams have been up to since Opening Day:

White Sox
Game 2 -- Indians 5 Sox 3

Jake Peavy certainly looked like he would be tough to hit on a cold night, and when the Sox jumped out 3-0, you had to feel good. But, Peavy labored to throw 106 pitches in just five innings, and gave the lead back, no doubt further ruffling the feathers of anyone who was worried/annoyed by his crappy Spring.

Peavy will work things out on his own. Journeyman reliever Randy Williams gave the Indians the go-ahead run and Bobby Jenks later gave them insurance, but it certainly didn't help that the Sox only had two hits. The Sox scored their first run in Ozzie-ball fashion, as Juan Pierre walked, stole second and third, and scored on a sac fly by Paul Konerko. Later, the Sox got their other runs on a two-run homer by Paulie, the only guy on the team who hit consistently through the first few games.

Game 3 -- Indians 5, Sox 3

Yep, same result, though this one went to OT (Sorry, March Madness still on the brain...). Again, just one batter was responsible for all three runs--this time Carlos Quentin, who had a three-run homer. And, again, the bullpen didn't hold. Usually reliable Matt Thornton lost a 3-2 lead for the Sox, and new guy J.J. Putz gave the tribe the two-run lead in the 11th.

Game 4 -- Twins 4, Sox 3

Another 11-inning game, and the extra work is not necessarily what the bullpen needs. I thought the Sox actually had a chance to start with a sweep of the Indians before running into a tough game against the Twins and resurgent starter Francisco Liriano. The good sign from the line-up in this one is that Sox hitters drew five walks from Liriano, but they only had one run-scoring hit, a two-run double by Alex Rios.

Scott Linebrink and Williams, the latter perhaps not long for Chicago, couldn't keep a brief lead in this one, which I guess is an old story against the Piranhas.

Mark Kotsay and Mark Teahen both remain hitless after four games, Omar Vizquel only has one and lead-off man Pierre only has two, so some of the fresher additions to this line-up have the Sox looking at lot like--well, like they did last year when no one was hitting for long stretches. Quentin and Konerko both are looking motivated, and Teahen probably will come around soon, but Ozzie Guillen's love of Kotsay is being tested. We'll see more of Andruw Jones, but he's got to hit, too.

Is Jermaine Dye still available?

Game 2 -- Braves 3, Cubs 2

What looked to be the Cubs' first win was derailed at the worst possible time, the bottom of the eighth, when reliever John Grabow gave up a two-run, go-ahead homer to Chipper Jones. That left only legendary closer Billy Wagner to face for the Cubs, and he struck out the side in the ninth.

This one featured another of Lou Piniella's patented early hooks for his starter, Ryan Dempster (seems like that happens a lot in Atlanta). Dempster was dominant, continuing on a strong spring, as he retired the last 11 batters he faced. He left with a 2-1 lead, as the Cubs hit for him with two outs and a man on first in the sixth. A textbook pinch-hit situation, yes, but the Cubs had the lead and a pitcher who seemed to be vexing the opposition (Demp actually had loaded the bases with Braves twice, but got out of it both times, which I think sometimes shows you more than when a starter piles up strikeouts). He also had at least another inning's worth of pitches in him, maybe two, having reached 95 on the pitch count meter before he was pulled.

Still, Lou was looking out for his guy early in the season and counting on his pen to do the job, so we'll cut him some slack.

Offensively, the Cubs have the Braves' defense to thank for extending an inning and giving them both of their runs.

Game 3 -- Cubs 2, Braves 0

Randy Wells is just so impressive, somebody who will not overpower the opposition (six hits, two walks and just one strikeout in six innings), but will hand the bullpen a lead more often than not and put you in position to win. He was nearly unhittable in Atlanta last season (before an ill-fated early hook), and in this one, he looked more hittable than opposing starter Tommy Hanson in every area except one--Wells allowed no runs, whereas in between wicked strikeouts of Cubs batters, Hanson gave up solo homers to Tyler Colvin (his career first) and Marlon Byrd.

That was enough, with Grabow again struggling in his relief appearance, but Carlos Marmol bailing him out. Marmol had a tough ninth for the save, but really nothing out of the ordinary for Marmol.

Game 4 -- Reds 5, Cubs 4

Again, a not-overpowering-by-any-means Carlos Silva pitched well enough to hand the bullpen a 3-1 lead, but Esmailin Caridad coughed it up. He gave up a grand slam on a center-of-the-plate pitch to drew Stubbs, though his biggest mistakes were walking two batters to start the eighth inning. I was surprised Lou didn't pull him at that point. Despite the overall bullpen troubles, Sean Marshall actually has been very good and it might have been a good situation for him.

Good news here is that Silva continues to be a pleasant surprise. Bad news is the Cubs couldn't do much with 11 hits of their own (three by Derrek lee, including a homer, and four by Mike Fontenot), and left the bases loaded to end the game.

No one has been hitting especially well for the Cubs, except Kosuke Fukudome, who always hits well early before fading. Lee took four games to heat up his bat, and Ryan Theriot need four games to get his first to hits of the season. Alfonso Soriano had a couple bright moments this week, but looks lost in the middle of the line-up, and as usual, in the field. The Cubs still face the old problem of what to do with their albatross.

Geovany Soto has started slow, too, and it appears that if he is given a chance for a comeback this year, it will have to happen in spurts because he's already losing playing time to Koyie Hill.

Right now, I like the idea of giving Colvin and Fukudome more starts instead of Soriano, though I'd like to see Soto have a few more games to figure things out.

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