Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Sox Dominate Cliff Lee, Really?

Time and time again the Sox are unable to strike against pitchers they have never seen, but when Cliff Lee is on the mound, not problem. How in the world is this possible. Earlier in the year Lee was dominate against the Sox, and all signs pointed to that being the case again today. Boy was that wrong.

The Sox struck for 4 runs in the first and then added 3 more over Lee's stay in the game. It's starting to make me think that maybe they are really turning a corner offensively. From top to bottom in the order guys are going up hacking and not walking away empty handed.

Beckham has continued his charge and is now up to almost .270. Dye with 3 hits, Anderson 2, Pierzynski 2, and it goes on and on. Every guy in the starting lineup had a hit today and the Sox are starting to look like a legitimate contender for real. They have scored at least 4 runs in each of their last 7 games and have scored at least 6 in 6 of those games. Those numbers have turned into 6 wins out of 7 (counting tonight) and have gotten the Sox to within a reasonable distance of the league leading Twins.

Hopefully we can finish the sweep off tomorrow, roll into KC and continue playing well there. 2 weeks ago I was begging for the All Star break, now I'm wishing it will never come (except that Carlos might be back).

EDIT - The game has officially been called. The final score is 11-4 White Sox. That's 4 in a row and 6 of 7.

Sinking feeling...

As Fuku took a called strike three in the 8th inning with runners on second and third, I had my first truly sinking feeling this season. Maybe I should be happy about that because of all the disappointment and wasted opportunities the Cubs have gone through.

The top of the 8th really summed up the Cubs offensively all year long. Great opportunity, no result (especially from a big gun, in this case Sori). You had a nice start with a Theriot single. The baseball gods then practically urged the Cubs to seize the moment, as Jack Wilson made a throwing error on a Milt grounder to put runners on second and third. It is not everyday you get a gift like that from a great defensive player.

Alfonso Soriano is an interesting case. It is really easy to sit here and complain about how he isn't an ideal leadoff hitter and should hit lower in the order. Throughout his time as a Cub I've been a big proponent of that idea. However his performance this season goes well beyond where he should hit in the order. It is getting to the point now where the question becomes whether he should be in the lineup at all.

His .296 OBP and 77 strike outs are suffocating the offense. Not only that, but the 7 errors he's committed already are more than he did in 2007 (6) and 2008 (5). The one aspect of his game that seemingly never leaves him is the home run, and yet he hasn't hit one since June 7. Take the name away, and ask yourself, is the kind of performance the team can afford on a nightly basis?

As easy as it is to criticsize Sori during his cold stretches, it is just as easy to sit there and scoff about how he is Alfonso Soriano and he will without a doubt get hot and then everyone will kiss his feet. The fact is that he is not hot, and I really think a few games off are in order. I'm not calling for him to be traded or DFA'd, that is insanity. Something needs to be done however.

Mike Fontenot is another player that needs to be seriously evaluated. He has struck out in just under 1/4 of his at bats and has a paltry OPS of .661. Statistics aside, you can just that he isn't comfortable at the plate. It seems every at bat the count is against him, and he hardly has what he could qualify as a "good" at bat. I wrote a post suggesting Mark Teahan as a possible target about a week ago, and I still think he'd be perfect. Second base and the bullpen have to be priority for Jim Hendry.

Milt playing center in the 9th inning was very interesting. It leads me to believe that Hendry is looking into the corner outfield market. Adam Dunn would seem to be the most logical target, but would you really want that defensive alignment out there? Yuck. I've read Brad Hawpe might be available despite the Rockies hot streak, but that would be very costly. It is fun to play GM, but the idea of moving Milt to center just isn't a wise one.

I generally don't like to be this negative, but tonight really bummed me out. Here's to a better performance tomorrow night.

Aramis to rehab, Shark back in majors

Aramis Ramirez will be donning a Peoria Chiefs uniform Friday in Kane County. He will play the weekend set then, if all goes according to plan, return to the Cubs on Monday. That would make him available when the Braves come to town July 6-8. I'd like to hold off on talking about what roster moves would ensue, because I am deathly afraid of jinxing his healthy return.

Jose Ascanio was sent down today, and Jeff Samardzija was recalled. I thought Ascanio might have some staying power with his power arm. However, his poor performance Saturday leading to Gordon Beckham's walkoff smash along with walking two while trying to nail down Randy Wells' first win against Cleveland did him in.

Shark has looked decent in Iowa and was underwhelming in his earlier stint in the majors this year. Hopefully he has figured something out and refined his breaking stuff since being in Des Moines.

Here is a link to the Trib's story about both of these moves.

Players don't like Lou, Ozzie?

In the upcoming issue of SI, a poll of major leaguers finds Lou Piniella and Ozzie Guillen as the first and second, respectively, managers that they would least like to play for. You can read more about this poll here. Lou edges out Ozzie by 5%, garnering 26% of the vote to Ozzie's 21%.

I really hope this is taken as a tongue-in-cheek story and doesn't get overblown, specifcally from the North Side point of view. Lou clearly was embarassed with all the media attention he got for his tirade against Milt, and I think the guy could just use a break at this point.

Roudning out the top four managers players would least like to play for were Tony La Russa and Joe Torre. The top five managers would like to play for included Bobby Cox, Torre again, Mike Scioscia, Joe Maddon, and Terry Francona.

Hmm, what do those nine names all seem to have in common? Players having a desire to play for a manager or not doesn't seem to have much bearing because those are the best nine managers in baseball. Each, with the exception of Maddon, has won a World Series as a manager and I'd venture a guess that each has also won manager of the year (if that is wrong please that me know!).

Photo courtesy daylife.com

Vitters, Cashner promoted

Not since Mark Prior flew through the minor league system has there been news like this on a Cubs first round pick (let alone two). 3B Josh Vitters was promoted to "advanced" Class A Daytona and Andrew Cashner to Class AA Tennessee. Here is a link to the Tribune's story on this.

Both are putting up good numbers: Vitters posted a line of .316-15-46 RBI in 70 games and Cashner has a 1.50 ERA through 42 innings. It is a shame that Vitters wasn't a year ahead of where he is now because the Cubs could have called him up for a taste of action at third. Maybe it is better they didn't, as they can afford to take their time with him if and when Aramis comes back healthy and remains firmly entrenched at third for years to come.

If Cashner keeps up his good work he might be a good candidate for a September call up, or maybe even before that if the bullpen continues to struggle. However, that too may not be the best course of action as they are trying to convert the former college closer into a starter.

It sure is nice to see some progress out of these guys after guys like Bobby Brownlie, Tyler Colvin, and Matt Pawalek didn't pan out.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Quality start FINALLY not wasted

Rich Harden did his job (and then some) and though not stellar, the Cub offense did just enough to get the win. Although clearly not a corner-turning, epiphany of a performance for the offense, it was refreshing to see at least some progress. Andres Blanco's 2 out RBI single, awkward looking swing and all, was something that has been lacking in recent weeks.

I talked about his inability to get Ryan Freel home in a similar situation Sunday. I know it is only one run and not back breaking in the least, but I imagine it puts the starter at ease. Getting that first run puts a tiny amount of pressure on the other team, and each inning they can't answer that pressure builds and builds. It was nice to see the Cubs execute in that situation tonight.

Milt's RBI double was a thing of beauty. You know he hit it really well because Geo was able to chug around and score from first. I definitely liked where Lou had him tonight, he certainly doesn't need the pressure that comes with hitting third and obviously he isn't producing enough to be there in the first place.

Player of the game clearly has to go to Rich Harden. 9 strikeouts against 1 walk is so encouraging and exciting for Cub fans. His slider was unhittable tonight, and Baseball Tonight had him getting 16 swings and misses on it. If he can even get half of what he got out of his slider tonight he'll turn in one great second half. The best part of his start, however, was how he battled when his stuff started to wane (6 of his 9 strikeouts were in the first 4 innings), and was able to get out of jams in his final three innings.

The pitching situation tonight went exactly according to plan. Don't you wish Lou could use that as a template every night? 7 quality innings from the starter, shut-down Marmol in the 8th, shut down Gregg in the 9th. Perfection. Lately I have been optimistic for the bullpen simply for the unfortunate reason that I felt they were due a good outing. It was nice to see no walks from Marmol/Gregg too.

As for the Pirates, maybe they watched a little too much tape on the Cubs? The way they played that game sure looked familiar: starter earns quality start AND loss, 15 LOB (though Cubs had the same number), and blown opportunities in the 5th, 6th, and 7th. Hopefully that flawed game template is contagious and has transferred over to the Pirates.

Photo courtesy zimbio.com.

Is Beckham Officially Here?

After his 3 for 3 day 2 RBI day today I thought it was time to go back to my prior thoughts on Gordon Beckham and revisit the situation. He's got his batting average up to .239 and his OBP up to .333. He now has 17 hits with 9 walks to go along with his 11 RBI including the game winner Saturday.

What I'm starting to think is that we may have finally uncovered the real Gordon Beckham. He's starting to recognize pitches much more consistently, he's fooled far less, and he never seems to have poor at bats anymore. His continued effort to go the other way with the ball brings a tear of joy to my eye, and his abilities at third base have grown substantially.

Luckily for the Sox they were able to tread water while he struggled. The weeks of hitting well under the Mendoza line obviously hurt the team at that point. But now that we have gotten to the core of the good hitter in Beckham it's time for the Sox to step up to the next level. I made a comment before about how I thought the Sox would be far better if he is good. Gordon has recorded a hit in 10 of his last 13 games played. The Sox record in those games is 9-4 and in the 3 games he didn't get a hit they dropped 2 of them.

Now I'm sure there are hitters that can be said the same about (like probably Alexei), but I said this a while back and I'm sticking to it. If you have a guy at the bottom of the Sox lineup that is able to consistently get on base and knock a few leftover runs from the middle of the order, this team is FAR more dangerous.

What I hope is that this is not just a phase and that this is the real guy. I have a feeling he will probably hit around .285 or so from here on out (starting 13 games ago when this little streak started). His average would then creep up to around .270 or so, and the Sox have a great chance of not only sticking around in the division, but possibly making a run at it for real. Let's just hope he can stay hot the team keeps feeding off his energy.

Photo courtesy of ESPN.com.

Looking Back On Cubs/Sox

From the South Side perspective this is a hard one to make a decision on as a whole. At first glance you want to say, "Hey, we won 3 of 5 and played pretty well in the finale" however it is just as easy to say, "Man I wish we didn't blow those two games and we could have won all 5."

My feelings sway more towards the latter statement than the former. Obviously I am not going to complain about winning 3 of 5 against anyone, but I feel like there was a chance for the Sox to win every single game and they let a pair of them get away. Can you imagine if the Sox would have a 5-0 series lead on the Cubs so far? That would have been awesome, unfortunately that is not the case.

But there were quite a few positives that came from the really exciting pair of series with the Cubs. One huge one is Gordon Beckham's walkoff single. He has really been coming around as of late and he is starting to prove to himself and to others of how good a player he is going to be. It was nice to see him come through in the clutch in a hotly contested game that the people of Chicago care a lot about. Another guy that thrived in these series was Johnny Danks. The only two games of the 5 that did not go down to the wire were the two he pitched. He was masterful in both and now has gone 4 straight starts allowing 3 or fewer runs while pitching 7 innings. He may be back to the end of last year's form, which would be huge for the Sox.

So all in all we saw a great set of games between the Sox and Cubs this year and the Sox ended up walking away as the clear cut winners (at least until September). All of the games were fun to watch (by fun I mean they were close or the Sox were winning), and the results ended up being pretty good considering some of the issues the Sox saw in the 5 games. So at least for now, the Sox control the city series, but there are much more important things to control this year, and this next week and a half will go a long way in deciding if the Sox truely are going to have any control on the rest of the year.

Miles to DL; Scales or Fuld likely replacement

Aaron Miles being sent to the DL shouldn't come as a surprise to anyone. The official stance is that it is a hyperextended elbow, as per this article from ESPN.com. I would have to imagine that Sam Fuld will be the one getting called up because the Cubs need centerfield depth and protection for Fukudome against left handers. Fox and Micah can't play in center, and as it stands right now either Ryan Freel or Milt would have to play center in a pinch, so Fuld would be useful.

I'm feeling generous today so I am going to hypothesize that Aaron Miles' complete lack of contribution this season might be because of this "hyperextended elbow." Miles always was one of those pesky Cardinals that annoyed you because you knew he wasn't spectacularly talented, but he always worked the count full and fouled off a ton of pitches before delivering a big seeing eye single. Due to this, I was mildly excited to see him do this for the Cubs. You'd figure Miles is one of those veterans that will always play to his career averages so his failures this year are confusing.

At 32 you wouldn't expect a player with his skill set to decline this much this fast. Perhaps he is still on the Cardinals payroll? Nah that is just sillyness. So maybe he actually is physically limited and if that is the case hopefully he can rehab and come back and be that solid contact hitter Hendry thought he'd be. As it looks right now, Andres Blanco has jumped him in Lou's mind, so he'll have his work cut out.

Photo courtesy Chicagoist.com

Complete nonsense

Phil Rogers time and time again proves he is an idiot. Today is no exception as he put together this little piece for the Tribune making the case that Jim Hendry should release Carlos Zambrano.

Are you #$(#$%( serious?? Business considerations aside, that may be one of the most irrational, idiotic things to do for the Cubs. Release/trade a guy that will go down as one of the best Cub starters ever, especially while he is still young? Craziness.

Carlos is not an ace or a top tier starter. He has top tier stuff no question about it, but his inconsistency frustrates us all and keeps him out of that category. Despite this, the fact remains that there are very few teams in the big leagues, if any, that wouldn't take him based on his talent and track record.

Is he crazy? Of course. Does he create distractions? At times. But one thing he is not is a clubhouse cancer. He is ultra-competitive and a little immature, but that can be said for a lot of professional athletes. From all accounts (granted I'm not in the Cubs clubhouse of course) he is well-liked and respected. From the outside it wouldn't appear that he rubs his teammates the wrong way (I think we all know a certain catcher that would be an exception). All three of his managers have seemed to like him.

It isn't like the Cubs have had trouble winning while he has been a big part of the team. Playoff failures aside, you have to get in first to have a chance and with Z they have done that 3 times in his 6 full years as a starter. Not a bad percentage. Let's not forget they won 89 games in 2004, and if not for Z think of how low they would have sunk in 2005 and especially 2006.

What a joke that article is.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Hearts, nails rejoice: Cubs back to NL

Interleague play for the Cubs this year can be summed up in one word: rollercoaster. Their 14 game jaunt through the American League Central included six games that ended in walk-off fashion (unfortunately two went against the Cubs). Each game was close and nail-biting, with the expection of today and the 7-4 loss to the Twins.

I really don't want to say too much about today's game because it was pretty cut and dry. Z wasn't at his best and the Cub offense failed to capitalize on the opportunities they got early on. For no reason in particular, Andres Blanco popping out to end the second with Ryan Freel on third stood out to me.

Though neither player was on the roster last year, I just felt like that was one of those small, seemingly insignificant situations the team excelled in last year. In 2008 the ball would have found a hole in the infield and an early lead would have been theirs. It seems that those small situations just aren't happening for the Cubs this season.

For the third time in a row John Danks pitched really well against the Cubs. He is certainly nearing the distinction of Cub killer. I am pretty dissapointed because I thought they would have a good chance to get at him, much they like did with Buerhle the day before. On the lefty theme, it was unfortunate that while in an American League park we saw two left handers because the lineup is just better with Micah in there, and he had a good series in Detroit. Too bad we won't see him tomorrow night against Zach Duke either.

After starting their long road trip at 1-6, they'll look to rebound in Pittsburgh. Hopefully this is a good thing, as the Pirates have served as springboards for the Cubs the past two seasons. I am also excited to see Pirates rookie center fielder Andrew McCutchen, who is hitting .309 with 18 RBI in only 97 at bats. Also, he just recently was on a 13 game hitting streak. He isn't Nate McLouth either, so that makes it all the more exciting.

Even though he isn't on the Cubs, it is refreshing to see one of these highly-touted, tool players come up and actually show why they got so much press and hype. He is still a rookie, so hopefully the Cubs veteran starting staff can use that to their advantage.

As I see it, this is the Cubs most important series of the year so far. I am weary to label it must-win, but it is pretty darn close needed that they take 2 of 3. At 35-37 they are teetering dangerously close to being too far under when Aramis comes back. What is very fortunate is that everyone else in the division is experiencing problems of their own.

The Cubs need to take advantage of that and at least make up some ground against a weaker opponent. They run the risk everyday of the Brewers, Cardinals, or even the Reds going a little 4 or 5 game streak.

The key word right now is survival. The Cubs need to stay afloat at 4 (preferably 3) games back of the leader until Aramis comes back. It scares me to write that because I know that he is not Superman and that once he comes back the offense will not magically gel with Milt banging out clutch doubles, Sori getting hot, and Geo showing that lineup depth from the 6 spot. However, will improve the team and hopefully by then a corner will have begun to be turned.

Uh oh, Z is angry already

Z is emotional, and in other news the Washington Nationals won't win the World Series this year. However, when he gets angry that generally means that he loses focuses and so on down the chain until he doesn't pitch very well. This article really concerns me on Z's mental state going into today's game at the Cell.

"One win?" Zambrano said aloud. "Did he ever pitch a no-hitter?"

This was in reference to Sox pitching coach Don Cooper and his 1-6 record as a Major League pitcher. Cooper is not Z's favorite person in the world because he made some negative comments about him on the Score following the Gatorade incident. I'm pretty sure they were to the effect that the White Sox wouldn't tolerate that.

Interestingly enough, there seems to be some disagreement between pitching coach and manager. Ozzie Guillen, noted bestie of Z, had this to say about Zambrano earlier in the year:

"Zambrano, to me, is one of the best pitchers in the game," Guillen said before his team took on the Cubs' ace. "And I love, love the way he handles himself on the field. Many people say he's crazy, he's out of his mind. I love that, I like that attitude. I don't want people to fall asleep on the stinking mound."

Oh and then of course there is this little gem (watch for Bobby Abreu's cameo at the end):

There is no point or criticism I making with Ozzie and Cooper's differing viewpoints, I just thought it was interesting. Frankly what Cooper said is not wrong at all.

I am just nervous that Z is going to view this as a personal mission against Cooper and get way too hyped up. This is analogous to his previous performances on Opening Days (excluding this year), in which he gets really amped up and doesn't pitch very well. You can also draw his playoff stars from 2003 into that same category.

Maybe he has turned a corner, however, because his last two playoff starts were pretty good (2008 was his fielders fault, not his). He also pitched well on Opening Day this year and was good his first start coming off the DL, where you think his emotion would get the best of him.

Talk about a snide tone

This post is for the Cub fans, and the Sox fans too if you feel like getting adventuresome. Click on this link. It will take you to a story by Derrick Gould from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, which despite being housed in a derelict building near the Edward Jones Dome, is a pretty good newspaper.

However, one thing that the Post-Dispatch really enjoys doing is turning their noses up at the Cubs and their fans. I understand that Cubs/Cards is a rivalry and that the newspaper is simply playing to its readership.

It just bothers me that it seems a lot of writers/reporters over there take such pleasure in bashing the Cubs on a such a regular basis. Would you ever see the Tribune or Sun-Times do that? No way! Even during the Crosstown Classic, both Chicago papers take respectful approaches to the other team (i.e. Mark Gonzales/Paul Sullivan's letters to eachother).

It is the same on Cardinal broadcasts on FSN Midwest. Should they be happy if the Cubs lose? Of course they should. But they shouldn't pepper in snide comments. When Hawk/Stone and Len/Bob list off the score/result of the opposite Chicago team during their broadcasts, it is always respectful. Hawk even thinks the Cubs are going to rebound and win the division (which is more than some Cub loyalists themselves can say).

I think I'll do a post sometime soon comparing the rivalries with the Sox and Cardinals and listing the positives and negatives of each one. Both are great rivalries so I don't think one is "better" than the other, but the Cardinal media definitely is worse than the Sox media. After all, Hawk is probably my favorite broadcaster out there.

Well this is bad, but not as bad as Jimmy

Mark DeRosa is a Cardinal, and now two questions need to be addressed. First of all, the non-sentimental, practical one: how does this affect the Cubs chances of catching and eventually overtaking St. Louis?

As we all know, DeRo was turning in a solid year with the Indians at .270-13-50-.342, so that is a plus for the Cardinals, negative for the Cubs. They are certainly getting a very valuable piece, again as we all know. However, as much as I love DeRo, he is not a world changing player. He isn't the type of player that can protect Albert, which he can be reasonably expected to do being that he is now the second best offensive option on that team.

He shouldn't hit cleanup and I don't think he will, but despite Tony's brilliance he can be an oddball sometimes so who knows. He should hit second, where Colby Rasmus has been lately. Rasmus has been improving all year but DeRo is just a better hitter right now and being that whoever hits in front of Albert will get some great opportunities, that is where he should hit.

DeRo is a solid defensive third baseman, which is much more than can be said for the guys they've been trotting out there all year long. Joe Thurston and Brian Barden (who have gotten the bulk of the playing time) have a combined 11 errors this season. DeRo will definetly make that situation better, but is he Brooks Robinson over there? No way.

All in all, it is a good move for them because as of now giving up Chris Perez to get DeRo is brilliant on a value level. He makes them a better team, but not a far superior team that the Cubs can't catch. Obviously that hinges on the Cubs themselves playing better too, which muddies things a little.

Now to deal with the sentimental side of this deal. It is not going to be fun to see a fan favorite on the Cardinals. However, Rick Morrisey of the Tribune wrote an article after the Indians series on how mystified he was over all the love DeRo got that weekend. He brought up the point of how the guy only played here for 2 years, and though his numbers were solid, they weren't all-world. I don't think you can rationalize it any better than that, not to pimp his point.

Think of it this way too: last year Cards fans had to deal with the Jim Edmonds situation. DeRo is not one of the greatest Cubs of all time. He arguably could not have his number retired like Edmonds probably deserves in St. Louis. He didn't win a World Series with the team like Jimmy did in St. Louis. Hell he didn't even win a playoff GAME with the team!

DeRo was one of my favorites while he was with the Cubs so maybe I'm just trying to detach myself as a defensive mechanism. Who knows. All I know is that it would be a lot worse if it were D-Lee or Aramis or Z. And certainly was a lot worse for Cardinal fans last year.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

The First Ever TCB Contest and A Mini-State of the Cubs

So I'm about to disappear for a couple of weeks while I go enjoy Maui. Before I leave though I want to start a TCB contest, this one called "When Will Hawk Use One of the Seven Words?" For those who don't know the seven words you can't say on TV, here is an explanation. The thing is, Hawk has started yelling "Hell yes" when the Sox do something good, combine that with a general increase of Hawk being Hawk this year, I'm convinced he is using one of the words on the air this season. 

Leave your guess in the comment section and I'll setup a sidebar with all the guesses. Winner gets nothing, but you do get to hear Hawk swear on air. My guess- August 30.

On to the Cubs who lost today 8-7, and now sit tied for third with the Reds 3.5 games out of first. Aramis took BP the last two days and should go out on a minor league rehab assignment this week. That means he could be back very soon, the moment we have all been waiting for. Of course he will get one or two hits the first week back so don't get too excited.

The starting pitching is sagging a bit recently, and the bullpen is horsecrap, and the hitting hasn't gotten better. The good news is the rest of the NL Central isn't good either. The Cubs should be able to make a good run at winning the division and making the playoffs for the third season in a row. 

If Carlos Marmol can find himself, Angel Guzman can get back healthy, and Kevin Gregg can not blow so many saves the bullpen should be okay. Just keep Heilman and Patton out of the game. Ascaino and Kevin Hart will probably shift with a cast of others from AAA all season. 

The starters should be fine. Z will be Z, Ted will be Ted, and Dempster will be Dempster. You know what you will get out of them in the long run. Randy Wells seems to be legit as a starter, but I don't know for sure yet. Rich Harden is a crapfest of suck that has to be injury related. That or we need Pedro here to split starts with Harden.

On offense Derrek Lee seems to have his stuff figured out at first, the Fontenot/Blanco combo will hold second down. Same with Theriot at short and Aramis at third. I would expect a major drop in Aramis' power this season, but hopefully he can drive runners in. Jake Fox seems like he can play a respectable third, and fill in left and right which means he should be here to stay. Same with Micah Hoffpauir, he can play the corner outfield spots and first base. Plus he hits left handed which means Lou will never let him go.

The outfield is a disaster right now. I'll probably never freak out about Soriano, but he needs to pick it up. Fukudome isn't good, and he shouldn't play after May 31. Milton is going to start hitting more, though his left handed hitting seems hopeless. Reed Johnson will have the centerfield job more and more after he comes back from the DL

The pieces are there, and I can hope Jim Hendry gets whatever guy he thinks he needs to get. When I get back to Chicago on July 9 I'm thinking that the Cubs will be in a solid position.

As I finish writing this the Cardinals traded for Mark DeRosa, which honestly doesn't bother me. Jim Hendry's big mistake now right under his nose. If that is the only move St. Louis makes, then the Cubs are still by far the best team. 

What a Season Series

Thankfully I am in a substantially better mood today as I was yesterday afternoon. I was happy with the Sox resiliency from the fact that they lost the last two games to the Cubs to the in-game resiliency we saw today.

But the reason I am writing this today is because I want to comment on the amazing season series that is taking place between these two teams. There has only been one "bad" game which was game 1 of the first series. The Sox played incredibly well in that game and it was not an incredibly close game. But every other game has been hotly contested. The comeback by the Cubs in the game 2 of the Wrigley Series, the blown opportunity/bullpen save yesterday, and today's game. It has been really a fun time to watch, as frustrating it is I am happy the Sox finally won a game so I could realize it. I hope the national media is seeing what is happening here. These two teams are so similar (flaws included) and because of that they are playing great game after great game (to watch, not great baseball). I just really hope people are seeeing this and seeing how good of a season series this has been.

Now this... Dear Gordan Beckham, I am sorry for being so hard on you, that was awesome today and I love you. But you do need to get going a little bit. Congrats on the walk-off and I hope this is the figurative light switch turning on to the beginning of a terrific career.

That is all I have to say today. Good job Gordan, good job Jenks, good job Scotty P, stop making errors Alexei (but I still love you). That is all. SOX WIN, thank god.

Sox Win 8-7

Great, exciting win if you are a Sox fan. Heartbreaking loss if you are a Cubs fan. One could argue that was an instant classic for the Crosstown Series. Keep checking for reaction from both sides of town.

Bradley, clubhouse teetering on the edge

It seems there is a perfect storm brewing in the Cubs clubhouse with Milton Bradley. The building block is clearly the well-publicized dispute between him and Lou yesterday, leading many in the media to deem it "Mt. Lou blowing up."

Beyond the uneasiness with his manager, which isn't all that uncommon in professional sports, there seems to be a growing uneasiness with his teammates, which really scares me. Here is a quote from Alfonso Soriano following yesterday's game from Wayne Dreh's article on ESPN.com:

"I hope that [Bradley] comes back and can help the team to win," Soriano added. "If it's not that way, we don't need him. We are 25 players, and we have to be on the same page. And if he's not 100 percent here to help the team win, we don't need him."

Now I understand that at the beginning of this Sori gives Bradley his props and thus should be absolved for whatever else he says, like saying "no offense" before offending someone. The problem is, something offensive is always said. "We don't need him," is said twice by Sori, which no matter what context it's in, is a very strong thing to say about a teammate.

Though this quote scared me a little bit because I fear what Bradley will think if he sees it, it was also kind of refreshing. I can't remember one other time (and I could be missing something) since Sori has been with the Cubs that he has gone out and said something as strong as this. The only times he seems to interact with the media are cut-and-dry, cliched quotes after he has a good game. We all hear how much he cares and how he is the hardest worker out there, and I don't doubt any of that. However, it is nice to see some outward emotion from him, but I digress.

Back to Bradley. Even before all this exploded yesterday, Milton himself admitted that he isn't that comfortable in the clubhouse and was quoted as saying this in a Tribune article by Paul Sullivan:

"This isn't me," Bradley told the Tribune before his confrontation with Piniella. "I've always excelled at playing baseball, and to come here and suck like I have, it's just not a good feeling. And there's really not one guy who I can sit and talk to. I've been on teams where I have guys I know, or somebody I can just vent to."

He then goes on to talk about D-Lee in that same article:

"We just don't have that bond," he replied. "'D-Lee' is cool. He's quiet. But things change. I had a good rapport with [fired hitting coach Gerald Perry]. I trusted Gerald and I could talk to him, and he's gone. I think I clicked with [ex-Cub outfielder Joey] Gathright, and he's gone. So you just kind of feel like you're on an island, and trying to stay afloat."

The article does go on to state that Bradley said he views the Cubs as a "good group of guys." Despite that, these sentiments are just plain scary to me. On one hand it does sound like Milton is making himself out to be a victim; that the only guys he's formed a relationship with were ones the Cubs cut loose so boo hoo. On the other hand, it just can't be good for any professional (or person at work for that matter) to not have found at least one or two people they can feel comfortable around after over four months.

I am still a firm believer that Milton is going to turn in a pretty decent year. It is clear he can do damage from the right side, and it will be shame if he has to sit out these next two games. Also, I don't think a benching is what he needs. Let's not forget that the extent of his "crime" yesterday was throwing a helmet and smashing a water cooler. The storm in the media happened for Milton's past issues this season and the fact that anytime either Lou or Milton does something to garner attention the media (both local and national) have a field day.

If players were benched for doing what he did yesterday then Z wouldn't throw a pitch all year. There is such a delicate balance going with Milton and the clubhouse/rest of the team right now that taking him away would just make the situation more awkward. Hopefully he starts and makes people forget about this by having a big day.

Photos courtesy mouthpiecesports.com and vineline.mlblogs.com, repsectively.

Friday, June 26, 2009


That's one of the most embarrassing losses I've seen in a long time. I'm not going to sit here explain everything that went wrong in the last 3 innings of that game because I don't think Blogger allots that much space.

This is consecutive games that Ozzie has blown for the Sox. You do not pinch hit to force a pathetic pitcher out of the game. Let Castro hit and make Lou make a decision on Marmol.

AJ does not deserve to be let off the hook either. What a joke, 1 pitch 2 outs, 1 game. This team continues to fail miserably when it matters most.

I also want to mention the fact that the umpire did not have desire to see any more baseball once it got to the 9th. 2 pitches to Getz got him out, and the pitch to Podsednik was not within a foot of the plate. Bill Miller is the guilty party here. He was fine the entire game until the 9th. I'm not sure if the league goes back over pitches that umpires miss, but this one needs to be looked at. That is absolutely unacceptable.

Tomorrow and Sunday are must wins. You have handed an inferior team two consecutive games and you need to impose your will before they head out. The Sox are not a good team, but they certainly should not have lost last Thursday and this game was there for the taking and no one wanted it. I don't want to overreact because of one horrible game, but it's hard to not look at the big picture. Your division rival just went in a smoked this team (including a game much like this one that the Tigers won) and you continue to toil around unable to figure out how to come up with a big game.

Every time this team wins a big game they promptly blow it the very next day. This is bad, and it's in danger of getting really bad. That is all I have to say, now let me go to the store to buy some carpet cleaner to wash out the puke that I splattered all over my floor during this game. And in the words of Jack Bauer, DAMNIT!!!!!!

This one goes in the Lou Hall of Fame

I highly doubt anyone can read this article and not laugh out loud. The Soto situation is really overblown I think and you just have to hope if you are a Cub fan that this doesn't become too much of a distraction.

Reading between the lines?

"You know what, it's true," he said with a laugh. "It usually works. This one didn't work."

This quote is from Lou while talking about Milton Bradley's failure to break his bat over his knee after striking out in the 9th inning on Wednesday night. The whole Bradley conversation centered around his absence in the lineup Thursday and probability that he won't play Friday (this all comes from this Tribune article).

Is Lou really talking about Bradley's attempt to break his bat, or he is really talking about the signing of Bradley in general?

"This one didn't work"

Hmmm. According to Sullivan, Lou took a long pause before he said this. With the weight of a four game losing streak and failures from all facets of the team in Detroit at one point or another, did the truth sneak out? Freudian slip?

Probably not, I'm just a frustrated Cub fan looking for anything to write about that isn't about bad clutch hitting and blown saves. I actually still have faith Milton will put together a decent year. Danks and Buerhle are really good pitchers, but Milton has been so much better from the right side that two days of left handed pitching might do him some good.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Viceido and Flowers Selected for Futures Game

I was hoping we would get to see my guy Dayan up in the majors soon enough, but I guess this gives me a reason to watch the Futures game. It's in St. Louis, maybe I'll go, we'll have to see.

Geo's season goes from bad to worse

Wow. Not much to say about this. Good thing it doesn't look like he'll miss anytime. I guess if one of our players was going to test positive for something I'm glad it was pot and not 'roids.

Great Series vs. Dodgers

After dropping game one the Sox looked like they were in deep trouble against the National League's best. But just about 40 hours later the series turned out to be a rousing success. Any time you win a series it's a nice thing, but when you do it against the team with the best record in the league it's great.

Of course over the course of the week the Sox lose a game in the standings as the Tigers decided it was time to unleash against the Cubs (hopefully we feel it's our time too this weekend). But even with the dropping of the game I still think this is a good week for the Sox and one that can hopefully help put them on the right track.

I thought the problem of resiliency was definitely addressed this week. From the falling behind in the series as a whole, to the trailing early in games two and three, and giving up a lead in the 7th of game three and coming back to win that one. They showed a lot of heart in this series and hopefuly it will be something that can be taken out of this series and applied in the future (like how bout this weekend).

The final thing that I found great about this series was the hitting as a whole. Other than that game the Sox really came out to hit in the last two games. With the 6 home runs in game two and then the 6 runs as wells as the 5 run come back this afternoon this will hopefully become the norm. There were a lot of different guys that came up with some big hits.

This weekend is a chance for revenge White Sox. You are hitting the ball well right now. You know you should have swept that series last week (2 games for sure and I was feeling 3 if not for the rain). And you are playing as well at home as you have all year. Make this count, we are begging you.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Looking Towards the Future: Cubs Prospects Ratings

Instead of talking about how the Cubs are a very average team without Aramis Ramirez, lets look at the future for one night. I don't claim to be any sort of minor league expert, and honesty I could be completely wrong about these guys. I've been reading more about some prospects, and I feel like I can put together a decent top-10 list.

1. Josh Vitters 3B, 19 years old. Current Class- Low-A. Vitters was the reward for a bad 2006 season and remains the Cubs top prospect and also their top trading chip. He is hitting .308 in Peoria this season, and I've read that his defense at third is improving. He needs to learn to walk more, but I think he has the potential to be a solid player in the big leagues.
Justin's ETA to the Bigs- Sept 2010-or 2011

2. Starlin Castro SS, 19 years old. Current Class- High A. Castro was put in Daytona a little early in the hopes of making him more of a prospect. It has worked so far, as Castro is hitting .302 and stealing some bases. This is a name to keep you're eye on,
Justin's ETA to the Bigs- Sept 2011

3. Jay Jackson RHP, 22 years old. Current Class- AA. Jackson is "my guy". I really think this guy is going to be a stud starter for us down the line, and his pitching since May 1 has been off the charts. 1.11 ERA in 40.2 IP. I'll be keeping my eye on Jackson and I'm really hoping this guy sticks with the Cubs and has a nice future.
Justin's ETA to the Bigs- June 2010

4. Andrew Cashner RHP, 23 years old. Current Class- High A. Cashner was last season's first round pick, and currently the Cubs don't know if he should be a starter or a relief pitcher. He has been good as a starter this season (1.66 ERA), but his innings are limited and I believe his future is as a closer or set-up man.
Justin's ETA to the Bigs- April 2010 (relief pitcher), Sept 2011 (starter)

5. Jeff Stevens RHP, 26 years old. Current Class- AAA. The most major league ready guy from the DeRosa trade, Stevens has a future as a set-up man, and potentially a good one. A 2.62 ERA and 33 K tell me that he can get outs, but 19 walks is a bit too much. He will never be a star, but he can be effective.
Justin's ETA to the Bigs- Sept 2009.

6. Jeff Samardzija RHP, 24 years old. Current Class- AAA. Already having been in the bigs twice, The Shark hardly qualifies as a prospect, except that he obviously isn't major league ready. He is trying to be a starter in Iowa and is finding mixed results. He needs to get better at his off speed pitches or he won't make it.
Justin's ETA to the Bigs- Sept 2009 (relief), June 2010 (starter)

7. John Gaub LHP, 24 years old. Current Class-AA. Another guy who came over in the DeRosa trade, Gaub fits the same high walk, high K, relief pitcher mold that Stevens is in. Gaub being a lefty helps him in an organization that has a fetish for left handed pitching. 
Justin's ETA to the Bigs- Sept 2010

8. Chris Carpenter RHP, 23 years old. Current Class- Low-A. OUR Chris Carpenter will hopefully bring the talent of his namesake without the injury problems. He still walks a bit and is a bit behind age-wise, but a 2.60 ERA is impressive and this isn't the greatest minor league system ever.
Justin's ETA to the Bigs- Sept. 2011

9. Steve Clevenger C, 23 years old. Current Class- AAA. Clevenger is adjusting to AAA right now, and he looks like he can be a nice backup to Geovany Soto in the future. He needs to improve on defense and maybe find some power. Certainly he can compete with Koyie Hill next spring,
Justin's ETA to the Bigs- April 2010

10. Tony Thomas 2B, 22 years old. Current Class-AA. Thomas has some pop at second and can steal the occasional base. He has gotten better at taking walks, and is on a nice track to make the bigs. He needs to keep developing his patience and strikeout less. Obviously nobody is perfect on defense either.
Justin's ETA to the Bigs- April 2011.

There you have it. Odds are 6 of these guys are traded or bust out before making the bigs. Hopefully Vitters and Jackson make it, or bring us a player that gives us a World Series.

Did I miss anybody? Rate someone too high or low?

Same Old Story

13 LOB. Two runs walked in by relief pitching. All this is really becoming a tired, annoying script for the Cubs. I really don't want to just use this space to complain about how the Cubs are playing because I feel like I keep saying the same things night after night.

However I can't help but complain some more about the walks out of the bullpen. Carlos Marmol issued two free passes, one of which allowed a run to score. Heilman, though put in a tough spot, walked one in as well. Last night I talked about how this needs to stop so it was so discouraging to see it happen today.

I love Carlos Marmol; the last game I ever watched with my Grandpa was his major league debut. I have sentiment for the guy along with appreciation for how great he was in 2007 and the majority of 2008. However I think it is so obvious that he needs to be sent to Iowa. His control is plain awful, and sending him out in big situations is out and out detrimental to the success of the team. At this point worrying about damaging his psyche is moot because putting him out there jeopardizes the team's success.

Is there anyone else to bring up? Jeff Stevens has a decent amount of strikeouts and a good ERA. It would be nice to get at least some major league production from the DeRosa deal. The Shark is also an option with his big league experience, but he hasn't been great down there. Great options? Certainly not, but the important part is fixing Marmol, and since he has just been getting worse, sending him out there night after night is not the answer.

As for Rich Harden, I thought he was pretty good. You can see that the key with him is walks. When he was issuing BB's against the Indians it resulted in 3-run homers. Tonight with the better control he only let up solo shots, which you can live with. I felt pretty good about how he pitched tonight.

Another point I'd like to raise is the Cubs need for a second baseman. Aaron Miles has been a complete bust and it would seem that Andres Blanco has jumped him on the depth chart. Mike Fontenot's paltry batting average and below average OBP are showing that he is probably better suited coming off the bench. Maybe the Royal's Mark Teahen is the answer.

Teahen seemingly is the perfect fit for the Cubs, and there was talk that Hendry tried to pry him from Kansas City in the winter. He brings some of DeRosa's pluses in that he can play second, third, and the outfield. Granted his defense is not great anywhere but third, but he is certainly as serviceable as DeRosa was (and especially more so than Todd Walker if you want to go way back haha). He is currently at .281-8-24-.342, which is also not great, but better than what is currently on the Cubs roster.

He'd be a good fit lower in the order with his average power and is lefthanded...so you know Hendry must be gaga over him. With former can't-miss third base prospect Alex Gordon returning soon, second baseman Alberto Callaspo hitting well, and set positions in the outfield and at DH, you'd have to think he'd be available. The Royals dealt pitching in the offseason to get Coco Crisp, so maybe Kevin Hart and someone else would do the trick.

Photo courtesy media.ohio.com

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Cubs Draft Pick News

Brett Jackson - The Cubs were able to sign their first round pick, Cal outfielder Brett Jackson, today. Here is a link to the full story. This pick has never really bothered me because the Cubs could definitely use some depth in the outfield, especially in centerfield. The organization also hasn't produced a consistent outfield contributor from the farm system in a long time. I wouldn't count Micah because he came up primarily as a first baseman.

Drafting a centerfielder that is a "tool" guy should strike fear in the hearts of Cub fans due to the Felix Pie/Corey Patterson blunders. However I feel alright about Jackson because he is a college player and thus older and more of a finished product than either Pie or Patterson.

David LeMahieu - The LSU second baseman and Cub draft pick didn't have as much success as he did last night going 1-4 with a triple in LSU's 5-1 loss to Texas tonight in the College World Series.

One Costly Walk

The hire wire act out the bullpen really needs to stop. Maybe I should be upset about the Cub offense squandering major chances in the 1st, 4th, and 6th to blow the game open. However what really bothered me about this game was Kevin Gregg's walk to Don Kelly to start the 9th.

Every time last year Kerry came out for the save and he either walked or hit the first batter, it almost always meant disaster was on the way. That thought crossed my mind as Gregg missed high on a slider to issue the walk. Granted it was a close call and Kelly had had a pretty good at bat to that point, but I felt Gregg/Hill could have been a little more aggressive earlier in the count going after a guy with 26 total at bats this season.

Kelly seemed to play the role Nate McLouth did last night, as he scored on the Rayburn and Inge home runs, and made a nice catch the rob Kosuke of an RBI single in the 6th. The fact remains that this bullpen needs to stop issuing walks. Gregg's 15/32.1 (BB/IP) is pretty good, his problem is giving up too many home runs (6). My general problem outside tonight's game is with Carlos Marmol and Aaron Heilman.

Marmol's BB/IP ratio stands at 33/33.2, and he has given up more walks than Ted Lilly in 1/3 the innings. Heilman hasn't been the glowing example of control either at 21/31. Obviously both these guys have strike out stuff, so you can deal with walks to a certain degree. The degree they are going out so far this year is too much.

The encouraging thing is that if these two guys can turn it around, the Cubs could eventually put together a pretty strong bullpen. Jose Ascanio is striking people out at a solid rate (18 in 15 innings) and we all know how good Angel Guzman was before his injury. Add Marmol and Heilman and their great stuff and you start to feel pretty confident in the late innings.

Dodgers Are Good, But Come On

I know the Dodgers are the best team in baseball, and I know their pitch staff is really good. But 2 hits in the first 8 innings followed by a half-hearted comeback attempt in the 9th is just pathetic.

When the Sox face pitchers with sinker balls they almost always struggle. Against sinker ball pitchers you have to attack them early, and use the entire field to get hits. Only one hitter had a good AB in the first 2 innings (Konerko's HR) and almost no one hit the ball hard the other way. Kuroda's ERA was under 3.5, but he looked like the best pitcher in the majors tonight.

I'm really getting sick of the way this team attcks pitchers. I know I'm probably still beating a dead horse, but Greg Walker must go. US Cellular Field is considered on of the most hitter friendly parks in the league (Jake Peavy sucks) and the Sox are last in the majors in batting average at home. Who is to blame when it's a collective poor effort, has to be the hitting coach in my mind. It would be more of a message being sent to the hitters, but anything to wake this team up would be welcome.

Tomorrow the Sox face Randy Wolf. He has faced the Sox once in his career going 6.2 innings allowing just 1 earned run. I trust that Gavin can give the Sox 6/7/8 innings of 2 or 3 run ball but it's probably not going to be enough. Sox are in trouble of falling out of this thing for real by the end of the week. Need to kick it into high gear quick or else there will be some white flag waving soon in our future.

Offensive Road Woes

Hopefully the Cubs will break out and score some runs in the last 4 innings tonight, but because of their slow start I decided to take a look at what the have done on the road lately. What I found is pretty scary.

Since May 8th the Cubs have played 19 games on the road (tonight's game being their 20th). In 13 of those 19 they have scored 2 or fewer runs. Of those 13 they have scored 1 run six times and been shut out three times. Here's hoping tonight doesn't add to that list. Go Cubs.

Monday, June 22, 2009

A minor speed bump? Let's hope so

After a brief break, the Cub offense we all got so tired of watching showed up again tonight in Atlanta. Of course all the key components were there, especially the double play and lack of clutch of hits. I felt that Kosuke's double play grounder in the first really let Vazquez off the hook and sapped some life out of the Cubs, who probably would have put at least one run up in the first frame if not for that. Flyouts by Derrek Lee in the 7th and Andres Blanco in the 6th with two outs and men in scoring position really hurt as well.

Despite all this, however, I am not all too worried after tonight's game. The mere oddity of the one game trip to Atlanta offers in part some explanation. Even though all 10 hits tonight were singles, ten hits are ten hits. This is a marked improvement over some of the previous losses where the offense has struggled, for example: 4-1 loss to the Sox - 5 hits, 2-0 loss to the Twins - 5 hits, and 2-1 loss to the Astros - 6 hits (and that game went 13 innings!).

Dempster was great tonight; I've been saying all season that if he just keeps putting up quality starts on a consistent basis then he is doing his part. He had a career year last year, so I really hope people aren't putting too high of expectations on him. Tonight he was beat by the right people.

I assumed that the numbers would indicate Nate McLouth has absolutely bashed the Cubs since last year, but they don't really. He put up decent numbers last year (.284-2-11), but they weren't near what I expected. Maybe I have this impression because he has had some hits in big spots. Last year I remember an 8th inning home run off Carlos Marol in May that negated a huge game from Soriano. He also had a big home run in the 10-8 loss to the Pirates at the tail end of the big losing streak.

Regardless, McLouth really hurt the Cubs tonight with an RBI single and a double that led to the Braves second run. Giving up a sac fly on a smash to center by Chipper Jones is nothing to be ashamed of either. You also have to appreciate the simplistic yet very smart approach by one of the best managers in the game Bobby Cox to the 8th and 9th innings. He put lefty closer Mike Gonzalez (geez that rocking motion is annoying) in for the 8th because Micah and Fontenot were due up. Little things like that are a reason why the Braves had such a long, unmatched string of success (maybe Smoltz, Maddux, Glavine played a role...just maybe).

Anyways, the Cubs head off to Detroit tomorrow in what should be a great pitching matchup. Z has been great lately and will hopefully get some run support for the first time in awhile. Edwin Jackson is quitely putting up a great year so far with a sparkling 2.39 ERA. Oh yeah, we get to see Miguel Cabrera which brings back such warm memories. Go Cubs.

Photo courtesy sundaypaper.com

Home Sweet (T)home

For the last 9 games not only have the Sox been away from the Cell, but they have been out of the American League. That means no Jim Thome in the everyday lineup. Instead Thome's spot is replaced with the powers of Mark Buehrle, John Danks, and the rest of the starting rotations bats. But no longer will that be the case starting tomorrow when the Sox return home against the National League leading LA Dodgers. And the reemergance of the designated hitter couldn't be more welcomed on the South Side.

In the 9 games of road interleague play Sox pinch hitters recorded 0 hits and 2 walks in 13 plate appearances. Granted Thome was a big chunk of those at-bats, but his AB's were contantly coming against the best relievers the opposing teams have.

Now as the Sox return home they will get Thome in the line up every day, and will be back to having a dangerous middle of the order. It looks a lot different when Dye or Konerko hits in the 5th spot as opposed to Anderson hitting there as we saw on Sunday.

The other difference is that the Sox will be playing two teams that are not used to using DH's. Both teams have some good hitters on the bench, whether it's the Dodgers' Lorretta or DeWitt or Hoffpauir or Fox from the Cubs, but none of the players that will be filling the spot for the Dodgers or Cubs are as valueble to the team as Thome is to the Sox.

So looking forward to these games this week it seems as if the Sox are in a good spot to take either or both of these series. The Dodger series looks good for the Sox in regards to pitching matchups and the Sox have some unfinished business to tend to after last week at Wrigley. I'm hoping for a minimum of 3 wins out of the next 6, 4 is very likely, 5 would be awesome. If the Sox win all 6, I may collapse of happiness.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Surprisingly you can win without falling behind too

As Jose Ascanio walked two Indians and Kevin Gregg went 2-0 on Ben Francisco threatening to bring the tying run to the plate, Randy Wells must have been thinking, "Oh no, here we go again." That or, "WHAT THE #$!@#$ ARE YOU @#$R@# SERIOUS, AGAIN??" Even Ron got into the act saying, "Please don't do this...let's just have a nice night."

Luckily, Kevin Gregg ended up having pretty good control and got Francisco to strike out and then induced a ground ball that Andres Blanco did a great job picking to end the game. In the process he got his 11th save and secured Randy Wells' first career win. Took long enough. If karma rolls around, he has about 10 runs a game in support coming to him for a few games.

Speaking of Andres Blanco's glove, he has been terrific so far as evidenced here and here. The last few days he has had a couple of big time defense plays as well, including the play that ended the game today. You would probably have to go back to Mark Grudzielanek in 2003 to find someone as good as Blanco at fielding second. The Cubs defense on the whole is not great by any stretch of the imagination, but with Kosuke, D-Lee, and Blanco out there they have some stellar gloves.

Wells had some great downward movement on his pitches today and kept the Indians handcuffed by not allowing any hits to their 2-5 hitters. It has now been 8 starts and his ERA stands at 2.57. Are we ready to (in the words of Dennis Green) "crown" him? Every start suggests more and more that he can be depended on, but I would not at this point try to deal Rich Harden on the assumption that Wells can keep up this pace as some other blogs have called for.

Tomorrow the Cubs travel to Atlanta for one day trip before heading to Detroit for a tough three game set. The matchup will be Javier Vazquez against Ryan Dempster, and according to Ken it won't be easy because Vazquez pitches well in non-big games. More cause for concern is the Cubs will get their first look at Nate McLouth in a Braves uniform, and he has terrorized Cub pitching over the past two seasons. A preview will come late tonight or early tomorrow.

Finally, credit should be given where credit is due to Indians middle infielder Luis Valbuena. The former Mariners prospect involved in the J.J. Putz/Aaron Heilman three-way deal with the M's, Indians, and Mets was able to raise his average 30 points, go from 1 to 4 on home runs, and double his RBI total. I doubt this hot streak will continue, but congratulations.

Photo courtesy web.minorleaguebaseball.com

Guzman to DL, talk about a bad break

Angel Guzman is headed to the DL with a strained right triceps. How unfortunate is that, considering how well he has been pitching over the last month or so. You have to wonder if yesterday's two scoreless innings he pitched played a part, seeing as he was "unavailable" (according to Len and Bob) until the game went to extras.

According to this article Lou believed they could have gotten away with keeping him on the roster, but I think DL'ing him is the right move. With all the extra-inning games the Cubs have played so far, having a fresh arm won't hurt. However, if that fresh arm (Kevin Hart) puts up anything close to the 6.51 ERA he did last year in 21 appearances, that theory is shot.

As a Cub fan you really just have to hope Guzman can come back and keep his effective pitching going. Not only was it nice to have someone actually throwing strikes out of the bullpen, but it was nice that a failed Cub starting prospect didn't turn into a solid reliever for another organization (Juan Cruz).

Photo Courtesy mlb.com

Sox Win Very Interesting Game

From down by 5, to clinging to a 2 run lead with the tying run aboard in the 7th, to watching Jenks finish the save with the tying run at the plate, this was quite the game. When the Sox went down a few runs early and Johnny Cueto on the mound it was seemingly over before it started, but that was far from the case.

Unlikely homeruns from Gordon Beckham, Scott Podsednik, and A.J. Pierzynski were able to bring the Sox back in and then the long one by Alexei gave the Sox the lead. I was seeing flashes of the old White Sox, but I was also weary of what parts of the old Sox we were seeing.

I'm not going to come on this blog and complain that the Sox scored 10 runs including 8 unanswered at a time, but I'm praying we are not going to become reliant on the home run again. Too many years did we sit through that where it was feast or famine, score a hundred or score none.

Maybe it was just the ballpark playing small last night in Cincinnati (it is known for that) or maybe it was a breakthrough for some of the guys last night. But I hope for two things after watching that game.
1) We continue to score runs at that pace. It was nice to see the Sox being smoked and then find their way all the way back, only to take over the lead and hold it.
2) The Sox do not fall into the same mold we saw for years and years in the past in regards to scoring high percentages of runs on homeruns. I don't think it's going to be a problem because of the athleticism this team has, but I just don't think I can go through that again.

As a whole though, it was nice to see a poorly pitched, poorly defended game find it's way into the Sox win column. And for me it's nice to get back to writing something positive in this space.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Cardiac Cubs...Original? No, True? Yes

The 6-5 win over the Indians today was as thrilling as the past two wins, but the Cubs got a good amount of bounces go their way again. On Thursday it was Alfonso Soriano finding the Bermuda Triangle in short right center to win the game. Yesterday it was a combination of a Jhonny Peralta throwing error that opened the door for the 4-run eighth and Theriot's game winning single being mishandled by Ryan Garko.

Today, Kelly Shoppach gifted the Cubs the pair of runs in the 13th, or at least put them in a great position. Cleveland had the Cubs dead in the water when Koyie Hill struck out and they had Dome gunned down at second. Shoppach's throw ended up in center and the Cubs had the tying run at third instead of being one out away from losing. To be fair, Luis Valbuena kind of botched the catch (as he did fielding a throw from the outfield on a Dome double earlier), but it was still a bad toss from behind the plate. To compound this, Shoppach attempted a lazy backhand on the wild pitch that would end the game. It looked like he could have gotten his body in front of it because it was clear that ball was not coming back into the zone.

My point is that it is great these breaks are finally happening for the Cubs. When line drives are being hit right to opposing fielders and the ball is taking weird hops over D-Lee's glove it is easy to start wondering if anything will go the Cubs way. It is nice to recognize when they are, let's hope it keeps going that way.

I always look for problems and here are a couple of problems I've noticed in spite of this surpring three game win streak. First, Milton is not driving in runs. In the last ten days, despite raising his average 33 points, he has only driven two runs. Both came in the 7-4 loss to the Twins. The singles he does get haven't even been in the middle of rallies as he has only scored two runs in that span as well. It is great he is hitting better, but he wasn't signed to be a singles hitter.

Also, the walks being given out by the bullpen need to stop. Heilman walked 4 in his two innings, and though he didn't give up a run and negated them with 3 strikeouts, pitching like that will hurt you much more often than amount to nothing. Carlos Marmol's control problems have been well documented, but to me it is to the point where he needs to be sent down. I know he is an established major league reliever and doint that seems unreasonable, but he is such an important cog in the pen that the Cubs absolutely need him right. As long as Angel Guzman is throwing like he is they can get away with Marmol's absence for a brief period.

Photo courtesy clemsongirlbaseball.mlblogs.com

Friday, June 19, 2009

Not a Good Loss at All

Another game down the drain for the suddenly struggling South Siders. This one is just bad because this is another situation where a pitcher with an ERA the size of Texas comes in and makes the Sox look silly. The Sox recorded just two hits in the 6+ innings Arroyo worked and rarely outside of the first inning was there even a good at bat.

The thing that really frustrates me about this game is the way Ozzie is managing his personel right now. First of all there must be a better way to use Thome. I know there's not a ton of pop off that bench but sending him up there to inevitably face Rhodes is not smart. Thome was 2 for 21 off Rhodes before the AB and needless to say he's now 2 for 22. The other one that really bothered me was leaving Beckham in the game at the end of the game. The tying run is on first base with a good closer on the mound. For me it was the perfect situation to get Fields or Nix in the game to prove their worth. I just can't understand leaving a guy hitting 7 for 44 in the game.

I didn't have too much of a problem with the managing of the pitching staff tonight, but I thought there was an opportunity for a double switch in the 6th when Contreras was starting to go south. Get Fields or Nix in the game and set up the Thome AB for later in the game.

Of course all of this is easy for me to say after the fact (though I do say most of it during the game), but this is the second game in a row I thought Ozzie sat back and watched instead of being agressive with changes to give his team a better chance to win. Sox were on a roll up until the 8th inning yesterday, now all of a sudden they are back to the garbage we have grown accustom to all year. (And I think they shot some much needed life into the guys on the other side of town).

Can Contreras Keep It Up?

I think the answer to that question is actually yes. From what I've seen in his two outings back since his DL/Being Bad stint there don't seem to be any signs of it stopping.

The key for me with Jose is whether or not he is throwing strikes. When he is able to get ahead of hitters he can utilize his split finger and get guys out on pitches that are out of the zone. If he falls behind people, or worse walks people, he starts forcing pitches trying to get the ball anywhere in the zone as opposed to locating inside of it.

In his two starts since coming back he is making sure he throws a strike in at least one of the first two pitches. People make such a big deal out of first pitch strikes, but I think first strikes in the first two pitches is where the key lies in guys who have perpetual walk issues. With Jose if he is able to get just one strike on you before falling too far behind, he becomes incredibly dangerous.

In the game against the Brewers he attacked the Brewers hitters early in the count and got quick outs on many of the guys he faced. Same thing against the Tigers. I expect a lot of the same tonight in Cincinnati. All three of these teams are similar in the way they attack pitchers. All three teams are not necessarily concerned in drawing walks. The Reds are a team that especially like to attack pitchers early in counts (ask Cub fans about Dusty's strategies).

So I expect to see Contreras be at his best again tonight. As far as onward goes, I don't think we can look too far ahead basing it on just two starts, but I think this can continue based on what we've seen from Jose in the past. And if Jose is back to his 2005 form, the Sox chances at winning the division multiply ten-fold.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Big Comeback Hopefully Sets Tempo For Huge Weekend

Shockingly I'm not too terribly excited over this afternoon's 6-5 comeback win for the Cubs over the White Sox. Don't get me wrong, its really nice to see some home runs, its really nice to see Soriano get a big hit, and its really nice to win. Still this game will be judged in my mind by how the team does this next week. 

Milton Bradley has started to hit- he got two more hits today. Geovany Soto has hit two doubles and homer this week, and Derrek Lee has stayed hot. If Soriano can get hot after his two hit day today, then we have at least something.

The problem is the Fuku-slide is in full blown danger zone (0-21), Fontenot and Miles still have to play at the same time (or Andres Blanco, though at least he plays defense), and Soriano is still slumping if you ask me. Lets see what happens going forward.

The return of Mark DeRosa and Kerry Wood tomorrow won't be greeted with quite the excitement after the Cubs made themselves likable for one day. During the top of the eighth inning I thought about how the Cubs will hopefully be energized tomorrow by hearing their former teammates get louder cheers than they did. Don't get me wrong, DeRo and Kerry will get plenty of love this weekend, but it shouldn't be as bad as it was going to be.

This is a bad pitching team Cleveland, Lee is a stud, but the rest of the starters aren't good and the bullpen just spent the Brewers series imploding on a nightly basis. Hopefully the Cubs get two out of three and start playing good baseball. If they struggle again this weekend, well then my lack of real excitement over today's win will be justified. 

Sox Blow Game, Blow Series, Continue Blowing Opportunities

Absolutely and utterly unacceptable. The Cubs had scored 10 runs in the last 60 or so innings they played, and the Sox bullpen allows them to get 5 runs in the final 4 outs of the game. Pathetic managing and pathetic pitching are going to majorly overshadow what could have been a great 2 game series on the road.

Floyd was brilliant today. Danks and Jenks were great yesterday. And Getz, Anderson, Beckham, and Ramirez all got it going in the series. But none of that will matter. All because Scott Linebrink gave up back to back homeruns to hitters with a combined 10 homeruns in more than 100 games they have played in.

But this is not just Linebrink's fault, it's just as much Ozzie's fault. Linebrink has been great since coming over from the Brewers, but we all know what he did in his dying days in San Diego and his short time in Milwaukee. He was absolutely atrocious against the NL and nothing has changed. There is no way he should be in a situation to blow the game in the 8th. I thought he should have come out when Bradley was up, but I understand why they wanted to leave Bradley as a lefty. But after the homer by Lee it is unacceptable to leave Linebrink in the game to give up the homerun to Soto. Whether it's Thornton or Jenks you have to make the change right there. Ozzie did not, the Sox lost.

So all in all this series will go down as one to forget. A great game on Wednesday goes to waste, and what looked like a chance to not only get going in the right direction for good, but also to bury your crosstown rivals, goes by the wayside. Now we move on to Cincinnati and then home for with the Dodgers before we get a chance at revenge. Oh yeah, we also get to play a game against them in September... great.

Shocking: Aaron Miles + XBH

The headline describes the extent of the Cubs offensive production today, and wow is that scary. I don't have much to say about this game, John Danks pitched really well and the Cub offense did what it has done all year and failed to pick up that elusive clutch hit. I do think Ryan Dempster pitched well, negating the majority of his walks with double-play balls.

As far as the "tough decisions" Lou eluded to, enough is enough with this offense. Every team at some point or another over the course of a season has the mythical Jake Fox character, defined as the minor leaguer tearing it up or the bench player with a hot bat. Armed with an extremely limited and unrepresentative sample size, fans and writers fall in love with this guy and demand he plays.

I wouldn't say I have fallen in love with the Jake Fox character, but I've become so fed up with Alfonso Soriano that anything at this point would be a breath of fresh air. Plus-.400 Iowa batting average aside, Jake Fox needs to, at least temporarily, become the starting left fielder on the Chicago Cubs. If not him, then last year's version Micah Hoffpauir.

I don't know if you blame his knees and DL him or simply sit him, but Soriano needs to sit. He has 3 RBI's in nearly a month. He is hitting sub-.150 this month. The one hit he has had lately (13th inning home run in Cincy) came in a game in which he went 1-6. Sure he is a "superstar" and a "streaky" hitter that can carry the team, but there comes a time when even those excuses can't make up for killing an offense.

Will sitting him for next 3-4 games damage his psyche? It may, but there has so much talk of Soriano's psyche since he has gotten here (mostly on how uncomfortable he'd be not hitting leadoff) that it makes you wonder about a guy who is supposedly that emotionally fragile. I just don' think a guy who has accomplished what he has in his career can be that mentally weak. I think most of it is a bunch of nonsense, and that he'd take a benching in stride like a professional. If it is his knees hampering him, then more so what is the problem with a quick benching?

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Why Is Lou Pinella Becoming Dusty Baker?

Towards the end of his tenure with the Chicago Cubs Dusty Baker did two very bad and very annoying things. First he made horrible, terrible, downright stupid in game managerial decisions. Second he blamed everything on other people. Don't look now, but Lou happens to be falling into that very same pattern, even if it hasn't reached Dusty levels quite yet.

After today's 4-1 loss to the White Sox, Lou trotted out the same old post game crap. 
"Look, what can I do?" 
"I'm not a dragon"
Whaddaya gonna do about it?"
Finally Lou realized, "I'm going to have to think about making some hard lineup changes."

Too bad I doubt it will happen. If it were me, I'd put Soriano either on the DL or at second base and get the Hoffpauir/Fox platoon going in left field. Fox crushed a ball today and then spent the ninth inning getting every ball hit to him. His bat is desperately needed in the lineup. 

Will anything change? No. The same trio of Soriano, Miles, and Fontenot will suck the life out of the offense again tomorrow. I'm sure Soto will put down the rice and beans long enough to pop out to center a few times. Meanwhile Lee, Bradley, and Theriot will get base hits, but all in different innings and never in a big spot.

At least Big Z is pitching tomorrow, so there will be one good hitter in the lineup. 

Until tomorrow's 1-run effort, remember that at least we still have an awesome pitching staff and a whole lot of BABIP correction coming our way at some point. I hope.

Sox Execute All Ozzie's Orders, Dominate Game One

This was without a doubt the best game the White Sox played all year. Danks was brilliant for 7 innings only losing his shutout on the inherited runner Linebrink let in. Ozzie managed the game perfectly calling multiple hit-and-runs, stolen bases, squeeze bunts, and slap hits with pitchers. And the hitting stepped up when it was needed.

But what stuck out to me in this game was the perfection in the Sox execution of eveything Oz asked them to do. Konerko put the ball right where it needed to be on his hit-and-run with Wise, Podsednik played the squeeze bunt perfectly (as did Getz on 3rd). And my favorite play of the afternoon was Danks' slap hit that didn't even work. Even with it not working, it was still perfect and it still got the job done leading to the run on the squeeze.

The only problems I saw in this game were the multiple DP's the Sox grounded into (plus the strike him out throw him out DP), and Beckham's failure to convert on the chance with Getz on third in the 2nd. But for every mistake there was an opposite for each guy. Alexei knocked the homer out in his first AB which gave him the pass on the rest of his afternoon And Beckham had the play I mentioned coupled with the error in the 2nd but made up for it converting the DP on the next batter and coming through with the walk and single later in the game.

Overall though, there is absolutely nothing to complain about in this game. The Sox were absolutely untouchable this afternoon. Now they can look towards tomorrow and try to fully avenge their poor performance at Wrigley last year.

Oh yeah, and don't look now but the Sox are just 3.5 games out of first.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

New Pitching Matchups

Ozzie has announced that John Danks will pitch for the Sox on Wednesday and Floyd on Thursday. The Cubs have announced they will go with Dempster tomorrow and Zambrano will pitch on Thursday.

On the Sox side of things this is a win/lose. It's a huge win because they don't have to face Randy Wells. Which means they at least have an outside chance of scoring some runs in the remaining two games. It is a lose because Contreras will not pitch against the Cubs he will instead open up the series against Cincinnati.

I'm not sure what the plan is, and I'm not exactly sure anyone knows what the plan is. If I had to guess they will probably go with a day/night two stadium doubleheader at some point next week when the Cubs are scheduled to travel to the Cell. Sunday seems like it will be the most likely scenario as to when they would play that game, but then again Sox are traveling to Cleveland and the Cubs to Pittsburgh which doesn't seem like a great idea. Saturday is out of the mix because the game is scheduled for 3:05 on FOX. Can't play a DH on that. So it would have to be Friday I guess. I just don't understand this at all.

I'm not claiming anything fishy is going on, I just don't get what is going through the decision makers minds. So you cancel the game (early and for seemingly not enough of a reason) then don't give a make up date? Even though there's only one day that makes sense. Not sure what the deal is.

Joe Cowley says the game could be made up in September. Prepare for a rant from me if that's the case.

Cubs/Sox Game 1 Cancelled

Game 1 has officially been called off per WGN America. No makeup date announced.

IT IS 7:19 LET IT PLAY OUT. Nothing bothers me more than canceling games without giving them a chance. These teams play 6 games a year, you cannot cancel games and not give makeup dates immediately. Man would I be angry if I had tickets to this game. I have no clue why they would call it so early. Guess we will have to wait til tomorrow. No clue what the pitching match ups will be.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Another Cubs-Sox Preview

Can you say man-crushes?

I agree with Justin that this series is a little over-hyped, and I would like to make an observation on the nature of rivalries in Major League Baseball. The sport of baseball (although I haven't played outside of little league) doesn't seem to tailor to the fierceness and "hatred" that in large part define rivalries.

No doubt baseball rivalries mean a lot to us fans, and that alone makes them important. However, I don't think a baseball rivalry can be put on the same stage as one in football, especially, or even hockey or basketball. The out-and-out, non-stop physical aspects of those sports actually fosters the players themselves feeling more of the intensity that comes with a rivalry.

Do the Cubs and Sox players hate eachother? I don't think so. I have never heard anything but respectful words from both sides. Even Ozzie, despite his thoughts about Wrigley, always peppers those statements with nice things about Lou or the players.

To me, it just isn't as "cool" when the players aren't as into it as they are in a Mizzou-kU football/basketball game. I'm not trying to undercut the Cubs-Sox rivalry because it is a great thing for the city and fans of both teams, I'm just voicing a thought I have on rivalries in general.

As for the upcoming series and mainly pitching matchups:

Game 1: Big Z looks to be in one of his month-or-so stretches of being an upper-echelon starter, as he has been very good in all 5 starts since coming off the DL. Danks is a good pitcher, but I think that with the right-handed bats of Lee and Soto looking better lately and the fact Bradley has been better from the right side, the Cubs should take this game.

Game 2: I don't follow the Sox closely enough to make generalizations about them, but I think that the notion they never hit against starters they've never seen is not a sure thing. Randy Wells came way down in his last start against the Twins, and for the first time has to respond to some adversity. The Sox have enough power to punish him for mistakes. Also, the Cubs seem to struggle historically against hard-throwing righties, and Gavin Floyd fits that bill. Thus, Game 2 goes to the Sox.

Game 3: Maybe it is being diplomatic, but I think Game 3 is a complete toss-up. Contreras has been great his last two starts and Dempster has been nearly as good in his last three. This should either be a great pitching duel, or a run-fest if both pitchers regress to their early-season form. Too close to call, but I'd say Sox win just because their lineup is a little better in my mind.

With the way this series has historically gone down (and especially after last year), how about this: Sox sweep this series then Cubs follow with a sweep at the Cell. Season series goes 3-3, Cubs get one more run to tie the all-time run totals (stat courtesy of Ken). Pretty much how it should go right? Oh wait, Sox do have one BIG number they added in 2005...not as even as it seemed after all I guess.

Photo courtesy epicdeer.com