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September 2008 Archives

Game 163 and counting

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Alexei Ramirez became the first rookie to hit four grand slams in a single season, pushing the White Sox to a 8-2 victory in their make-up game against the Tigers, and forcing a play-in game against the Piranhas. It may seem unfair to the Piranhas that this game will be at The Cell--the site decided by a coin toss, rather than by who led the season series--but they had their chances to win the division earlier. So did the Sox, of course, but all that is in the past now. As the Great and Powerful Oz said, "162 games mean nothing." Well, we wouldn't go quite that far.

Back to The Missile: He still makes baby mistakes sometimes, but has come very far in just one season, and deserves to win Rookie of the Year. He has already proven himself such a clutch player that the grand slam seemed almost destined to happen. As he stood in and The Cell rocked, it seemed like all he needed was the pitch.

I went nuts when it happened, and with the window open on a cool, wet day, I could hear three or four other guys in my neighborhood doing the same. My favorite sign in the crowd, shown moments after the big hit: "Just like we planned it."

After I texted my Sox fan friend The Commish in my excitement, his response brought me back to cold reality: "But can the pen hold it?" True, with three innings left, it would be a big job for a bullpen running on fumes, but they managed, and tonight, The Cell hosts Game 163. Let's hope they copy the route the Rockies took last year from a play-in game to the World Series.

It's Danks vs. Blackburn. Danks was not good the last time out and has had little luck with the Piranhas, but I like a lefty power pitcher against the Piranhas line-up. The Sox offense has its edge back and, with everyone attending urged to wear black, they will have a park full of raucous fans, a park, which for better or worse, will be open to the elements rather than sealed under a dome on a very cool final night of September.

The dream is alive

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Two Chicago baseball teams have reached the postseason for the first time since 1906. The Sox didn't do much in Game 163, but they did exactly enough in beating the Piranhas 1-0 to seal the A.L. Central Division crown. Only four things of note happened:

1) John Danks pitched 8 "black-out" innings, yielding just 2 hits.

2) Jim Thome hit a towering homer over the centerfield wall.

3) A.J.caught what looked like a tough throw at the plate from Junior on a would-be sac fly, blocked Michael Cuddyer's way and held onto the ball, keeping the shut-out intact.

4) B.A. made a diving catch on a sinking woulda-been-a-hit-in-the-dome blooper to end the game.

The dream is alive for the Sox, who are headed for the ALDS, and the dream is alive for SBW, which was founded on the premise that this could be the year for a crosstown Windy City World Series. The Cubs host the Dodgers tomorrow night in a series that has to start soon so I can stop worrying about it. The Sox begin their postseason journey on Thursday, which doesn't afford much rest for a tired team. That's OK. We'll all take a nice long nap in November.

Delayed gratification

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How appropriate is it that the start of today's make-up game between the White Sox and the Tigers is being delayed by rain? Our hopes for the postseason have been in delay mode since last week, and even if the Sox win today, they still need to wait for tomorrow to get a real chance at the postseason.

But, they only have that chance because they woke up and won yesterday behind a tough performance from Mark Buehrle on three days rest. Buehrle wasn't perfect by any means, but when he let guys on base, he was able to lock down (maybe he can teach Vazquez how to do that), and the Sox won 3-1. Paulie stayed hot with a homer, and the rest of the Sox were able to nudge two more runs across in what was a full team effort despite the low score.

The Piranhas, wouldn't you know, were done losing themselves, and shut out K.C. 6-0. So, it's all on the Sox again to extend their season. Even if they can, the odds are certainly stacked more against them than against our Cubs to make our dream of a Windy City World Series come true. The T.B. Rays closed the season out in strong fashion, and look even tougher than the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim and Orange County, who had MLB's best regular season record at 100-62. But, maybe the Sox will surprise--some of us our surprised they are still fighting for a spot at all.

The Cubs sent everyone except Santo out to the mound as they closed the season with a 3-1 loss to the Brewers that let the Beermakers into the postseason club. Actually, emptying the bullpen wasn't a bad idea, as it kept the Cubs in this one for the entire game. Bob Howry, who I hope we don't see too much of in the next few weeks, gave up a two-run HR to Ryan Braun that gave Milwaukee a timely 8th inning lead. CC got his CG, closing out the Cubs in the 9th without too much of a fuss. Let's hope the line-up was just saving their strength for this Wednesday's NLDS opener against the Dodgers.

Falling backward

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The Sox don't want it, the Piranhas don't want it--is there a scenario in which K.C. can still win the A.L. Central Division? The White Sox are hitting again, and for power, with Paulie pounding 2 HRs last night, The Missile going yard and JeDye homering again, but the Sox lost 12-6 behind a starter and bullpen that have completely fallen apart.

Javier Vazquez is either too tired to go on from pitching twice on three-days rest, or just plain incapable of finding his edge. He was charged with seven runs and didn't make it out of the 5th inning, only finding his aggressive side when A.J. went out to the mound. It looked like maybe Vaz took issue with A.J.'s pitch calls? Or maybe A.J., disgusted, said something that made Vaz drop what looks like an F-bomb in the photo fronting the sports section in today's Trib. Either way, it wasn't too late to win the game after Vaz departed, but Clayton Richard (despite three mostly good innings), Lance Broadway and especially Scott Linebrink (who has proven himself three years running to be half-season pitcher) all faltered by giving up key hits.

Maybe this late-season collapse was inevitable after the loss of Jose Contreras--just time and extensive bullpen labors catching up with the Sox. Maybe Richard or Broadway should have been used in a couple more spot starts. Post-game radio chatter had a lot of people wishing that Richard had started this particular game. Perhaps Ozzie would have been lambasted if Richard started and lost, but Vazquez has proven amazingly lame in big games (just ask the Yankees, though he did get a victory out of the pen during the infamous 2004 play-offs against Boston). Maybe going with Richard to start and then Broadway for three innings would have shaken the pitching blahs. But hindsight of course is 20/20, and not many managers would pass up a veteran in a situation like last night's game.

The Piranhas lost again to K.C., and though they looked WS-caliber against the Sox, it is again becoming clear that this Minnesota team is not necessarily like the division winners of past years. Too bad the Sox couldn't figure out where the holes were. The Sox are of course still in it, and get another bit of luck falling their way today, as they will not have to face injured 22-game winner Cliff Lee. If fate was ever sending the Sox a gift, this is it.

The Cubs won 7-3 behind a stellar performance from Ted Lilly, who no-hit the Brew Crew into the 7th inning. The Brewers scratched back, but Fukie, who loves Brewer pitching even when he's not hitting anyone else's, added insurance runs with a homer in the 9th. Marquis didn't look good in a bullpen showing intended to get him ready for his October role. The Cubs will go with Sub-Cub pitchers today instead of a limited turn by Zammy, which is fine by me--maybe he can come back strong from extra rest to do well next week. In starting Angel Guzman and probably going to the pen early and often, the Cubs may gift-wrap the wild card for the Brewers, while setting themselves up for a first-round match with the tricky Dodgers. There's not much other choice, but if they beat the Brewers today and the Mets somehow managed to win despite increasing fatigue--well, that would be nice.

Danks tanks, part 2

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Remember this post? I had made this mistake of identifying John Danks as a possible big-game pitcher, and he then proceeded to disappoint me and other Sox fans with a run of sub-par games. That cold streak extended into last night's excruciating 11-8 loss to the Indians. It was excruciating because:

1) Minnesota got killed at home by K.C. (What do the Royals have that the Sox don't? Starter Kyle Davies, who has shut down both the Sox and the Twins in the last week.)

2) Regardless of what was happening in Minnesota, the Sox had to approach this game as a must-win, but Danks, who was ineffective from the first batter, and D.J. Carrasco, who served up a grand slam to Ryan Garko, didn't get the memo. The Sox batters picked away at the big lead, but never could develop a big enough inning to catch up.

3) The Sox offense looked obviously better than it had recently, combining long balls by Paulie, A.J. and JeDye with sound, fundamental small ball--well-placed singles and right-side grounders that moved runners and scored runs. A wasted effort.

The Sox again face a must-win game today, because they can't go on assuming the Piranhas will lose. The difference today is that they were handed 1st place last night, and couldn't collect.

So, what's going on with the Cubs? Well, they split a four-game series at Shea Stadium, which is not a bad outcome. However, they won the third game of that series so effortlessly--a 9-6, extra innings win that actually somehow looked easy--against a Mets team that squandered so many chances, you expected them to win the fourth game and teh series as well. Harden led an all Sub-Cub team against Pedro Martinez in that one. The subs performed well against Pedro, and better after he left, especially Micah Hoffpauir, who had his much-anticipated coming-out party with a 5 for 5, 2 HR performance. Unfortunate, Harden wasn't great and the bullpen eventually let the Mets walk away with a 7-6 win.

Last night, the Cubs looked like a 1st place team with nothing to play for until next week, which is not what anyone wanted to see. They lost 5-1 to the Brewers, which gave the Brewers help in the wild card race. Would you rather see the Mets win the wild card and have the Cubs face them in the first round, or watch the Brewers win it, see the Cubs take on the Dodgers in Round 1, and know a possible I-94 match-up might decide the NLCS?

The Mets, even though they have Santana, Wright and Delgado, seem like an easier Round 1 candidate than the sill-hot Dodgers. The Mets needed a full game of fighting and scratching the other night just to beat the Sub-Cubs. At this point, a Brewers team that makes the postseason after all they have been through would be very a dangerous team. Regardless of everything else, I would like they Cubs to go into October on a winning streak.

Are the Sox done?

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Worst fears realized. That's what I was thinking watching the White Sox get swept out of Minnesota and out of 1st place last night. Not only did they get swept, but the Piranhas did so in the most infuriating and demoralizing way possible. It is true that they hit and run the bases and field as if they knew the score already--knew they were going to win. But, that is just good baseball by a team perfectly designed to the venue they call home--that horrible dome, as my friend The Commish calls it.

The Sox didn't seem to be out-matched coming in, but their starters never got started (with the exception of Buehrle, who pitched well, but not well enough), their closer and bullpen did not close when the game--the season--was in their hands. Their hitters did not hit (with the exception of Junior Griffey, who had 2 HRs, 3 RBIs, and 3 runs scored in the series) There was also Uribe's pitcher-plunking, bases-clearing line drive last night--that was the only piece of luck that went the Sox's way in a series where they ended up on the wrong end over several questionable calls.

Ultimately, they didn't have enough in the tank to render those calls and other bits of misfortune meaningless, and the Piranhas took advantage of them everytime. The O.C., who was brought in precisely to get this team through this sort of crunch-time, again criticized the team's intensity, and got slapped on the wrist by Ozzie, who may think there's still a chance...

Is there still a chance? Of course, if the Sox run the table, including the make-up game with Detroit that shouldn't have needed to be played, and the Piranhas sweep K.C. to end their season, the teams will be tied with a play-in game deciding who gets October honors. Oh, and there is always the chance the Piranhas could lose a couple to K.C.--who wants to take that bet?

The Sox are not done yet, but a couple of players seem to have given in. Sadly, JeDye did not show up for the Minnesota series in any form, Konerko's hot streal went cold, the Missile fizzled, Wise came off as an unwise choice. It is true that Junior and JeDye and their aged bodies were a poor match for the Dome's spacious, stale-aired, ball-velocity-killing outfield. Sox fans were actually calling for B.A. to save the day--yes, it got that bad. But, the Sox had no answer to what the Piranhas proposed. They played the last two games of this series with more apparent toughness than the first one, and Ozzie's choice in-game can't be argued against too vigorously.

So, what's next? Well, they are at least three games left. How's that for optimism?

False start

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Well, Javier Vazquez blew his chance in what was a big game for the Sox. The Great and Powerful Oz tried to downplay the series opener in Minnesota before it began, which itself was a strange occurrence, but maybe who had an inkling of what would happen. The Sox were beaten 9-3, and amazingly it was not even as close as that ugly score would indicate.

The Sox blew some chances against Scott Baker, a pitcher in whose games against the Sox this year the Twins have gone 2-0. Junior hit into a run-scoring double play in the 2nd inning and hit a two-run HR in the 9th long after this one was over. Other than that, the Sox loaded the bases in the 5th with nothing gained. Yet, it was definitely Vazquez who threw the game away, leaving everything over the plate. He's a strike-zone pitcher, and that may not be a good match-up to begin with against a contact team like the Twins, but Vazquez seemed to bring nothing extra to this one, no ability to deceive or find a higher speed gear when he needed it.

Seeing all the Piranhas' lefties attack Vazquez, I was yearning for southpaw John Danks to have a start somewhere on this series, but that won't happen. The Sox do have reliable lefty Mark Buehrle going tonight, but he's just 1-2 against Minnesota this year (It also was Buehrle who once famously spotted the Piranhas a 7-run 1st inning lead in a game the Sox later won 9-7). Nick Blackburn goes for the Twinkies, and is 1-2 vs. our Sox.

The Cubs started well against mighty Johan Santana last night, scoring two runs early, but they eventually lost 6-2 in a game the Mets needed to win. I was hoping for a surprise victory against Santana, which could have further demoralized the Mets, which is exactly how I would like them to be if the Cubs end up facing them in the division series next week. That can still be accomplished if the Cubs win the next two.

Much chatter today on sports talk radio about how Piniella will handle the Milwaukee series. He had earlier said the Cubs owe it to the league to play out their schedule with vigor, but the starting rotation for the division series remains up in the air. If the Lou Crew takes a soft route against the Brew Crew, it could set the course for a potential NLCS match-up against the Brewers, both an exciting and scary thought.

Time to shine

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OK, White Sox, you're in control of your own destiny as you start your biggest three-game series of the year tonight in Minnesota. If you're good enough, you came back home Central Division champs with three days to get your postseason plans in order. I would say 2 out of 3 would be just fine, but why settle for anything less than a sweep. Think about the four games in a row in June when you beat Minnesota at home, not the three out of four you lost to them at the Dome the following month.

Paulie's hitting, Thome's hitting, the Missile is ready to launch, DeWayne Wise is ready to run. If Junior wants to be a hero for the Sox, the time is now. Vazquez is due for one of his lock-down performances. Let's get thee to the postseason to compete for the Windy City World Series match-up SBW was found upon almost 40 games ago.

Since last we posted, the Sox took care of business on Sunday, shutting out K.C. 3-0 on a strong performance by Danks, and with help from a two-run HR by Paulie. It would have been so much better and easier going up to Piranha-land with a three-game hold on 1st place, but the Sox could only take 2 out of 3 in K.C. If they don't have the best of luck in Minnesota, Cleveland certainly won't be a pushover, and Minnesota has an easier season-closing assignment vs. K.C.

Most Sox fans would cringe at this, but what the Sox need right now is a little of the so-called Cubbie Swagger (Piniella's words). The Cubs still seem to have it, despite clinxhing the division over the weekend, and certainly will need it for the long road ahead. They beat the Cards 5-1 on Sunday to take the regular season Wrigley Field finale, and last night beat up a Mets team that is supposed to be competing for a play-off spot. Marquis was pretty solid and helped himself by hitting a grand slam, which proved to be the margin of victory in the 9-5 win by the Cubs.

Who would you like to see the Cubs take on in their first postseason series? The Mets, with their terrible bullpen, seem like the easiest mark, but they still have Johan Santana to possibly start two first round games if they get in and make the series last long enough--let's see what the Cubs do against Santana tonight before we go any further with that one. The Dodgers would be a challenge. The Cubs took the season series, but that was before Manny showed up. they have a couple good young pitchers and a decent older one by the name of Maddux. They also have great young hitters like Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier. Personally, I'm most scared of the Phillies, who have those big left-handed bats. Though Scott Eyre had a tough year with the Cubs before being dumped and later picked up by the Phils, I think he would be a better postseason late-inning southpaw option than anything the Cubs have to offer. Neal Cotts may have a World Series ring from the Southside, but I don't think he has any edge vs. Chase Utley or Ryan Howard. And, Phillies starters were very good in a four-gamer last month against the Cubs, which the Cubs split, but only just barely.

Cubs clinch, Sox wait

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Finally and decisively, though hardly easily, the Cubs clinched the Central Division title for the second straight year, giving them a postseason berth for the second straight year for the first time in 100 years.

The Cubs beat the Cardinals 5-4, and were able to take advantage of some poor fielding early in the game on a base-loaded single by Al-So that turned into a double and scored three runs. DeRo added an RBI later, and even Lilly drove in a run on a squueze bunt. Lilly was pretty good, except for a four-run 6th, and Marmol and Woody made almost no mistakes in preserving the close victory.

There was much debate about whether or not the Cubs would celebrate--or perhaps how they would celebrate--given that the World Series is the ultimate target and this team is supposed to be so different than past Cubs teams. To me, it looked like the usually bubbly bath over fresh Division Champ T-shirts and caps for everyone, complete with stupid observations from media and fans about how there's just nothing better than this. Sure there is, and getting to the World Series would be just a start.

Sorry if I sound a bit sour. Maybe, I'm still mad that they didn't clinch when I was at Wrigley yesterday, but my desire to stay serious--even through the next week just to go into the postseason on the right foot--is also just a reflection of how far the Cubs have to go, and how hard it will be. I was happy to hear many of the Cubs players take the same tone in their post-game interview today.

For the rest of the way, I'd like to see the Cubs play their regulars, with a couple exceptions: Theriot should maybe get some prolonged rest, while putting in additional time at the batting cage to get out of his awful slump. Also, while Fukie used to be a regular, he no longer is, and I think Lou should actually start him the rest of the way against whatever right handers are left, perhaps make him a bunt a few times and work hard on drawing walks and stealing bases if he gets on. His main value right now is as a glove man, but his experience and training give him some valuable tools that could be key during the postseason--and he may night have to drive the ball anywhere to make something happen. If the Cubs get in some close games during the next week, I'd also like to see them use Samarzdija and Howry in set-up and closer roles at least once--maybe give Marmol and Woody a night off, though not every night off, and get the Notre Dame kid and the embattled Howry into a few more tight situations.

The White Sox won last night 9-4 and, witrh a Piranhas loss, got their magic number down to 7. Today, the Sox lost, but the with the Piranhas still being tortured by the now-postseason-bound
Rays, the magic number slid down to 6. It's looking an awful lot like this week's trip to Minnesota will be the crucible.

Last night, Buehrle was on short rest, but pretty solid through 6 IP, and didn't implode after giving up a 3-run HR to Sox nemesis Mark Teahen. The big blast for the Sox was The Missile's third grand slam of the year, which came after an epic nine-pitch at-bat where you could tell Alexei had K.C. pitcher Brian Bannister under his thumb. With CQ out, the young, skinny Cuban has become the most surprisingly potent offensive threat for this team.

And what about DeWayne Wise? He hit two HRs Friday night and has four in the last week. The Great and Powerful Oz should play him as often as possible the rest of the way, since Dirty 30 can not necessarily be counted on.

The Sox have pitchers working on short rest now with mixed results. Gavin Floyd seemed like a sure thing today, but was not good, as far as what we have come to expect from him. He gave up 5 runs in just over 6 IP. The Sox never really got it together at the plate either. The Missile homered again, but this time with only one man on base, and very late in the game. The Sox managed only three other hits. When they are off the mark, they are way, way off. The division still belongs to the White Sox, though, and it will be their division to win or lose the rest of the way.

We are having technical difficulties

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I tried to post after yesterday's amazing comeback, extra-inning victory by the Cubs, and last evening's complete breakdown by the Sox, but kept getting errors when I tried to save. Just as well, because I might have been over-reacting to both events at the time.

The Cubs 7-6 win happened after the Cubs had been four runs down in the mottom of the 9th with two out. I was literally in the act of changing the channel as A-Ram took his first swing and saw the ball trip through Ryan Braun's legs before it the channel actually flipped over. I turned back to the game, of course, and had almost no chance to think about the possibilities before Geo tied the game 6-6 on a three-run no-doubter HR. At that point, I refused to entertain the idea the Cubs would lose this one, even after Woody had put two men on in scoring position with no out in the 11th. D-Lee came through in the 12th, and like that the magic number when from stuck at 4 on down to 2.

Piniella joked with reporters afterward about tying one on after the game, and from the looks of today's peformance, which I unfortunately witnessed live, everyone tied one on last night. Zambrano, in his first appareance since his no-hitter, was awful, the worst he could possibly be, and I'm not just talking about his pitching. He was charged with eight runs in less than two inning, and looked the polar opposite of the guy who no-hit Houston less than a week ago. But, the worst part was that as Piniella came to remove him, he stormed off the mound before his glacially slow manager made it all the way out to the mound. Piniella looked absolutely livid and pointed Z back to the mound. It looked like Z Big Cry Baby had a few more words for Piniella before departing and ripping at the buttons on his jersey.

Reportedly, Zambrano's grandmother just passed away, and no one can blame him for feeling bad about that, but at this time of all times, the Cubs needed him to handle that pain, and his apparent disappointment in himself, like a grown man. The Cubs will clinch the division, hopefully this weekend, but this is the last kind of distraction anyone needs. How could this guy go from unhittable and gracious on Sunday night to awful and immature on Friday afternoon? Grow up now, Z, because the postseason is not for big babies.

The Cubs went on to lose 12-6. Most of the starters played like they were hung over (though I'm sure they are all too professional to let that happen), but the scrubs (Casey McGeehee?) tried to make a game of it. Tune in tomorrow to find out if the Cubs are ready to win this thing.

The White Sox rolled over and played dead last night, and just when you thought the Piranhas would help out again as they started a series vs. the Amazin' Rays, they actually won and cut the Sox lead to 1-1/2 games.

Vazquez was not as bad last night as Zammy was today, but he was not good, and left in the 4th inning down 4-1. The bullpen let that lead build to 7-1, and the cause not helped by a key error by the Missile, who is great and everything, but really needs to concentrate a bit better sometimes. The bullpen overall was better than Vazquez, but is really starting raise concerns.

Meanwhile, Paulie took most of the season to start hitting, but now he's the only one. He had a run-scoring double and homer last night. The Sox have failed to fully take advantage of a recent tailspin by the Piranhas (I know, the metaphor doesn't work), and had better be ready to play some very important games next week in Minnesota.

Bump in the road

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The only Cub that really showed up Wednesday against Brewers was Aramis Ramirez, who homered and is now 6-10 in his last three games. Maybe that isn't fair to Jason Marquis, who pitch very well after a rocky 1st inning that put the Beermakers ahead 3-0, but thos 3 runs were all Milwaukee needed in a 6-2 victory over the Cubs. The magic number froze--hopefully for just a day--at 4.

The Brewers finally awoke from a multi-game slumber, but the Cubs bats fell asleep. Ben Sheets left after just two innings with an injury, and I'm sure I was not the only one salivating at the idea of the Cubs getting several innings of cuts at the often ineffective Brewer bullpen. So, what happened?

Perhaps it's crazy to think megatively at this point, but the Cubs looked like they gave up after the Brewers got ahead early, which is very much how they looked in some of their losses earlier this month. Hopefully, they can straighten things out today and clinch tomorrow when I'm at the game against the Cards.

The White Sox fell asleep, too, with the exception of Clayton Richard, in losing 5-1. Going into the second game of the series against the Yanks, many of us probably hoped the Sox could get five or six not too horrible innings out of Richard, but the kids gave a good show, limiting the dying Yanks to just two runs in 6.2 solid innings.

Junior and O.C. had two hits each, but the lone Sox run scored on a JeDye ground out. Later, Linebrink came in and made share the game was good and lost by giving up a pair of homers. Maybe Richard can be counted on in the pstseason if Linebrink can't.

The Piranhas lost again in Cleveland, and the magic number goes down to 9, but we're not so, so happy. The Sox missed a great chance to get to the three-game 1st place cushion SBW requires to feel safe before the Sox head to Minnesota.

Feel the magic

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SBW took a couple days off to tend to real life, and look what happened: The Cubs' magic number is down to 4 and the White Sox' magic number is down to 10. We're getting closer...

The last two games for the Cubs: Oh, not much happened at all, just another near no-hitter, this one by Ted Lilly, followed by another of Woody's heart attack specials. The Cubs finished their "road trip" playing Houston in Milwaukee by demoralizing the Astros for the second straight game, winning 6-1 behind Lilly, who no-hit the Astros into the 7th (though he was not nearly as dominating as Zambrano the night before). The Cubs actually scored in three different innings, which hasn't happened a whole lot lately. Power was back in vogue at the plate, with D-Lee, Geo and Old Man Edmonds all going yard. A-Ram also had a sac fly. the Astros are not out of it yet, but with this two-game run, the Cubs kinda killed the 'Stros momentum. They not only beat a team they have had trouble with this year, but also cooled off the hottest team in the Central Division since the second half started.

We won't give back the wins, but it's terribly unfortunate that these games had to be moved to what was definitely not a neutral site. How can a Cubs fan talk that way? I'm a baseball fan, too, and I don't like when MLB appears to give teams that can provide better postseason ratings a leg up. Moving the games elsewhere may have changed the course of history--maybe Zammy wouldn't have thrown a no-hitter, and maybe the Cubs would have had a tougher time winning both, but it would have been the right thing to do. Instead, I think MLB's favorable treament gave other teams even more reasons to want to beat the Cubs. The third game of the series likely will now go un-played, unless the Astros remain in contention to the final weekend.

Last night, the Cubs came back home from their vacation home in Milwaukee to face... Milwaukee. When the Cubs were swooning, I was not looking forward to this series at all, but the Brewers have been swooning even worse since, and fired manager Ned Yost, a shocking move. Yost may have overseen the Beermakers' swoon, but he was torpedoed by tightly-wound hitters and a terrible bullpen. Still, maybe it's what the Brewers need to make the postseason.

But, if they do make it into October, it will be as a wild card. The Cubs virtually assured themselves the division flag with last night's 5-4 win. If they can sweep the series, they win the Central and make what looked like a murderous stretch of games from now until the end of the season almost meaningless. This one wasn't easy. The Cubs had to face CC, and did well against him for the second time, scoring three runs in the first three innings, but he got better as the game went on. Meanwhile, Dempster piled up Ks early on, but later let Prince Fielder chip away with a mammoth right field HR. Al-So added a solo HR that gave the Cubs a 4-2 edge, but Fielder added another HR, this one almost more impressive because it was muscled out opposite field against filthy Carlos Marmol.

The Cubs added another run for a 5-3 edge in the 9th, which is more often than not the kind of cushion Woody needs. He gave up a run-scoring double to Ray Durham, who is a great clutch hitter going back to his days on the Sox, but if it's possible to make a 96 MPH fastball easy to hit, Woody did just that, pushing it over the middle of the plate just above the knees. After a cheap infield single by Ryan Braun, Woody stared down Fielder with men on 1st and 3rd, two outs. Woody ended up facing the one guy no one wanted to see him face, and as Fielder worked to a 3-2 count and kept fouling of fastballs, this looked like the kind of at-bat the pitcher can't win. But, Woody dropped in a waist-high slider (or curve, some said) that shocked everyone watching, most of all Fielder. Again Woody turned in a final inning that makes you queasy when you think of October games, but he got it done.

The last two games for the White Sox: The bullpen imploded on Sunday, and though the Sox still managed to win, it didn't make you feel good about Monday's game against the Yankees. The Yanks have almost nothing to play for except a small amount of pride in leaving their old stadium on a winning note. Still, with Buehrle starting Monday, things looked OK early on. DeWayne Wise homered for the second straight game, but after Buehrle left the game 2-2, the bullpen couldn't hold and the Sox eventually lost 4-2. More concerning than the bullpen performance, however, was a flat performance by the offense. Dirty 30, filling in for the still-injured Paulie, was 0 for 3 and saw his average go down to .220, though he wasn't the only culprit. The Sox seemed to lack play-off race urgency, but the Piranhas may be having more problems: After losing in Baltimore Sunday despite crushing the O's earlier in the weekend, the Twins lost in Cleveland Monday night. The Sox often have seen the Twins become their main nemesis in the play-off hunt, and the Twins have ruthlessly dispatched the Sox more than once, but this year, it seems like the Twins want to give it away.

Tuesday night was much better for the Sox. Gavin Floyd again proved to be exactly what they needed on the mound, while the offense scored often with power (The Missile fired on into the left field seats) and finesse (Paulie was back and delivered a run-scoring hit, Junior delivered and RBI and both B.A. and uribe and two-out RBIs). Paulie has been building back to full strength, and only last week, his sprained MCL looked like it would kill his momentum, but he seems to have lost no steam at all. The Sox won 6-2, and even though the bullpen had a big lead to work with, scoreless innings by Thornton and Jenks meant a lot in this one. And, hard to believe, but the toothless Piranhas lost again. Thanks, Cleveland.

The Sox are now again 2.5 games up on Minnesota. They have reached this threshold before only to give games back. If they can manage to add just one game to that lead in the next five very winnable games against the Yanks and K.C., they will be in great position going into Minnesota next week. And, while it would be great to clinch the division at home (especially Sept. 26, when I will next be at The Cell), it would also be fun to do it in Minnesota, wouldn't it?

No-no means YES! YES!

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We've all seen the footage from Milt Pappas' no-hitter for the Cubs in 1972--will Big Z's highlights now replace the shoestring catch, Milt's anger at his perfect game being ruined by a walk with just one out remaining, and the images of early '70s fly-away hair and tight uniforms. I have always adored Jack Brickhouse and prefer his call of practically anything to most Cubs announcers since, but have come to really enjoy Len Kasper's enthusiasm and and even-handed exchanges with Bob Brenly.

Kasper's call of the final out of Zammy's no-hitter was just about perfect, though his "Oh, baby!" tagline was mocked by ESPN today and my get a little tiresome sooner rather than later. In any case, he reminded us that the Pappas no-hitter was 36 years (and 12 days) ago. It was the last during a four-year period that was especially fertile for Cubs no-nos--they had four no-hitters in the span of four season from 1968 to 1972, two of them by Ken Holtzman (Why do we never get to see that footage? Was it on TV, or no?) It was also the second of 1972, after Burt Hooton's on April 16. Those 1972 no-hitter were the best that a good, but not-good-enough Cubs team had to offer on the way to second place behind the Pirates.

The 5-0 no-hitter victory also was marked but timely two-out hitting by the Cubs, with 4 of their runs scoring in that manner. now, let's hope Big Z's big moment is just one more fine moment building toward the best possible moment.

The White Sox had their own amazing (good and bad) moments last night, predictably lost in the background of Zambrano's performance. They swept the Tigers 4-2 and 11-7 to stay 1-1/2 games up in first place after a loss by the Piranhas. The amazingly bad moment was when the Tigers tied the score in the 8th inning of the second game, 7-7, on a grand slam by Marcus Thames. It was the culmination of a 7-run implosion by the bullpen after Danks left in the 7th with the Sox up 7-0. The amazingly good moment was just an inning later, when DeWayne Wise (!) sent the Sox ahead 11-7 with his own grand slam. A surprising hero gave the Sox a great end to a horrible, rainy weekend in Chicago that didn't give the Sox very good conditions to work in, or a very large live crowd to support them

Dry and well-fed

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8:24 a.m., Sunday--The NYC baseball odyssey culminated last night in our rain-forced Shea-Bronx double-header. We took an epic subway ride out to Queens for the afternoon Mets-Braves contest, allowing some time for photos of nearby Arthur Ashe Stadium, and also of Shea and the neighboring new Citi Field, from the boardwalk outside the parks.

We had cool pressbox level seats at Shea, but it took a while to find them, and it was the kind of club-level thing where one cranky, elderly waitress is serving about 100 people. While Johan Santana mostly mowed down the Braves in the early going, we noted Shea's lack of character--I guess except for the Big Apple that rises out of the hat for homeruns. It actually looks like part of the area beyond the center field wall already has been dismantled. Though the blue and orange color scheme is kinda cool if you're from Chicago (for different sports-related reasons), there's some other pretty bad '60s-'70s era aesthetic detailing outside and throughout the park. Yet, the much more open concourses tell you this hulk was built well after (1964) Yankee Stadium (1923).

We were able to watch some of the game from the Diamond Club behind our seats, where we filled up on a great buffet--roasted pork, about 8 different pastas, about 3 different seafood salads, marinated eggplant and a whole bunch of other stuff. Overall, the food definitely was better than Yankee Stadium, but it was also the premium stuff and not the regular concessions. Good thing the food was good, because the Mets collapsed and lost 3-2. The new Citi Field is extremely cool, by the way, modeled on old Ebbetts Field, we were told. Thanks to Dan and Monte for the Mets tickets.

Monte said we should skip the hour-long subway ride and take a car service up to the Bronx for the second game of our double-header. It was definitely the way to go, took only about 20 minutes in air conditioned, leather Cadillac comfort. The price was not for the faint of heart, but we did what we had to do to make the first inning in the Bronx.

The Yanks won a close one against the 1st place Rays, 6-5, though the Sandman came close to blowing 2-run lead. Jeter was as good as we wanted him to be, 3 0f 3 with some fine plays at short. A-Rod had a sac fly and some high deep drives, but nothing over the fence. Best of all, Yankee Stadium was a whole different place when dry and at least half full with a rowdy crowd--New Yawkers are absolutely merciless with one another about missing foul balls. We stayed after the game as long as we could, watching many people taking photos of their seats as they enjoyed them for the last time. When you walk through that park seeing constant references to championships, and you walk out and see the years of World Series victories scrawled at the very top of the stadium near the iconic blue "Yankee Stadium" neon sign, you realize what a special place this is. And, did I mention we saw Kareem Abdul-Jabar at the game?

The whole day and night was dry in New York, which I know was not the case back home.... Hope the delays and PPD games won't hurt our teams' chance to vie for this year's championship.

Big Z now stands for ZERO hits

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A season full of memories already, and Zambrano just topped it all, no-hitting the Astros in Milwaukee, of all places. What a bizarre turn of events. Is it fate at work again for the Cubs, or just damn good baseball? We have been hard on Zammy for his implosions, but all is forgiven, and hopefully, this is the postseason jump-start teh Cubs have been needing... this is also just what a lot of Cubs fans needed after a horribly wet weekend back home.

Long night, longer day to come

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10:14 a.m. Eastern time Saturday--It never stopped raining here in NYC Friday night, and the Yankees finally postponed their game with the Rays just before 9 p.m. Along with the rest of the half-capacity crowd, the Commish and I had been sitting in our seats--which were luckily, under an over-hang--for about two hours, taking in the atmosphere and listening to the locals ("Nicky, looka that tawp out theah-see how much it's rainin'?").

It was not a lost evening, and a pretty good time as rainy nights at the ballpark go. The best part is that we are headed back there tonight. Both the Mets and Yankees will play rain-forced double-headers today, and the 7:05 p.m. ET start of our postponed game at Yankee Stadium should doevtail nicely with our 3:55 p.m. ET date at Shea (Anyone know how to take the Subway from Shea to the Babe's House with minimum hassle?)

Yankee Stadium is a strange place, a definite old-time ballpark with cramped subterranean hallways and old-time loge-style box seats with no more than six seats to a row in many sections. The rows come with these odd-looking metal dividers separating two seats from the other four in a given row. And everything is blue, not necessarily Yankee blue, but more like the sickening blue of the old seats from The Cell. The fences, walls, and many nooks and crannies are laden with advertising, though much of it is local (Utz potato chips, anyone?), which I think helps the park retain a sort of early 20th century charm. In any case, we had a great view from just beyond the first section, third base side toward home plate.

The Commish and I missed our chance to see Monument Park, but apparently you have to line up well before gates-open time, and the close the line shortly thereafter. Instead, we visited the food court and other shops below deck. Beer-wise, its mostly Miller Lite and the occasional Bud. There was a Foster's stand serving 24 oz.-ers right where we entered the park, but the $12.50 asking price got under the Commish's skin. The beer gem in this park is the "Beers of the World Stand" in the cramped (everything's cramped) food court--Stella, Blue Moon, Yuengling and others for $8.50 (You're not in Kansas anymore... or even at Clark and Addison). Unfortunately, there is only one of these stands in the whole stadium as far as we could tell, so the lines were long.

The food choices at Yankee Stadium are predictably diverse and interesting, though quality-wise, left something to be desired. It must be NY law or something that food stands have to list calories--it was strange to see light beer with a calorie count in parentheses before the sale price, and the same goes for much of the food here, which I think is information a lot of people don't want to know. For instance, I tried to ignore the 700-something calorie count of my prosciutto and mozarella sandwich from the Little Italy stand, and didn't even look at the menu board later on when I got a hot Italian sausage sandwich with hot peppers (neither were actually hot). You can also get a lot of Chinese down at the food court, and sushi, for I think about $15. The most interesting food court stop was the Goya Cuban stand. I have seen sushi and other Asian delicacies at ballparks in California and elsewhere along the East Coast, but never in all my years going to ball games have I seen "alcapurrias," (242 calories) a Cuban specialty of plaintains and beef. I was full, but maybe I'll try it tonight. The Commish got a Cuban sandwich with plaintain chips, and while the sandwich looked pretty good, he said it was dry. We were surprised how much of the food was pre-packaged, rather than pulled off a grill.

That's a lot of food talk, but there wasn't much baseball last night, in NYC or anywhere else for that matter. Lots of doubleheaders today, which kind of makes it feel like another time... in a very good way.

After getting the boot from the ballpark, we headed over to Stan's sports bar ("college bar" or "livestock pen" might be a better description--the livestock reference intended to convey not the clientele, but how crowded it was.) But, Stan does well, apparently running a whole block of storefronts outside Yankee Stadium. Unlike Wrigley and more like The Cell, there don't seem to be many other palatable drinking options within view, but what do a couple of Midwest hicks know about it? Strangely, Stan's was showing the Red Sox-Jays game, but only until it was apparent the BoSox wouldn't blow it.

I wonder if Stan's business will suffer when the team moves to the new stadium a little further down the street. As we awaited our train back to Manhattan, we could see the new Yankee Stadium across the street. It is an impressive, classical-looking structure, though in the manner of many new things that try very hard to look like the classics. Recapturing a rich tradition may not come so easily.

A weekend to refresh, weather permitting

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The Commish and I are headed to NYC today to pay our respects to Yankee Stadium and Shea Stadium before thay go to ballpark heaven. We are taking in the Yankees-Rays contest tonight, and the Mets-Braves game late Saturday afternoon. This is all weather permitting, of course. Not only is it a rainy day in Chicago, by NYC is supposed to get rain late tonight through Sunday. In any case, I'll be blogging from NYC this weekend, and will attempt to scout the Yanks for the Sox, who face them for an upcoming four-game series, and will do the same for the Cubs with the Mets, who they face for four games later this month.

Weather already has had its way with the Cubs-Astros series, as Hurricane Ike, arriving in Houston, forced the first two games of a weekend series to be postponed. The Cubs my fly down Saturday for a Sunday game and Monday double-header, or the games may take place at a neutral site. The break will let the Cubs refresh, though they now have a two-game winning streak after slipping by the Cards 3-2 last night.

The bad thing about the break is that it's the last one for this season, and I wonder if the Astros will make the Cubs pay by bringing Roy Oswalt back for a Monday game. The Astros are the hottest team in MLB since the All-Star break, but Oswalt is hotter, having pitched his second straight complete-game shut-out last night, and it would have been three in a row if Cecil Cooper had let him pitch the final 2/3 on the 9th inning in his 3-0 demoralizing of the Cubs in Wrigley Field on Labor Day.

Anyway, before the break, the Cubs again didn't muster much offense, but it was enough, their first two runs scored on a base-loaded walk and then an error, but we'll take what's given. The third run came on consecutive doubles by De-Ro and Mighty Mite, but with Fontenot on 2nd base and no outs, the Cubs couldn't manage to bring him home. Harden was mostly terrific, as usual; Marmol was shaky, but was helped by two fantastic game-saving catches by Al-So and Fukie; Woody was again not very good, but was helped by a bad slide into 3rd base that resulted in a very-close-call out. Woody had to get Pujols with the tying run at 2nd, and got him to harmlessly pop out to end this one. After Woody's bad September so far, that was a pleasant surprise. And, the Brewers lost.

The Sox need a break this weekend, and hopefully will be able to beat up on some Detroit pitching after losing the series finale to the Blue Jays last night 6-4. This was a stange one in that both Gavin Floyd and Jays starter Marcum were spotless until the 8th inning. All season, Floyd has been great for long stretches, with his mistakes and losses usually coming from one big, bad inning. Last night, he was extremely efficient with his pitch count until the 8th, when he gave up 4 runs during a 6-run rally by the Jays.

The Sox did what they could to come back, scoring 4 in the bottom of the inning off a homerun and 2-run double from Thome and JeDye, but it was too late in this one. Good news there is that the Twins lost, too. The Tigers come to town now, and though they score a lot of runs, their pitching has been awful. It will be interesting to see if this series is broken up somewhat by rain, as it expected throughout the weekend. Maybe, we'll see sunny days in October...

It's raining in NYC

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3:45 p.m. Eastern time--It's raining in NYC, just like it was raining in Chicago when the Commish and I left this morning for our NYC baseball stadium tour. Hopefully, the Yankees will get their game in tonight, or at least give us enough time to take in the atmosphere at that baseball shrine and visit the monuments before they postpone. If for some reason the game gets moved to tomorrow, we'll have an interesting day, trying to hit both Shea and that other ballpark in the Bronx. If they postpone until Sunday, we're sunk because we're headed back home at mid-day. Pray for the rain to end.

Closer than we would have liked

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I predicted the White Sox would do a little something against Roy Halladay and they did, scoring five runs off him without the benefit of a homer, which is encouraging rather than not. The final was 6-5, so the Sox just got by a hot Jays team, but more on that later.

A.J. and B.A. both had key two-out, run-scoring hits, and the Missile and Thome kept the line moving, too. Best of all, Buehrle was smooth, quieting a Blue Jays line-up that had won 10 in a row, and putting the Sox in position to split the series. The game only got terrifyingly close when Jenks gave up 3 runs in the top of the 9th. B.A.'s two-out insurance RBI turned out to be the difference. Jinxie's blow-up was not terribly re-assuring as the season winds down, though he struck out a great hitter, Alex Rios, with the tying run on 3rd to end it.

A supposed closer also gave the Cubs a scare/ Don't worry, the Cubs finally won 4-3 Wednesday night, though Woody came perilously close to guiding the Cubs to what would have been their 3rd straight bottom-9th loss. Woody was definitely throwing some heat, but a lot of it was right over the middle of the plate. He looked angry and in a hurry, and after giving up a double and a HR to Pujols and this year's unforseen star, Ryan Ludwick, he got the next batter, No-Name Phelps on a high fly that Phelps really could have smashed out of the park, such was the plate location of Woody's pitch.

I'm not complaining... not about the win at least. A win is a win is a win, Yogi should have said, and we'll take it. The Cubs again only managed to score in one inning early on, the 2nd, and didn't have any hits after the 5th inning. Also, two errors by Felipe Lopez actually helped the Cubs to 3 of their 4 runs, so a disturbing trend of a quiet offense continues. A-Ram is hitting well, though, and had 2 hits. Al-So threw out a man at home. Nice.

Someone else who looked angry and in a hurry was Ted Lilly. For the most part, that worked for him, as he got Cards hitters to swing into outs quickly, often early in hitters' counts. Lilly also pulled a Butkus move on Yadier Molina, trying, apparently against coach's advice, to score from 3rd on a grounder to 3rd in the 2nd inning. Not sure why Lilly took off--maybe he wanted to get back to the dugout and get ready for his next inning--but he was a dead duck. Unfortunately for Molina, he (Molina) stood square in front of the plate, probably expecting from Lilly a kindly acceptance of a gentle tag. Instead, Lilly leveled him, and the talented Molina later left the game.

Lilly was great through 8 IP, and a quick, confident performance was exactly what the Cubs needed from their starter, but curiosity lingers: Is anger the Cubs' new act? Is that the way you get back on track toward the World Series? I'm not so sure...

Fate and hunger

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Do you feel like fate, as usual, is having its way with the Cubs? Did fate give us just a taste of something incredible, and now it's making the Cubs choke? Perhaps fate is at work here, and if you are a fatalist, you will believe that the Cubs' September swoon is a sign they won't win it all this year, or may not even win at all the rest of the way.

But, another way to look at this swoon is that fate is influencing matters in a positive way: The Cubs are losing, but the Brewers are losing right along with them. The Cubs are still 4-1/2 games up in 1st place after losing another heartbreaker last night to the Cards 4-3, but the Brewers have having trouble handling the same Lowly Cinci team that so vexed the Cubs last weekend. Milwaukee lost 5-4 last night for the second straight game. So maybe what fate really has in store is a plan to kick the Cubs' butts until they find some true postseason hunger.

Last night, the scoring stopped for the Cubs in the 3rd inning, and they swung away for the next few innings like they felt a 3-0 lead was enough and the had a plane to catch after the game. Later, after Dempster gave up a 3-run HR to Pujols on a pretty meaty pitch, the Cubs had chances that were squandered by two double plays, one of them on a bunt by Geo, who is not a great candidate to bunt. I know, all players need to have that fundamental skill and need to deliever when called upon, but if you want a great bunt, bring in Reed Johnson or Fukie, someone who's done it successfully and has a little speed to spice things up. Geo is slow, and apparently not a great bunter. What he is: A .292 hitter who was 2 for 3 at the plate before that bunt.

The White Sox quietly lost both ends of a double header against Toronto (3-1 and 8-2), the hottest team this side of Houston. There wasn't much they could do against the Jays' starters, and it may look like it only gets worse tonight with Halladay on the mound for Toronto. But, I like the Sox' chances to scrape out some hits and runs against Halladay, and they can still split this series. They are 1 game up in first after the Piranhas won last night.

The most troubling aspect of last night's debacles was the loss of Paulie to what was called a sprained MCL, but looked a lot worse. Paulie really has been coming around, and it looked like he might fill the loss of power from CQ's injury.

The Sox offense was asleep in both games, almost nothing good at all to say except that Thome continues to play like he is hungry for a World Series ring, and JeDye is still delivering like he wants another one. The thing about Toronto's hot streak, which now stands at 9 wins in a row, is that the Jays believe they can make they play-offs. Though they have a great team, the odds really are against them unless Boston or Tampa completely falls apart, but one thing is certain: thos Blue Jays are hungry.

Rainy days and Mondays

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The White Sox were rained out last night, so I had the evening free to take casual interest in MNF and ponder the challenges both our teams face in getting to the World Series. For starters, the Sox need to at least split a four-game set against the surging Toronto Blue Jays, especially with the Piranhas, though sucking of late, facng the Lowly K.C. Royals this week.

With 20 games left and a 2.5 game lead, of course, the Sox need to win as often as possible, and probably need to win a series like this rather than split. But, it seems regardless of what happens, they have a date with destiny in Minnesota later this month. Barring a massive winning streak by the Sox and losing streak by the Piranhas to match, the season really comes down to the three-game set up north Sept. 23-25. Lots of Sox fans don't like that and don't want to hear about it, but they should embrace the notion, and the Sox should, too.

The Sox, despite the loss and unlikely return of CQ, are set up well for the run, with several players running hot right now and the bullpen healthy. The fun starts with today's make-up game.

The Cubs are in St. Louis starting tonight for three games. This would be a nice setting for Edmonds to rediscover whatever vitality he managed to find a few months back when it seemed the Cubs were about to cut him. Don't want to pin the poor offense of late on just two guys, but Edmonds and Fukie need to hit and make the Cubs feel good about their left-handed hitter options in order to string some wins together. Daryle Ward will get you a walk occasionally, but not much else. That leaves Hoffpauir and Mighty Mite as the most likely producers from the left side of the plate.

A sweep by the Cubs would send St. Lou stumbling further out of the wild card race, though it would help this weekend's Cubs opponent, Houston, strengthen its wild card position. That's the squeeze the Cubs are now, if a 1st place team could be said to be in a squeeze. With 100 percent of their remaining games against postseason hopefuls, winning every series is not incredibly likely. With 19 games left, the Cubs can go just 10-9 in their remaining games and probably still win the division, a scenario which would force the Beermakers to go 14-4 just to tie the Cubs for 1st. The Brewers are capable of better, but so are the Cubs. Both teams have stumbled.

So much for new beginnings

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You may have noticed--or maybe not--that there has been no talk of magic numbers here at SBW. We don't like to buy into that chatter with more than two weeks left in the season, unless a team is so far ahead , they can clinch earlier... and that definitely isn't the case with either of our teams this year, who both could very well end up need to win games during the last weekend of the season to determine postseason positions.

Case in point: The Cubs blew another game, this one in a most Cub-like fashion, 4-3. The key play was a tailor-made double play ball in the bottom of the 9th that took a bad hop on Cedeno at short and allowed the Reds to tie a game the Cubs had led 3-1 when the inning started. Shortly after that, Woody gave up a run-scoring single to end it.

Cedeno's got as good a glove as anyone--it's his hitting that makes me nervous, though the Cubs were only ahead in this one because of his 2-run double earlier. Bad bounces are bad bounces, and that's what this was. Blame Woody for this loss, with an assist from Jim Edmonds, whose 9th inning error put one of the runs in scoring position. That's 7 losses in the last 8 games, though I know no one needs to be reminded. Piniella didn't talk to reporters after this one, though I'm not sure how that helps or hinders anything. The Cubs players still insist they are a great team having a bad run. OK, we believe you. Now, let's get back to winning.

Unbelievably, the Cubs are stil 4 games up in 1st place, as the Beermakers lost to the Lowly Padres. The Cubs are still have a very good chance to make the postseason one way or another, but what kind of psychological state will they be in when they get there?

The Sox came very close to sweeping the Angels, but lost 3-2 on a strange play in the 8th. The Angels had the bases loaded with one out, and JeDye made a good catch of a tough fly ball, but was unable to nail the runner tagging from 3rd base. The strange part is that the ball was in foul territory, and JeDye could have let it drop harmlessly, and let pitcher Ehren Wasserman continue to take his chances against Garret Anderson, who is slow and a great double play candidate, but also is traditionally a great RBI man (Let us not forget his surprise HR Derby win during the 2003 MLB All-Star gala at The Cell.)

JeDye's move is getting some heavy media analysis today. I think for his great offensive contributions and sometime sterling defensive play, he occasionally under-plays balls hit into his range, and also occasionally has what you might call brain-farts in the field. Still, I don't think this was a brain-fart. I think with the Sox having a strong bullpen and two more at-bats left in this game, JeDye absolutely made the right decision. The Sox just couldn't stage a comeback this time around. In any case, the Piranhas lost again (!). The Sox are looking good, and the Piranhas are looking like the plain old Minnesota Twins.

A new beginning

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Who had a good feeling about last night's Cubs/Reds pitching match-up? That's right, you heard it here first that Marquis would have a strong outing and lead the Cubs out of their 6-game losing streak. OK, maybe Soriano's 3-HR performance had something to do with it, too. Marquis kept the game in hand despite an bases-loaded walk on a questionalble call that looked like it would get him tossed early.

The Cubs offense--AlSo, DeRo, D-Lee and the rest--scored in every inning after the 2nd, but in the end, the bullpen did a lot to make this one a more painful experience for some fans than the 14-9 final would indicate. Mrs. SBW and I were heading back from dinner and listening to the radio when the Cubs were ahead 11-1, and I made fun of Ronny for feeling nervous about the 10-run lead. Then, the Reds scored 4 runs in the 8th, and by the time D-Lee was up in the 9th with the bases loaded, the Mrs. was screaming at the radio demanding more runs. Again, I had to laugh with the Cubs still up 11-5 at the time, but Lee and then Mighty Mite together drove in 3 runs to make it 14-5, I felt good with Wuertz on the mound to start the 9th, giving Marmol a rest with a 9-run lead, but Wuertz loaded the bases and Marmol came in looking like someone woken up in the middle of the night. He promptly gave up a grand slam to Jolbert Cabrera (Who?), but then came to his senses.

Hopefully, the Cubs are back to their winning ways, though their tough road to October gets tougher later this week.

I hate giving the White Sox second billing today because their 7-6 15-inning victory was a hugely significant game (while we were in the car with the Reds scoring runs late against the Cubs, I was switching from 720 AM to 670 AM frequently to track both games.)

Not long after we got home and the Cubs had sealed their victory, Thome obliterated an 0-1 pitch for career HR No. 537 and a White Sox winner, a turn of events which I called from my own couch just before it happened (my dog is a witness). I couldn't tell whether Thome's smash landed on the right field consourse or not, but yes, it went that far. Jenks had given the Angels a 6-5 lead in the 9th after the Sox had tied the score in the 7th an a 2-run HR by Dirty 30. But, the Sox tied it off K-Rod in the bottom of the 9th, thereby keeping Thiggy's 57-save record safe a little longer (K-Rod has 54 saves and certainly will break the record, though he has been off lately.)

The Sox blew a great chance to win the the 10th, wasting a man on 3rd with no outs situation. A.J. again showed poor base-running choices in getting caught off 3rd base for the second out of the inning (Doug Eddings wasn't around to save him this time.) A.J. wasn't replaced with a pinch-runner presumably because Ozzie used both Wise and Owens as PRs in the 9th (Owens getting himself thrown out at 2nd after doing a delayed tag-up from 1st base on the sac fly that scored the tying run.)

Despite the base-running gaffes, the bullpen was in lock-down mode. Even Jenks pitch a strong 10th after his bad 9th. But, Matt Thornton was more impressive, pitching 2-2/3 scoreless innings and Ehren Wasserman got the Sox out of a 14th inning jam--and got the win--by de-clawing the aging but still dangerous Vlad Guerrero.

The Piranhas lost, so the Sox are 2-1/2 games up in 1st place. They have already won the series against the postseason-ready Angels, and go for the sweep today. Both of our teams suddenly look fresh with new beginnings.

We're going streaking!

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Yes, the Cubs are still losing, this time finding a way to lose before the game was half over, getting pounded by the Lowly Reds 10-2. This one looked like a bad match-up from the start with Lilly going to the mound (he's now 0-4 with an 8.15 ERA against Cinci this season after getting tagged with 5 runs in 2 IP Friday night.)

No offense again. The Cubs are hitting so little that Koyie Hill, the catcher now know more for his mangled hand than anything else, drove in both runs (though the second only scored because uber-rookie Jay Bruce, who earlier in the game hit a grand slam, bobbled the ball, so no RBI). much was made of Piniella and Sinatro getting lost on the drive to Cincinnati from Chicago, just the kind of thing you might think would lighten up the mood and loosen up the team a little, but it only served as ample metaphor for how the Cubs are losing their way.

Tonight, Marquis goes against Cueto, which most nights would otherwise be described as a match-up of a middling, inconsistent veteran and an incredibly talented rookie, but for some reason, I'm feeling good about this game. Marquis looked strong last time out, and Cueto is coming off a sore elbow. The Cubs have to win sometime...

And now, for a much more enjoyable analysis of a 10-2 game: The White Sox didn't let a possible season-ending injury to their best hitter bring them down as they opened a weekend series against the play-off-bound Angels. CQ was out for the first of many games, but Junior had 2 RBI, Uribe tapped his occasional power streak for a pair of 2-run HRs and Paulie hit another round-tripper as he gradually works his way back to normal. Buehrle was unscored-upon for 6 IP with an uncharacteristic 7 Ks. And, Linebrink is back and looked pretty good.

CQ has been getting criticism for breaking his wrist against his bat as he was punishing himself for missing a pitch against Clieff Lee in Cleveland. Don't get on him too much though, for a freak injury. I have seen other players, such as Zambrano and Geo on the Northside, break bats after poor at-bats, which is much more dangerous and unnecessary. You see some guys get so upset, you wonder how they can keep their focus the rest of the game. CQ was doing something anyone with a competitive streak would do in the same situation, and which he noted he has cone many times over the years. Unfortunately, fate took over.

Meanwhile, Uribe, for all his expendability earlier this season, has proven to be a key part of this club yet again, particularly with Joe "My achin' back" Crede now done for the season, according to the Great and Powerful Oz. The Sox won big, and have tougher match-ups the next two games, but a little of the swagger that the Cubs lost recently has re-emerged on the Southside.

Injury report

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Is it possible that injuries to star players on both the Cubs and the Sox could threaten our dream of a Windy City World Series? Zambrano has tendinitis, and now comes the news that Carlos Quentin, AL HR leader and our town's best candidate for a league MVP award (sorry A-Ram), will be out at least a couple weeks with a broken wrist. Can he come back in time to make a difference?

After both teams have come so far, injuries were the last thing we expected to possibly derail post-season hopes. But, make no mistake: The Cubs and Sox are still both in it, and better than that, they are both in the driver's seat in their respective divisons. CQ's absence may hurt the Sox more than Zammy's short leave from the Cubs, assuming Zammy doesn't take a turn for the worse, and further assuming Harden doesn't miss too much time with his own pains. At times, CQ has been the Sox offense, amazing in that he wasn't expected to even be a factor on this team. Also, the Sox are only a game up in 1st place and must win their division, whereas the Cubs have some flexibility to lose a few (more) games. The acquisition of Junior may prove fortuitous for the Sox if he can pick up the slack offensively (though we really need the Junior of 10 summers ago).

Skidding and standing firm

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The Cubs are still skidding and not even looking good doing it, getting shut out Wednesday night 4-0 by the resurgent Astros. Dempster wasn't bad, but he needed to be perfect and also supply his own runs, with the offense back in slumber after Tuesday's 7-run output. We're not in panic mode here, no more than we were yesterday, anyway.

We're still believing this is just a bump in the road on the way to making the play-offs, regardless of how the division race ends, and with Zammy now out until at least next week with tendinitis (could have been worse) we might want to couch things in exactly those terms. On to Cinci!

With the Piranhas skidding, the Sox are in 1st place alone, standing firm and awaiting the Angels' visit tomorrow. Hope it stops raining by then.

September to mis-remember

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Pardon the time off--I was waiting to have something good to say, and finally I do: The White Sox just beat Cleveland 4-2, escaping town with a win and winning for the second time in their last six games. The story was solid pitching by Vazquez and a 1-2/3-inning, two-double-play save by no longer rusty Bobby Jenks. the Missile and Dirty 30 had HRs.

More importantly, everybody looked loose in this one. Last week, there was a call for more urgency and intensity, but maybe this Sox team is tougher to beat when it isn't trying so hard to find its inner strength. The Sox had been shut out on Labor Day, but the victimizer was likely Cy Young winner Cliff Lee, who won his 20th game. Last night's 9-3 downfall was tougher to take, as Danks tanked again and th Sox left 10 men on base. But, the bright spots were Dirty 30 and Paulie, who are both getting better at the plate. And... the Piranhas lost last night, so things are looking up... a little.

What's worse than leaving 10 men on base? 12, which is how many the Cubs stranded in a tough 9-7 11-inning loss Tuesday. After three games in which they had barely mustered any offense--peaking in a 3-0 loss when Mrs. SBW and I were in attendance on Labor Day--the Cubs had 15 hits, but could only bring 7 home. Geo, Edmonds, DeRo and AlSo (yes, Soriano) all hit HRs and there were even some other non-single run-scoring hits by The-Riot and Mighty Mite.

But, after Zammy left (more on that later) in the 5th with the score tied 3-3, the bullpen--more specifically Howry--couldn't hold. Woody gave up a game-winning 2-run HR to ex-Sox World Series hero Geoff Blum, but after multiple innings in which the Cubs left the winning run stranded, it didn't seem like such a surprise. Woody actually was otherwise good, striking out 4 in 2 IP, as was Marmol, who had 2 IP and came away clean. Fortunately for the Cubs, the Brewers lost their last two.

Well, the Cubs have now matched their longest losing streak of the season at 4. Hopefully, the fact reminds them of how good they really are.

Now, about Zammy. His 5 IP were by no means great, but he looked better than he had in recent games. But after the game, word come out that he "didn't feel good." When pressed, Lou said, according to the papers, "I think it's his arm." Do you really think so?

Zammy was supposed to be examined today, but no news yet on how that turned out. But, I bet Lou's right--it's his arm.

Is it too soon to start Samardzija?

Laboring for wins

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The White Sox finally toughed out a win in Boston. Even with a 4-1 lead in the 9th, I was squirming a little as the ball was handed to Rusty Jenks, but he allowed minimal damage and saved the victory, getting White Sox-killer Dustin Pedroia (who had gone 8 for 8 in the previous two games against the Paler Hose) to fly out with the tying run on 2nd base. Your final: 4-2, leaving the White Sox 1/2 game up in 1st place as the Piranhas cam to their senses and beat the A's.

Gavin Floyd was fantastic in his 15th win and Thome pounded career HR No. 536, tying him with Mickey Mantle. Speaking of The Mick, my Sox-crazy friend The Commish and I will be heading out to NYC in a couple weeks to pay our respects to Yankee Stadium and Shea Stadium in their final days. Hoping to make it to make it to Mickey's Mantle's Restaurant, too. Expect some "Live from New York" posts the weekend of Sept. 12-14.

Getting out of Boston with at least 1 win was huge as the Sox prepare to face-off with Cleveland, a team which suddenly remembered it was supposed to be good this year. The Sox need to remind them their season is actually over.

Meanwhile, the Cubs lost their 2nd consecutive game at home for just the third time this year against a solid Phillies team, as Zambrano missed his start with a tired arm. Ugh--but again, the bigger story was that the Cubs left numerous men in scoring position. The 5-3 final makes it 4 of 5 games in which the Cubs have failed to score more than 3 runs, the exception in the run being A-Ram's grand slam in last Thursday night's comeback victory.

The red-hot Astros come to town today, and Mrs. SBW and I will be taking in the late-afternoon contest from the upper reaches, where hopefully we'll still feel a stray breeze or two with the temperature expected to hit 90. Marquis vs. Oswalt is not a match-up I like late in the year, as Oswalt always finishes strong, but it's definitely time for the powerful Cubs offense to come back to life. After the Reds, the Astros are probably the second-worst team the Cubs will face the rest of the way, but even the Astros are arguably still in the wild card race.

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