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October 2008 Archives

Your 2009 Chicago White Sox

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I was waiting a while to post my thoughts on what the off-season may have in store for the White Sox, partly because I couldn't get over how quickly White Sox GM Kenny Williams tried to promote Chris Getz as a starting second baseman next season. Within a day after the ALDS-concluding Game 4 loss, the papers speculated on the Sox' plans for 2009, and Williams strategically mentioned the injured and somewhat forgotten Getz as a possible key figure next year.

That's assuming everyone's favorite new player, Alexei Ramirez, moves to shortstop with the departure of free agent Orlando Cabrera. This is the one change for next year that everyone seems to agree will happen.

The other news of the past week that had me re-thinking various scenarios was Junior Griffey's knee surgery and the likelihood that he will play another year somewhere. Would the Sox consider picking up his option and operating a power/speed platoon of Junior and B.A. or Jerry Owens (remember him?) in center field? I'm probably the only one who feels this way, but I still kinda like the idea of a healthier Junior hitting in The Cell. But, with the reality of the rest of the line-up, it's not going to happen.

Since I lasted posted, my friend The Commish weighed in with potential conservative and aggressive designs on the 2009 Sox. I like his idea of pursuing Willy Taveras a lot, and that's just the kind of speedy CF and lead-off man the Sox need to play Ozzie Ball. He had a bad year hitting in Colorado (.251) but still stole 68 bases. Take a few more pitches and bunt a little more, and he could end up with 80 SBs. I agree the Sox would need to ship Dirty 30 to make it happen, which would be fine, though the Rockies could want one of our young pitchers and a speedy outfielder (B.A., Dewayne Wise, Owens?) instead. Dirty 30 will have a better 2009 than his horrible 2009, but I would still rather see the first deal than the second.

However, trading 1B/OF Swisher would make it harder to do another attractive deal--moving Paulie to the Angels, as The Commish suggests in his more aggressive scenario, for crafty, speedy, useful lead-off man Chone Figgins. I think it would be a coup, and would give the Sox their 2B replacement for the Missile.

There's also a possibility, however, that the Sox may re-commit to Paulie the way that he has promised to re-commit to getting in better shape for next year. If they did somehow trade both Swisher and Paulie, it would be imperative for them to sign a 1B free agent like Kevin Millar or Tony Clark (forget Texeira). Thome is no longer a full-season option at 1B.

That's a lot of different pieces falling into place. If Paulie-for-Figgy doesn't happen, you still need to fill that 2B spot, if only because there are proven second baseman better than Getz on the free agent market:

Orlando Hudson
Mark Loretta
Mark Ellis
Ray Durham (!)

Then, there's the issue of 3B--re-sign Joe Crede or take a shot with Josh Fields or Juan Uribe who somehow manages to keep providing enough value to hang around? Could the Sox do the above deals AND sign a free-agent second baseman, which would move Figgins to 3B? Wow... I don't see all this falling into place at all. Here's my three different scenarios:

Your 2009 Chicago White Sox starting line-up

Likely version:

CF Taveras
SS Ramirez
LF Quentin
DH Thome
RF Dye
1B Konerko
C A.J.
2B Getz
3B Fields or Uribe

Radical version:

2B Figgins
DH Thome
LF Quentin
RF Dye
C A.J.
SS Ramirez
CF Taveras
1B Millar or Clark
3B Fields or Uribe

Totally radical version:

3B Figgins
2B Hudson or Loretta
LF Quentin
DH Thome
RF Dye
C A.J.
SS Ramirez
1B Millar or Clark
CF Taveras

In my likely version, I want to be clear that I think Kenny is sticking to this idea of Getz starting at 2B despite the other possibilities. If he then pushes hard for Taveras and gets him, he'll call the off-season a success and watch his own free agents go bye-bye. That would be a step in the right direction, but not what the Sox will need to win it all next year. Move Paulie while you can and pack the line-up with speed.

One last thing: Jake Peavy apparently is available. Trading young pitchers and position players for him sounds like a Kenny Williams move, but Peavy I think would not do as well in The Cell or in the A.L. Could the Sox, as The Commish says, trade Gavin Floyd, maybe Clayton Richard and others for Peavy? If not, I predict the sox will have three southpaws--Buehrle, Danks and Richard--in the starting rotation next year.

Your 2009 Chicago Cubs

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Consider this the first of many off-season posts on the subject of how our teams could shape up for next season...

It was ironic that Alfonso Soriano said after the Cubs' NLDS disaster that part of the problem was the team's "make-up," since it is Al-So who is one of the albatrosses in the line-up. I would like to trade him, as Sox fan Paul Reis suggests, even for just a couple of young supporting players, but who wants him without the Cubs paying most of his contract off? Could he be part of a Brian Roberts deal? Could he be sent to Atlanta, a team that, aside from Chipper Jones, is full of utility men and could use a power-hitting left-fielder enough that they would let him hit lead-off? Toronto, which desparately wants access to the A.L. East race?

I would like to see it happening, but I don't see it happening. So, what about other possible trades? Everyone's upset with the second albatross, Fukudome, but he's almost as untradeable as Soriano. I think teams like the Sox, Yankees, Oakland and others with a keen interest in plate patience, strong defense and good base-running skills, could be interested, but probably wouldn't part with much, would demand more than just Fukudome and would need contract help from the Cubs. The thing is, Fukudome could prove to have a much better second year if he makes a few adjustments, or the Cubs can get him to spend some time at AAA or in an off-season hitting program. I wouldn't give up on him just yet.

Then, there's Jason Marquis. I could see Marquis having value in big parks like Detroit or Seattle, or maybe Baltimore, but it might be good to keep him if Samarzdija isn't ready for a starting role.

More radical trade ideas: Derrek Lee, Marquis and Ronny Cedeno to the Orioles for Brian Roberts, Kevin Millar and whoever else they are willing to give; Soriano and Samarzdija to the Rockies for Matt Holliday; Soriano OR Lee to Toronto for OF Adam Lind, RHP Brandon League and LHP Brian Tallet (all up-and-comers).

Why the pre-occupation with trading D-Lee? Despite brief glimpses at greater potential, he's a low .290s hitter with his best power and speed years behind him at age 33. Yet, he could prove very valuable for a team that needs a 1B with a reliable bat, plate patience and a good glove. He does have a no-trade clause, and probably would rather go home to California than East or North, but maybe he would wave it for a welcoming situation where there wasn't a 100-year burden on everyone's back.

I also don't see the Cubs spending much money of the free agent market after the spending of the last couple years, the realization that free agent spending hasn't brought postseason success and the questions surrounding the timing of the team's sale in a crappy economic climate. I wouldn't be surprised is Jim Hendry is hand-cuffed by the Tribune company from spending much beyond what's needed to extend Harden (done) and re-sign Dempster, Woody and maybe Tatts Blanco. That would mean good-bye to Jim Edmonds, Daryle Ward and Bob Howry, among others. The departure of the first two is seen as likely by many people, but Howry, I think, needs to re-start--again--somewhere else.

Could the Cubs use a free agent like Mark Texeira if they move D-Lee? Definitely. Could they use a free agent like Raul Ibanez if they somehow ship Soriano or Fukudome? Absolutely. Interesting scenarios, but unlikely.

A couple lower-cost free agent signings could include a Howry replacement like Jorge Julio (3.60 ERA, 34 Ks in 30 IP for the Braves this year), and a southpaw specialist--maybe Brian Shouse (2.81 ERA for the Brewers this year). These guys are not total studs, but that is sort of the point.

What other positions are in question? Well, there's manager. I know, Lou's deal was extended to 2010--before the NLDS fiasco that made him look like the rickety old man he appears to be every time he drags his butt out to the mound. Lou's package of confidence-building, occasional risk-taking and subtle line-up tinkering is a big part of what drove the Cubs to two straight division titles. Yet, as the pressure builds again next year, I wouldn't be surprised if we start to see more of crotchity Lou, the one who showed up in Tampa more often than not. I'll say right now I do not think that extension will be fulfilled for one of three possible reasons: 1) The Cubs finish out of division contention next year 2) The Cubs win the division and lose again in the NLDS 3) The Cubs win the World Series. The first two scenarios I think could result in a situation where Lou gets fed up and wants to leave as much as the Cubs (be then under a new owner) want to him to leave. Under the third, Lou decides he can't do any better and it was just to darn stressful, so the Cubs agree to let him retire--oh, and with teh Cubs having won it all, the planet explodes, and there is no 2010 season anyway...

Your 2009 Chicago Cubs starting line-up

Likely version:
LF Soriano
SS Theriot
1B Lee
3B Ramirez
C Soto
RF DeRosa
2B Fontenot
CF Fukudome/Johnson

Radical version:
2B Fontenot (.395 OBP this year)
SS Theriot (the Cajun Connection!)
LF Soriano (Ks dip, HRs and BBs up)
3B Ramirez (More solo HRs, but same overall RBIs)
1B Lee (fading, but still potent N0. 5)
C Soto (they'll pay for walking D-Lee)
RF DeRosa (still streaky good, great value at No. 7)
CF Johnson (Fukie backs up, occasionally starts vs. righties or gets demoted)

Radically unrealistic overhauled-by-trade version:
2B Brian Roberts (Mighty Might again a Sub-Cub)
SS Theriot (some things never change)
3B Ramirez (sees great pitches)
LF Holliday (.388, 74 HRs, 192 RBIs--and has no problem not hitting lead-off)
C Soto (lots of solo HRs)
1B Hoffpauir/Millar (Hoff's power + Millar's fun = D-Lee forgotten)
RF DeRosa (finally settles into one position)
CF Johnson (With Fukie traded, Reed says, "Hey guys, what about me?")

The fan in me

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I would have rooted for the Cubs. If you really know me, it probably comes as no surprise that, had the Cubs and White Sox met in the World Series this year, I would have rooted for the Cubs. I would have done it as a return to abandoned childhood allegiance, and also for my father, a true-blue Cubs fan who passed away last January and was unable to experience the amazing, eventful, sad-but-not-too-sad 2008 Cubs season.

I abandoned the Cubs at some point within a few years after the 1984 season. I know it's hard for Cubs fans who don't remember or weren't around for that season, but the play-off collapse that year, with the Cubs up two games, was far worse than what happened this year and in 2003 (when, many of us conveniently have forgotten, the Cubs were long-shots to begin with). I was heart-broken and felt all the other feelings that a lot of Cubs fans are expressing now.

But, over the next few years, attending a few Cubs games here and there while going to my first few Sox games, the heartache started to turn into a sense of pity for the entitlement that I had felt as a Cubs fan in 1984. You don't get to win simply because you want it badly, because you haven't won in a while, or because your ballpark is a really fun place to hang out. You don't get to win because you've lost badly before, or unfairly (in your eyes), or because you feel the experience of rooting for your team contains some essential magic. Baseball is magical. Baseball is fun. Baseball is tough. Baseball is real. Good teams win, and great teams beat them.

When the experience of rooting for a team starts to be more about desperation and entitlement than anything else, it ceases to be worthwhile. It saddens me to see a lot of Cubs fans still wearing their entitlement on their sleeves after this year's postseason failure.

I started to have more fun watching the Sox than I did watching the Cubs because a ballgame on the Southside was just a ballgame. It wasn't a small thing, mind you. It was important and loaded with implications, but it did not feel so burdened by past events, or by fear, or by fate, or by entitlement.

Anyway, that was years ago, and in the years since, my appreciation of the Sox has grown, and my appreciation for the Cubs has gradually returned. The people who have become involved in the Cubs as players, coaches and management truly have begun to change the perception of the team as a bunch of lovable losers. This has been especially clear in recent years under Jim Hendry, who really won me over when he made critical mid-season moves in 2003.

The Cubs and Sox both annoy me on occasion, but that's part of being a fan. Because I come from a generation before interleague play, I could always compartmentalize my passion for both teams. It's a lot harder to that now. I want them both to win. If they ever do meet in the World Series, I probably still would root for the Cubs though I wonder if that would change if the Cubs had already won a World Series by then. I don't know. I sometimes wonder if the Cubs were to win the World Series in the next few years against anyone, would I finally leave them behind? I don't think so. Like the Sox, they are a Chicago team, and I'm a Chicagoan. A fan of Chicago baseball.
Sorry, folks, problems with Blogger again yesterday morning prevented me from making some timely comments on our city's one, very lonely postseason win. As it turned out, there wasn't much time to enjoy the celebration after the White Sox' 5-3 Game 3 ALDS win over the Rays, as barely 24 hours later, those same Rays were celebrating their first play-off series victory on our own carpet.

But, let's not gloss over Game 3: Danks proved to be the big-game pitcher we knew he could be. He mostly mowed down a Rays line-up that no one else seemed to have an answer for, striking out seven in 6.2 IP. The few jams he got himself into, he managed is way out of, and was one out from notching 7 IP when he gave up a two-run shot to B.J. Upton, who had been silent the whole series until then. For once, the Sox bullpen held, as Matt Thornton and Bobby Jenks kept the Rays in check the rest of the way.

Ozzie was aggressive with the base-running plan, unless it was all the players. With the bases jammed with piano movers (Thome on 3rd, Paulie on 2nd, Junior on 1st), the Missile hit a sacrifice fly. Thome scored, but the real surprise was seeing Paulie, who seriously must be the slowest man in the league, tag and take 3rd, while Junior, whose aged thickening around the middle belies his nickname, took off and made it to second. They may have both been seriously winded, but their improved position helped them score on a double by DeWayne Wise, who might have been ALDS MVP in a parallel universe. It's hard to believe the Great and Powerful Oz didn't have something to do with the tag-up calls, but he didn't let on after the game that this was the case, and in true Ozzie fashion, blabbed that he thought Junior didn't actually tag.

Wise also had a stolen base, and so did B.A., who replaced Junior in the sixth when the future HOFer walked. I thought at the time that with Junior building a nice afternoon with two hits and a walk, Ozzie was really taking a chance removing his bat from the line-up so early against the comeback-kid Rays, but it proved to be a golden move when Juan Uribe came up with a two-out hit that scored B.A.

Game 3 was great overall effort, and the Sox looked as ready for big things as they did going into Game 163 the week before...

The Commish and I were at Game 4, sitting in the upper tank, and I have to say it is a very strange experience watching another team celebrate like that on your field. Painful, yes, but almost more strange than painful, as it's a bit like watching a silent movie (at least for those of us too far up to hear what the Rays were probably yelling and laughing about) or maybe a car crash on the other side of the expressway. The Rolling Black Out tried to keep emotions high throughout yesterday's contest, even with a four-run deficit that looked like an eight-run spread the way the Sox were hitting (which is to say, not much), but by the bottom of the 9th, there was mostly a lot of sighing, and I have never heard a ballpark more quiet than when the fans were exiting and the Rays were dancing for the cameras around the pitcher's mound, celebrating their 6-2 victory. The most touching moment may have been when the handful of fans still left starting cheering "Let's go, White Sox!" as Bobby Jenks and a couple other bullpen pitchers made their way across left field toward the clubhouse. The Sox were done, but the appreciation wasn't.

The Sox offense never had it yesterday against Andy Sonnanstine, one of those guys with a 4+ ERA who suddenly becomes unhittable in the postseason because everyone is too amped up to wait for his 78 mph junk. The last time I saw the Sox flail this badly was in Game 1 of the 2005 ALCS (yes, the only loss of the play-offs) against well-traveled junkball tosser Paul Byrd.

Unfortunately, Gavin Floyd couldn't stay even, giving up 2 HRS to Upton in two straight at-bats. In the 4th inning, the ex-Cub factor reared its head when Cliff Floyd doubled home a run and later score. The Great and Powerful Oz pulled Floyd for young Clayton Richard, who managed 3 IP, 1 ER in another performance that suggests a 5th rotation spot may be in his future. Octavio Dotel turned in an out-less performance and was charged with a run, but the damage was done. All the Sox could muster were solo HRs by Paulie and JeDye in a toothless, four-hit attack.

Some fans on the train ride North tried to keep it together by bragging that the Sox had lasted longer than the Cubs this postseason, but for most, the 3-1 ALDS series provides little to console. What's at stake is so much bigger than cross-town rivalries, as this postseason has painfully made clear. SBW began with the hope, now brutally dashed, that we would see our "great in 2008" Cubs and Sox teams meet for the MLB title. We're embarrassed about the end result, but we'll continue to carry the torch for both teams into the off-season and into 2009. Check back in the days to come as we talk about potential off-season moves for both teams, and list some of our favorite moments from the season that was.

One more thing: I said I would tell you on the eve of the Windy City World Series who I would root for, the Cubs or the Sox. I guess I don't have to tell you now, but I will... my next post.

Dream deferred

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There will be no Windy City World Series this year. There will be no Chicago Cubs in the World Series this year. Swings Both Ways will, true to form, still root for the White Sox to at least get our city a postseason win today, but let's have a moment of silence for a Cubs team that was darn good, but not good enough, at least not in their final three games.

"How can we not be cursed?" That's what one sad Cubs fan said in today's Trib. It is hard in the early hours of Sunday morning (Yes, the glorious sun has risen again...) to think about the last two seasons and postseasons and not feel that way, but after the hangover fades, remember this: The wait and the expectation for a championship carries no value whatsoever, so forget about it. You are entitled to nothing. Your willingness to vent your misery so openly and dramatically only gives the gawkers reason to look--it cannot affect anything that happens on the field. Enjoy what happens on the field for as long as it is enjoyable. If you believe in anything, believe in the moment--and not that the departed souls of Cubs fans crowding heaven will light the way to the promised land. Being great in the regular season doesn't guarantee anything. A five-game play-off series is filled with pressure unlike anything else in the regular season and postseason. There is little time to execute, little time to make up for mistakes.

The Cubs were swept out out of the NLDS and the postseason 3-1 by the Dodgers, a Dodgers team that looks almost nothing like it did July 31. This not only speaks to the addition of Manny (who is like a dreadlocked version of Roy Hobbs, hitting, as The Commish noted in a text last night, at will) but also Casey Blake, the return of Rafael Furcal (who played like an MVP earlier this year before getting hurt), not to mention the replacement of Jeff Kent with the speedier, craftier, better-fielding Angel Berroa/Blake DeWitt combo. There was also an unheralded career .303 hitter named James Loney, who Cubs pitchers might have forgotten about amid the pressure of dealing with Manny.

Yes, the Dodger are good, but the Cubs made a lot of mistakes. They made six errors in three games. There were also mistakes that didn't officially count as errors, but were errors--Mighty Mite's poor throw from the cut-off post last night that allowed Manny to score when he should have been out with the score stuck at 1-0; A-Ram's apparent poor tag of Russell Martin sliding into 3rd base earlier that inning (it may have been a bad call, but waiting for Martin to slide into the tag only creates an opportunity for a bad call). Had those two things not happened, the game remains 0-0. Still, Rich Harden didn't have his best stuff.

Offensively, the Cubs came up short throughout the series, straight through the entire game last night. Hideki Kuroda is very good, always providing very limited opportunity for homers and walks (as the Cubs could attest from being shut-out by him earlier this year), but he was not as good last night. The Cubs managed six hits off him (and eight for the night, more than the Dodgers for the second time in this NLDS), and forced two walks but couldn't come through with run-scoring hits (the only run coming off the bat of Sub-Cub Daryle Ward with two outs in the 8th inning). D-Lee hit .545 (!) in this series and was 3-4 last night, but Soriano and A-Ram aseemed unable to hit in key situations in all three games, and Soto didn;t have ROTY-like numbers in the postseason. Soriano might be the biggest disappointment, making a lot of Cubs fans yearn for a real lead-off hitter. Ultimately, the team that had more five-runs-plus innings during the regular season than any other could not manage to score five runs in a game during the postseason.

The Cubs were the winningest team in the National League this year, and if you want to believe in fate, then that fact may have fated the Cubs to lose: Phil Rogers points out in today's Trib that nine times in the last 14 years, the winningest team in its league has failed to advance past the first round.

I can't argue with a lot of the choices Lou made. I do wish he was a bit more urgent to change pitchers in a few situations, and to bring in pinch-hitters at other times, but perhaps all of that only comes from hindsight. It is pretty bad that the best Cubs pitcher in the final month of the season, Ted Lilly, didn't make it into this series at all. How did that happen? Was Lou afraid he would throw his glove? I wonder if he could have made a difference starting Game 2--though Zammy wasn't bad, Lilly's gritty tough-guy act on the mound might have calmed the bumbling Cubs fielders more than Zammy's outward fretfulness--or maybe relieving early in Game 1 when it was obvious Dempster was stumbling. If the Cubs have a pitcher that good on the bench in a five-game series on don't use him, maybe the lesson is each game needs to be managed like it's do-or-die. Bring that starter in the moment the first guy shows he doesn't have his stuff. Coaches and players from all teams hate to use that phrase--do-or-die--but maybe it's the only way this sort of Cubs team can gain the play-off edge. It will be another year before we have the chance to find out.

So, there is still another Chicago team in the postseason, and they are playing at home today with a decent chance to stave off being swept like the Cubs. The Sox seem to do OK in do-or-die games lately. Maybe they can still keep part of the SBW dream alive.

Fade to black out

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The Sox started ALDS Game 2 against the Rays in encouraging fashion. After the 1st inning ended, I felt the same way I did after the top of the 3rd in Game 1--which should have been my first warning. The Sox had a 2-0 lead after the 1st, they had hit well, moved runners and used plate patience, making young Scott Kazmir throw something like 40 pitches. They left the bases loaded, but it seemed like a sign of good things to come. In the bottom half of the first Buehrle looked like his usual self, working fast and not wasting pitches.

But, the Rays fought back, and even though the Sox kept putting guys on base--in every inning but one, and they had two men on bases in three separate innings--they couldn't grind out another run against Kazmir, or Balfour, or J.P. Howell or even more interesting-than-good submariner Chad Bradford. Balfour and Howell in particular were nasty in getting out of jams, and made me wonder if the Rays have some kind of training program that encourages their pitchers to jabber to themselves on the mound--in any case, it seems to work. Sox hitters argued some called strikes, but honestly, they just seemed fooled by some good breaking pitches.

Buehrle toughed it out, minimizing a 2nd inning attack by the Rays by closing out the inning with a double play and yielding only one run. Later though, he gave up a 2-run, opposite-field HR to lefty Akinori Iwamura (nice to at least someone from Japan doing well in the postseason). It was almost more a nice piece of hitting by Iwamura than it was a real mistake by Buehrle.

The Rays broke it open in the 8th, with Buehrle still in and under 100 pitches, but getting ineffective. I know Ozzie wanted to wait until the last possible moment to go to the pen, but in this instance, Buehrle quickly gave up a triple and a single to score a run. Dotel and Thornton couldn't stop the bleeding before the Rays worked up the eventual final score, 6-2.

So, the Sox are now down 0-2 and headed back to The Cell. After failing to steal Game 1, and missing a pretty good chance to take Game 2, it will be Danks vs. Matt Garza in Game 3 tomorrow. Garza is talented, but can be had when he's not pitching in the dome. I don't know how often Sox fans want to resort to the black out (is it the next Rally Monkey?), but in any case, tomorrow's big game would be a great time for some Southside energy.

It can't get much worse

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It can't get much worse for the Cubs, and I mean that quite literally: If they lose again, there are no more games left. What will happen in Game 3? Will Harden's arm fall off? Will the Cubs suffer sun stroke from being out in the field so long? Will Piniella and Sinatro get lost on the L.A. freeways, end up in San Diego instead, and decide not to come back?

The Cubs aren't that cursed. They aren't cursed at all. They just play like it. Two years running, they have played in October like the weight (or wait) of the world is upon them--and is upon anyone who chooses to feel it (somebody should hire a hypnotist, not a priest). Piniella was right when he said Games 1 and 2 of the NLDS were the two worst games the Cubs played all year. They were the two worst since Game 3 of the NLDS last year, when they completely rolled over after losing Games 1 and 2.

So, were the 2003 Cubs that good? They won six play-off games and were really close to winning a seventh, losing the NLCS to a team with a better record that eventually won the World Series pretty handily. Is true you need to play your way right into the play-offs to keep your edge? That is only part of the recipe, of course, as the 1998 Cubs and this year's Milwaukee Brewers and Chicago White Sox will tell you. The other part is--I don't know, but it's roughly got something to do with just playing like you know you can.

The Cubs dropped and booted four balls in Game 2, becoming the first team ever to post four errors in an NLDS game. Zambrano, who we were so worried about, was actually pretty good, striking out seven and giving up 3 earned runs. Unfortunately, the Dodgers scored a total of 10 runs--seven while Zammy was in the mound--in winning 10-3. And let's not let Zammy totally off the hook for this one--he's got to step up after errors and minimize the damage; instead, he maximized it.

The Cubs are hitting OK, not great, but enough to score a few runs late in this one. De-Ro, despite committing perhaps the most signifiant error of the four, had two RBI for the second game in a row. Here's some positive thinking: If the Cubs come back and win the NLDS, maybe De-Ro will take MVP honors. D-Lee had two hits (and an error), and Edmonds had an RBI (and showed his age in the field by taking eons to reach a couple balls). The weak spots in the offense: Fukie is done after going 0 for 8 in the series so far, and I was surprised Piniella even started him in this one. he at least might have hit for him after it became clear last night's game would not be one in which pristine fielding was much valued. Theriot (error) also came up empty last night, and Soriano is now 1 for 9 in Gmes 1 and 2. Al-So, of course, is not your typical lead-off hitter, which is never more apparent than the games in which the Cubs just need to scratch out a few runs. True, he won some games for the Cubs this year with his bat, but against Dodger pitching, it has been a liability. By the way, with Mighty Mite likely to start in Game 3, I wouldn't mind seeing Reed Johnson, suddenly a forgotten man, in Game 3, too.

There is both much more to say, and not much else to say. We'll go with the latter: Harden pitches tomorrow night for the Cubs. He proved to be a great second-half acquisition, though he has struggled lately. He's 1-2 in the postseason, though he only started one of those games, I believe. Again, positive thinking: Rich Harden in a pitcher's park against a lot of hitters who haven't seen him (Manny is 1 for 8, 1 HR; Casey Blake is 0 for 1; Nomar hitless as far as I could tell) is a good thing. The Dodger's Kuroda doesn't walk a lot of guys, so the Cubs will need to hit. Getting away from the scene of the crime might help, and if they win Game 3, Lilly, their best pitcher in the last month, will go in Game 4.

What else? The Cubs' regular season record was 13 wins better than the Dodgers' record, but this is such a different Dodgers team than they played earlier in the year. The Cubs have been bad, but L.A. has been pretty darn good.

And after all that, there's still the White Sox to talk about. They had me feeling good all the way until the bottom of the 3rd inning. They eventually lost 6-4. Actually, concern about Javy Vazquez starting this game was tremendously mitigated by a quick 1st inning, and a 2nd inning in which he let the lead-off man homer, but then powered through the next two guys with strikeouts. 4 Ks in 2 IP kinda sounded like the Vaz of 2007, but there is a Vaz difference (you know I'd go there, eventually) between the Vaz of 2007 and the one we've seen in 2008, especially lately.

DeWayne Wise came up with another surprising homer, this one a three-run shot that put the Sox up 3-1 in the top of the 3rd. I was listening on the radio at the time, and though the Trop crowded quieted a bit, it sounded to me like there were a fair number of Sox fans at this game. Could the Sox really steal this one? It would change eveything if they did, but alas, the 2008 version of Vazquez showed up and left in the 5th inning behind 6-3. Clayton Richard relieved and was stellar, striking out five in 3.1 scoreless IP. It probably earned him more time on the mound if the Sox go a little further, and went a long way toward staking a claim on rotation spot next year. Vaz, on the other handed, pitched himself out of this series. If it goes to five games, expect Buehrle to get the ball again.

Buehrle will go in Game 2, which is something to feel good about. The Sox hitters also have to deal with a lefty, Scott Kazmir, who can be unhittable when he is not pretty hittable. If Kazmir wavers or comes off a bit nervous, Sox righty hitters like Paulie, The Missile and the O.C. may do well in this one--sounds like anotehr game that could be stolen. The offensive attack was not great in Game 1, but not really lacking. Paulie came up with a later homer. The big moment of failure was when the Sox had the bases loaded with one out in the 7th inning. Grant Balfour, who was amazing all year, by the way, struck out Uribe. Then, the next batter, the O.C., seemed to get in a shouting match with Balfour even though the count started in his favor, 1-0. Orlando Cabrera is intense, but one thing you don't want to do with the Rays, even if Balfour started it, is feed their fighting instinct. They are young, but not in the cute puppy sense. There are some pretty brash brawlers over there. A pumped Balfour struck out the O.C. to end the threat, but there was a moment even then when it looked like both benches could empty.

Our teams are not making SBW look very good. We believed--and still believe, because it is still in fact possible--that both our Chicago basebal teams could make the World Series this year. They already have made history, both making the postseason in the same year for the first time in 102 years, but we want more. So far, their attempts have failed, and they are 0-3. As Mrs. SBW is fond of saying when the Cubs are losing, "We need runs, bitches."

Fight back against despair

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The Cubs blew Game 1 of the NLDS, losing to the Dodgers 7-2 at Wrigley, which by the accounts of some who were there, was as somber as a tomb from the moment the gates opened. Not that the Cubs and their fans look to the Southside for lessons on anything, but the fan-unifying "black out" at The Cell earlier in the week showed how a team and their fans can forget the past and throw themselves into the moment at hand. The Sox stumbled their way to Game 163, but the entire park was nothing but focused energy and excitement.

It's the players, of course, who carry the responsibility to win, energy or not, and Ryan Dempster looked completely uncomfortable in a park where he won 14 games this year. His supposed cold-weather throwing regimen during the 0ff-season seemed to prepare him well for the chilly October night at Wrigley, but he was wild from the start. Seven walks in five innings will doom any pitcher in any game, but issuing two of those walks to the opposing pitcher is an urgent cry for help, a cry that was not heard urgently enough in the dugout. Lou and Larry seemed to want to give Demp the benefit of the doubt, but as some columnists have pointed out this morning, why wait for your starter to find himself in a play-off game when you have other would-be starters sitting in the bullpen? On a cold night, it would not have been a bad idea anyway to get a couple guys up a bit earlier than usual to warm up. True, it's only Game 1, but is is the freakin' play-offs.

Dempster has proven adept all year at getting himself out of jams and avoiding the big inning. his two moments of collapse this year occurred at The Cell, and more recently when he fed Albert Pujols a three-run HR down in St. Louis. But this time, with the bases loaded, Demp hung one right in front of James Loney, an extremely good, but fairly unheralded contact hitter. I would say Demp committed the sin of going of the middle of the plate with a 1-2 count, but it looked like he meant to drop something in front of Loney to either get him fishing or ground into a force play. But, he didn't have the command last night to make it happen--something which was obvious to a lot of us at least a few batters earlier.

The Cubs had their chances on offense to right the ship, of course. They got a wind-blown homer from De-Ro and actually out-hit the Dodgers. Here's perhaps the most amazing fact from last night's game: The Cubs had players reach base in every inning of the game. This one was really a missed opportunity in every respect.

But, getting back to the fan behavior, erasing the collective memory of Cub fandom is not an option. When one thing goes wrong, most Cubs fans are bound to fear the worst. I know my stomach was churning even before the fateful 5th inning, when Demp loaded the bases in the 3rd with Cub-killer Andre Ethier at the plate. But, for lack of a better phrase, we need to find out nuts. We need to bring as much energy and excitement to the task as we expect our teams to bring, even when they let us down a little. I'm not saying cheer mistakes, but at least boo them vigorously for a limited moment and get onto to the next thing. And even when the Cubs are behind, make your voice heard during every Cub at-bat and every big pitch. I'm not an advocate of standing early in games our in favorable pitching counts when there are less than two outs, but there's nothing wrong with using your outside voice a little more. That's what seemed to be happening at Wrigley late in the regular season even when the Cubs were behind, but it seemed absent last night. Lord knows, it may add to the pressure for some and there's more pressure on the Cubs than most, but the pressure is there and the only thing to do is focus and play through it.

Game 2 starts tonight at the chilly hour of 8:37 p.m. The Cubs send Zammy against young strikeout-artist Chad Billingsley, but where last night's L.A. pitcher Derek Lowe is postseason-seasoned and tough to hit, young Chad can be had when he doesn't over-power. If he strikes out a few guys early, the Cubs should be able to learn something for later in the game. So, don't panic. And, someone remind Zammy that even though the situation calls for heroes, actually actually trying to be a hero usually doesn't get him very far. Don't you knda wish Lilly was starting tonight?

Meanwhile, the Sox go early down in Florida, and I like their chance in Game 1, coming off of the energy in Game 163 against a young team that has been sitting around waiting for them. Game on.

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