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April 2009 Archives

Line-up revamp remorse?

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Cubs manager Lou Piniella shocked just about everybody with this line-up Friday night:

Ryan Theriot, SS
Kosuke Fukudome, RF
Alfonso Soriano, LF
Aramis Ramirez, 3B
Derrek Lee, 1B
Mike Fontenot, 2B
Geovany Soto, C
Reed Johnson, CF
Ryan Dempster, P

Putting Theriot in the lead-off spot is something of a no-brainer, since he is the team's leading hitter and has batted lead-off may times before, but wouldn't you know it, he went 0-5 last night. He lined out for the final out of the game after the sort fo battling, intense at-bat we've come to expect from him, but with a man on in that situation and the Cubs down by just a run, I was sort of wishing it was Soriano's spot in the order.

I have long disliked the idea of Soriano batting lead-off, but the Cubs knew what they were getting in Al-So. Throughout his career, he has delivered diminshed returns when you move him around. The thing with Soriano is that he can strike a power-hitter's fear into a pitcher in a situation like that with the game on the line. Still, he's been hitting well through April, and was 1-4 last night.

In the 3-spot, Soriano was 1-4. A-Ram was 1-2 after being put back into the clean-up slot, but he strained his calf, so the Cubs will need a new plan today. Calm and steady D-Lee was 1-4 after his demotion to 5th, and I wonder if we'll see more pitchers pitching around A-Ram and walking him with D-Lee in the on-deck circle presenting a dimishing threat.

Fontenot was 1-4 with an RBI, but still seems to be pressing and over swinging at pitches he would have left alone or sat back and waited for last year. I still thing he might be the best possible lead-off man for Cubs if they do try to wedge Soriano in somewhere else. Meanwhile, what about batting Fukudome 3rd, as long as we're playing with the line-up? How about this take for this afternoon, assuming A-Ram will be too hobbled to play?

Fontenot, 3B (subbing for A-Ram at 3rd)
Theriot, SS
Fukudome, RF
Soriano, LF
Lee, 1B
Soto, C
Johnson, CF
Miles, 2B
Marshall, P

Putting a .200-something hitter at the top of the order is not a great idea, I know, but Piniella seems intent on changing things to find a bit more run-scoring chemistry, so why not go with a guy who had a .395 OBP last year? Alternatively, he could bat Aaaron Miles lead-off. Miles has been doing nothing at all so far this year, but he is somewhat used to batting lead-off in Busch Stadium.

Swinging away

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The Cubs lost their 4th game in a row, 8-2 to the Cards, who are running away with the division title for the month of April (good thing there is no such thing). The problem, beyond injuries leaving the Cubs with a noticeable lack of depth, is that the Cubs are definitely tense and swinging away at the plate. A fair amount of contact, a few singles here and there but not often together, lots of lineouts and what else? Oh, right, very few walks--and it's the walks that helped the Cubs win many games last year and a few more earlier this month.

During the Cubs losing streak, here's their team BBs for each game: 0, 2, 2, 2. Compare those numbers to their 3 previous wins: 4, 7, 7. It seems obvious they feel a lot of pressure to make something happen, and when that happens this early in the season, it's a bad sign, but it's also something they have time to fix. Alfonso Soriano has been rendered useless by the line-up change putting him 3rd in the batting order. So useless that it almost seems like he is swinging at bad pitches on purpose--I'm not accusing him of anything, but that's how it looks. It's that bad.

The bright spots today: Ryan Theriot, who had a brief slump hitting lead-off had a pair of hits and 1 of the 2 Cubs walks today. Kosuke Fukudome had 2 hits, and so did Mike Fontenot, who has picked himself up the last couple games.

The worst things about today's game: David Patton grooved one to Albert Pujols with the bases loaded, and guess what? Patton's appearance after a decent start by Sean Marshall, began badly and went downhill as he walked 3 and gve up 5 runs, including the grand slam.

Also, very bad: When the score was still 3-1 Cards, Joey Gathright hustled out an infield hit, but then got picked off. Gathright, Aaron Miles and Patton are among the Cubs players that really need to start showing up in the wake of injuries to others.

Swinging away turned out not to be a bad thing for the White Sox--and especially Alexei "The Missile" Ramirez--tonight as they pummeled the Blue Jays 10-2 after mustering on offense ina 14-0 loss last night.

The Missile, who has struggled badly all month, came up in the 5th inning with the bases loaded and the Sox already up 4-2. The Missile of course hit four grand slams in his rookie season last year, and with his recent difficulties, I was just hoping he wouldn't try to be a hero--just sit on a few pitches and try to make contact. It seemed pretty darn unlikely that his young career had room for another big moment, but the unlikely was exactly what happened. He took a juicy inside-part-of-the-plate pitch into the left field stands, and it exited the yard about as quickly as his first four grand slams did. It was a no doubter--you could tell the way he got those skinny arms fully extended with the fat part of the bat coming directly into your living room. He went 2-4 with 5 RBIs for the game, his 3rd 2-hit game of the last week, so maybe he's back.

Other notables: Jermaine Dye had a 2-run homer and Brian Anderson drove in 2 runs. Paul Konerko was 3-4. Mark Buerhle, who we all were so worried about this spring, is now 3-0, and pitched a pretty quiet 6 innings before handing it off to the bullpen. Every batter in the Sox line-up had at least 1 hit in this one, and the team collected 6 walks. Sounds like a good template for the Cubs.

Walking wounded

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Carlos Marmol just left the Cubs-Cards game in the 8th inning with some kind of side injury, but not before he let the Cards take the lead 4-3 in a game the Cubs were struggling to keep themselves in already.

Marmol's exit came after Aramis Ramirez left earlier in the game with a calf strain apparently suffered while he was jogging gently into 2nd base on a gimme double. Seems like nothing but bad news since the Tuesday night win in which we noted some good omens. Maybe the Wrigley Field staffer grabbing the cat by the tail to remove it from the field actually set off a run of bad luck.

Oh, well, if the Cubs didn't have bad luck... they would have to change their name. They have lost two in a row and scored exactly 1 run in 27 innings until the 7th inning tonight and it took a can error and a double play to score 2 of their 3 runs tonight. They lost 7-1 to the Reds Thursday in a game I neither had time nor desire to comment on.

Lou made some big changes in the batting order tonight, but nothing much came of it. We'll take a closer look at that in an upcoming post. If you are counting the Cubs' walking wounded, the number stands at 3, including Milton Bradley, who apparent is not near coming back from a groin strain, and is not talking much to the media.

Although... this just in: Bradley is pinch-hitting right now with the Cubs down to their last out in the top of the 9th, so maybe he's ok enough to remain on PH duty. And... he just walked and is now getting a pinch-runner: Joey Gathright.

Meanwhile, the Sox are getting obliterated at home 12-0 by Toronto, after losing 6-2 in Baltimore Thursday night in a nother shaky game by Bartolo Colon. Tonight, it was Gavin Floyd's turn to be shaky, as he gave up 6 runs--5 ERs--in 4.1 IP. Jack Egbert, who came up from the minors to take the spot vacated by Mike MacDougal, gave up the other 6 runs in the span of 1 inning.

Both Thursday night and tonight the Sox got hits, but couldn't get anything together.

OK, the Cubs just lost 4-3 for a 3-game losing streak. The Sox are now losing 13-0 in the 7th, and I'm changing channels.

Trading places

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The Cubs looked great Tuesday night, while the Sox looked flat, but our teams traded places Wednesday night, as the Cubs could not muster a single run against the Reds' Johnny Cueto in a 3-0 loss, while the Sox pummeled the Orioles 8-2 behind lock-down pitching from John Danks.

Danks was one of our favorites of 2008, and while he was not as over-powering against the Orioles as he was in his first two starts this year, he kept the Orioles off balance, walking none, limiting them to 4 hits in 7 IP and picking off a runner.

The Sox batters gave him everything he needed early, staking him to a 4-0 lead in the first 3 innings. Jim Thome and Josh Fields had homers. Fields and Chris Getz, working out of the top two spots in the line-up, both had three hits. Fields had 3 RBI and Getz drove in 2 runs.

Scott Linebrink and Matt Thornton were not all that impressive, each getting an inning of work late and letting multiple runners on, but the Sox had plenty of breathing room.

The Cubs, meanwhile, did not get much going against Cueto after stringing together a pair of hits by Kosuke Fukudome and Derrek Lee in the 1st inning. There were a couple other situations in which they had 2 on base without 2 outs, but couldn't find a clutch hit. Milton Bradley, having trouble getting back in the swing of things after injury, struck out 3 times. Lee and Alfonso Soriano both had 2 hits.

Ted Lilly looked pretty good, with his only run in 7 IP coming shortly after he made a throwing error on what would have been a bunt hit anyway. Neither Angel Guzman nor Kevin Gregg could escape their own one-inning assignments without giving up a run each.

The word during last night's Cubs telecast was that Jeff Samardzija was being called up after a scorching run at AAA--I guess I'll start spellking his name correctly. Though Neal Cotts is the most obvious pitcher to be demoted or worse, the Cubs need his left arm, shaky as it is, in the bullpen. The Trib suggested Luis Vizcaino may be the one walking the plank.

The Cubs are about to begin an afternoon game, so get the to a TV or GameDay.

Good luck and lack thereof

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A cat was seen skulking across the field during Tuesday night's Cubs-Reds game, but it wasn't a black cat. A fan was seen leaning over the left field side wall to catch a foul ball, but he wasn't wearing headphones and Moises Alou wasn't playing left field. So, we have no other recourse than to view these curiously familiar situations as good luck for the Cubs rather than bad.

The Cubs themselves may have been disinterested in omens of any kind, since they were busy cruising to a 7-2 victory behind 6-inning maestro Rich Harden. We may rarely see Harden go longer than the 6th inning, since that is usually about the time he closes in on 95 pitches and sets off the dugout alarm system that screams "PULL HIM! PULL HIM!" But, in most cases it's enough too make a huge impact, and he did last night, holding the Reds to 2 runs while striking out 8 batters. Interesting stat I saw on the MLB Network today: Harden currently has more strikeouts--34--in any 25 inning span to start a season than any other pitcher in baseball history. Not that it will mean much in the long run...

Most of the Cubs hitters did their jobs, drawing walks are getting hits off former Cub Micah Owings so that RBI-guru Aramis Ramirez could come up in his preferred situation with runners on base and get his fill: 3 RBIs last night on 3 hits, 14 RBIs now on the year. Micah Hoffpauir, who I am fast coming to prefer over Milton Bradley, had his first homer of the season (and the first Micah-on-Micah homerun in baseball history!) and added another RBI later on. Ryan Theriot stayed on pace for a 200-hit season with another multi-hit (2-4) game. Everything's rolling right now--except for Neal Cotts, of course, who started a relief appearance last night with strikeout, but quickly lost his bearings and let the next two batters on base. Rescuing Cotts is becoming a full-time job for Carlos Marmol, and he did it again last night, saving Cotts ERA by shutting down the would-be Reds rally.

Cotts, I think, will soon go the way of Mike MacDougal, the wild, unreliable reliever that the White Sox parted ways with before their Tuesday night game in Baltimore. MacDougal always appeared to have a nice arsenal of pitches and had been effective as the one-time closer in Kansas City, but his stay with the Sox was about 98% disappointing.

Still, the Sox could have used Mac for mop-up duty Tuesday night, as they got popped by the Orioles 10-3. Jose Contreras again took it on the chin, and has not been able to find his control since his promising early return from injury during spring training. Contreras had 6 BB and 6 ER in 5.1 IP. At 0-3, he's responsible for half the Sox losses this season.

He didn't get much help from the offense, which managed only 3 runs (2 of which were unearned after a Baltimore error) off a rookie pitcher, Brad Bergesen, who seemed to befuddle them. The only bright spot in this one, other than a reliable RBI each from Jermaine Dye and Paul Konerko, was that Alexei Ramirez went 2-4 for the second game in a row. He seems to be scratching his way out of his slump.

The Sox looked great in Tampa the weekend, but apparently left their bats in Florida. They haven't had much luck at all in Baltimore in recent years, though what does luck have to do with anything?

Trop toppers

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The Cubs' Sunday Night Special was rained out and postponed until July 12 (SBW's birthday, by the way), but the White Sox scored enough runs for both teams, beating the Rays 12-2. The Sox took 3 of 4 from the Rays down at Tropicana Field (which is in St. Pete, not Tampa, by the way), a indoor park which usually gives them fits almost as bad as they get up at the Metrodome... almost.

Could this spell an end to the Sox misfortune in domes? Maybe we'll find out when the Sox go to Toronto in a few days. Right now, they are getting ready to face Baltimore at Camden Yards tomorrow, and perhaps some of them are reliving the experience of meeting President Obama, the nation's "highest-ranking White Sox fan," today at the White House. It's pretty hilarious about Octavio Dotel asking for and receiving a hug from The Chief.

But back to Sunday: Gavin Floyd pitched very well after his first two outings had been shaky, logging 7 IP, 7 Ks and no walks. Carlos Quentin now leads the league in homers with 7 after getting his 3rd in 3 games and his 5th in the last week. Everybody in the line-up had a hit except for late fill-in Jerry Owens, and Brian Anderson--he only had 2 hits on the year entering Sunday--went 3-5 in the game. A.J. Pierzynski and Jim Thome both had round-trippers. Paul Konerko had 2 more RBIs.

The Sox not only won this series, they mad ethe Rays look bad and they came within a run--some might say one pitch--of sweeping their 2008 postseason nemesis. They need to keep the memory of this experience top of mind so they can access it later on. They may want to remember that visit to the White House, too.

Chicago goes 4-0

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What a great day to be a Chicago sports fan. We're not only baseball fans here at SBW, you know, so it was a great pleasure to start off a sports-stuffed Saturday by seeing the Chicago Bulls swipe a Game 1 victory from the World Champ Boston Celtics, 105-103 in OT. Derrick Rose was phenomenal: 36 pts (breaking M.J.'s franchise rookie play-off record), 11 assists, 12-12 on free throws.

Next up: The Cubs toiled and sweated out their own OT (11 innings) win against the Cardinals, 7-5. Aramis Ramirez ended it with a 2-run walk-off HR. It was the most predictable at-bat of the afternoon: Even though A-Ram was 0-5, he was given a favorable match-up in a lefty pitcher (Dennis Reyes), who, with a man on 1st base and one out, was just trying throw something low and over some portion of the plate to induce a double-play grounder. But, unless you can make that pitch tail away as it arrives, throwing a knee-high ball over the plate to A-Ram is like teeing it up for Tiger Woods. The predictable result was a left-field bleachers blast that everyone knew was gone the moment bat smacked ball.

Still, the Cubs were pretty fortunate in this one. The Cards have about four closer-quality relievers with which to out-last many teams in extra innings, but the Cubs managed to survive all of them. Both teams went to their set-up men early in the game, as Cards starter Kyle Lohse exited in the 6th inning and Ryan Dempster was gone after 6.

This game was fairly ugly at times, as Dempster struggled early, with 4 BBs in his first 3 IP, and gave up a 2-run single to new Cub-killer Ryan Ludwick in the 3rd inning. With the Cubs up 5-4 at the start of the 7th inning, Neal Cotts came in and immediately created another mess, walking the first two men he faced (including lefty Skip Schumaker!). That called for an early appearance by Carlos Marmol. Cotts can't be long for this squad--Lou Piniella had no patience last year for Scott Eyre ("Stevie Ire" to Lou, World Champ Philly to the rest of us), so you've got to think Jim Hendry already is shopping for southepaw relievers.

Marmol got out of the 7th unharmed, but let a run in on back-to-back doubles to open the 8th inning, tying the game 5-5. That called for an early showing by closer Kevin Gregg. In his best appearance yet as a Cub, Gregg shut down the Cards in the 8th and pitched a scoreless 9th inning. Aaron Heilman let the lead-off man on in the 10th and Angel Guzman did the same in the 11th inning, but the Cards failed to score both times. With his scoreless inning Guzman got the win--that's right, after all this time, his first career victory comes in extras.

At the plate, the Cubs scraped their runs together as Derrek Lee had 2 RBIs on his only hit, former Card Aaron Miles drove in a run on a high-bouncing grounder that traveled no more than 10 feet. Fortunately, Ryan Theriot had tripled just before and was running hard on contact. Mile had another RBI later, and Kosuke Fukudome stayed active, doubling in a run (He's already got 6 doubles this year). Fukie (2-5) and Theriot (3-5) were the only Cubs with more than one hit yesterday. Joey Gathright continues to be useless thus far, having whiffed with the bases loaded in the 10th inning. The Cubs and Cards get the ESPN Sunday night game tonight, and the starters, Ted Lilly and former Cubs Todd Wellemeyer, better be ready to provide quality starts and then some.

So, Chicago was 2-0 heading into the evening slate, which featured the White Sox at the Rays, and the Calgary Flames against the young, resurgent Chicago Blackhawks. The Sox did their part, beating the Rays 8-3, taking a 2-1 series lead at the dreaded Trop. The Sox continue to play long ball a little more often than small ball (yes, I know it's a mixed metaphor), but this game featured some of both. Carlos Quentin homered yet again, and is now tied with Ray carlos Pena for the Major League lead with 6. Paul Konerko also homered and had 3 RBIs to continue his own hot hitting. Corky Miller contributed an RBI, and so did Jermaine Dye.

The small ball part was interestinng. The first two batters in the line-up, Brent Lillibridge and Josh Fields, managed 4 BBs between them--Lillibridge had 3--and accounted for 3 of the 8 runs. The Sox actually started the game by drawing 3 straight walks. Lillibridge then scored on a double play off the bat of JeDye, and a Paulie double that scored Fields. That's 2 runs on 1 hit, for you small-ball freaks. I would have liked more after starting the game with the bases jammed an no outs, but I'll take what I can get. Lillibridge now is batting only .067, but continues to draw walks and create havoc when he's on base. He needs to do more hitting at some point, but I'd keep him leading off against the lefty pitchers like last night's Scott Kazmir.

The Sox seem much more at ease this season so far against Rays pitching, which frustrated them last postseason. They drew 2 BBs in this one off annoying Aussie Grant Balfour, who they couldn't touch last year. It doesn't mean so much now, but it's still nice to see.

Other notes from this one: Mark Buerhle was workman-like again for 6.2 IP and just 2 ER, giving the Sox what they needed. The bullpen avoided big damage against a usually productive offense.

Also, Alexei Ramirez unfortunately continues to slump, going 0-5 in this one. Unlike Lillibridge, he's not drawing any walks. The Sox are sticking with him, perhaps because he started so slowly last year before transforming himself into "The Missile," but I wonder if Lillibridge may get a spot start or two at short in upcoming games.

Chicago 3, Bad Guys 0.

I know next to nothing about hockey, but have been enjoying the Blackhawks' return to classic form. In their Game 1--the franchise's first play-off game in 7 years--they looked very nervous in teh first two periods before coming on strong in the third and winning it in OT. That same thing seemed to happen in Game 2, as Calgary surged to a lead, but the Hawks came back and went up 3-2, before locking down on the Flames in the third period. I would be more analytical if I know more about this game, but it was fun to watch anyway, and what I really care about is the great day for our city's sports teams.

One-run ups and down

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SBW hit the second game of the Cubs-Cardinals series Friday on a beautiful day for baseball--or just anything else. The Cubs rewarded us with an exciting, harrowing 8-7 win, made all the better because the Cubs had to fight back a couple of times, something we hadn't seen them do yet this season.

The ultimate heroics came from Alfonso Soriano, who had looked pretty awful at the plate until his botton-8th 2-run homer gave the Cubs a timely lead. Soriano had whiffed thrice against Cards rookie P.J. Walters, who did have good strikeout stuff yesterday. Still, Walters allowed the rest of the Cubs a 3-0 lead on a run-scoring double by Micah Hoffpauir (who is not making us mess Milton Bradley), a run-scoring single by Aramis Ramirez, and a sac fly by Kosuke Fukudome (who still is looking sharp).

It was mostly Soriano's at-bats against Walters were positively embarrassing, the first two taking no more than 7 pitches, and all three Ks were characterized by wild swings. The second one came with the bases loaded.

On the mound for the Cubs, Carlos Zambrano had started well, and with the bases juiced and Albert Pujols up in the 3rd inning, was able to limit Pujols to a sacrifice fly. But, the next batter, Ryan Ludwick, went deep with a 3-run homer.

Fortunately, the rook Walters was on a short leash and gone after 5 innings, with the Cards up 5-3. The Cubs came right back and tied it 5-5 in the 5th, as A-Ram doubled in D-Lee, and Geovany Soto singled in the tying run. Geo is still struggling, and ending up behind a lot of pitches, but looked better as this game progressed.

Zammy gave the lead back in the 6th on a homer by Brian Barden, his second in two days, and in the 7th gave up another homer to Ludwick. It was a surprise to many of us he was still in for the 7th, but Lou let him finish for a 7 IP, 7 ER effort. I guess you could argue he only had three disasterous pitches all game, but I wonder if the Cubs were just trying to push a starter longer in a close game and leave the shaky bullpen off the mound as long as possible.

The Cubs got a run in their half of the 7th as A-Ram knocked in Fukie, who had doubled, making the score 7-6 Cards. In the 8th, with Carlos Marmol warming up and looking to pitch the 9th, Soriano turned an 0-1 into a big 1-5 with his 2-run jack after Aaron Miles pinch-walked. Marmol, already-warmed, cam in for the save, but not before walking a batter and hitting another. He cleaned up nicely though, striking out the formidable Ludwick, then getting a tailor-made double play to end it.

It was good to a see some comeback in the Cubs, as they have not done much this year when falling behind. Even better that it was against the Cards. Many Cards fans in our 500-something section slithered out of Wrigley pretty quietly.

The White Sox also experienced a one-run game, but came out on the bad end, losing 6-5 to the Rays. Just when it started looking like they might cruise to a 2-0 series lead against those dastardly Rays in the dreaded Trop, the bottom fell out.

The Sox had gone up 5-2 on another pretty strong outing--or at least 5.2 IP--by Bartolo Colon, but Colon loaded the bases with 2 outs in the 6th. I liked him at the 92-pitch mark to wriggle out on his own with minimal damage, but Ozzie yanked him in favor of Matt Thornton to face a left-handed Gabe Gross. But, the Rays pinch-hit Ben Zobrist (who swings both ways, by the way), and Zobrist smacked a grand slam.

I was nervous the whole game up to that point, thinking Colon was going to blow up, but he's really throwing like a crafty veteran right now and I kind of liked him matching up against Gross. Still, it's hard to argue with Thornton as a replacement since he has been fairly unhittable this season--I guess that means he was due.

The Sox seemed shell-shocked after the slam, but did muster a couple of baserunners in the top of the 9th and had a man on 3rd with 2 outs before being shut down. Offensively, they weren't bad, just weren't good enough. Chris Getz and Jim Thome both had 2 hits, Paul Konerko continued his hot-hitting with 2 RBIs, and Carlos Quentin and Jermaine Dye kept up their homerun-hitting contest: C.Q. got his 5th, and JeDye pounded his 4th.

Both our teams are 1-1 in their current 4-game sets with 2 games to go.

It's still early, he says

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Rockies 5 Cubs 2
Cardinals 7 Cubs 4

Tigers 9 White Sox 0
White Sox 3 Rays 2

Again had a few problems with BlogSpot earlier today and so I'm catching up:

Rockies 5 Cubs 2--My first trip to Wrigley this year. Not much has changed, thankfully, except for the Captain Morgan's Club monstrosity along Addison which further clogs of the sidewalks. Why doesn't someone close Clark and Addison already on game day?

I'm just grumpy because the Cubs never got it going against an old mate. Jason Marquis had his ups and downs as a Cub, and as he pitched against his former teamates as a member of the Rockies, he looked a lot like his Cub self: A very hittable pitcher who gets into plenty of jams, but sometimes finds his way out via a timely ground-out, strikeout or--in one case--a strike-him out/thrown-him-out double play.

Colorado beat the Cubs 5-2 Wednesday as SBW watched from the cheap seats, in a game where you kept anticipating a Cubs comeback that never quite happened, right down to the fizzled bottom-9th attempt at a rally. That inning started with a Derrek Lee solo homer (The crowd was on D-Lee at the start of this one for his slow start this season, but he went 3-4 in this game.) The Cubs added 2 baserunner and had Geovany Soto (the tying run) at the plate with no outs.

But within a couple of minutes, the game was over: Mike Fontenot made an ill-advised attempt to advance from second to third on a pass ball. From my lofty perch, it looked like he left late and that the ball didn't get all that far away from Rockies catcher Chris Ianneta. Why he was in such a rush to advance is anyone's guess--if he get's to third and scores on a sac fly, the Cubs would still be down 5-3. Lou could not have been happy.

Next, Geo, who was in his first game back from a shoulder injury and looked pretty rusty the whole game, grounded into an easy double play. The Cubs blew some earlier chances with runners on, but tying run at the plate with no outs will be the hardest to forget. Micah Hoffpauir had an RBI double for the first run, by the way, and Fukie still has his mojo.

The other story of this one was that Rich Harden had a very strange outing, only 3.2 IP, but 8 Ks and 4 BBs. Lights out in the 1st inning, and then increasingly hittable and wild after that. Marquis drove in 2 runs. Soriano let a run score on an error. What else? Neal Cotts was brought in to face lefties, but could get them out--remember that one for later.

Cardinals 7 Cubs 4--Today was just as frustrating, if not more so, as the Cubs squandered some early BBs courtesy of Cards pitcher Adam Wainwright. Milton Bradley made a surprise appearance as a pinch hitter with the bases juiced and was called out on strikes and then thrown out of the game for arguing--get used to that. Bradley started off with the count 3-0 and then looked like he didn't want to swing. I'm sure he would have gotten a pinch-runner if he got on, but he looked extremely tentative, and while Bradley and the crowd got on the home plate ump, it looked to me like he let 3 straight strikes blow right by him.

Other than that, Fukie again showed up when few others did, stroking a 3-run homer. he was caught stealing for the second game in a row--needs to work on that. D-Lee had a sac fly for the other Cubs run.

On the mound, Sean Marshall was definitely at least adequate, with 5 IP, 3 ER and 4 Ks, but was pulled after 93 pitches. Piniella and his staff are keeping him on a short leash to start the season, but I sure would have liked to see him go another inning in this one. He was pulled after an inning-opening single, and handed a 4-3 lead to Aaron Heilman, who gave it up the same inning. Later, Neal Cotts was handed the game with a lefty up and a runner on third, and guess what happened? Single to right field. I loved Cotts as a very effective member of the 2005 World Champion Chicago White Sox, but the last few games he is not doing the one thing he is required to do: Get lefties out.

Anyway, it's a good thing its only April 16.

Tigers 9 Sox 0--Almost nothing worth mentioning from the Sox' blow-out loss on Wednesday. Jose Contreras started well, but got knocked around his second trip through the Tigers' batting order, almost the same thing that happened in his first start. Also, Contreras is just about one of the easiest pitchers around to steal on, and he proved it in this game by letting big, slow Miguel Cabrera steal second base off of him. Cabrera is an amazing player, but if he steals another base all year it will have to be because Contreras is on the mound.

Still, while Contreras was most definitely not dealing in this one, it was Mike MacDougal who really put the game out of reach, giving up 4 ER on 4 hits and 3 BBs in 2 IP. Ozzie seemed determined at the opening of the season to give Mac yet another chance, but we'll see how long that lasts. I'd mention the Sox hitting highlights, but there were none.

White Sox 3 Rays 2--Speaking of stealing bases, the Rays are absolutely relentless in that department. But, they could not do much with lefty John Danks pitching tonight. Danks was pretty tough with 6 IPs, 1 ER and 8 Ks, and left with a 2-1 lead. The runs came on a 2-run homer by Jermaine Dye.

The Rays found it much easier to steal on the Sox bullpen, getting a stolen base off Octavio Dotel and stealing 3 bases off Bobby Jenks as he tried to close out the 9th. Jenks gave up a run, but the Sox fortunately had purchased insurance in the top of the 9th on an RBI infield hit by Josh Fields.

The Sox actually left the bases loaded in the 9th, and didn't make the most of their chances tonight. That usually spells misfortune against the Rays, but this time they escaped.

Cold comfort

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If it hadn't been Opening Day, they wouldn't have played, and if the Cubs had lost, there would have been much to complain about, starting with the cold, windy, wet conditions. However, the Cubs shut down the Rockies 4-0 in their 2009 home opener, so we'll take what we got.

Ted Lilly carried a no-hitter into the 7th inning. A nasty curve, which at one point almost made Todd Helton duck before it landed right over the center of the plate, deserves much of the credit. However, Lilly also seemed to get a handful of borderline strike calls to help him out, and the Rockies seemed less than sure-handed and sure-footed at the plate, making a number of bail-out swings.

For the second game in a row, the Cubs showed extraordinary patience at the plate, drawing 6 BBs from Rockies starter Ubaldo Jimenez, who seemed like he was having trouble getting a good grip on the ball. Koyie Hill walked with the bases loaded to score the first run in the 2nd inning. Hill has been doing a suitable Geovany Soto impression while Geo is out with a shoulder ache. Hill was 2-3 yesterday.

Kosuke Fukudome has been doing a suitable impression of himself circa April 2008, and he drew 3 BBs yesterday to go with a run-scoring single in the 8th inning. So, is Fukie reall back for good, or is he just a really strong starter? We still need to watch for a possible late earlu summer fade before we get too excited. Derrek Lee, who has started uncharacteristically slowly this season, also had an RBI double and drew 2 BBs. the remaining run scored on a botched double play by the Rockies.

The Cubs remain without Geo, and Aramis Ramirez sat yesterday. The Cubs tend to do that in especially rainy conditions, though Len Kasper also mentioned something about a sore back. Also, Milton Bradley didn't play after his groin injury Sunday. He may be out until the weekend, the Trib reported, in anticipation that it might be better to bring him back when the weather is warmer. But, at this rate, that could be May.

The White Sox, after back-to-back No. 300 jacks by Jermaine Dye and Paul Konerko yesterday, kept on scoring runs against Detroit, but the Tigers kept scoring runs, too. Gavin Floyd had an awful outing, allowing 6 runs and 7 BBs (!) in 5 IP, but stayed long enough to get the win in a 10-6 Sox victory.

The Sox bats stayed hot through the cold for the third game in a row. Paulie was 4-5 with 4 RBIs, and looks like a new man so far this season, one that many people, myself included, expected would be the beginning of his career fade. Carlos Quentin tried to steal the spotlight from Paulie and JeDye, blasting 2 HRs and collecting 4 RBIs.

The bad news in this one, other than Floyd's outing, was an separated shoulder suffered by Dewayne Wise as he made a nifty diving/rolling catch in center field. That means we'll see more of Brain Anderson in the days ahead--though not today, because rain has already postponed the second game of the Sox-Tigers series.

I make my first trip of the season out to Wrigley Field tomorrow. Sounds like it will be another cold one, which of course will call for a few cold ones in order to warm up.

Delayed gratification

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Just like you had to wait a while for this re-cap post, both of our Chicago teams had to wait through long, nerve-wracking 9th innings Sunday before they could collect on wins.

The Sox won the series of the Minnesota Twins Sunday with a 6-1 victory. With Mark Buerhle on the mound, things were moving fast, and he was especially good, wasting none of the energy that it seemed to take for him to get guys out on Opening Day last week. He gave up a homerun earlier, but recorded 15 outs in a row until he was lifted in the 7th inning with the Sox up 3-1. He still looked brilliant as he was nearing 100 pitches, but I'll bet his exit had more to do a desire by the Sox to ease him into a long workload after a problematic spring.

The Twins uncharacteristically recorded 3 errors, one of which led to a Sox run early on, but Jim Thome put the Sox up 3-1 in the 6th with a 2-run HR. In the 7th, Josh Field drove in a run with a single, and Carlos Quentin added a sacrifice fly. In the 8th, Jermaine Dye added a solo HR.

Case closed, you would think, but Clayton Richard started the 9th with 2 BBs and a hit as the game slowed to a near halt. Bobby Jenks came in with the bases loaded and nobody out, but managed to get a ground out and a double play to end it.

The Cubs also had to live through a shaky 9th, again courtesy of new closer Kevin Gregg. The Cubs won 8-5, but entered the 9th winning 8-4. Gregg got the first couple hitters, but with 2 out, he gave up a homerun to Rickie Weeks, who at this point, Gregg should never face again if possible (after a game-tying double on Friday night that led to an eventual Brewers win). After the Weeks HR, Gregg put the next 2 men on, bring the tying run to the plate in the large and dangerous form of Prince Fielder. Gregg pushed the count to 3-2, and got Fielder on what appeared to be a foul tip into the glove of Koyie Hill.

The highlights: The Cubs got 4 of their runs on 4 straight bases-loaded walks in the 4th inning--how's that for symmetry? But, there were bigger highlights than that: Alfonso Soriano led of another game with a home-run. He has 4 HR this year (naturally) had has been the star performer offensively for the Cubs.

Defensively, Reed Johnson made another huge, highlight-reel catch, reach over the wall in right field and stealing what would have been a grand slam by Fielder in the 5th inning. Ryan Dempster was just good enough in this game, and that catch probably kept him in the game a while longer.

The other interesting note is that Johnson had just entered the game a half-inning earlier after Milton Bradley suffered what appeared to be a groin injury running the bases. Let's hope the injury isn't too serious, but that's what you can expect from Bradley, who really hasn't done much in the young season so far.

Rainy day Monday

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Running a bit behind of this rainy Monday, the would-be Cubs home opener. The latest from the Trib is that it's pushed back to start at 2 p.m., though that's hard to believe right now as a cold, windy rain continues to come down.

The bigger news so far today is that in Detroit, where the White Sox are leading 3-1 at 12:55 p.m. Central Time, Jermaine Dye and Paul Konerko have hit back-to-back homers. The biggest news though is that each solo shot was career No. 300 for each player. What are the odds?

Good omen, let's hope...

Almost instant karma

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Lou Piniella says he was looking for a "change in karma" after his bullpen walked 3 batters in a row against the Milwaukee Brewers Saturday night, so he sent pitching coah Larry Rothschild out to change pitchers. Personally, I think Lou was just fuming and didn't want to tear off the head of Neal Cotts in fron of thousands of fans. During last week's extra-innings loss to the Astros and Friday night's bullpen meltdown against the Brewers, Lou could be seen on TV in the dugout mouthing some very recognizable bad words. Forget Sweet Lou--Sour Lou is out early this year.

The karma did not change instantly for the Cubs, as new pen arrival Aaron Heilman gave up a single after the 3 walks that put the Brewers up 5-3, but it did change an inning later. Aramis Ramirez hit a solo HR to bring the Cubs within a run in the 8th, and in the top of the 9th and down to 2 outs, Alfonso Soriano was the hero. Hit blasted (literally) a 2-run HR after Reed Johnson had pinched a single. Soriano was one possible goat after Friday's loss, but again seems to show you has value just at the time when you (or its was just me) are ready to question him. Al-So has come up big the first week of the season... maybe he should bat clean-up (as Milton Bradley is hitting .063 this far).

The Cubs won 6-5, and it wasn't twice-bitten closer Kevin Gregg who finished the game. Carlos Marmol got the save, giving up a single, but facing down the toughest Brewers hitters to end it. Apparently, Lou doesn't want to change the karma too much, because he said Gregg will be back in the closer role Sunday if needed.

Other notes: Kosuke Fukudome has been fairly torrid--or at least better than expected. He was 2-5 with a HR yesterday, and apparently loves hitting against the Brewers (It was his 4th HR off Brewers pitching since his heroic debut as a Cub on Opening Day 2008.) Also, Carlos Zambrano was pretty darn good for the second game in a row, though his effort was squandered by the pen's collapse.

White Sox update: The Sox had a karma change, too, in the form of a heavweight pitcher thought to be wobbling toward retirement until recently. Bartolo Colon had vintage stuff, blanking the Minnesota Piranhas for 7 innings (giving them nothing to chew on), on the way to an 8-0 victory (a Colon blow-out, if you will, though I know you'd rather not).

The Sox also were effective for the first time this year in simply pushing runner after runner across the plate. When the starting line-up flashed on the TV at the beginning of the game, it certainly didn't look like that's what would be in store: It featured 3 new starters (Brent Lillibridge, Corky Miller and Wilson Betemit) and 2 others (Alexei Ramirez and Brian Anderson) who were hitless for 2009--5 guys with .000 batting averages.

But, Colon's workman-like pitching and the new shaken-up batting order seemed to bring some new karma. Lillibridge, leading-off, didn't have a hit, but was decent anyway, walking twice, stealling a base and showing the rest of the team how to execute a sacrifice bunt. Ramirez, "The Missile," finally took flight with his first 2 hits and first 2 RBI of the season. Even Miller had 2 RBI. It's doubtful the Sox batting order will continue to have the same names in place as it did yesterday, but the rag-tag group somehow broke the team-wide hitting slump.

All chewed up

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"I hate the f-ing twins."
-text message from The Commish, 9:29 p.m. Friday, April 10

In the re-match of Game 163 from last year, the Minnesota Piranhas came to play, and the White Sox, while moving with more energy than they had in their first three games, came up way short. Twins 12 Sox 5.

For the Sox, there was good, bad and ugly.

The good: Chris Getz had a hit, a walk and a stolen base from the lead-off spot, and DeWayne Wise, the Opening Day lead-off man now buried at the bottom of the line-up, broke out of his slump with a couple of hits. Paul Konerko and Carlos Quentin both had homers, and seem to be improving a bit every game. Joe Crede also homered--oh, wait, he's on the Twins, now.

Crede got a nice hand in his first at-bat returning to The Cell, but Sox fans turned on him pretty quickly after the homer.

The bad: Jose Contreras started, and after a spring that seemed very positive primarly for his unexpectedly early return from injury, he looked like he wasn't quite ready for prime-time yet.

The ugly: The Twins had a 7-run 7th inning, which started with a home run by Justin Morneau, followed by three walks (by Clayton Richard and Mike MacDougal) and then five singles in a row off D.J. Carrasco (Ozzie had pretty much given up be then) before any outs were recorded.

The Sox are 1-3, and today send Bartolo Colon out for his first start against Francisco Liriano. Colon is a real wild card going into this year, so all bets are off for this one, but Liriano looked surpising hittable in his first start earlier this week, so we'll see.

Cubs update: Following up on my post from yesterday about the Cubs' miserable loss to the Brewers, I'd add that upon further review, the ball hit over Alfonso Soriano's head by Rickie Weeks was definitely a rocket. However, Soriano seemed to drift off the path of the ball as he moved back toward the wall. Ultimately, though, Kevin Gregg really fed one on a platter to Weeks. Catcher Koyie Hill blamed himself for the pitch selection, but Gregg has not been impressive thus far.

Quiet bats, disquieting thoughts

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The White Sox have mustered a single run in their last 18 innings, and that run came after 17 quiet innings. It also took 2 outs to get the run in after Carlos Quentin doubled to lead off the bottom of the 9th inning yesterday. The Sox managed to get another 2 runners aboard against K.C. closer Joakim Soria, but new Sox player Wilson Betemit struck out to end it: Royals 2 Sox 1.

The Sox have a bit of comeback in them--they have for the last few years now. It always seems like the Great and Powerful Oz knows how to push the right buttons when the Sox are down to their last outs and need to at least tie the game.

But, there has been a disturbing lack of offensive energy in the first few games, which is not the way you want to go into a series against the hated Minnesota Piranhas. Thinking back, most of the spring training slate saw a lack of coring by the White Sox when other teams were coring 15 runs a game (the typical spring trend). Maybe spring games mean nothing, but right now, the Sox look an awful lot like they did during spring training.

The lead-off spot continues to lead to headaches. Chris Getz was 0-4 yesterday, though I think he may hold the job for a while--basically because there are few options after Getz and DeWayne Wise, who apparently didn't do enough bunting drills this spring. Josh Field may be the next to take first whacks if Getz bombs.

It's early yet, of course, and the whole line-up needs to wake up, not just the lead-off spot. Quentin and Alexei Ramirez have been looking desperate at the plate so far, for example. Still, it's funny how the Sox went into the off-season needing a lead-off man, didn't get a proven one, and now guess what looks like the most obvious problem area? (Of course, I mean funny-annoying, not funny-ha-ha...).

The Cubs play in Milwaukee at 3:05 p.m. I wonder how long Rich Harden will last.

The new Cardinals

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The Brewers are the new Cardinals. Sure, the Beermakers-Cubs rivalry has been building up steam for a few years now, and really became a marquee (not Marquis) match-up last year. But, losses to the Brewers have somehow always made me feel: "Well, at least it wasn't the Cardinals."

No more. Today's 4-3 loss to the Brewers--even though it's just the fourth game of the season and the Cubs are now 2-2--took a lot out of me, and made me realize how much the losses to the Brewers hurt. And it wasn't just the bottom-9th comeback to tie and win by the Brew Crew. A pretty good pitching duel between Rich Harden and Braden Looper early on netted Harden 10 strikeouts, but had him losing 2-1, with one of the runs unearned and derived from a 1st inning error by Ryan Theriot.

The Cubs moved ahead in the 6th inning on a 2-run homer by Koyie Hill, subbing for the injured Geovany Soto. In the epically-long bottom of the 7th inning, 3 different Cubs pitchers were used to walk to Brewers batter and hit another before Carlos Marmol finally shut things down. Yet, the early appearance by Marmol seemed like a bad omen (Over the three final innings, the Cubs pen would walk 5 batters.) Lou Piniella turned to Luis Vizcaino in the 8th, but needed closer Kevin Gregg to come in and get the last out of the inning.

In the 9th, Gregg got the first batter to ground out, but looked shaky against the second man, walking him on a pitch that bounced about 8 feet in front of the plate, a pitch that Hill would later take the blame for. Next batter: Rickie Weeks, of the swing-and-hope-it's-a-fastball school of hitting. Weeks, who had an uncharacteristically great day in the field up to that point, got what he wanted.

Gregg, perhaps over-compensating for the previosu walk, grooved it down the middle, and Weeks pounded it over Alfonso Soriano's head in left. It seemed like a bad choice of pitch by Gregg against a notorious free-swinger, though Weeks had the count in his favor, so that makes for a pretty tough call. The thing that sort of bugs me a little bit more is we saw another late reaction and pitiful attempt by Soriano to reach the ball hit by Weeks. He seemed to be playing fairly deep, and the baseball textbook would likely say that in that situation (runner on 1st, up by 1 run, bottom of the 9th) you want to play deep to stop a double. So, what happened? Was it hit so hard, Soriano could do nothing but wave lamely? Was the sun, coming through the window wall of Miller Park on the 1st base side, a factor in his ability to see the ball?

Maybe I'm being tough on Al-So, but he seems to land in the middle of these types of situations. I'm willing to think I'm over-reacting right now, and that it's entirelly possible I'll cool off about this later. But, I think I now hate losing to the Brewers more than anybody.

Getz gets my bets

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I have been a critic of White Sox 2B Chris Getz since last year--or more accurately, not a critic of Getz so much as a critic of what seemed like a campaign by Kenny Williams starting as early as last October to push getz as the Sox starting 2B this year.

Getz seemed to have a bit of speed, a decent glove and contact-hitter potential, but GM Kenny touted him as a regular 2B even before the free agent market began last fall. At the beginning of spring, it looked like Gordon Beckham could challenge the commitment to Getz, but after Beckham faded a bit, Getz came on strong with a great spring training and truly earned the starter's job. In yesterday's opener, he batted second and went 2-4, and with lead-off man DeWayne Wise going 0-4 with 3 strikeouts, I'm betting that Getz is ticketed for the lead-off spot soon, possibly as early as tonight.

Other random notes from the opener:

-Buerhle was in fact struggling, but the Royals helped him out be leaving 11 men on base.

-The Sox left 12 men on base, and it seemed like even more at the time.

-The Sox drew 0 BBs. Gil Meche will not help you out in that department, but the Sox need to remember that patience is a virtue.

Fukie's back

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I actually have three games to discuss very quickly:

Tuesday night:
Astros 3 Cubs 2

Royals 2 Sox 0
Cubs 11 Houston 6

Tuesday night's 10-inning loss to Houston was almost a comeback victory, with Alfonso Soriano homering for the second game in a row, this time an 8th inning shot that tied a game that no one seemed to wnat to win. Both offenses left numerous men on base. Both starters were effective enough, but neither was dominant. The Cubs bullpen pitched well after Ryan Dempster left losing 2-1. Kevin Gregg inherited a 10th-inning jam, and did the best he could with it, inducing, as he himself noted in the Tribune, a doubel play ball that didn't go to one of his fielders (That's almost a Yogi-ism). No, not much happened at all in this game, and it sort of looked like exactly what it was--an early season game in which both teams were feeling their way around.

Tonight's Sox game was almost the same, as Gavin Floyd pitched well enough to win--that is, well enough to win if the Sox offense gave him 3 runs, which they did not. The offense looked anemic, mustering only 3 hits, but it also logged 3 walks, which is 3 more than in the previous game. Hitters overall were more patient, but Zack Greinke, who supposedly is destined for a break-out year this season, was lock-down good for 6 IP. Unlike in the opener, K.C.'s bullpen also was very good.

Like the Sox bats, K.C.'s offense barely got going tonight, but did manage to push across 2 runs. I'm going to resiste the temptation to worry about the Sox hitters for at least another game or two, though I do wonder if DeWayne Wise, 0-the season leading off this far, is headed for the bench. Despite being 1-1, this seems like an area where the Great and Powerful Oz will have no patience whatsoever. Look for Brian Anderson in center field soon, and perhaps Chris Getz leading off.

Meanwhile, the Cubs offense did explode tonight after two fairly quiet games, and it was led by none other than Kosuke Fukudome, who played like it was April 2008: 4-5, HR, BB, SB, double. A-Ram and Mighty Mite also drove in 4 runs each in an 11-6 win to take sthe series in Houston. Who knows where the year will take Fukie, but he found himself for at least one night.

Meanwhile, Ted Lilly could not find himself, even staked with an 8-0 lead. Mr. Stability of the Cubs pitching staff gave up 4 HRs, though he was kind enough to do so without filling the bases first. Still, he last long enough. Young David Patton gave up a HR to the first batter he faced, but Carlos Marmol and Angel Guzman (the latter pitching the 9th!) kept the Astros at bay. The Cubs now have some momentum to build on as they head to Milwaukee.

Opening Day: Hits and misses

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Well, because the White Sox postponed (perhaps prematurely) their opener by one day, I am left on the bench, unable to make the trip down to the Southside because of a prior work commitment. It's the first time I will fail to report for a Sox opener since, I think, 1999.

Too bad for many reasons, but also because today is about as nice as early April weather gets in Chicago. Brightly sunny, high 40s. I'll be watching out of the corner of my eye later on, but it won't be the same.

The Cubs started off on time and according to plan last night in Houston, winning 4-2 behind a surprisingly effective Opening Night performance by Carlos Zambrano. We got Big Z, the effective dominator, rather than Zammy, his rodeo clown evil twin. By mid-game, Zambrano had struck out 5 of 7 batters and looked about as good as he did during his no-hitter against the Astros last September in Milwaukee.

Still, Piniella pulled him after he put the first two men on in the 7th inning. The bullpen was good: Aaron Heilman limited the damage to a run, and Neal Cotts finished off the 7th; Carlos Marmol pitched through a walk in the 8th; and Kevin Gregg started his tour as a Cubs closer with two hits and a sacrific fly, but settled down and locked down the win.

Offensively, there was both power and efficency, as Alfonso Soriano led off the game (and the Cubs season) with a home run, and Aramis Ramirez later led off the 2nd inning with a solo shot. Why do pitchers--and especially a pitcher as effective and experienced as Roy Oswalt--throw so many fastballs to Soriano? Maybe it's the old adage that you need to establish the fastball and your location before doing anything else, but it's the top reason why Al-So has so many game-starting HRs. It doesn't make much sense to have him lead-off--never has and never will--but every time he starts a game with a homer, he makes it harder to argue the case against moving him.

Mike Fontenot also had three hits and scored a run on a sacrifice fly from Ryan Theriot--that was the efficiency part. Zambrano's win was his first career Opening Day win--we are looking for signs already...


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Chicago is unbeaten so far this baseball season, with the record standing at 2-0 after the White Sox pulled off a thrilling (at least the 8th inning was thrilling) 4-2 victory over the K.C. Royals today. Both Chicago teams have won their openers. 161 games left.

I didn't catch as much of the game as I hoped, but saw some great defense and hitting from Josh Fields, and of course, Jim Thome blasted a three-run homer in the bottom of the 8th for the winner. Mark Buerhle wasn't his usual efficient self--cause for concern after a lousy spring. It seemen like Buehrle had someone on in every single inning, though I haven't looked that closely at my TiVo or the box score yet.

Meanwhile, it appeared like Gil Meche, always tough, was mowing through Sox hitters in a fairly quick game. But, you can always count on The Farns to give up a big homer at just the right time.

I'll follow up a little later with further observations...

Bronx bombed; Snow show?

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The Cubs are winless at the new Yankee Stadium. Of course, their record there is only 0-2, and the games don't actually count yet, but today's 10-1 loss came as close as you could get to actually counting, since it was the final pre-season tune-up for Monday night's opener in Houston.

Rich Harden looked pretty awful, pitching only 3.2 innings, giving up 7 earned runs, 3 HRs and 4 BBs while striking out 2. He'll have another 10 days or so to fix whatever went wrong before his next start, though when Harden doesn't pitch well, it's hard not to think the worst.

The Cubs looked pretty sluggish in both games at the new stadium, scoring early Friday night and then fading to a 7-4 loss in which it was Ted Lilly's turn to give away runs. In today's game, former Yankee Alfonso Soriano looked pretty swell, hitting a HR and going 3-4. He has generally looked better as spring has sprung, which can't be said for several of his mates. In both of these games, the Cubs seemed to be soaking in (and literally soaking) the new Yankee digs more than anything.

We're looking forward to Monday night anyway, and the hope that Carlos Zambrano remembers whatever he was doing so right when he no-hit Houston last September.

Meanwhile, we're also looking forward to Monday afternoon, when SBW will be heading down to the Cell for the White Sox opener. But, will there be baseball? Snow has been forecast for that morning, with driving winds and temps in the low 30s around mid-day. Ouch.

I love our teams, but they need to open on the road every year and stay away from home until mid-to-late April--it just means more home games later, right? My pal The Commish and I have been to many a Southside inaugural, and have had our share of good and bad weather. One year, we had a 70-degree day for the opener sandwiched between two much colder days. Then in 2006, we barely got to see the World Series Championship banners get hung before the game was delayed by drenching rains.

Maybe Mother Nature will cut us a little slack, but it doesn't look good. If they do start Monday, at least it might be quick: No. 56 will be on the mound setting his typically brisk pace.

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