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June 2009 Archives

Bombs away

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Four homers brought some life to the Crosstown Classic South Friday, though the game will be remembered more for the dugout-clubhouse verbal altercation Lou Piniella and Milton Fradley got into in the 6th inning that resulted in Bradley being told to "go home," according to Lou.

Don't expect Bradley to stay home though, unless he's planning on retiring. The incident happened after Bradley threw his helmet after flying out and allegedly busted another water cooler (I think the Cubs players need to start bring their own water bottles to the games with their names on them, like you see in Little League).

I'm guessing this was a tension release on the part of both Bradley, who is still slumping, and Pinella, who basically was called a wimpy wuss in the newspaper yesterday. We'll see, but Piniella claimed Bradley would be in the line-up today.

The incident overshadowed the Cubs' perilous 5-4 win, which included all the Cubs's scoring on 2 homers, a Jake Fox 2-run shot and a Geovany Soto 3-run dinger. Fox homered in his second consecutive game and is making a brilliant case for more playing time when interleague play ends and the line-up loses a hitter. Could Bradley be the one to pay the price? Soto was revealed as a one-time pot smoker (What else is there to do during the World Baseball Classic?), and seems to be a new man at the plate with the burden of secrecy off his back. He has homered twice in three games (He only got 1 AB in the homerless game), and 4 times in his last 8 games.

Of course, it would not be a Cubs game if Carlos Marmol didn't try to give it away. He walked 3 men in the 8th inning, and gave up a single (though it should have been caught by the napping Alfonso Soriano) and a 2-run double by Jim Thome. Sean Marshall relieved him with the bases loaded to face pinch-hitter A.J. Pierzynski, and when Marmol arrived in the dugout, he threw his glove hard against the wall, but was not reprimanded by Lou as far as the TV cameras could tell. Marshall threw one pitch to A.J., who grounded into an inning-ending double play.

Perhaps feeling left out of the post-game gossip, Sox manager Ozzie Guillen called out A.J. for having a "bad at-bat" swinging at the first pitch. There certainly is a case to be made that A.J. occasionally attempts to do too much when he's looking for a big hit, though you shouldn't send him up there expecting patience. He has only 12 walks this year, and only 180 in his entire career (that's about 1.5 seasons' worth of walks for Thome, to put it in perspective).

Thome was the big contributor for the Sox, with 3 RBIs, including a homer off Cubs starter Randy Wells, who now has recorded a win in his last 2 starts after much earlier frustration. Jermaine Dye also had a solo shot, but the Sox otherwise showed only a glimmer of the energy that produced 16 runs in the previous 2 games against teh Dodgers.

Meanwhile, Jose Contreras actually pitched pretty well for a guy who gave up 5 runs (4 ER). He struck out 8 and only walked 1 in 7.1 IP. The homer by Geo in the 7th was the obvious big mistake, though it came after Paul Konerko botched a difficult-but-playable grounder that could have nabbed at least 1 out. Contreras also appeared to have a back problem, though he didn't come out of the game, and not much was made of it later.

Pods and Beck bring it home

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Scott Podsednik had maybe his best overall day offensively for the White Sox, even going back to his stint as chief fire-starter in 2005. He was 4-5 with a homerun--as we all know, he rarely goes deep, so when he does, it's worth a big celebration--and had 3 RBIs. But, the biggest blow of the 8-7 Sox victory over the Cubs in the second game of the Crosstown Classic South series was delivered by rookie Gordon Beckham, who came up with the walk-off single in the bottom of the 9th.

Beckham has had his share of struggles while learning how to be a pro ballplayer on the fly, and until late in this one it seemed like a typical tough day has he had an error at 3rd base and was 0-3 heading into the 8th inning. But, he had 2 hits in the lat 2 innings, scoring the tying run before bring home the winning run in the 9th and getting mobbed by his mates (He also got the ritual shaving cream pie treatment later during a post-game interview).

This was probably the most exciting game so far this year between the Cubs and Sox, and that includes the Cubs comeback at Wrigley and their very close 5-4 win Friday. The lead changed hands several times, with both teams scoring in all different ways. For fans who were bored by Friday's close, but somewhat lifeless (except for the Milton Bradley flare-up) game, this contest had a bit of everything, even suspenseful pitcher-batter face-offs, like the 9-pitch 8th inning at-bat between Podsednik and the shaky-as-usual Carlos Marmol.

The Cubs also had some nice defensive plays, though the Sox were again particularly weak on the left side of the infield. In addition to Beck's bobble, Alexei Ramirez cam up with 2 more errors, and failed to look Ryan Freel back to 3rd base on a routine grounder with the infield drawn in. Freel scored-he's fast, but not that fast, and you have to wonder if The Missile's throw to 1st base was a bit soft, too. That makes 8 errors for the Sox in the last four games. Ugh.

Meanwhile, Pods' success continues to amaze. I would have thought he'd cool off by now, but maybe there is something to his new funky-motion in the batter's box. Or, maybe it's just his comfort in playing alongside fellow champs like Paulie, A.J., JeDye, Burls and Jenks

Heading in different directions

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The Cubs have lost four in a row, and though the offense has been ever so slightly more productive in recent games, the previosuly-solid pitching has fallen off somewhat. The White Sox impressively won a series from the best team in baseball, the L.A. Dodgers. They have scored 16 runs in their last two games.

That's where we are as the Crosstown Classic heads South this weekend, and here's some news of note:

Cubs:

--Milton Bradley has been benched, and Jake Fox, the hottest current hitter on the team after Derrek Lee, is getting more playing time. What happens with Bradley at this point is anyone's guess, but it's June 26, and he's still only hitting .241. More alarming, he seems to routinely fail with men on scoring position, with a RISP average of .229. That's why we hired him, right? Sadly, the Cubs probably have no alternative. The answer to every woe right now is to wait until Aramis Ramirez comes back, a return which at this point is being counted on for a pretty massive ripple effect. Maybe the extra line-up beef can help Bradley to see better pitches.

--Manager Lou Piniella defended himself today in the Tribune against critics who have said he lacks fire this year. He might, but for most of theseason it has seemed a suitable response to a team all wound up and tense after last year's play-off failure. Playing Fox more is a move in the right direction, but Piniella won't have a whole lot more option unless there's a trade. He too is counting on the A-Ram effect.

--It has become fashionable to bash the idea that Mark DeRosa's absence is at the core of the Cubs' troubles. Go ahead and say his value now that he's gone is being much over-hyped, but when you look at the line-up of 2008, which helped win 97 games, and the line-up of 2009, what other reasons can you come up with? If you say Bradley's the problem, well, he was chosen over DeRosa, who is having possibly a career year with the Cleveland Indians. If you say slumps by Kosuke Fukudome, Mike Fontenot or Aaron Miles have been the issue, or that it's the offenseive drop-off at 3rd base with A-Ram gone, guess who figures as a potential solution: DeRo. He certainly is not Babe Ruth, but he's not Mick Kelleher either.

White Sox:

--Carlos Quentin's return is not imminent. This is not necessarily a bad thing right now, though if the ripple effect of C.Q. returning is anything like the A-Ram ripple effect is supposed to be, the Sox may win the division again. Scott Podsednik is still running hot, coming up with the walk-off winning hit yesterday in the 6-5 win over the Dodgers. Brian Anderson has picked up his hitting just a bit, though I'm guessing he will be the odd man out upon C.Q.'s return, and Pods will be asked to take centerfield, except late in games in B.A. is called on for defense.

--Another story in the Trib today questions the lack of fire in the Crosstown Classic this year, using last week's split at Wrigley as the case in point. I wonder how much that has to do with the lackluster Cubs and the rain-out of game 1. I think most Sox fans are too gruff to let this weekend's series pass quietly.

--The Sox are 35-37 and 6 games out of 1st place. The Cubs failed to help them gain ground against Detroit by getting swept out of the Motor City this week. Still, the Sox are looking pretty good, about where they need to be, the C.Q.'s return, a more robust offensive effort and ongoing good pitching will be needed to help them eat away at the Tigers' lead. they only won 2 of 5 against Detroit in a massive home series this month, and now have numerous divison games facing them in July, including a 3-game trip to Detroit starting July 24. This will be the most important stretch and the most important month of the season for the Sox.

Dodger blues

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The first place L.A. Dodgers are visiting our White Sox to celebrate the 50th annivesary of their match-up in the 1959 World Series, though last night, it was only the Dodgers who celebrated, in a 5-2 victory. The Sox were almost lifeless, except for Paul Konerko plunking a solo homer and Ozzie Guillen getting tossed for questioning balls and strikes (see photos taken from the Scout seat area above).




Got Wood, got win

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I was supposed to go to Friday's Cubs game, but the rain-delayed start, threatening weather and a need to get home early and get downtown for dinner plans kept me home. Poor decision, as the weather improved greatly and the game cruised through the first 7-1/2 innings. I would have missed the rest, but it might have been worth the trip to see some of the Indians fans, who according to my brother were acting like it was again Ten-Cent Beer Night in Cleveland, rather than a muggy dau in Chicago.

The Cubs completed their second straight amazing comeback win Friday when Ryan Theriot drove home Alfonso Soriano on a groundball with eyes that scooted past the Cleveland Indians 1st baseman. Another Cubbie moment to make the final score 8-7 on a day when the Cubs were down 7-0 halfway through. Minutes after the finish, another wave of storms swept through, so it was a case of great timing by the Cubs.

But, the biggest moment may have been Derrek Lee's game-tying bottom-9th homer off of former Cubs favorite Kerry Wood. I wish it would have happened to someone else, but I wouldn't trade the outcome for anything. Woody has not had a great year at all with his new team, though he has been better the last month or so. The problem may be that the Indian's never get him a lead, so he doesn't get much work--he was best last year after he came back from minor pains and got consistent work for the Cubs during the second-half. Sorry, Woody, but the Cubs need the wins.

In the 8th inning, it didn't look like we would get Wood at all, as the Indians were ahead 7-2, but their terrible bullpen gave up 4 more runs that inning. An error helped, but the Cubs looked like a new team stringing together singles and aggressive base-running that inning--all with 2 outs. Andres Blanco had a big 2-run, bases-loaded single to start the rally, while another run scored on a hard-hit grounder that was called an error and left Koyie Hill safe at 1st. Soriano, suddenly hitting again, drove in the last run of the inning with a single.

D-Lee had 2 homers on the day, the other in the 6th against the tough Cliff Lee. reed Johnson also homered earlier off of Lee.

Friday was also the homecoming for Mark DeRosa, the guy from last year who I think the Cubs miss the most. He got a nice standing ovation, and was 1-3 with an RBI and 2 walks. When Lou Piniella said the other day in the paper that the Cubs clubhouse is pretty quiet this year, that confirmed it for me: The Cubs made the wrong decision when they decided that a left-handed bat was worth more than DeRo's personality in the clubhouse. What they did in trading him of course makes perfect baseball sense--but, for all the stats and tendencies and percentages we all collect, there is so much about baseball that doesn't fit neatly into a spread sheet, or even an old baseball mentality that says the more lefties the better. Of course, if Milton Bradley and Aaron Miles, the switch-hitters that effectively replaced DeRo, guide the Cubs to the World Series, all will be forgiven.

Woody's replacement, Kevin Gregg, got the win yesterday, though most days I would still rather have Wood.
I started writing during the 8th inning of today's Crosstown Classic North game that the Sox had completed the sweep (sort of--the series won't officially be over until September). I either jinxed the Sox, or turned around the luck of the Cubs, depending on how you want to look at it.

The Cubs won 6-5, today, literally minutes after being down 5-1 and exhibiting again that they could not drive in runs even with a man on 3rd and no outs. It all happened in the bottom of the 8th. Milton Bradley struck out for out No. 2 while Micah Hoffpauir waited on 3rd and Alfonso Soriano, who moments before proved he was still alive by notching a basehit, waited on 1st base. Bradley was walking around the dugout with his bat still in his hands and his helmet still on, so stunned he may have been by his and other hitters' inability to convert baserunners into scoreboard digits. Then, almost at the instant the TV picture returned to the home plate, Derrek Lee, the one Cub who has been on a tear, plunked a 3-run homer into the basket. Moments later, Geovany Soto added a solo shot to tie the game 5-5.

And, suddenly, there was life... Reed Johnson started the bottom of the 9th, score still tied, with a single, was moved over to second on a perfect bunt by Andres Blanco, and scored the game-winner on a bloop single by Soriano. Yes, boys, it's that easy.

I literally had been very near giving up on the Cubs for the year, as dramatic as that sounds. Now, I'm going to wait until at least tomorrow. Prior to Lee's homer, I was just sick of things not working, and sick of Lou Piniella's What-am-I-supposed-to-do stance, which yesterday evolved into an I'm-about-to-do-something-but-not-quite-yet stance. I didn't see where Lou had any options, unless he moved Soriano to 2nd base to get the hotter, younger bats of Jake Fox and Micah Hoffapauir into the outfield. Bench Kosuke Fukudome for Johnson? Sure, but the problem has been that not enough of the dots have been getting connected on offense. It almost hasn't mattered how much talent allegedly was behind those dots.

That was happening again in the 8th inning until the consecutive homers, and I'm not sure everything was fixed by those miracles. We'll see. The changes that may need to be made might be in Jim Hendry's hands, rather than Lou's.

So, the Cubs earned a split with the White Sox after the Sox cruised to a 4-1 victory yesterday. They still looked great today, with Gavin Floyd silencing the Cubs and The Missile, Chris Getz, Gordon Beckham, Brian Anderson and Paulie all contributing timely hits today. Getz also unfortunately contributed a poorly-timed error to allow Hoffpauir on in the 8th. And, the bullpen that I've felt would come to be the Sox' second-half charm blew it today, though the loss was really on the hands of Scott Linebrink, who struck out Bradley, but then gave up the consecutive homers.

It's hard to tell how good the Sox are from this trip to Wrigley--they are 31-35. Yesterday, the used great fundamentals and a little power plus a knockout performance from John Danks to beat up on a Cubs team that looked broken down completely. Sox fans should take more from the last two impressive victories against the slugging Brewers than these two contests. While I'm hoping Hendry is going shopping, I'm hoping Kenny Williams is staying home at least a little longer.

So long, Sammy

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With the Crosstown Classic opener rained out Tuesday night, Cubs fans didn't have much to do but mull the news that Sammy Sosa had tested positive for steroids in 2003--the same year A-Rod did--as part of the supposedly anonymous testing done that year.

A lot of people had supported Sosa's previous claims that he hadn't taken steroids, because there was nothing to suggest that he had, other than the massively-ripped physique that he acquired over the years--oh, wait... Still, while it's hard to think about what baseball was like before the last few years of steroids, there was a time when it really did seem like Sosa and others were getting bigger through lifting and working out, something that a lot of ballplayers never embraced. I always wished that Mark Grace, as good as he was, would have pressed himself a bit more to work out to acquire a little more power, endurance and speed. But, he was a great, pure hitter who never wore batting gloves and could be seen smoking while out on the town.

Sosa gave us a lot of great times and excitement over the years. Would we give it all back? It would be hard, even knowing he was on drugs at least one of those years. He helped bring the Cubs to the brink of the World Series in 2003, though it was certainly not his best year. Now we have to ask ourselves what would have been had he remained the somewhat skinny, speedy outfielder with above-average--if not Hall of Fame power--that we saw when he arrived at Wrigley. Would he have been still a great power hitter? Would have have stolen many more bases? Would 1998 have been so much fun? These are questions we can't answer.

What's clear is that Sosa won't be going to the Hall of Fame, and probably caused the news leak of his steroid test to happen when he said recently he was expecting that call. Unless their is a great mass confessional from everyone who used steriods in recent years, that call will never come.

Split decisions

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It's the eve of the Crosstown Classic series, that time of year when a fan of both Chicago teams nervously awaits what is sure to be a battle royale. I never really want to see either team beat up too badly, though I'm generally in favor of each team winning the series--though not necessarily sweeping--that takes place in their home park. Though it can be a nerve-racking time the overall record in this series is something that should make a fan who Swings Both Ways happy: 33-33.

That said, this week's match-up takes place in Wrigley, and I wouldn't mind if the Cubs' sputtering offense began to run smoothly against the White Sox. It wouldn't bother me at all if the Milton Bradley, Alfonso Soriano and especially Kosuke Fukudome, who is in another June swoon, were responsible for a few runs against the Sox. Still, I'd also like Sox thrower Jose Contreras, who is set to pitch the third game of this series, to continue his strong comeback. So, I'm going to predict and sort of hope for the Cubs to take 2 out of 3, with the Sox picking up a win Thursday (Expect something like the reverse when the Cubs head to The Cell).

Meanwhile, here's my size-up of the head-to-head match-up, and who has the edge:

Hitting: Both teams have been shut-out numerous times and have been so lackluster at the plate, I feel like neither of them deserve to win out. Both teams are missing a power-hitter due to injury (Aramis Ramirez and Carlos Quentin), and the Cubs have been more unexpectedly disappointing on offense, but from one man to the next, there is at least the idea of a threat. Meanwhile, the Sox are relying on a rookie and one or two utility men every game to finish out the line-up. I think even with a DH making this an apples-to-oranges thing, I'll take the Cubs. EDGE: CUBS

Starting rotation: Actually, another tough call, but mainly because both teams have been pretty good. On the Sox, Contreras looks fixed, Gavin Floyd has been throwing very well and Mark Buerhle has most pitched well and has kept the Sox in game when he hasn't pitched well. John Danks is still having a tough time and Bartolo Colon is injured again, but I'm sensing a strong second half from Danks. On the Cubs, Carlos Zambrano is as mercurial as ever, while Ted Lilly has been the Cubs' best starter. Ryan Dempster has been coming around toward last year's form, and Rich Harden, when healthy, has been decent. Sean Marshall and Randy Wells both have been very good in the part-time starter roles. Lately, Cubs starters have been lights-out good, though its hasn't helped them win many games. EDGE: CUBS

Fielding: The Cubs have three fewer errors as a team and they catch more base-stealers than the Sox. Each team has great defense in centerfield (Fukudome and Reed Johnson for the Cubs, Brian Anderson and Scott Podsednik for the Sox). the Sox definitely get the edge at shortstop (Alexei Ramirez), but the Cubs get it at 1st base (Derrek Lee) EDGE: CUBS

Bullpen: The Cubs bullpen has gotten better as the season has gone on, though the closer and set-up spots have been shaky, with Carlos Marmol and Kevin Gregg both having their share of trouble. Lefty Marshall is really a starter, and a better starter than a reliever, I think. For teh Sox, Bobby Jenks has had a spot of trouble here and there closing games, and Octavo Dotel and Scott Linebrink have been feast or famine. I think my favorite Chicago reliever overall is the fireballing lefty Matt Thornton. EDGE: WHITE SOX.

Coaching: Both Lou Piniella and Ozzie Guillen have a lot to like, though both have admitted this year to being mystified by their respective team's struggles. Ozzie usually rides his guys a little more, is more to the point with criticism and is quicker to change something he doesn't like. EDGE: WHITE SOX

Depth and Intangibles: The Cubs have had to dig into the minors to find their depth, but those call-ups have worked well. The Sox depth was such that they already have called up their top draft pick from last year, though they do have several multi-position guys. The Cubs are a bunch of nervous wrecks with a lot (too much) pressure on them. The Sox are a combination of cool customers and merry pranksters, and really do seem to find another gear when they need a late rally. EDGE: WHITE SOX.

Wow, 3-3. What did you expect?

A new goat for the Cubs

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I was at my nephew's little league game all afternoon, and missed the Cubs' bottom-9th walk-off win, and Mark Buerhle's first career homer as the White Sox beat Milwaukee. I also missed Cubs hitting coach Gerald Perry getting fired (was told about that later this evening by brother-in-law Saul as we sliced into ribeyes fresh off the grill).

Perry's the latest goat--a scapegoat in this case--for the Cubs, who are packed with talented players, but just aren't winning enough, and especially aren't hitting enough. This all has a lot to do with individual hitters pressing at the plate for various reasons (last year's play-off failure, overall expectations), the line-up being made up of odd-fitting pieces (partly because of injury, poartly because of lame free agent signings), and almost nothing to do with Perry. Last year, the Cubs led the league in walks and runs scored, and Perry's philosophy seemed to be just right. This year everyone's over-swinging, the Cubs aren't walking as much and aren't scoring as much, but is it because Perry completely changed his approach?

Hopefully, this move will at least wake up a few hitters, or create better instant karma, as Lou Piniella might put it. The Cubs hired Von Joshua to replace Perry, which is notable on the eve of the eve of the Crosstown Classic (yes, I still call it that) because Joshua was the Sox hitting coach from 1998-2001. The Sox finished in 1st place in 2000, though their bats were famously silent in the postseason against the Seattle Mariners (then managed by Sweet Lou). The finished in second place in both 1998 and 1999, but with losing records both years. Joshua did oversee Albert Belle as he collected big numbers, so he may know something about managing emotionally-unstable and/or strange beings, which will help him with Milton Bradley and Alfonso Soriano.

Anyway, I'm not surprised about Perry getting fired, as poorly as the Cubs have been hitting, but I don't think he's the problem. By the way, for everything going wrong, the Cubs are only 2.5 games out of 1st place with a long way left to go.
Piranhas at Wrigley Field? Yes, those were the Minnesota Twins playing the Cubs Friday afternoon as part of the annual tradition of interleague play that, in my opinion, is rapidly losing its luster. The IL games are becoming less of a novelty, and at the same time have not acquired any true meaning. They count in the standings, so of course they do mean something, but they don't even off the site-swap structure of a regular series--three game at my home field, three game at your field.

It's probably a good thing for the Cubs that they don't have to go up to the Snow Dome this season--the White Sox can tell them that's no fun at all. The Twins have plenty of power, but in other ways are built for their home park with their scrappiness, speed, precise fundamentals, discipline in following the baseball textbook, and especially, in controlled and focused intensity.

The Cubs in some ways are the opposite--talented, but sometimes tactless on the basepaths, prone to trying to hard at the plate and maybe not hard enough in the field, and especially, emotionally unpredictable from one moment to the next. Milton Bradley's game yesterday in a 7-4 Cubs loss was Exhbit A for all of that.

The most frustrating of the frustrating Cubs, Bradley was good at the plate, going 2-4 with 2 RBIs and more importantly, demystifying Piranhas starter Kevin Slowey, who is good, but had the Cubs hitter for the most part tied in knots and swinging at everything for the first 6 innings Friday. Bradley pounded a two-run, bases-loaded double in the 7th inning, in an at-bat that showed what a smart hitter he is, because (and I'll admit I might be investing too much here) it seemed like he learned something about how Slowey was throwing and made adjustments.

Moments later, with Bradley on 2nd base and Mike Fontenot on 3rd with 1 out, Bradley ran into a tag on a grounder to former Sox 3rd baseman Joe Crede. The run scored, but the thing that annoys is that Minnesota was conceding the run to make the play at 1st base. Crede tagged Bradley and didn't get the runner at 1st, but Bradley took himself out of scoring position and the Twins almost could have had a double play.

Bradley's biggest gaffe came in the Minnesota 8th, when he caught a fly ball with men on 1st and 3rd, threw it into the bleachers to give a fan a souvenir and trotted toward the dugout. So, what's wrong with this picture? The flyball catch was only the second out, and a run scored from 3rd on the sacrific fly--though that would have scored anyway. Needless to say, a half-season's worth of boos rained down on Bradley, boos he would have gotten even if he was hitting a lot better than .224, but even louder because he is hitting .224.

Bradley arguably had another fielding mishap in the game when he seemed to react very late to a sinking fly ball and then over-aggressively dived and rolled over it, allowing a run to score and a runner to advance. Though, Bradley's reaction time and effort certainly could be debated, and the botom line is that he was trying very hard to record the out.

It all sounds like a recipe for Milton Bradley meltdown, but Bradley did his best after the game to admit his mistake on the premature souvenir toss, and shrug off the experience as something that can happen to anyone.

Would we rather have seen him react more seriously, angrily or emotionally? I think Bradley's coolness might be an improvement, as he was too emoitionally in public reactions and umpire spats earlier this season. Still, it seems to be one extreme or the other with Bradley--as it often is with Carlos Zambrano. Either Bradley is very good (which has been very rare this season), or so bad that he devolves into caricature (which has happened this season, though not as much as I expected, considering his prolonged hitting slumps). Perhaps yesterday was a breakthrough, because he was good at the plate, bad everywhere else, but didn't flip out about it. However, Bradley's alternate emotional intensity and emotional distance also could be troubling. Maybe he needs to find some kind of rhythm one way or the other.

We'll find out in the rest of this series whether he can respond immediately with a better performance, but it's increasingly clear that he has lost many of the fans already. He will have to have a pretty strong late June and early July if anything's to be salvaged from his first half.

Oaktown shutdown

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You would have thought it was David Beckham appearing at The Cell yesterday, the way people were screaming when Gordon Beckham ran on the field and later came to bat for the White Sox. Rookie-in-a-rush Beckham didn't do much of anything (0-3) against the Oakland A's, not even really getting much chance to show his fielding chops at third base, but neither did the Sox offense, which has a problem playing against rookies.

For the third straight time they lost to a rookie pitcher from lowly Oakland, and for an unbelievable 8th time this season, the Sox were shut out, this time 7-0. The only thing more cringing than Ozzie's order to walk a man to put two runners on so that Mark Buerhle could face a guy (Jason Giambi) who is hitting .400-plus against him for his career (Giambi responded to the challenge with a 3-run homer), was the offense's ability to waste a number of hits, including 2 each from Alexei Ramirez and Paul Konerko.

There is something about Oakland yearly commitment to green arms lulls some teams to sleeo at the plate, though usually the napping occurs in Oakland's capacious home park, not homer-friendly U.S. Cellular Field.

The Sox continue to have line-up gaps in particular at 2B and 3B. In the last three losses to Oakland, those positions collectively went 4-18 (2-12 in the last two losses). We'll see if Beckham can help rectify the situation, one that Chris Getz, Josh Fields, Wilson Betemit,Jayson Nix, Brent Lillibridge and even DeWayne Wise have been unable solve.

Wells swell, but still winless

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"I think I need to throw more strikes. The balls are killing me."--Carlos Marmol, in today's Chicago Tribune.

Carlos Marmol's balls may be killing him, but Randy Wells is the one in real pain.

Things were going all too well for Wells, even after he lost his no-hit bid in the 7th inning and gave up a solo homer to start the 8th. The Cubs were still ahead 5-1, and Wells was only around the 80-pitch mark. It was his game to win, it seemed.

Then, however, a Cubbie moment: Derrek Lee blew an easy catch at first base, allowing a runner aboard on an error. True Cubs fans had to know this uncharacteristic sort of blunder means things are about to go very, very wrong. The next thing to go wrong was ou Piniella yanking Wells after just 83 pitches right after the error.

This, of course, seems like a safe thing to do with a four-run lead in the 8th inning, but I'm still baffled, if only because Wells had made only one real mistake the whole game with the solo homer. The hit he gave up in the 7th was to Chipper Jones, one of the best in the business. He did not record an out after facing two batters in the 8th, but that wasn't his fault. Besides, Wells has done a great job in at least two recent starts pitching himself out of big jams with men on base, most recently against the Dodgers last week. And, he was really on last night. At least give him one more batter after Lee's botched play, to give him the chance to show whether or not he's had enough.

The only thing worse than yanking Wells too early is putting Carlos Marmol in with a man already on base. See, when, given his own inning to start, the wild, jittery Marmol likes to load the bases before settling down and working out it. If he starts with a man on base--well, you do the math. Marmol was a mess, walking in a run, hitting a guy--the usual. He left with the Cubs up 5-3 and less margin for error by cloer Kevin Gregg the following inning.

The next Cubbie moment was a dropped third strike. With one out in the bottom of the 9th and Gregg looking aggressive and effective, Garrett Anderson swung and missed a ball in the dirt. Geovany Soto missed it, too, and Anderson was on. One out later, Gregg faced hometown Atlanta boy Jeff Francouer, the Braves guy I would least like to see in that situation. I would have even rather seen Chipper, who is less likely to hurt you with a homerun. The hometown boy made good, leaving it 5-5 for three innings, during which the Cubs mostly waited for the Braves to figure out how to win.

In the end, it was Chipper driving a man home from second with one out and first base open. I believe the manager's handbook says to walk the career .311 hitter in that situation. That would have brought up another good hitter, catcher Brian McCann, but it also would have set up an easy inning-ended double play on almost any ground ball. Lou would have none of it, and that was that.

This game did have other bright spots besides Wells; swell and ultimately wasted effort. Alfonso Soriano ledd off the game with a homerun, and is now in second place for career homers leading off a game. D-Lee hit a rare homer, and had an all-around good day except for the untimely error.

Just another game at the beginning of June, I know and nothing to fret too much about. Just another lost opportunity, and hopefully, the Cubs won't finish one lost opportunity out of the postseason.

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