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July 2009 Archives

Re-visiting Buehrle's perfect game

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Mark Buehrle's perfect game last Thursday seemed to come and go with very quick Buehrle-like efficiency, and one of my Sox fan friends has already been on me for not talking it up enough. At this point, I'm more upset about the Sox losing 3 of 4 in Detroit to go back to the happy place where I was last week, but my favorite stat of all the stats and facts thrown around in the last several days was that Buehrle only spent 32 minutes of game-time on the mound during the "PG."

That's just wild, and it's not like who threw 70 pitches. He threw 116 pitches in 32 minutes. This probably isn't always the case with every opponent, but the game-pace Buehrle sets often seems to get hitters off balance.

There also has been a lot of talk in the last week about Buehrle's chance for the Hall of Fame. He certainly has a great shot at 300 wins for his career (133 now), but has also strongly hinted he might quit after 2011. A Cy Young Award this year would definitely help his case, and he's definitely in the running for it right now, but even two more very strong seasons (near 20 wins, which he has never accomplished) after this one, would leave him well short of 200 wins. being a World Series Champion helps, too, but short of 200 wins, I think he would probably need another no-hitter, a couple Cy Youngs or another World Series under his belt.

And, if he does that, we're not letting him walk away. I would let him fly in from Missouri for his starts if it made a difference, though you also have to figure a good guy like Buehrle would never go for that star treatment.

The case for keeping Milton Bradley

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There was a rumor in the last few days--now shot down by just about everybody--that the Detroit Tigers were looking to acquire free agent disappointment Milton Bradley from the Cubs. I think most people have viewed Bradley as basically untradeable at this point unless the Cubs are looking for nothing better than a set of steak knives. Heck, that's what I thought.

In any case, there won't be a trade, apparently, and after seeing Bradley sometimes succeeding/still essentially struggling in the last several games, I'm starting to like the idea of keeping him. Why? Three little letters: OBP.

Bradley's on-base percentage going into Sunday's game was .377, the second-best of any player on the current roster (second to Aramis Ramirez). With 44 walks, Bradley has only six fewer walks than team leader Kosuke Fukudome. I think that, used pretty strategically, which Lou Piniella has begun to do by limiting Bradley's left-handed at-bats against righty pitchers, Bradley could be a very valuable contributor down the line even if he continues to hits around .250 (at .246 now)--as long as he keeps the BBs coming and keeps that OBP at a healthy level.

Bradley's current .131 spread between his batting average and OBP is a remarkable stat. Without Derrek Lee and Aramis Ramirez, among others, hitting well, it may not amount to much, and when Bradley was slumping along with Lee and A-Ram was out with his shoulder injury, Bradley's few walks and a whole lot of nothing otherwise wasn't acceptable.

But, now, it's another cog, an important one, in the run-scoring machine that the Cubs finally having running smoothly. And, if Bradley starts to hit a little more--let's just say the Cubs visit to first place today, could be a long-term visit.

Floored by Parque's HGH confession

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Little Jim Parque, he of the one pretty good season with the 2000 A.L. Central Divison winning White Sox, has a lengthy (and I do mean lengthy) confession about having used HGH during the latter part of his career after his arm injury suffered in the 2000 ALDS, in which Parque started the opener in a series known best for its complete lack of offense by a Sox team that had scored 978 runs during the season.

I want to read it through a couple times before I offering too many impressions, but 1) I'm surprised 2) He comes off noth as very apologetic, but also looking for a little justification--saying essentially he did what he felt he had to do to stay in the game. Interesting...

Perfection!

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Missed opportunity

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With the White Sox up 2-1 on the Rays at the opening of the 8th inning last night, I was hoping the Sox were ready for an extra inning game. The Great and Powerful Oz had trotted Clayton Richard out to pitch the 8th, though he was already at the 106-pitch mark. Even if Richard didn't blow it, I figured, Bobby Jenks, who barely escaped a bases-loaded jam for the Sox' 4-3 win Monday, surely would blow it.

Richard turned out to be impressive in his final inning, giving up a single, but using only 10 pitches, which made me wonder for a moment if we might see him in the 9th, conventional pitcher management philosophies cast aside. Instead, we saw Jenks load the bases again, this time before he recorded a single out, on the way to a 3-2 Sox loss.

Black Jack sees it as another example of a team handing off a game to a closer without a thought, because that's the foolish way of modern baseball. There are times when I would agree with that perspective, and last night might be one of them. Richard did indeed look great, though it was already his longest outing ever. I thought the key move was leaving him in after the 8th inning single. I thought that was an inidcation Ozzie was determined to stay with him for th 9th as well.

Yet, two excellent right-handed hitters (Jason Bartlett and Evan Longoria) were due up in the 9th, which would have made sticking with Richard a very high risk situation. The problem was that the only other apparent answer was Jenks, who in July before last night had pitched 5 inning and given up 5 runs (4 ER). Ugly choices, and maybe a great spot to do something really unconventional, but the fact was that even though Jenks has not been greatly lately, he had not actually blown a save since June 11.

Ozzie may have felt his hands were tied in trying to save his bullpen for tonight, when the Sox will start minor-leaguer Carlos Torres in place of John Danks, who has a blister, but what the Sox end up with is a missed opportunity to go 2 games up in a four-game series, while also losing a game in the standings to 1st place Detroit.

C.Q. is back, B.A. is gone

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Carlos Quentin officially is back from the disabled list, and to answer your next question, yes, Brian Anderson was indeed sent down to the minors to make room for him. In recent games, as B.A.'s average has again headed south while Scott Podsednik was still managing to somehow channel the 2005 version of himself, it has become clear that Pods would move over to centerfield when C.Q. returned.

At least, that's what we think is happening. Tonight's line-up for the first of four games against last year's hated play-off foe, the Rays, was not yet posted as of this writing. Maybe we'll also see a variation in coming games with C.Q. DH-ing against lefties, though Jim Thome has been hot enough lately, hasn't he?

B.J. and the baby bears

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The Cubs have signed one-time superstar closer B.J. Ryan, according to the Chicago Tribune. More recently, Ryan has been a huge bust in Toronto, and was recently released. But, this looks like a low-risk move by the Cubs, landing a lefty with credentials who has only pitched in the American League thus far and could potentially do well against National Leaguers who haven't seen him.

Ryan is being sent to the Iowa Cubs, but I'll bet he gets to Wrigley before too long.

The Cubs have needed another southpaw and true bullpen-type pitcher (unlike Sean Marshall, whose good stuff and durable arm often goes to waste in short outings out of the pen). Signing Ryan also gives them some late-inning flexibility, particularly at a time when Carlos Marmol continues to amble along his strike-'em-out-or-walk-'em-in path.

Second half, second chance

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At the beginning of the season, I predicted a 90-72 record for the Cubs and a first-place finish for the third year in the row. At 43-43, it's hard to imagine them going 47-29 the rest of the way, especially with ongoing injuries being an issue. Still, I'm not completely ready to give up on them winning the Central Division or at least getting the Wild Card with a lesser record.

It could be one of those years, like 2007, when an 85-77 record or something worse could win the division. The Cubs still face stiff competition from the Cardinals and Brewers, though I think the Brewers may fade unless they pull off another trade for a big-time starter like Cliff Lee or Roy Halladay.

I'm going to revise my prediction to 84-78. Whether or not that's good enough to take them any farther I don't want to say. I just want to hope.

Meanwhile, I had the White Sox finishing in second place with an 86-76 record--behind Cleveland. Wow. Safe to say the Cleveland won't be a threat, and happy to say that the Sox, with a first-half record of 45-43, are in a great position to go on a run and finish in first place.

Is 41-33 too much to ask in the second half? I don't think so, and with Detroit relying on young starters and an iffy bullpen, I like the Sox' chances to win the division. What about the Twins? Let's not talk about the Twins...

Are the Cubs considering bankruptcy?

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By all appearances, the Chicago Cubs look like a money machine, from the ticket and concession prices at numerous sold-out games to the vast national merchandising reach evidenced at every road game. So, why would they file for bankruptcy protection, as published reports from Bloomberg News in the Tribune and elsewhere suggest?

Is it to get away from those huge liabilities--you know, the massive contracts being paid to under-performing players like Milton Bradley, Kosuke Fukudome and Alfonso Soriano? If only...

Actually, the reports suggest that getting some protection from creditors will make the still-pending Cubs sale easier to close. Still, it would be another embarrassment for a team with plenty of them.

Somewhere along the way to 81 wins

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Only a week ago, the Cubs were taking three of four from the powerfull Brew Crew, and looked like a team that had their offense and pitching in synch with their best hitter about to return from injury. Since then, they have lost three in a row in such woeful fashion, that they seem less a first-place 89-90 game winner waiting to bust out, and a lot more like the 41-42 team their record says they are. It's hard to look at the last three games and see anyting greater than an 81-81 record at the end of the season.

Not only has the offense gone back to bad habits (even Derrek Lee, though he did manage a 3-run homer yesterday in an 8-3 loss against the Cards), but the injury bug bit again with the Cubbie Moment-style injuries (We prefer Cubbie Moment to Lou's Cubbie Occurrence) to Ryan Dempster and Geovany Soto, outting both out for a month.

Meanwhile, the Cubs sale still lingers incomplete, and you have to wonder how much that ties Jim Hendry's hands as the trading deadline approaches. Not that he would move anyone anyway. He basically has a bunch of under-achieving stars (Whatever happened to Rich Harden by the way? 5 IP, 4 ER, 4 BB yesterday) and a few too-highly-paid, untradeable free agent types.

The funny thing is that the Central Division is so winnable. No one is taking charge. The Brewers and the Cards have both had bad spells, and the Cubs clearly have the best pitching staff among the three (though I'll bet the Cards and Brewers will fight hard over top-tier trade bait such as Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee). If the Cubs could go on a run, winning 5 of 7 here, 3 of 5 there--nothing as demanding as a major winning streak--they could find themselves in 1st place. But, when they win a few this year, they immediately give them back. That's the story of the 2009 Cubs.

Three cheers for Paulie

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Paul Konerko hit 3 homeruns last night, including a grand slam. Wow. It's always amazing and kind of shocking when you are watching something like that happen.

In one sense, it seems like the possibility is always there with a hitter like Paulie or Alfonso Soriano, who has done as a Cub within the last two years, or Aramis Ramirez, who did it twice in 2004. Yet, homeruns are so unexpected, and even last night after Paulie had hit a grand slam and a solo shot, I was stunned by his third round-tripper, a ball that looked like at had no business going over the fence. And then there were 3.

The Sox won 10-6, and are pushing toward a strong close to the first half of the season. And for Paulie, 3 HRs and 7 RBIs in a single game is a nice capper on a great first half of the season. He's an All-Star in my book.

7 and counting

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The White Sox have won 7 games in a row, and while the streak has come against teams best described as "troubled"--the Royals, the Indians and the Cubs--they have definitely found a rhythm.

Great pitching has been the top reason for the streak, and in a 5-0 trouncing of the Royals last night, John Danks contonued his recent comeback from a string of inconsistent starts: 7.1 IP, 5 Ks, 0 BB, 0 ER. Danks and Gavin Floyd, getting the Star-Spangled start today, have gradually found their way back to 2008 form. With Jose Contreras pitching like the second half of 2005 and Mark Buehrle throwing more like its 2001, the Sox staff has figured out how to bottle their best moments and tap into them when need (OK, maybe not the best metaphor in the era of PEDs).

The offense is starting to show up as well. Newly rejuvenated by lead-off man Scott Podsednik, these Sox hitters do not look like the same ones who have been shut out 9 times this year. They are keeping the line moving, taking advantage of whatever opposition errors fall their way and not relying too much on the long ball, though homeruns certainly have helped, like A.J. Pierzynski's tone-setting solo shot last night against Zack Greinke.

Pods proves an effective lead-off man doesn't always have to draw a walk. Just the threat of something else, like the combination of speed with a bunt or a swinging bunt, which Pods has started to do very well, is enough. That may be the only element that the Cubs are missing with Alfonso Soriano, who reportedly is being moved out of the lead-off spot. Sam Fuld, in a few games leading off for the Cubs this week, looked more like Pods than anyone else in compiling a .600 OBP in his first 10 at-bats.

The rest of the Sox line-up is hitting, too, with Gordon Beckham really finding his stroke and his confidence. Could the Sox have a Rookie of the Year candidate two years running?
There have been a number of bright spots to celebrate about our Chicago teams this season, but also plenty to criticize. One of the most surprising things to me is that three of the players I felt would be embarking on career wanes this season have come up big.

1) Derrek Lee: 2 Hrs and 7 RBIs last night for a career-best game marked the high point of a strong couple of months for D-Lee. During the off-season, I was actually hoping the Cubs would find a way to move him despite his steady consistency of past years for more power, a left-handed or more speed at another position. But, D-Lee has virtually carried the Cubs in several game during their tough May and June slates. Still, the Cubs will need to re-assess after this season is over, whener that may be...

2) Mark Buehrle: His 8-2, 3.09 ERA says it all. After a couple years of being just good enough, he is back to being the rock of the pitching staff. Some of the other starters have struggled at times, but No. 56 has kept the Sox afloat. He very nearly had a complete game shutout last night, and continues to be effective in his own underpowering way. He only had one strikeout last night, but retired frustrated K.C. batters on a steady stream of grounders and pop-flies.

3) Paul Konerko: More than the other two, I thought Paulie might be a true liability this year, and that his ongoing service with the Sox would only result in a series of benchings, with a rotating cast of characters, including out-of-practice Jim Thome, playing 1st base. But, Paulie, while not pounding too many homers (13), is on a pace for 100 RBIs (49 right now) that primarily have been collected with timely, effective contact hitting. He's a notorious slow starter, yet has a .293 batting average, that hovered above .300 for much of the first half.
Couple of thoughts from the past week:

Cubs general manager Jim Hendry is finally getting some of the blame or the under-achieving Cubs. You can blame the players or Sweet Lou's supposed lack of fire, but sooner or later, you have got to question some of the moves Hendry has made--and we aren't talking about the DeRosa trade, because of course that has been mention plenty of times already.

Hendry loves to tinker, and sometimes it turns out well, when you come up with Aramis Ramirez or Rich Harden, but his love of long-term free agent deals may have finally caught up to him, with under-achieving, but hard-to-tade players like Alfonso Soriano, Milton Bradley and Kosuke Fukudome. Each of them do have value on different ways, just not enough to validate big hard-to-move contracts.

Hendry is still tinkering, trading today for Jeff Baker, a multi-position infielder with a decent bat, but also 85 strikeouts in 299 at-bats last year. The Cubs designated multi-position whiz Ryan Freel for assignment. Freel had done very little, but his aggresive base-running and visible attitude on the field was kind of encouraging on the otherwise tight, jittery Cubs.

The second thing is the whole get-rid-of-Zambrano movement. We've been tired of Carlos Zambrano's antics for a while now, though curiously, the recent uproar came after a relatively benign plunking of Dewayne Wise during the finale Crosstown Classic South series. The HBP came right after the wild pitch/steal of home by Chris Getz, a play that made Zambrano look pretty stupid and set up his rather obvious method of acting out.

Next thing you know, the Tribune is saying get rid of Zambrano and conducting a fan poll on the issue after arguing its case. Not surprisingly, the vast majority of fans voted to dump Zambrano. I'm fine with him leaving town, but not for nothing or less. He's still a young. talented arm that has pitched a no-hitter, and I don't think the Cubs should part with him for less than a couple a strong bullpen vets or a position player who starts somewhere else with one or two minor leaguers thrown in.

The funny part to me is that it took this long to get the dump-Zambrano bandwagon moving. his antics against the Sox were nothing but Zammy being Zammy.

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