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March 2010 Archives

Millar time? Guess not...

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On the surface, Kevin Millar's release from the Cubs yesterday might be read as the Cubs arguing against the theory that a good-vibe clubhouse guy can change everything for the team. However, Millar's recent career stats and current age, plus Chad Tracy's relative youth, power potential, natural third base abilities and left-handed bat are difficult to ignore.

Tracy is the obvious choice, and though most of us (Millar included) were surprised when the Cubs chose Tracy over Millar yesterday, in retrospect Millar would have had to hit .350 (he hit .242), pound a few homers and make a couple eye-catching defensive plays at third this spring just to even the battle. That's how big and bright Millar's reputation and personality are--he made us overlook the obvious for a while, and it was kinda fun.

Of course, organizationally-speaking, it would have been easy to give Millar a brief shot at the beginning of the season to see if he had some curse-busting magic left. The Cubs could have simply sent Tracy down for a bit, ready to call up at the first sign of Millar not cutting it or the inevitable Aramis Ramirez injury. Let's hope the rest of the Cubs can manufacture their own good vibes this year, unlike 2009.

Demp dominates

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Ryan Dempster has looked good this spring for the Cubs, though never better than Sunday, when he struck out nine in seven shutout innings. Carlos Zambrano has been grabbing headlines over his weight loss and new supposedly serious attitude, and Ted Lilly's injury has been a major concern, but in the middle of it all Dempster has looked fantastic this month and could put together another season like 2008, when he went 17-6.

Also, Tyler Colvin did end up making the team. He leads the Cubs this spring with a .468 average and 13 RBIs. Which one of our outfield vets will pay the price in bench time?

And, finally, Andres Blanco is no longer a Cub, having been shipped to the Rangers. So... Mike Fontenot had better be for real this year.

The Sox lost two split squad games Sunday, though the upside was that Gavin Floyd pitched well in a 5-0 loss to Texas, going six innings with six strikeouts and two earned runs; and bullpen brothers Scott Linebrink, Matt Thornton and J.J. Putz each pitched a scoreless inning in a 10-8 loss to Kansas City.

Colvin makes it interesting

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Several reports today suggest that versatile Cubs OF Tyler Colvin could make the Opening Day roster. The way he's been hitting--leading the Cactus League in hits, whatever that's worth--he deserves consideration above Sam Fuld, Micah Haffpauir and others.

It remains to be seen how much playing time he'll get. It's been suggested that Alfonso Soriano could lose at-bats, but as much as I think Soriano has crippled the Cubs at times in the past, he has looked good this spring and I doubt Lou Piniella will take him out much unless he obviously slumps from the start of the season.

Right now, I wonder if it's more likely that Kosuke Fukudome could be the one on the short leash. He started slow this spring, though has picked it up the last few games. Colvin replacing Fukie still gives you a lefty hitting second, and for now at least, one with a bit more pop in his bat and probably more speed. One big difference, however, us that Fukudome is showing his typical plate patience this spring with seven walks in 13 games. Colvin has none in 17 games, though you could argue that you need to swing and hit to get noticed in spring training, rather than take pitches. Hopefully, Colvin would be more selective when the games start counting.

In any case, Fukudome could keep his job and playing time by starting hot, which he has done in the past. If Soriano and Fukudome both start well, then Colvin could be back in the minors before too long, but that also would means the Cubs are doing well, right?

Twitter snit

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Just when we hoped the White Sox Twitter controversy would go away, Oney Guillen kept it going by sommenting on the radio about it, which of course meant that his dad, Ozzie Guillen, had to respond because neither of them apparently can live with the idea of not having the last word.

Oney's radio comments came shortly after Ozzie had admitted it was he who urged his son to resign. David Haugh of the ribune thinks Oney's 15 minutes of infamy are just about up, but I don't know about that. The way things are playing out, he's going to end up on the next season of "The Celebrity Apprentice."

Spring cleaning

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The Cub and White Sox have both been doing some spring cleaning the last few days as they work their rosters down. There are also a few players who have strengthened their chances to win roster spots or starting jobs.

--Starlin Castro turns 20 this week, but won't be celebrating as a major leaguer. He was sent to Iowa, a bit early for my tastes, even though Ryan Theriot has been the best-hitting Cub this spring and it looked unlikely Castro would usurp his starting role. The veteran infielders--not only Theriot, but also Mike Fontenot and Jeff Baker--seemed to take the competition from Castro seriously. I'm betting Castro will be up before the All-Star if an injury or slump calls for another infielder.

--Brad Snyder was sent down, too. Unexpectedly, Justin Berg and Esmailin Caridad look like they will be in Chicago come April.

--I'll bet on Kevin Millar and Tyler Colvin to make the Cubs roster, and Chad Tracy and Sam Fuld to fall short.

--Carlos Silva suddenly is pitching well.

--Old news at this point, but from White Sox camp, 2009 spring training stars Dayan Viciedo and Jeff Marquez have gone to the minors.

--Daniel Cabrera, late of the Orioles, the guy who entices with a rocket arm but frustrates with terrible control, has been released. I thought maybe Ron Cooper could bring something out of him that the Orioles couldn't, but in any case, a fairly insignificant loss for the Sox.

--Alex Rios has been looking better than he did late last season.

--Mark Teahen still isn't hitting. Maybe it's because he no longer faces White Sox pitching. I'm kidding... sort of. He will make the team regardless, but it would be nice to see him get going before Easter.

--Bobby Jenks had an MRI on his right calf, but says he'll be ready to go Opening Day.

How is it that the Cubs are suddenly looking better than the Sox? The Cubs are 11-7-1 this spring and seem to have found pitching depth despite having a key starter (Ted Lilly) and a top reliever (Angel Guzman) out of action. The Sox aren't hitting, the manager is annoyed and possibly distracted by a Twitter controversy and his son's resignation, the closer is not healthy and also seemingly annoyed... Should we re-think our expectations?

Don't Twitter it all away

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The Sox have been looking poised for a great year. Sure Mark Teahen isn't hitting and Bobby Jenks has already unraveled, but the make-up of the team and the game-plan seem sound, and there's a depth of talent pretty much everywhere.

So, it's very disconcerting to see controversies over the burgeoning Guillen Social Media Empire become a distraction. We were already a little worried about the distractions that might be caused by Ozzie's Twitter account. Though most of his Tweets have been either Ozzie-hilarious or Ozzie-non-sensical and have stayed away from talk about the team, son Oney's Tweets apparently got him in trouble with GM Kenny Willams. As a result, Oney Guillen has left the organization, and Ozzie reportedly, predicatbly is pretty steamed.

This blow-up comes not long after Ozzie nixed a plan for a new baseball website, allegedly under pressure from top management. I'm not too worried about Ozzie losing focus during games because of whatever social media forays and investments he's made, and I can't blame him for being mad about Oney losing (or leaving) his job over a spat with Kenny. Meanwhile, the Sox organization seems a bit too sensitive about what people are saying on Twitter, especially when it doesn't appear to be anything about baseball matters.

Let's just play ball.

Is this all just a PR stunt to drive ratings for MLB Network's "The Club," which will largely focus on the Sox front office? We can only hope so, but somehow, I doubt it.

Vegas, baby

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The Cubs and White Sox had another spring training tussle Friday night, this time at Cashman Field in Las Vegas. The Cubs came out on top 6-5.

These Vegas spring training games have always looked like a lot of fun. The crowds are always big, and the weather tends to be windy and cool on spring nights in Vegas, so the ball may sail. And then, well, you're in Vegas... I have always wanted to catch one of these games during frequent spring business trips to Vegas, but have always missed them by a day or two. I wonder if the players get to enjoy any of Sin City's temptations, or are held on a short leash.

The Vegas visit gave Sox manager Ozzie Guillen a chance to talk about his days playing for the Las Vegas Stars as a minor leaguer, and how he didn't lose any money at the tables.

Notable from the game: Cubs 3B Josh Vitters continued a good spring with a two-run-scoring triple. He's hitting .571. Mike Fontenot went 3-4, and continues to play like a man who desparately wants a job. Tom Gorzelanny looked wild at the start, but settled down. The Sox' Mark Teahen finally got a hit--who would have though Alex Rios would have two homers this spring before Teahen even got his first hit?

Say it's so, Joe

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We don't wish injuries upon even our most hated foes, and Minnesota's Joe Nathan certainly qualifies. So, on a personal level, we're sad to hear there is a possibility the amazingly tough and consistent Piranhas closer may miss the entire 2010 season.

But, if it turns out that way (The Twins will know more in a couple weeks.), it could mean a few more losses for Minnesota, a couple more wins for the White Sox against the Twins--assuming they can't find a replacement with anywhere near Nathan's talent--and better chances for the Sox to win the Central Division.

On the Cubs beat, we hear that Xavier Nady will not be ready to play the outfield until June, though he will be able to pinch-hit from the start of the season. Sounds like the Cubs knew about this and were waiting to tell us. With the injury to Angel Guzman, the likelihood that Ted Lilly will not be aready until May and Nady's part-timer status, it's not looking like the Cubs will get off to a fast start.

Still, this math guy is predicting 86 wins for the Cubs (just 85 for the Sox), and he apparently is pretty good at this whole prediction business.

Not much else going on--apparently it's colder and rainier in Arizona these days than in Chicago.

Carlos vs. Carlos

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The Cubs-Sox spring training re-match was postponed today due to rain, and I decided to take another look at yesterday's Sox victory. After watching Carlos Quentin belt two homers and drive in five runs off Carlos Silva, I'm wondering this: Is that a sign of Quentin's return to prominence, or a sign that Silva is even worse than some of us thought?

My money right now is on Quentin to have a pretty decent year, possibly another 30+ homer year, though it all depends on whether he can keep that injury bug at bay. The more time he spends at DH (where he hit yesterday) the better.

Silva, on the other hand, is vying for the same bottom-of-the-rotation starter job he had with Minnesota (before Seattle bought into the idea he could be something better). Yet, Silva so far doesn't even look that good. I think he can be useful for the Cubs, though not as a starter--probably more like a long reliever.

In other news, I was surprised to see Lou Piniella say this early in the spring that Starlin Castro probably would start the season in Triple A. he was moved to say that after Andres Blanco hurt his ankle yesterday, though the statement probably comes as better news to Ryan Theriot, who not only lost his arbitration case, but has been living with the speculation that Castro is challenging him for starts at shortstop. I think the Cubs should let Castro earn a job to open the season if he puts up the numbers.

Crosstown crushing

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Try telling White Sox fans that spring training games don't mean anything. The Sox pounded the Cubs today 15-3 in their first spring match-up. The Cubs haven't looked good since the first game Thursday, a 9-3 win over Oakland, while the Sox looked their best thus far in this game.

Meanwhile, the Cubs got bad news about poor Angel Guzman, whose shoulder injury may be career threatening. Not sure if this opens a better chance for someone like Jeff Gray or what.

Prospecting

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This year's Baseball Prospectus says the Cubs will finish 79-83 in 2nd place to the Cardinals, while the White Sox finish 80-82--but in a three-way tie for first place. Still, the Sox only have a 27 percent chance of making the play-offs.

I wouldn't be surprised if the Cubs prediction ends up pretty close, though for now, I'll stick to something more like 82-80 or 81-81, still only good for second place. The Sox, however, look like a winning club to me. I think they've got a decent chance to win their division, and while Minnesota and Detroit will be neck-and-neck with them all the way, I think having the second-best pitching staff in the A.L. from top to bottom (after Boston) will provide the edge over the Twins' sub-par pitching and the Tigers' half-lame line-up.

I'm going to guess 87-75 for the Sox and first place all to themselves, though I expect a trading deadline deal for a dedicated DH to help them get to that number. Once they reach the play-offs, we'll see...

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