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April 2010 Archives

Sweeps!

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A great weekend to be a fan of both the White Sox and the Cubs: Both teams did nothing but win, as the Sox swept the Mariners and the Cubs swept the Brewers. Which was more gratifying? The fun of being a fan who Swings Both Ways is that you don't have to decide.

The Sox won in especially exciting fashion--two walk-off wins on homers and the third victory coming on a bottom-eighth blast. The Cubs, meanwhile, were dominant in Milwaukee, controlling games with great pitching and persistent offense.

I love to see the Sox come back late because you always believe they have it in them. Ozzie Guillen laments having to win by the homer, but it's the never-say-die attitude of his teams that allow for those moments. On the other hand, like most Cubs fans, I am never comfortable with the Cubs leading until the high-fives start and the team walks off the field, so it was great to see them in control and confident.

Both teams have had major ups and downs thus far in the early going, but what a great weekend!

Comeback kid

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Andruw Jones is not the same player who hit two homers in his first World Series appearance back in 1996 as a 19-year-old. He's been through a lot of ups and downs--and we're just talking about his weight--and turned 33 yesterday.

But, Jones continued what is looking more and more like the start of a comeback year by celebrating his birthday in a similar fashion to that long-ago WS appearance: Two homeruns, including the walk-off game-winner in a much-needed 7-6 win for the White Sox over Seattle.

Paul Konerko and Carlos Quentin also broke out of mid-April swoons with homers of their own, and Gavin Floyd toughened up after a difficult start to keep the Sox ahead for much of this game. However, Floyd was done in by J.J. Putz, who relieved him with the bases loaded and promptly gave up a grand slam. The bats showed some late-inning life for once, though, and tied the game to set up Jones' bottom-ninth heroics.

Jones right now looks like a slightly younger version of Jermaine Dye. It's early, so who knows how long the comeback will last, but it's clear one of the team's least risky off-season moves is paying off.

Bad teams wear black

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The Sox, at 5-10 after last night's perfect game-revenge blowout by the Rays, are apparently off to their worse start since 1997. Things haven't been going great, but I didn't think the Sox were doing any worse than they might have done in previous Aprils. I guess we have had it pretty good.

I still like the look of this team, and the balance of the Sox line-up, though it seems like they are missing Jermaine Dye's bat more than anyone thought and Carlos Quentin might be pressing too much trying to make up for the power outage. The starting rotation has not lived up to its billing, but I'm betting we will be singing a different tune about that but this time next month.

Gettig back to last night's game, it was Mark Buehrle's first outing against the Rays since his perfect game against them last July. He was good early, but the Rays rae in 2008 form alread, and the huge chip on their shoulder from last year's perfect game helped them to a 12-0 knockout.

Panic time? Not yet.

Z plot thickens

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In a shocking development, the Cubs are moving Carlos Zambrano to the bullpen. Zambrano had a horrible Opening Day in Atlanta, but has been decent since then. He pitched well enough in a 4-0 loss last night to win--the reason why the Cubs didn't win is pretty obvious from the final score.



Zambrano's arsenal and talent suggest he could be dominating in short stints, but that's the same reason he's been looked to as a starter. His weakness--emotional imbalance--seems to have mitigated since Zambrano said recently that he would stay cool this year. The thing is, it is not too hard to envision close-game bullpen situations bringing that weakness to the forefront again.



One thing is for certain: The Cubs have been killed not only by a lame line-up, but also by an awful bullpen. This move is Lou Piniella's answer.

The Soriano dilemma

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What's to be done with Alfonso Soriano?

Maybe that's not the top question on everyone's mind after the Cubs just lost two of three to Houston (3-2 today in 10 innings, with Carlos Marmol blowing his first save), but it certainly has been the pressing theme of this young season.

Soriano already has three errors in left field this season, even though he hasn't played in every game and has been pulled in the late innings in a couple others. When I was at Wrigley last Thursday, Soriano came in as a pinch hitter and was greeted with a chorus of boos even louder than those showered on Jeff Samarzdija an inning later when handed Milwaukee the lead.

Uncharacteristically, Soriano walked in that at-bat, and though he has been average at best at the plate this year (.263 after 0-3 today, 1 HR, 3 RBIs, 1 SB), he has shown some positive signs--better plate patience, and a willingness to hit the ball to right field or give it a slap of solid contact rather than airing out a homerun swing on every pitch.

His fielding has been worse than ever though, and after an easy drop yesterday on a soft liner, he said he would eliminate his trademark hop. If that's all that was needed, why didn't he do it sooner, or why didn't coaches force him to do it? I think the answer is that the hop, though obviously not a sound fundamental way of fielding, isn't really the problem. Soriano has maintained a positive attitude, but it seems like the threat of being pulled from the field, perhaps combined with the pressure to produce batting in a different spot in the order, has played with his head enough that he's just too tentative.

There have been rumors, denied by GM Jim Hendry, that the Cubs could buy out Soriano's contract. That would be a mistake this early in the season. It doesn't seem like the Cubs can really trust him in the field, but if his hitting gradually improves and he starts on a power streak, they could realistically trade him for some decent value later in the season. If that happens, the Cubs probably will have to cover some of the tab, but if they can get a warm body or two and get Soriano to an American League city where he can DH, or to a National League team in dire need of bats, it would be worth it.

It seems in the last couple games like center fielder Marlon Byrd has expanded his range more into left field. That may further hurt Soriano's confidence, but it's probably the best thing to do until the Cubs have a chance to move him in a deal.

April 15, Wrigley Field

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Derrek Lee (above, far right) and other Cubs salute Jackie Robinson scholarship winners on J.R.'s special day, while starter Carlos Zambrano (below) and everyone else warms up wearing Robinson's No. 42.

Ups and downs up north

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Went to Wrigley today for this first time this season, and will have a post on that tomorrow...

For now, a look at the White Sox, still in Toronto (Still?), where a brilliant extra-inning win was followed by almost being no-hit, which was followed by John Danks and a crushing offensive effort shutting down the Blue Jays 11-1, which was followed tonight by, you guessed it, a 7-3 loss.

Will the real Chicago White Sox please stand up?

The 11-1 victory further showcased Andruw Jones, who had three hits and his third homerun of the year and is looking like a more frequent starter than anyone expected. Carlos Quentin also kept up his hot streak with a grand slam. The line-up delivered 15 hits overall. Danks didn't give up a hit until the fifth inning.

But, the bats took the night off tonight. It was nice that Donny Lucy got his first career homer, and Alexei "formerly the Cuban Missile" Ramirez hit his first homerun amid what has been another lackluster start for him. But, Jones, Quentin and Paul Konerko were hitless.

Splitting a four-game series in Toronto isn't a bad thing, but the next time the Sox have an 11-1 drubbing or an 8-7 extra-innings comeback, they need to bottle it.

Wins and boo birds at Wrigley

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The Cubs are unbeaten at home, now 4-4 on the season and everyone inside and outside of the dugout seems happy, but one of the Cubs isn't catching any fan love--and he's having trouble with fly balls, too.

The Cubs beat the Brewers 7-6 today, getting a bit of a streak going after beating the Brew Crew 9-5 in Monday's home opener. Today, they came back in the eighth from being down 6-3, with Ryan Theriot and Kosuke Fukudome coming up with the big run-scoring hits. Theriot had a huge day, going 4-5 with two stolen bases, Fukie added two hits and three RBIs, and Jeff Baker continued his mini-tear witha pair of hits. Also, slumping Geovany Soto had his first homer of the year, which reached Waveland Ave. Carlos Marmol was unhittable for the second straight appearance and got the save.

But, the boo birds were out, too, for Alfonso Soriano, who made two more bad plays in left field, bobbling a ball, which allowed Rickie Weeks to get to third after he doubled, and later completely misplaying a ball at the wall so that it bounced back past him toward the infield. Judging from the crowd reaction, you would have thought he had a chance to catch it, but I think every time he does something wrong now, fans imagine Sam Fuld or Tyler Colvin doing someting graceful and acrobatic to make the play that Soriano messed up.

Making matters worse, Lou Piniella, per his new policy, pulled Soriano on a double-switch late in the game, which gave the crowd a good, long opportunity to let Soriano know what they think. I'm definitely not a fan the albatross power hitter, but found it kind of sad and slightly unnecessary, particularly after Soriano had scored the first run of the day for the Cubs after doubling earlier in the game.

Soriano seemed to have a pretty level-headed attitude about the whole thing after the game. With the size of his contract, he's not trade bait, so hopefully he can keep his chin up.

Off to Wrigley tomorrow for some summer weather and another matinee.

From hit parade to almost hitless

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Just a night after the Sox had their biggest offensive explosion of the season thus far, they were almost no-hit tonight by Toronto's Ricky Romero. Eeveryone in the line-up took the night off except for Alex Rios, who for the second night in a row seemed to relish sticking it to his old team. Rios hit a 2-run homer with no outs in the eighth just after A.J. Pierzynski was hit by a pitch--again A.J. ends up as the Sox' good luck charm.

The luck didn't last too long though, as the Sox still lost 4-2. Well, this is one of those rare losses where it could have been worse.

Hopefully, the line-up won't be too shell-shocked after tonight because they had a great team effort coming back to beat Toronto 8-7 in extras on Monday. Andruw Jones hit two homeruns and was 3-4, Alex Rios was 3-5 with a stolen base, and Mark Teahen continued to break out of his slump with a 3-5 night that included a game-tying homerun in the ninth. It all made up for another bad performance by Jake Peavy, who suddenly looks like he's trying to throw the ball through a brick wall when he's on the mound.

Well, it's still early...

Weekend update

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After their first weekend of play for the 2010 season, both are teams are 2-4, with line-ups on both sides of town still struggling mightily. The White Sox actually did manage five runs Sunday, the most either team has managed since the Cubs scored five in a hopeless effort back on Opening Day.

The Sox got a nice surprise from Andruw Jones Sunday in the form of an eighth inning game-winning hit that kept them from losing their fifth in a row and getting swept by the Piranhas. Paul Konerko had a two-run homer to continue his tear, and the Sox got solo shots from Mark Kotsay (finally make Ozzie look good for sticking with him) and Gordon Beckham, but Jones' pinch-hit single may have been the brightest moment for this team since Game 1.

Mark Buehrle also was good enough in holding the Twins to four runs over eight innings, keeping a somewhat taxed bullpen off the field.

The win came after a frustrating 2-1 Saturday loss in which a gutsy performance by Freddy Garcia's was wasted. The Sox had a number of scoring chances, but couldn't manage timely hits, and all the recent talk of aggressive base-running backfired at one point when Alex Rios, after his lead-off double, was doubled off of second on a fly ball out.

The Sox head north for a series in Toronto early this week, and it seems unlikely they will find their hitting touch in a dome (damn domes...), but at least they won't have to face Roy Halladay anymore.

The Cubs really should have won all three games in Cincinnati, yet they leave losing two out of three, and when they don't get sabotaged by their own bullpen, they can always count on Alfonso Soriano's clumsy fielding to do the job. On Sunday, Soriano's fumbling of a catchable fly ball in the seventh inning--while not extending the inning, since it would only have been the second out--changed the karma of a game in which Tom Gorzelanny had pitched very well.

After Soriano's error, and with the bases now loaded, Lou Piniella decided to take his anger out on Gorzelanny, removing the lefty for... another lefty, Sean Marshall. Still, Marshall has been dominant this past week, and we've been hoping he'd get the call more often, so the change wasn't a complete surprise. In any case, the karma had changed for the Cubs, and what we got next was a pure bad luck play in which a possible double-play grounder deflected off Marshall's glove and brought in the tying run.

The Reds scored two runs an inning later, and three runs is just too much for this Cubs team. The Cubs didn't do much hitting against rookie starter Mike Leake, with Kosuke Fukudome collecting three of the Cubs' five hits, but they didn't need to, as Leake awarded them seven walks. Still, except for an RBI single by Derrek Lee, the Cubs did nothing with the free runners. The worst was a waste of a bases-loaded, no-outs situation in the first inning. So maybe a little of the bad karma was there from the beginning.

Saturday featured the Cubs' second win of the season and a nicely modulated performance by Carlos Zambrano, who fell behind early 3-0, but didn't implode, and kept the Cubs in the game until homers by Soriano, Fukudome and Jeff Baker brought them a 4-3 lead. Carlos Marmol was at his unhittable best un the ninth for the save, but Zambrano was most impressive. With the obvious exception of his no-hitter in 2008, I've rarely seen get tougher to hit and more calm as a game has gone on. It was an especially nice recovery after his Opening Day horror show.

Home opener for the Cubs tomorrow against the Brew Crew.

Plenty to fix, but plenty of time

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The Cubs and White Sox are both 1-3 after four games. I'd say it's about what I expected from the Cubs, but I really thought the Sox might be 3-1 at this point, licking their wounds today after their first loss of the season to the Piranhas.

Panic time? No way. Though there have been some troubling trends--bullpen ineptitude and lack of hitting in key spots has bothered both teams--there's plenty of time to work things out. Here's what our teams have been up to since Opening Day:

White Sox
Game 2 -- Indians 5 Sox 3

Jake Peavy certainly looked like he would be tough to hit on a cold night, and when the Sox jumped out 3-0, you had to feel good. But, Peavy labored to throw 106 pitches in just five innings, and gave the lead back, no doubt further ruffling the feathers of anyone who was worried/annoyed by his crappy Spring.

Peavy will work things out on his own. Journeyman reliever Randy Williams gave the Indians the go-ahead run and Bobby Jenks later gave them insurance, but it certainly didn't help that the Sox only had two hits. The Sox scored their first run in Ozzie-ball fashion, as Juan Pierre walked, stole second and third, and scored on a sac fly by Paul Konerko. Later, the Sox got their other runs on a two-run homer by Paulie, the only guy on the team who hit consistently through the first few games.

Game 3 -- Indians 5, Sox 3

Yep, same result, though this one went to OT (Sorry, March Madness still on the brain...). Again, just one batter was responsible for all three runs--this time Carlos Quentin, who had a three-run homer. And, again, the bullpen didn't hold. Usually reliable Matt Thornton lost a 3-2 lead for the Sox, and new guy J.J. Putz gave the tribe the two-run lead in the 11th.

Game 4 -- Twins 4, Sox 3

Another 11-inning game, and the extra work is not necessarily what the bullpen needs. I thought the Sox actually had a chance to start with a sweep of the Indians before running into a tough game against the Twins and resurgent starter Francisco Liriano. The good sign from the line-up in this one is that Sox hitters drew five walks from Liriano, but they only had one run-scoring hit, a two-run double by Alex Rios.

Scott Linebrink and Williams, the latter perhaps not long for Chicago, couldn't keep a brief lead in this one, which I guess is an old story against the Piranhas.

Mark Kotsay and Mark Teahen both remain hitless after four games, Omar Vizquel only has one and lead-off man Pierre only has two, so some of the fresher additions to this line-up have the Sox looking at lot like--well, like they did last year when no one was hitting for long stretches. Quentin and Konerko both are looking motivated, and Teahen probably will come around soon, but Ozzie Guillen's love of Kotsay is being tested. We'll see more of Andruw Jones, but he's got to hit, too.

Is Jermaine Dye still available?

Cubs
Game 2 -- Braves 3, Cubs 2

What looked to be the Cubs' first win was derailed at the worst possible time, the bottom of the eighth, when reliever John Grabow gave up a two-run, go-ahead homer to Chipper Jones. That left only legendary closer Billy Wagner to face for the Cubs, and he struck out the side in the ninth.

This one featured another of Lou Piniella's patented early hooks for his starter, Ryan Dempster (seems like that happens a lot in Atlanta). Dempster was dominant, continuing on a strong spring, as he retired the last 11 batters he faced. He left with a 2-1 lead, as the Cubs hit for him with two outs and a man on first in the sixth. A textbook pinch-hit situation, yes, but the Cubs had the lead and a pitcher who seemed to be vexing the opposition (Demp actually had loaded the bases with Braves twice, but got out of it both times, which I think sometimes shows you more than when a starter piles up strikeouts). He also had at least another inning's worth of pitches in him, maybe two, having reached 95 on the pitch count meter before he was pulled.

Still, Lou was looking out for his guy early in the season and counting on his pen to do the job, so we'll cut him some slack.

Offensively, the Cubs have the Braves' defense to thank for extending an inning and giving them both of their runs.

Game 3 -- Cubs 2, Braves 0

Randy Wells is just so impressive, somebody who will not overpower the opposition (six hits, two walks and just one strikeout in six innings), but will hand the bullpen a lead more often than not and put you in position to win. He was nearly unhittable in Atlanta last season (before an ill-fated early hook), and in this one, he looked more hittable than opposing starter Tommy Hanson in every area except one--Wells allowed no runs, whereas in between wicked strikeouts of Cubs batters, Hanson gave up solo homers to Tyler Colvin (his career first) and Marlon Byrd.

That was enough, with Grabow again struggling in his relief appearance, but Carlos Marmol bailing him out. Marmol had a tough ninth for the save, but really nothing out of the ordinary for Marmol.

Game 4 -- Reds 5, Cubs 4

Again, a not-overpowering-by-any-means Carlos Silva pitched well enough to hand the bullpen a 3-1 lead, but Esmailin Caridad coughed it up. He gave up a grand slam on a center-of-the-plate pitch to drew Stubbs, though his biggest mistakes were walking two batters to start the eighth inning. I was surprised Lou didn't pull him at that point. Despite the overall bullpen troubles, Sean Marshall actually has been very good and it might have been a good situation for him.

Good news here is that Silva continues to be a pleasant surprise. Bad news is the Cubs couldn't do much with 11 hits of their own (three by Derrek lee, including a homer, and four by Mike Fontenot), and left the bases loaded to end the game.

No one has been hitting especially well for the Cubs, except Kosuke Fukudome, who always hits well early before fading. Lee took four games to heat up his bat, and Ryan Theriot need four games to get his first to hits of the season. Alfonso Soriano had a couple bright moments this week, but looks lost in the middle of the line-up, and as usual, in the field. The Cubs still face the old problem of what to do with their albatross.

Geovany Soto has started slow, too, and it appears that if he is given a chance for a comeback this year, it will have to happen in spurts because he's already losing playing time to Koyie Hill.

Right now, I like the idea of giving Colvin and Fukudome more starts instead of Soriano, though I'd like to see Soto have a few more games to figure things out.

Some guys have all the luck

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Starting his eighth straight Opening Day and tossing seven innings of three-hit ball in a 6-0 victory just wasn't enough for Mark Buehrle. He had to go and complete a totally improbable between-the-legs, football-snap defensive play, too (Find it at the White Sox website, but MLB.com and other still have it posted as well).

It's not like Buehrle is the best athlete or the best pitcher around. He just works hard and occasionally ends up in the right place at the right time under the right conditions to do something pretty wonderful. After a no-hitter, a perfect game and many other memorable moments, "The Long-Snap," as I'm hoping the play will come to be known, is just another example.

I wonder if Buehrle will be asked to sign a lot of photos of this play in the years to come, and how he'll feel about autographing a photo in which the main feature is his ass.

The news from the other side of town is that there is no such thing as good luck. The Cubs lost 16-5 to the Braves, and--well, luck didn't have much to do with it unless you count a fly ball dropped by Braves centerfielder Nate McLouth that was wrongly called an out and led to a double play. That was pure Cubbie luck, but the call certainly wasn't the difference in this wipeout of a game.

What was the difference: Bad pitching and sub-par defense on a couple key plays. Carlos Zambrano was saying all the right things this spring about being a good boy, but quickly gave up a 3-0 lead given to him off the bat of new Cub Marlon Byrd and ended up giving up eight runs in a dreadful 1.1 innings. He also had a field error, as did Derrek Lee on a rare poor throw.

No, Zambrano didn't lose his cool, at least not in as visible a manner as he has in the past, though he seemed unhinged and hurried as the six-run first inning unfolded, rather than writing it off as a bad start in a long game to come.

Believe it or not, Zambrano didn't put the game out of reach, as the Cubs line-up scored five runs (though on only five hits), the other major blow being a homerun by Aramis Ramirez--nice to see some of his power after a weak spring. But, the bullpen did put the game out of reach, with Jeff Samardzija giving up six runs and walking three in one-third of an inning, and Justin Berg giving up two runs while also walking three. Time is growing short for Samardzija to fulfill any positive promise, and Berg just made the Cubs look foolish for letting him survive the spring demotions.

With one game in the books, the Sox are looking at Opening Day like it was a good omen. the Cubs are just looking the other way.

Just getting started

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A nasty week-long cold has me filled with delirious thoughts, so maybe that's why I'm picking the White Sox to win the A.L. Central Division in 2010.

The headache, fever and ticklish sinuses are combining with a few other strange notions--that Alex Rios is going have an epic 30 HR, 30 SB, 100 RBI year; that the Piranhas will give up more power-runs and score fewer of their own patented small-ball runs in their new park; and that the Sox will have not only the best starting rotation in the A.L. Central but also the best bullpen, while the Joe Nathan-less Twins bullpen struggles--to convince me that the Sox are destined for an 87-75 record and division crown.

That's exactly where I had them a month ago.

My delirium has its limits, of course, and though the Cubs were better than the Sox this spring (18-12-3 to the Sox' 12-17-5), and have emerged with some surprises--Tyler Colvin on the roster and Carlos Silva in the rotation--I still see them no better than 83-79. That's not bad, and a game or two better than I had them a month ago, but I don't think they have the horses to beat either the Cardinals or Brewers.

That might change if Aramis Ramirez and Derrek Lee play well and stay healthy all year, and if Carlos Zambrano doesn't implode, and if Colvin plays like a Rookie of the Year candidate, and if Alfonso Soriano excells batting sixth, and if Silva pitches better than he has in years, and if Carlos Marmol chills out, but that's a lot of ifs.

Barring a worsening of my own health, I'll be taking in the Sox opener with The Commish tomorrow afternoon at The Cell. Let's hope it's not a repeat of 2007. I don't like the Mark Buehrle-Grady Sizemore match-up, but aside from that, the Sox seem well-poised to get off to a string start.

Peeved about Peavy?

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Take what you want from spring training. I tend to write off poor performances by veteran pitchers, who seem like they are just trying to work on control more than anything else, and veteran hitters, who seem to work more on honing their timing and their sense of the strike zone.

It's a little surprising that a lot of people are worried about the White Sox' new ace Jake Peavy. I do think Peavy may have some difficulty initially with homerun balls at the Cell, but only relatively speaking for a guy who has been otherwise extremely hard to hit over his career. In any case, I expect the notoriously tough competitor to adjust very quickly by pitching certain types of power hitters different than he might have in San Diego's big Petco Park.

I'm not worried at all that Peavy lost a game to the Charlotte crew yesterday because he actually did well--seven strikeouts in just four innings and no walks. The three earned runs in that stretch are about as bad as it gets for Peavy, and something the Sox line-up should be able to overcome.

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