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May 2010 Archives

Lights out

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It's been a couple days since a power outage made the lights go out at Wrigley Field, but Cubs pitchers seem intent on maintaining the theme, as Ted Lilly, Sean Marshall and Carlos Marmol combined Thursday for the Cubs' second 1-0 shutout in three games.

The Cubs have a problem, and it's a great one to have--too many good starting pitchers. Tom Gorzelanny has pitched as well as anybody, and certainly better than Carlos Zambrano, yet all it took was one bad outing (though really it was more like just two bad innings) for the lefty to probably lose his starting spot to Zambrano. It's not fair to Gorzelanny, but we must assume that the Cubs will be shopping him as trade bait--unless Zambrano waves his no-trade clause and the Cubs can convince another team that the now former set-up man can still be an effective starter.

In the pen, Sean Marshall, having one of his most effective stretches as a Cub, appears to have solidified the wobbly eighth inning strategy, which actually could give the team reason to keep Gorzelanny to have another lefty option for other relief scenarios. However, it's also been reported that Andrew Cashner, who has been lights-out himself as a starter in the minors, has now been assigned to the bullpen. That seems to suggest a bullpen assignment with the big league club may not be far off.

Carlos Marmol has been better closing of late after a shaky but ultimately impressive outing in Texas last weekend, so from top to bottom, the Cubs pitching options are looking better by the day. We'll know when things aren't working again if Jeff Samardzija gets the call.

Maydaze

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It's been 10 busy days or so since my last post. Since then, the future of both Lou Piniella and Ozzie Guillen has been questioned, Carlos Zambrano received a ticket back to the starting rotation, Sox GM Kenny Williams has been asked if he will rush to the trading table, the Cubs signed Bob Howry (!) to solve the bullpen problems and interleague play has begun.

--I don't see either the Cubs or White Sox managers getting fired before the season is done, though I'd revisit that opinion for Guillen if the Sox find themselves in last place for a long stretch. If the Cubs remain sub-par it will only become more obvious that Piniella is keeping the manager's office warm for Ryne Sandberg next season (not that Sandberg would be the best choice), and barring his own desire to be done with the Cubs, Piniella should be around until the end of season no matter what happens.

--Williams has denied the Sox will rush to trade players like Paul Konerko and A.J. Pierzynski, though there is definitely a market for both of them. Assuming the Sox don't get any better, I'll bet at least A.J. is gone by the trade deadline. Maybe Andruw Jones, too, if he manaages to retain any of the value he had the first month of the season. But, once Kenny starts trading, will he stop at just one or two deals?

--Zambrano's imminent return to the starting rotation will end a strange, interesting, but ultimately misguided experiment. I now wonder two things: 1) Will Zambrano com back refreshed and thankful to be a starter, or further damaged? and 2) Is his return as a starter contingent upon some agreement with Jim Hendry that he will wave his no-trade clause if asked?

--Finally, we have Bob Howry... again. Howry was terrible with the Diamondbacks this year until he was recently released, and certainly doesn't look like a viable candidate to lock down the 7th or 8th innings that have been so much trouble for the Cubs. The only thing Howry may have going for him is that he usually gets better and stronger as the season goes on. Still, I'm guessing there will be at least a few painful outings before we get a sense if that will happen.

--Oh, yeah, interleague play: I think its okay, and kind of introduces a little variety at a time when the baseball season might otherwise settle into a routine pace. I think seeing the Sox play Florida (and win last night) is better than seeing them play more games against Cleveland and Kansas City. I fear seeing the Cubs play the stacked line-up of American League teams, but it may be better than having to face the Cardinals more often.

Rookie mistakes

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Judging from the boos heard at Wrigley Field Monday night, no one would have blamed you if you thought it was Fidel Castro playing shortstop, rather than Starlin Castro. But, a three-error performance, plus a brain-fart that allowed a runner to advance, is not going to earn praise.

After Starlin's sterling debut in Cincinnati, he has shown nice patience at the plate, but also now has four errors in the field. What can the Cubs do, though, but put up with the newbie mistakes that are sure to come when you promote a 20-year-old to the majors?

Castro basically earned that promotion back in spring training, but the Cubs weren't willing to give it to him until it was clear they were a losing team that needed to jump-start its line-up (Given the bullpen woes, I thought we would see Andrew Cashner promoted first). Now, they are seeing some of the rookie jitters they would have seen back in April had they brought him to the major league level then, and only time will tell if Castro can overcome those initial blunders.

Although, if the Cubs have any better ideas for giving a slumping line-up a boost, they can go ahead and send Castro back down for some seasoning.

In other words, fans should get used to him, and try to cheer for him the next time he does something well--at least as loudly as they booed him Monday night.

Here's more buzz on the Cubs' latest wonderboy.

The Cell, May 6, 2010

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Juan Pierre sizes up Jays' pitcher Dana Eveland while on deck... The Sox eventually lost 2-0. John Danks pitched well enough to win with seven strikeouts in seven innings, but Eveland and his bullpen mates, including, Kevin Gregg, held the Sox line-up to just three hits. The Commish and I enjoyed the view from the Scout Seats, but the night was cold and the overall attendance pretty sparse. The Scout Seat pre-game spread was good, though I think they have dialed down the choices in recent years. The best offering was a warm blueberry-peach cobbler for dessert--a perfect ending for a chilly night in May.

In the second photo, Alex Rios digs in against Eveland. He hit the ball very hard that night (though only went 1-4) and seems to really have re-gained the line-drive stroke he was missing last season. I chose not to take a photo of the jack-ass who jumped from the stands late in the game and ran through the outfield, not wanting to grant him the attention of my dozens of readers. He was the third fan to run on an MLB field in three nights after two previous incidents in Philadelphia, including the now famous Taser incident.
The Starlin Castro Era began at about 6:40 p.m. Central time tonight when the rookie shortstop, just called up from West Tennessee, took his first major league at-bat against Cincinnati's Homer Bailey. The second pitch he saw was a nifty curve that tailed in over the plate, and Castro almost visibly buckled. But, the next time he saw it, on the fifth pitch, he knew just what to do, waiting on it and then driving it over the right field fence for a three-run homerun.

Not bad for a newbie.

The sound you heard in the background a moment later was the hype machine starting up. What a wild turn of events in just the last 24 hours, since rumbings of Castro's imminent arrival began.

Milton Bradley update

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During the off-season, when the Cubs traded Milton Bradley for Carlos Silva, I thought it was a bad move to cap all the bad moves, mainly because the Cubs had already destroyed whatever was left of Bradley's value on the market that he had not destroyed himself.

But, that Silva deal is looking better by the day. Not only has the seemingly good-natured Silva pitched quite well, but Bradley is up to his old tricks, supposedly walking out on his new team before asking them for help dealing with stress.

I'd like to think the Cubs did everything they could to help Bradley on and off the field last season. He didn't always make it easy, and where they might have failed, I hope Seattle can help Bradley salvage something of his career.

Soriano's streak

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I have called him the team albatross and have been horrified by his fielding, but all is forgiven now that Alfonso Soriano is hitting--and more specifically, hitting homeruns. He has a four-bagger in each of his last four games and looks to tie the franchise record in Pittsburgh tonight (Don't say I jinxed him--people have been talking this since last night).

I'm kidding when I say all is forgiven, though it is until he starts slumping again. We all know from past experience that Soriano is streaky, and I still think his in the midst of one of those streaks. Working with Rudy Jaramillo supposedly has made him more patient at the plate, and there have been some definite differences, like when he lays off an outside pitch more frequently than he used to. He also has hit to the right side more often--at least from my seat it has looked that way. But, until we see it last all season, we'll still call him a feast-or-famine kind of guy. (Soriano also supposedly stopped using his annoying, fundamentally-unsound hop when catching fly balls, but it seemed to me he has gone back to it the last few games).

I don't think anyone can change Soriano too much, but enjoy the streak while it lasts. Maybe it will last a little longer than in past seasons, and maybe he can carry the Cubs for a few weeks, too.

Pierre vs. Pods: Place your bets

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I was a pretty big fan of the new Scott Podsednik last year after the Sox picked him up (actually one year ago yesterday), though I knew there was probably no keeping him at the end of the year. He finished with an average above .300, and, evoking 2005, was a major catalyst in several Sox wins. Still, you had to figure the Sox got the best and maybe last of what the old speedster had to offer. They let him go to Kansas City and traded to minor leaguers to L.A. to get Juan Pierre, another aging speedster, but one who over the years has been a far better hitter than Pods.

But now, Pierre is batting ninth for the Sox, and there are good cases being made by other outfielders for him not to be playing at all. Meanwhile, as Mark Gonzales pointed out in the Tribune today, Pods is hitting .326.

Still, as much as I like Pods and relish his 2005 contributions to the Sox, I'll be very surprised if he's able to maintain that average. In fact, I'll wager that by the end of the year, Pierre has both a higher batting average and more stolen bases.

April showers

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The White Sox were 9-14 for the month of April and the Cubs were 11-13, not too far from what I had expected--although if I didn't know which team had which record, I probably would have guess it the other way around. Both teams won back-and-forth contests today to start the month of May on the right foot, so we'll see if we can get them both abov .500 in the next week or so.

Outside Wrigley, April 29, 2010

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I walked up to Wrigley Field last Thursday to enter the Cub-Arizona Diamondbacks series opener, and was met with an immigration protest. About 50-60 people (my count, though it was hard to tell who was protesting and who was watching the protesters) were there to speak out against Arizona Senate Bill 1070. In the days since, the MLB Players Union and several player have spoken out against the bill. The protesters wanted MLB to move the scheduled 2011 All-Star Game out of the D-Backs park unless the new law is repealed.




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