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June 2010 Archives

So much to talk about, so little time...

--The White Sox have a 10-game winning streak, reportedly their longest since 1976 (?!), and everything is clicking. Even Gordon Beckham homered yesterday in the Sox-Cubs crosstown clash at The Cell. Excellent pitching and just enough hitting allowed the Sox to sweep the first-place Atlanta Braves earlier this week, which should convince many that the streak is for real, and not just a hot run against cold teams (though playing the Cubs twice in two weeks really helps).

--Carlos Quentin is still punishing pitchers, homering yesterday off Carlos Zambrano, but it's even better to see him driving singles up the middle and to the opposite field. It's 2008 all over again.

--Jake Peavy had his third straight strong outing, though again, two of those have been against the Cubs and the third against another the National League foe, so it remains to be seen if he can deliver against the American League.

--The Zambrano tirade is all over the place, so I won't get into the details, but his most recent meltdown into Zammy the Clown has many people demanding and believing that Zambrano's days are over as a Cub. How that will happen remains to be seen. The Cubs once again have held onto damaged goods for far too long, and (as with Milton Bradley) are forced to try to move a player who is suspended. Who will want him? (Even the Mets have to be shaking their heads...)

I'm not saying Zambrano didn't deserve to be suspended. It was the only remaining option. It's unfortunate because it leaves the already sad-sack Cubs a man down. And, it only reminds us that GM Jim Hendry should have tried to move Zambrano long ago, when teams like the Mets were still interested and their praise could have convinced Zambrano to wave his no-trade option.

I don't think Zambrano's days as a Cub are over. I think he will apologize and will be allowed to come back to the team--but only long enough for Hendry to move the once-promising (always promising, it seems) pitcher to another team, probably for a couple of iffy minor leaguers.

There are further implications to consider after this episode: Lou Piniella, I fear, has lost his team. They are not just bad, and behaving badly--they are unresponsive. With the exception of Marlon Byrd, who is a true gamer, they are a lackluster group. Zambrano's tirade yesterday apparently was aimed partly at Derrek Lee for not diving at a ball hit down the line by Juan Pierre, and while Lee's resume is impeccable and Zambrano's criticism questionable, Lee has not been the same strong fielder lately that he was earlier in the season and throughout his career. You could say the same of the entire error-prone group, of course.

The Cubs, like it or not, may be headed for a rebuilding. That project should start with Piniella's dismissal.

.500 club

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The White Sox have won six in a row and 11 of 13, and are now back at .500--34-34. That was unthinkable just a couple of weeks ago, when it looked like A.J. Pierzynski, Jake Peavy and others could be headed out the door at any moment.

This weekend, they swept the Washington Nationals. They survived an outing against phenom Stephen Strasburg and came away with a win, finally got the kind of effort they had been expecting from Peavy, who threw a complete game victory, and today brought out the bats for unlikely staff ace Freddy Garcia, scoring six runs on 15 hits in a 6-3 win.

The winning streak hasn't come against the best of teams--crappy interleague foes like the Cubs, Pirates and Nationals, and this week, the Sox will face a real test at home in an interleague match-up the Atlanta Braves, a bonafide first place team. Are the Sox for real? Are they putting it all together the way we expected when we saw the group of players that assembled for spring training?

The next three games, before another weekend dance with the cupcake North Siders, should tell us how much work there is left to do.

The Sox are back (?)

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The White Sox have won seven of nine games behind improved pitching and some lively hitting from Carlos Quentin and others. Good signs of things to come? Maybe...

The Sox pitching staff was impressive against the Cubs over the weekend, but the Cubs have been pretty woeful of late. This week, they beat up Pittsburgh, but everybody does that (well, except for the Cubs).

More promising is that CQ has been pounding the ball recently, and while Gordon Beckham continues to disappoint and Mark Teahen is injured, it's Quentin's role in the line-up that is most significant for the Sox in taking more advantage of stellar seasons thus far from Alex Rios and Paul Konerko. If the meat of the line-up is getting on base and driving in runs, that should be enough for Sox pitchers like Mark Buehrle and Gavin Floyd, each of whom looked good in their last outing. And, amazingly, Freddy Garcia is still vexing everyone.

Unfortunately, Jake Peavy continues to be a source of stress, annoyance and disappointment. The dreaded "shoulder problems" issue has come up, for now only pushing back a start, but we'll see. Peavy actually has tried hard through a tough season to contribute to team unity and motivation, but the Sox need his arm, not his coaching abilities.

Meanwhile, a winning streak and some good vibes could go a long way toward mitigating the supposed tension between GM Kenny Williams and manager Ozzie Guillen. There have been almost daily reports about how the two don't need to get along to win, or that they actually do get along--whatever... Just win, baby.

Lilly no-no? Not

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The only trouble with a Cubs pitcher and a Sox pitcher building toward a no-hitter on the same day is that they were doing it against each other. When neither Ted Lilly nor Gavin Floyd had given up a hit through six innings of Sunday night's crosstown series closer at Wrigley, I was not necessarily too surprised. Both of them had been down this road before. Having said that, my money was on Gavin Floyd to go longer with his no-hit bid. I figured Lilly had been too star-crossed recently and still maybe wasn't 100% after his injury. I didn't think either of them would actually get the darn thing.

But, Floyd lost his no-hit bid after 6-2/3, but Lilly went into high gear, holding on until the 9th, when Ozzie Guillen's deployment of Juan Pierre as a pinch-hitter had base hit--any kind of basehit-written all over it. A basehit was what he got, and though Carlos Marmol nearly gave away Lilly's fine effort by walking two (one intentionally) and balking, Lilly at least got the one thing the Cubs line-up has been too stingy to give him lately--a win.

The Cubs' 1-0 victory saved them from being the victoms of a crosstown sweep. And what do you know, the Stanley Cup made an appearance...

Missed opportunity

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There was a podium standing behind home plate before the start of the Cubs-Sox series Friday. It looked just about the right size to hold a certain championship cup won this week by a certain local hockey team. The podium, the game's delayed start (?) and the fact that about half the stadium was wearing Blackhawks gear only fed the buzz circulating throughout Wrigley Field: The Blackhawks, fresh from their downtown parade and rally, were on their way to Wrigley, where they would place the Stanley Cup on the podium and unite previously un-unitable Cubs and Sox fans in celebration.

Most of the park was so certain it would happen that they screamed during the national anthem, ala the United Center experience that is probably the best local sports tradition we have (at least since the 7th inning stretch at Wrigley was turned over to whatever random celebs are in town). Kurt Elling, the fine local jazz singer who sang the anthem Friday, didn't seem to get what was happening, and didn't try to sing any louder, so it wasn't the same, but was still a nice moment.

Unfortunately, the Blackhawks and Cubs management--including the two Blackhawk execs who used to work for the Cubs, totally blew it. The Stanley Cup didn't show up, though it seems like it would have been pretty easy just to load the Blackhawks and the Cup onto a bus after the rally and send it right up Clark St. to Wrigley. A great opportunity was missed, and the crowd's disappointment was palpable, especially because all they were left with was a hot, humid afternoon watching two baseball teams who look less like contenders with every game they play.

And it gets worse: Instead of the Stanley Cup being walked out to the podium, we got the "Crosstown Cup," the unnecessary marketing ploy that supposedly is giving the teams something to play for--apparently bragging rights just weren't enough for two groups of fans that still love to harrass each other. As the Crosstown Cup was placed on the podium, it was showered with boos (and perhaps booze...), though maybe some of the disdain was for Crosstown Cup sponsor BP... I am not friggin' kidding-BP...

Oh, yeah, the Sox beat the Cubs 10-5.

Chicago's best pitcher

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As we count down toward this weekend's cross-town series, let's have some fun: Who is the best pitcher in Chicago?

My vote goes to the guy who notched his 8th victory against no losses today--Carlos Silva. I doubt I will get much argument otherwise, though some might suggest Ryan Dempster, John Danks, Freddy Garcia, carlos Marmol or Sergio Santos as alternatives. Dempster and Danks have been very good hard-luck cases for the most part, and Garcia has been a pleasant surprise. marmol has been mostly electric, and Santos an almost perfect single-inning artist, but Silva has been dominant against all comers.

At 8-0, Silva has the best start to a season by a Cubs pitcher since Ken Holtzman's 8-0 in 1967. Who woulda thunk it?

Losing to the losers

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The Cubs just lost two out of three to last-place Houston, and only a late comeback this afternoon helped the White Sox avoid being swept by last-place Cleveland. It gets worse: On Friday night, both teams started their respective series by handing wins to opposing pitchers who previously were winless.

This could be the lowest point of the season for both teams. The Sox are 9.5 games out of first place, and the Cubs are 7.5 out of first. Both the Cubs and the Sox have had positive moments--in particular, the Cubs' recent series win in Texas stands out--but they also both have been sub-par against certain losing teams. The Cubs have been dominated by Pittsburgh and to some extent Houston, and the Sox have had their hands full against the Tribe.

Neither manager has done anything inspired of late. They both don't say much anymore beyond admitting that they don't have any answers. In a different season, perhaps both would have been fired around June 1. Instead, both may end up overseeing teams that get dismatled in the next couple months through fire-sale trades. I'm betting one way or another the Cubs will be moving one of their big-contract guys--Derrek Lee, Kosuke Fukudome or Alfonso Soriano--and would not be surprised to see the Sox hustle Paul Konerko, A.J. Pierzynski or Bobby Jenks out the door. ther have been trade rumors about some of these players already, but mid-June is when the trade fun really starts, and barring sudden winning streaks, both teams likely will be active in trades.

Is it too early to say there's always next year?

Scenes from a soggy, sorry game

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Mark Buehrle didn't make it out of the 6th inning Tuesday night, coughing up a 4-1 lead in what eventually became a 9-6 loss for the White Sox. It was an occasionally rainy, painfully slow night. Among other things, it made me wonder whatever became of Buehrle's off-season efforts to strengthen his shoulder for better performance into the late innings. Buehrle actually has pitched 8 innings three times this year, but hasn't made it past the 4th inning in three other games.

Buehrle has had an amazing run with the Sox, with a World Series championship, a perfect game and a no-hitter to his name, so maybe that's why so many people cheered for him as he was pulled and walked toward the dugout, but I had to agree with the lady sitting behind me and Mrs. SBW at the game last night, who responded to the cheers with "Don't applaud him! He wasn't any good tonight!" Nope, he sure wasn't.

Some fans may prefer to blame the Sox line-up or Peavy alone for the Sox' fairly pitiful season, but Buehrle thus far has been pretty bad in what was shaping up to be a pivotal season for him. If it's true the Sox hold two aces, both of them have failed (Let's not even bring up Gavin Floyd, who as I write this is already losing 5-2 tonight in the 2nd inning).

I have to believe that the Sox are perilously close to backing up the truck, regardless of what the GM may say publicly. It may be almost imperceptible, but the line-up actually has been picking up steam of late (Witness Gordon Beckham's two hits and two RBIs last night). Now, for the Sox to turn their season around, Buehrle and Peavy both need to get going.

Above are a couple photos from last night's pre-game activities, taken from the Scout seats, where Mrs. SBW and I took in the game. The Missus felt a lost evening was at least partially saved by sightings of three celebs--Joe Mantegna, who threw out a first pitch, Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn, who seemed like he was riding the well-coiffed Mantegna's coattails, and Steve Dahl (not pictured).

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