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February 2011 Archives

Winter warm-up

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It's still winter in Chicago, and we've got the snow to prove it--though it's fading fast. Down in Arizona, it's time for a warm-up as the Cubs and Sox take (or were supposed to take) the field for their first spring training games today. Only, it doesn't sound like the weather down there is much friendlier than up here.

The Cubs will take on the Oakland A's at Fitch Park later on in what sounds like pretty chilly temps--the low 50s--by spring training standards. Meanwhile, the White Sox reportedly already have cancelled what was supposed to have been an intrasquad game, primarily due to rain at Camelback Ranch. Hopefully, the weather's better tomorrow as the LA Dodgers pay them a visit for their first real taste of spring competition.

I'll take a more in depth look at both teams later this week, but most of what I've been hearing and reading the last few days has been about the managers. Mike Quade sounds like a dynamo, upbeat and hands-on with the Cubs. Bookmaker.com has the initial over/under for Cubs wins this season at 82. I'm still thinking under, though Quade makes you want to believe in bigger things, always a dangerous practice for Cubs fans.

Ozzie Guillen, on the other hand, seems as manic as ever. If he's not Tweeting about the Bulls, his golf game or his new website, he's putting a price on the head of Bobby Jenks. Also, at one point earlier this week, he said he had many different line-ups running through his head, but later said he wasn't going to tinker with the line-up as much this year. In other words, same old Ozzie.

Let the spring training games begin.

Zonk! Moreland succeeds Santo

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Keith Moreland has been chosen for the Cubs radio broadcast chair once filled by the late Ron Santo. Perhaps the Cubs are hoping a lot of stories and nostalgia about the 1984 Cubs will help fans get through what could be a rough season.

This wasn't really a surprise after it had been reported that the contest to replace Santo was down to Dave Otto and the former Cubs right fielder who went by the nickname "Zonk." Otto is capable, really the ultimate utility man, a role he played much more in recent years as Santo's health waned. Moreland isn't necessarily better, and has seemed in brief stints to be more focused on fundamental information and less on turly insightful analysis, but he has a positive connection in the minds of fans and his non-confrontational style makes him a natural evolution from old No. 10.

Opening pitch

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The Cubs' pitchers and catchers report for spring training today, with the White Sox battery crews arriving in a few days. With apologies to the Cubs, who unlike the Sox, still have multiple pitching questions to resolve, I think the single biggest question revolving around any Chicago pitcher has to do with the Sox: When will Jake Peavy return, and how good will he be? (OK, I guess that's two big questions)

The other day, White Sox manager Ozziue Guillen said something to the effect that Peavy better be ready by Opening Day or he (Ozzie) would get fired. We can assume that Ozzie was joking, but that's a reminder of how high the stakes are with Peavy. Most likely, he will miss the first month of the season, and despite his desire and reputation for toughness, I am not completely confident the Sox are going to get the Peavy they long have been hoping for even after he returns.

It would have been nice if the Sox signed Freddy Garcia again, if only as an insurance policy. Instead, they let him go to the Yankees, and the Sox may go with a four-man rotation (Mark Buehrle, John Danks, Gavin Floyd, Edwin Jackson) at the start of the season, or we might see someone like Jeff Gray or Lucas Harrell get a couple starts (Don't believe the Sox depth chart on Yahoo! that suggests Chris Sale is the fifth starter).

Other than the Peavy issue, the Sox starting rotation and bullpen already look fairly solid. We have to accept that Buehrle is going to be streaky and will need the Sox to get more runs when he's on the mound. Danks has gotten a little better every year, and could finally be headed for a 20-win season. Floyd seemed to take a step back in 2010, but is capable of brilliant stretches. Jackson was briefly revitalized under Don Cooper's tutelage in last season's second half and should be better after going through spring training under Cooper.

Meanwhile, the Cubs have many pitching (and catching) questions to answer: Who will win the two open rotation spots? (My money is on Randy Wells and Casey Coleman) How good and well-behaved will Carlos Zambrano be? (I'm not putting money on this one) How good will Matt Garza be? (I see a period of adjustment, but 12-plus wins) Who is the No. 1 starter--Ryan Dempster or Garza? (Dempster, who I'll bet will lead the rotation in wins) Will Andrew Cashner make the starting rotation? (I think no, but he's got a very good chance and I'll bet will start at some point this season).

Then, there's a question a catcher, even if no one wants to admit it: How good and healthly will Geovany Soto be? Last year, he started to make his way back from a disastrous 2009, though he really peaked in July (6 HRs and 20 RBIs that month) before he missed games in August and ended his season in mid-September with a should injury and surgery. He showed great patience at the plate last year, and a rebound in power, but I'm still concerned about his health, and wondering if the Cubs are going to be wishing around July or August that they had kept young Robinson Chirinos, rather than send him to Tampa in the Garza trade.

 

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