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June 2012 Archives

Crosstown cringing

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Some things I thought while watching portions of a generally unexciting Crosstown Classic this week:

-If you missed the game and only saw Cubs manager Dale Sveum's post-game press conference, it would be impossible for you to figure out from his statements, attitude and facial expressions (or lack thereof) whether the Cubs won or lost.

-Maybe Sveum was hired to manage the Cubs precisely because of his ability to go into a catatonic state as a strategy for surviving a 100-loss season.

-Sveum makes notorious quiet White Sox skipper Robin Ventura seem effusive and energetic by comparison.

-When compared to anyone else, Ventura is in no way effusive and energetic, and has a habit of tempering both positive and negative observations so that you end up having no idea how he really feels about how the Sox are doing.

-Come to think of it, almost none of us have any idea how we feel right now about how the Sox are doing...

-Is the lack of energy among the managers to blame for the Crosstown Classic losing its luster?

-Crosstown Classic may be more fun with characters like Carlos Zambrano, Ozzie Guillen and Michael Barrett. We're not asking for those characters back, though.

-A.J. Pierzynski seems as feisty as ever, but no one is taking the bait.

-At times, Jake Peavy seems like the player-manager of the Sox, and Ventura seems like one of his assistant coaches--or maybe one of Don Cooper's assistants.

 -Not many people were buying the Sox as a first place team before the Cubs arrived--now, no one is. Peavy was right to say the Sox shouldn't be losing to a team like the Cubs, and hopefully the rest of the players will be motivated by their player-manager's challenge.

-Gavin Floyd finally showed up, just in time to save the Sox from being swept by a last place team. Can he pitch that well against a team with even a marginally better record?

-Adam Dunn really has rebounded back into the player we knew and loved, you know, the guy whot hit three or four tape-measure homeruns a week and struck out every other at-bat.

-Orlando Hudson is not the answer for the Sox at third base, but he's a better guess than Brent Morel, at least until someone like Kevin Youkilis comes to town.

As hard as it is to have faith in the Sox staying in contention, there is little reason to panic just yet about falling out of contention.

-Phil Humber needs to pull a Brent Morel and go on the DL for the good of his team. Update: He did go on the DL, and call-up Dylan Axelrod could be one of the Sox' most important players in the next few weeks.

-Kosuke Fukudome looks out of place with the Sox, getting too few at-bats to go on one of his patented 10-game tears before slumping into worthless mode. Update: The Sox DFA'd him later in the week.

-Most of the Sox apparently had not heard what a poor fielder Matt Garza is.

-Geovany Soto has still got it. Unfortunately, he is injured too frequently to actually use it.

-Travis Wood is starting to look like a player who was worth trading Sean Marshall for, never mind he was one of three players the Cubs got for Marshall.

-Between the Sean Marshall trade and the Carlos Zambrano trade, the Cubs had received no wins and mostly headaches until this past week.

-Whatever happened to Joe Mather?

-If first base were 88 feet from home plate instead of 90, Tony Camapana would be hitting .600.

-David DeJesus is starting to become everyone's favorite Cub--God help him...

Rudy in review

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The Cubs are at least as bad as a lot of people expected them to be (although definitely worse than I expected), and they also are obviously at the beginning of a vast rebuilding project. Those two notions seemed like enough to keep the current coaching staff employed while the rest of the organization morphed around them, but one of them didn't make the cut.

Rudy Jaramillo, the holdover from the Jim Hendry regime, was fired this week. What seems like an obvious move for a team that hasn't been scoring many runs is more a move about timing and circumstance. It's true the Cubs team batting average and on-base percentage declined each of the three years Jaramillo was hitting coach, though by this year the widely-respected teacher was not exactly working with a bunch of honor students.

Jaramillo had been much more successful in Texas and Houston, and may still be more successful elsewhere, but if you believe the coverage of his firing, he's more about refining swings and less about improving plate patience. In any case, his approach sure seemed to work for the Rangers, and to me this seems a little bit of a missed opportunity for the Cubs.

The new hitting coach--though only on an interim basis for now--is James Rowson, who had been the Cubs' minor league hitting coordinator, and unlike Jaramillo, hasn't proven he can get a major league team to hit better. However, he looks like the right guy at the right time, if you consider that the Cubs are going to become a much younger team in the second half of this season and for the foreseeable future.

Some will say Jaramillo didn't do his job, but he had progressively less to work with the last three years. Others will say hitting coaches are always dead men walking, often the first head to roll when a team isn't winning. I guess that means we shouldn't get too comfortable with Rowson either.

Kid stuff

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Both the Cubs and the White Sox picked high school outfielders in the first round of this week's MLB first-year player draft, further proof that neither of our teams is looking for any immediate help.

In the case of the Cubs, they sure look like they could use the help. But, this particular draft, much anticipated by the organization and fans who were getting their first look at the types of players that make the grade for Theo & Co., is all about rebuilding the system according to a new vision.

The Cubs demonstrated how serious they are about sticking to that vision by skipping the chance to take the widely-projected No. 1 pick, a polished college pitcher, and taking instead the kid they had in mind all along--Albert Almora.

I don't follow the prospect chatter as closely as some people, but judging from the coverage of his much-hyped work ethic, strong family ties and overall mature character, Almora looks like a great choice. Stories of his dad working him out on a daily basis sound similar to some other MLB success stories like Tim Lincecum and the Upton brothers. Almora sounds like a budding power hitter, with potential to hit well for average, too, though his defensive skills have gotten almost more attention than anything else.

The downer is that Almora is a Scott Boras client, which is why he's already saying going to college is a priority, but I'm pretty sure Theo & Co. will do just about anything to avoid their very first Cub draft pick becoming a swing and miss.

The Sox don't need much help right now, but do need to re-stock the farm system that Kenny Williams has pillaged more than once. The Sox went with high school outfielder/pitcher Courtney Hawkins, who looks to be one of those do-it-all types with the above-average speed the Williams always seems to favor in draft picks. Hawkins supposedly fell to the Sox at No. 13, and reportedly, he needs to learn some plate patience, and may even need his stance tightened up a bit.

I cringed when Hawkins celebrated getting drafted by doing one of his apparently-trademark back-flips on TV, and it's good bet his new GM did, too. There will be no more of that, young Mr. Hawkins.

Hopefully, both these guys and other key draft picks for our teams will sign in the next month. Best-case scenario is that Almora will partner with Anthony Rizzo to lead the Cubs to the 2015 World Series, facing off against the White Sox, starring Hawkins and that year's runaway Cy Young, Chris Sale.

Serving notice

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I wasn't impressed with the White Sox sweep of the Cubs, especially after the Sox were embarrassed by the Twins upon their return to the Southside. However, two sweeps of first-place teams later, and with an eight-game winning streak that has carried them into first place, I'll admit it: The Sox have had a great month.

That great month, though, was May, and there's a long way to go. Maybe that makes it sound like I'm not giving the Sox credit where it's due. I really am impressed though, with their sudden ability to score runs--tallying 66 runs in the last eight games. Everything is clicking on offense, with Paul Konerko impersonating Ted Williams, Gordon Beckham impersonating his own rookie self, Alex Rios reliving 2010 and Dayan Viciedo finding his mojo. These guys have even made up for a recent decline by Adam Dunn, who is now trying to remember what he did right for the first six weeks of the season.

I'm also impressed with how the Sox starting pitching has held together even through a DL stint for John Danks and a couple of sluggish games for Gavin Floyd and Phil Humber. After having his arm health and role questioned, Chris Sale turned in a 15-strikeout game and Danks-replacement Jose Quintana actually has been the best pitcher on the staff in the last week, better even than Jake Peavy.In the bullpen, Adam Reed has nailed down the closer job for the foreseeable future.

Even minor distractions over umpire calls have not been able to sink the Sox (Hawk's rant was so predictable, I'm surprised it's getting so much attention.) 

The Sox are serving notice that they belong in the fight for the Central Division, but we haven't seen the best Detroit can offer yet. We can't count on Konerko to be hitting near .400 the rest of the season, and though Dunn, Rios, Beckham and Viciedo appear to be rebounding from prior struggles, we don't know quite where they are going to settle. There's also a question at third base: Does Brent Morel deserve a chance to win his job back after a putrid early-season slump? Ironically, I once wanted the Sox to sign Orlando Hudson, but years after his best seasons, I'm not sure he's the answer at third base either.

First place is a great place to be in on June 1, but it's an even better place to be in on October 1. A rookie manager and a streaking offense will continue to be put to the test.

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