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Some thoughts on recent Cubs news:

-Mike Quade will go down as particularly star-crossed Cubs manager, having been given the job in a no-win situation: He got a job everyone assumed Ryne Sandberg would get, was handed a team of unproven newbies combined with free agents who were either surly or bloated, sometimes both, and was left a dead man walking by the former GM's firing and the hiring of new executives. Quade had his chance, and he often had the right approach and mindset, but too often let the game within the game get away from him. His authority also was challenged one too many times by veterans, and if this speaks ill of the players, it also suggests Quade failed to inspire and motivate them.

-Billy Corgan thinks Ryne Sandberg should have gotten a chance to interview for the job left open by Quade's firing. I'm not sure how Ronnie Woo feels about it, but I would classify Corgan's view of the matter as having roughly the same weight as the Woo-man's. The indication that Sandberg will not be interviewed for the manager job is easily the most controversial decision of the Theo Epstein era thus far. Though, should it be much of a surprise?

Much was made of Epstein having interviewed Sandberg, and possibly having wanted to hire him, for the minor league Pawtucket Red Sox manager job last season. I'm not sure why the next logical conclusion would be that Sandberg would become the favorite for a major league job. Sandberg has the same amount of major league level coaching experience he had prior to the 2010 season--none. I'm betting Theo & Co. would be open to having Sandberg manage in the farm system, or coach at the major league level if the next manager wants him in the dugout (though Sandberg's notoriety almost guarantees that won't happen), but there is no reason for Sandberg to be considered to lead the Cubs. It was a nice idea once, when the Cubs needed a warm body to fill the job for half a season and audition for future work, but not anymore.

Hiring Sandberg would be the easy and obvious thing to do, and a wonderful way for a new regime to win fan support, but that is not the No. 1 thing Theo & Co. is trying to win.

-Ryan Theriot was roundly criticized for landing for saying he had landed on the right side of the Cubs-Cardinals rivalry when he signed with St. Louis before last season, even though he didn't leave the Cubs by choice the season before last. Apparently, Theriot was right--though in the darkest corner of your Cub fan sould you knew he was. He is now a World Series champion, and though he didn't hit well in the series--only 1 for 13--he did driven in two key runs for the Cards.

So, two of my favorite scrappy players from recent years--LSU products Theriot and Mike Fontenot (I liked to call them the French Connection, though no one else ever pick it up)--both have World Series rings. Yet, they weren't good enough for the Cubs, always on the hunt for the future HoF-er who could do everything and help them win it all.

--Carlos Zambrano is pitching in Venezuela. A lot of us hope he stays right there, though I wouldn't be surprised if Theo & Co find a way to smooth things over just enough and polish up his rough edges just enough to trade him.

--Aramis Ramirez is not in the Cubs' future plans. So says Theo. Is Bake DeWitt taking over, or is Bryan Lahair learning how to play third base as we speak? Or maybe Thepo has something different in mind.


Spring training isn't over yet, but I just don't have Mike Quade's patience when it comes to making final roster decisions--or for being level-headed amid disastrous performance. With that in mind, here's my partial assessment of spring training heroes and zeroes thus far for the Cubs, in a language you social media-loving kids will find easy to understand (my White Sox review will follow shortly):

Starlin Castro: Like. Revive the hyperbole that greeted Castro's MLB debut in Cincinnati last season. With 4 HRs and 12 RBIs this spring while keeping his average consistently above .400, Castro is showing signs that he is ready to accept the probably unwanted mantle of being the Cubs' next big star. Is it too early to start planning where we will put his statue? How about at the corner of Aggressive Hitting and Poor Defense?

Carlos Zambrano: Like. Even-tempered? Check. Pitching well? Check. I reserve the right to click "Unlike" if either changes by May 1.

Carlos Silva: Unlike. He really should be gone by now, but the Cubs have a possibly misguided idea that keeping him on the staff will somehow project trade value upon him. Day by day, the out-of-shape, poor-performing, ill-tempered Silva is changing the assesment of the Milton Bradley trade from a clear win to a probable draw.

Blake DeWitt: Unlike. Seemed like a nice acquisition last year, but a pitiful spring has the Cubs rumored to be considering vet Luis Castillo, just released from the Mets.

Cubs starting pitchers: Like. Even though Silva didn't show up for the starting rotation battle, other starters have looked very good, and Randy Wells and Andrew Cashner have given little reason not to pick them as the fourth and fifth starters.

Andrew Cashner: Like. You can unlike the seven walks and 11 hits in 11 innings, but Cashner has been mostly effective. We'll see how we feel about him after he gets a spring training start.

Cubs defense: Unlike. The less said about this the better. Maybe a sign of the team's youth, but Aramis Ramirez in particular seems to be regressing.

Scott Moore: Like. Back in a Cubs during training uniform again after a brief stint in Baltimore, he is looking like a better back-up to Ramirez at third than DeWitt.

Wellington Castillo: Like.11 hits in 15 at-bats, and with the Cubs basically already out of contention, why not give him a longer tryout? Koyie Hill, by the way, is 1-for-24.

Tyler Colvin: Like. Another tentative endorsement. He is not exactly hitting everything in sight and defesne remains questionable, but you can tell the power storke is there.

Carlos Pena: Like. Ask me a week ago, and I would have felt differently, but Pena has slowly raised his average and found his homerun stroke.

Matt Garza: Like. Another slow starter who seems to be picking up the tempo, along with his pitch velocity.

Carlos Marmol: Unlike. Spring is just a tune-up, of course, but his propensity for walks is rearing its ugly head at a time when he should become the top closer in the majors. He's got about 10 days to get his head on straight.

Mike Quade: Like. Totally engaged and level-headed, though I would like to see him challenge his guys Ozzie-style on their defensive play and shoddy bullpen outings.

Jeff Samardzija, John Russell, John Gaub: Unlike.These guys all still look more like Quadruple A pitchers than big leaguers, which doesn't bode well for the future.

 

 

 


Dead men walking

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Carlos Silva vs. Aramis Ramirez.

It almost seems like a PR stunt to make these Cubs look a bit more lively and passionate than they actually are.

It also conveniently covered the fact that the Cubs made three errors in one inning of what has been a ball-bobbling spring thus far. Sure, the errors may have had something to do with the fight, but the fight is what will be remembered.

My big question is will either Silva or Ramirez be with the Cubs at the end of the coming season? I think the odds are against it on both counts. Silva may not even break spring training with the team if he pitches as he did in the first inning against the Brewers before he and A-Ram scuffled (with A-Ram reportedly defending another teamate against Silva). Whatever value he seemed to possess early last season seems to have disappeared with his health issues that followed.

And unless the Cubs magically--and I do mean magically--end up in first place in July, I think Ramirez could be gone by the trade deadline, possibly to team like the White Sox that may find themselves in need of a third baseman and a bat. Though the Cubs would have to pay his option if they do trade him, I don't see him fitting in for long with Mike Quade-led team.

If it sounds like I'm really down on the new-look Cubs, that is not necessarily true. Starlin Castro is having a great spring--except when the ball is hit to him--and should have an even better second year than his first. In general, I think the Cubs will be the sort of team they look like--scrappy offense, decent starting pitching, excellent bullpen, sad defense. In their division, with the Cardinals falling to pieces, that could very well be a third place team.

Don't look so disappointed.


Who's on first? A Cubs wish list

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If you believe absolutely everything you read, then here is where the Cubs' wish list stands for their first base job:

--Adam Dunn: Probably too expensive a free agent for teh Cubs to afford. In any case, I think he White Sox are willing to out-bid them.

--Adrian Gonzalez: What the Cubs would give up to San Diego to get him is a scary thought indeed. Tyler Colvin and Carlos Zambrano? Starlin Castro and a boatload of minor leaguers? Aramis Ramirez and Kosuke Fukudome? Actually, I could live with that last trade...

--Lance Berkman: The Yankees didn't pick up his option. He's a switch-hitter who has done well in the National League, certainly better than he was briefly in New York. Intriguing.

--Carlos Pena: He strikes out a lot, walks a lot, and hits a lot of homeruns. Depends how willing you are to ook past a .230 average.

--Aubrey Huff: He drives in runs in big bunches and has decent first-base power. Wears a thong. Turned out to be a significant piece of the puzzle for the current world champs, but that's why the Giants want him back.

--Nick Johnson: Nice hitter, walks a lot. Not much power. Injury-prone. Sounds a lot like Xavier Nady.

So, what's wrong with Nady?


No black-out

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It might be a good time for the White Sox to order up a Black-Out for fans attending the series against the Twins opening tonight at The Cell. Granted, the Sox are only 1-1 in Black-Out games as far as I know, but the one win came in Game 163 of 2008 against the Twins (the loss came later in the 2008 play-offs in Tampa's NLDS clincher at The Cell, though the Black-Out effect was mitigated by the fact of daylight). Anyway, maybe I missed it, but I haven't seen a call for a Black-Out this week. Maybe most of us already stopped believin'. Well, don't stop.

At least not yet.

Other things I'm thinking about, both Sox-wise and Cubs-wise:

--Manny sure hasn't done much yet, not even an RBI since he came to Chicago. Though, he looked a bit better in the last two games, and now would be a good time for a breakthrough.

--The Sox looked really great in two comeback victories over the Royals last weekend. How did the team look so terrible in Saturday's loss to the lowly Baby Blues?

--Chris Sale is your new White Sox closer, and depending what happens, maybe your closer of 2011, unless a rotation spot unexpectedly opens up.

--Next year's Sox starting rotation: Mark Buehrle, Jake Peavy, Gavin Floyd, John Danks, Edwin Jackson. Thanks for the memories, Freddy.

--One of the very few Cubs questions anyone still cares about apparently has been answered: Aramis Ramirez told the Sun-Times he is staying in Chicago, meaning he won't exercise his contract option to leave. I am trying to be happy about this, but all I can think of right now is that this should serve as notice to anyone being considered as the Cubs next manager that they will need to keep an extra infielder on the roster when camp breaks next spring for when A-Ram eventually lands on the DL.

--Maybe the only other nagging question is who will be the next manager? (OK, "Why is Jim Hendry still around?" might be another.) Mike Quade has done a nice job guiding the young Cubs to a winning record thus far under his watch, though he will be persona non grata if Joe Girardi becomes available. If Quade finishes the year in a winning mode and Girardi doesn't bite, I don't see how you can give the job to Ryne Sandberg (and I think Hendry secretly doesn't want Ryno to have it anyway because he hasn't paid his dues like Quade has).

--If the Cubs win all of their remaining games, they will finish 81-81. It's good to have goals.

Good Carlos

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What's more rare than a Cubs win? A win by Carlos Zambrano. But, the rehabilitated hothead got one today, without throwing a temper tandrum and while only walking two batters. The Cubs beat the Cardinals 3-2 in St. Louis, where Zambrano usually rises to the occasion.

Zambrano's trajectory the last two months of the season may be one of the few things left about the Cubs that's worth watching. Can he finish strong and stay with the team next year, or will he only finish strong enough to get traded--perhaps even before the end of the season?

Meanwhile, Lou Piniella is back, and Derrek Lee and Aramis Ramirez both hit homeruns today, something that doesn't happen as often as it used to. I have to admit I'm mad at all three of them. Piniella could never get the Cubs started this year, and responded by announcing his retirement. Sorry to hear he has had family issues recently that caused him to miss games, but I wonder if he will continue to check out the rest of the season. Lee turned down a trade, and probably guaranteed himself a ticket out of Chicago next season that will bring the Cubs nothing in exchange. Ramirez wasted the first half of the season, and has had some of his usual bouts of injuries in between a few solid stretches, but I wonder if he too will be leaving.

The Baby Cubs are sometimes fun to watch, and they are getting great experience for next season. But, unfortunately, were all still stuck in this season.

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.

The case for keeping Milton Bradley

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There was a rumor in the last few days--now shot down by just about everybody--that the Detroit Tigers were looking to acquire free agent disappointment Milton Bradley from the Cubs. I think most people have viewed Bradley as basically untradeable at this point unless the Cubs are looking for nothing better than a set of steak knives. Heck, that's what I thought.

In any case, there won't be a trade, apparently, and after seeing Bradley sometimes succeeding/still essentially struggling in the last several games, I'm starting to like the idea of keeping him. Why? Three little letters: OBP.

Bradley's on-base percentage going into Sunday's game was .377, the second-best of any player on the current roster (second to Aramis Ramirez). With 44 walks, Bradley has only six fewer walks than team leader Kosuke Fukudome. I think that, used pretty strategically, which Lou Piniella has begun to do by limiting Bradley's left-handed at-bats against righty pitchers, Bradley could be a very valuable contributor down the line even if he continues to hits around .250 (at .246 now)--as long as he keeps the BBs coming and keeps that OBP at a healthy level.

Bradley's current .131 spread between his batting average and OBP is a remarkable stat. Without Derrek Lee and Aramis Ramirez, among others, hitting well, it may not amount to much, and when Bradley was slumping along with Lee and A-Ram was out with his shoulder injury, Bradley's few walks and a whole lot of nothing otherwise wasn't acceptable.

But, now, it's another cog, an important one, in the run-scoring machine that the Cubs finally having running smoothly. And, if Bradley starts to hit a little more--let's just say the Cubs visit to first place today, could be a long-term visit.

The year of the injury

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What's a good way to ruin the positive vibes brought on by winning 6 of 7? Losing 3-2 to Milwaukee after being up 2-0 is a nice start, but watching your main RBI man dislocate his shoulder and head to the deal for 4-6 weeks finishes the job.

Aramis Ramirez was injured for the second time already in this young season, and this time it was a doozy: He dislocated his shoulder diving for a line drive and proceeded to roll around on the ground in tremendous pain.

One of the keys to success is avpiding big injuries to key players, and while Alfonso Soriano was injured during parts of the last few seasons, the Cubs seemed to have bats to spare. Not so this year, and in addition to A-Ram's injury, obviously the worst this season, we still have Derrek Lee and Geovany Soto battling chronic pain, Carlos Zambrano out briefly with a pulled hammy, Carlos Marmol have recovered from a sprained knee that looked bad when it happened and Kevin Gregg possibly having some sort of pccasional stiffness.

The Cubs have let two division titles go by without winning a play-off game, and perhaps the nature of the sport is catching up with them a little. But, it's still early--we're going to say that until at least the All-Star break.

Meanwhile, Milwaukee's win tonight gave them sole possesion of second place in back of the Cardinals, and the Brewers have been looking very strong lately, so the Cubs need to hang around regardless of who gets hurt. Tonight, Randy Wells, just up from the minors, kept them in the game and left with a 2-0 lead after only 84 pitches. Wells pitched well in spring training, and the way the bullpen has been going, blowing the game for him tonight, maybe Wells has a chance of sticking around for some relief duty after Zambrano gets healthy (Jeff Samardzija was already shipped out for being ineffective in his brief call-up, so the pen spot is there for the taking.)

Another bit of news: The Joey Gathright Era has ended. He was traded to favored trade partner Baltimore for versatile, speedy Ryan Freel. With A-Ram out, the timing could be good for Freel to get some starts, since he has played plenty of third base in the past. Freel, like Gathright, has had strong moments in a career that has never quite fulfilled its promise. He can still steal a base, but he's older than Gathright, and, uh-oh, kind of injury prone (He already missed time this year after getting hit in the head with a pick-off throw.) Oh well, if he does any better than Gathright's 3-14, he'll be worth the paperwork.

Line-up revamp remorse?

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Cubs manager Lou Piniella shocked just about everybody with this line-up Friday night:

Ryan Theriot, SS
Kosuke Fukudome, RF
Alfonso Soriano, LF
Aramis Ramirez, 3B
Derrek Lee, 1B
Mike Fontenot, 2B
Geovany Soto, C
Reed Johnson, CF
Ryan Dempster, P

Putting Theriot in the lead-off spot is something of a no-brainer, since he is the team's leading hitter and has batted lead-off may times before, but wouldn't you know it, he went 0-5 last night. He lined out for the final out of the game after the sort fo battling, intense at-bat we've come to expect from him, but with a man on in that situation and the Cubs down by just a run, I was sort of wishing it was Soriano's spot in the order.

I have long disliked the idea of Soriano batting lead-off, but the Cubs knew what they were getting in Al-So. Throughout his career, he has delivered diminshed returns when you move him around. The thing with Soriano is that he can strike a power-hitter's fear into a pitcher in a situation like that with the game on the line. Still, he's been hitting well through April, and was 1-4 last night.

In the 3-spot, Soriano was 1-4. A-Ram was 1-2 after being put back into the clean-up slot, but he strained his calf, so the Cubs will need a new plan today. Calm and steady D-Lee was 1-4 after his demotion to 5th, and I wonder if we'll see more pitchers pitching around A-Ram and walking him with D-Lee in the on-deck circle presenting a dimishing threat.

Fontenot was 1-4 with an RBI, but still seems to be pressing and over swinging at pitches he would have left alone or sat back and waited for last year. I still thing he might be the best possible lead-off man for Cubs if they do try to wedge Soriano in somewhere else. Meanwhile, what about batting Fukudome 3rd, as long as we're playing with the line-up? How about this take for this afternoon, assuming A-Ram will be too hobbled to play?

Fontenot, 3B (subbing for A-Ram at 3rd)
Theriot, SS
Fukudome, RF
Soriano, LF
Lee, 1B
Soto, C
Johnson, CF
Miles, 2B
Marshall, P

Putting a .200-something hitter at the top of the order is not a great idea, I know, but Piniella seems intent on changing things to find a bit more run-scoring chemistry, so why not go with a guy who had a .395 OBP last year? Alternatively, he could bat Aaaron Miles lead-off. Miles has been doing nothing at all so far this year, but he is somewhat used to batting lead-off in Busch Stadium.

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