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Sox signing frenzy nets Dunn, A.J.

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The White Sox have landed Adam Dunn and re-signed A.J. Pierzynski on what turned out to be a very busy Thursday. The Dunn deal shouldn't be surprising given how much we were all talking about the possibility since before the All-Star break last season, but happened surprisingly quickly once Dunn became a free agent.

It's a great move because the Sox didn't have to trade anyone, and they get a powerful left-handed bat and possibly more than 100 walks--though a ton of strikeouts, too. Plus, they don't have to play the stone-handed Dunn at first base or anywhere else if the Sox re-sign Paul Konerko, which is looking more and more likely. The Sox have a new full-time left-handed DH who may hit around 40 homeruns, something they sorely missed last year.

In another move that was just plain unexpected, the Sox have re-signed A.J. Pierzynski, who seemed as good as gone once his free agency started, since it was assumed the Sox weren't terribly interested and several other teams were. Even after star catcher Victor Martinez joined Detroit, the Sox appeared to be more interested in the likes of Miguel Olivo than A.J., and other teams like Toronto and Texas appeared to covet him. I wonder what this means for Tyler Flowers, the catching prospect who hasn't managed to play up to his promise thus far.

 


And then we came to the end

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White Sox 2010: 88 wins, 74 losses

Cubs 2010: 75 wins, 87 losses

The final records never tell the whole story, of course. The Sox improved their record by nine games over 2009, at times looking like they were going to win 95 games, at other times looking like they would struggle to .500. But, 88 wins only gets them a distant second place this year, and for the most part, fans will go away disppointed rather than hopeful for next year. Not that there isn't plenty to be hopeful about. The starting rotation is in good shape for next year, and several positions are set, but we still don't what will happen with guys like Paul Konerko, A.J. Pierzynski and Bobby Jenks.

The Cubs were eight games worse than 2009, but for most of the season looked like they would end up with 95 losses. There's fair reason to hope, with young players getting important experience and looking good doing it, but there's plenty to be disappointed about. The arrival of Rudy Jaramillo as hitting coach promised a better offense that never showed up, and veterans played themselves into a funk under a manager who seemed lost and unable to motivate them. Mike Quade's audition as manager should be something to be happy about, but it more or less just complicates a decision to be made by a general manager that may not deserve to stay himself.

It should be an interesting off-season, and whatever happens, next April can't come fast enough for both our teams.


7 and counting

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The White Sox have won 7 games in a row, and while the streak has come against teams best described as "troubled"--the Royals, the Indians and the Cubs--they have definitely found a rhythm.

Great pitching has been the top reason for the streak, and in a 5-0 trouncing of the Royals last night, John Danks contonued his recent comeback from a string of inconsistent starts: 7.1 IP, 5 Ks, 0 BB, 0 ER. Danks and Gavin Floyd, getting the Star-Spangled start today, have gradually found their way back to 2008 form. With Jose Contreras pitching like the second half of 2005 and Mark Buehrle throwing more like its 2001, the Sox staff has figured out how to bottle their best moments and tap into them when need (OK, maybe not the best metaphor in the era of PEDs).

The offense is starting to show up as well. Newly rejuvenated by lead-off man Scott Podsednik, these Sox hitters do not look like the same ones who have been shut out 9 times this year. They are keeping the line moving, taking advantage of whatever opposition errors fall their way and not relying too much on the long ball, though homeruns certainly have helped, like A.J. Pierzynski's tone-setting solo shot last night against Zack Greinke.

Pods proves an effective lead-off man doesn't always have to draw a walk. Just the threat of something else, like the combination of speed with a bunt or a swinging bunt, which Pods has started to do very well, is enough. That may be the only element that the Cubs are missing with Alfonso Soriano, who reportedly is being moved out of the lead-off spot. Sam Fuld, in a few games leading off for the Cubs this week, looked more like Pods than anyone else in compiling a .600 OBP in his first 10 at-bats.

The rest of the Sox line-up is hitting, too, with Gordon Beckham really finding his stroke and his confidence. Could the Sox have a Rookie of the Year candidate two years running?

Bombs away

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Four homers brought some life to the Crosstown Classic South Friday, though the game will be remembered more for the dugout-clubhouse verbal altercation Lou Piniella and Milton Fradley got into in the 6th inning that resulted in Bradley being told to "go home," according to Lou.

Don't expect Bradley to stay home though, unless he's planning on retiring. The incident happened after Bradley threw his helmet after flying out and allegedly busted another water cooler (I think the Cubs players need to start bring their own water bottles to the games with their names on them, like you see in Little League).

I'm guessing this was a tension release on the part of both Bradley, who is still slumping, and Pinella, who basically was called a wimpy wuss in the newspaper yesterday. We'll see, but Piniella claimed Bradley would be in the line-up today.

The incident overshadowed the Cubs' perilous 5-4 win, which included all the Cubs's scoring on 2 homers, a Jake Fox 2-run shot and a Geovany Soto 3-run dinger. Fox homered in his second consecutive game and is making a brilliant case for more playing time when interleague play ends and the line-up loses a hitter. Could Bradley be the one to pay the price? Soto was revealed as a one-time pot smoker (What else is there to do during the World Baseball Classic?), and seems to be a new man at the plate with the burden of secrecy off his back. He has homered twice in three games (He only got 1 AB in the homerless game), and 4 times in his last 8 games.

Of course, it would not be a Cubs game if Carlos Marmol didn't try to give it away. He walked 3 men in the 8th inning, and gave up a single (though it should have been caught by the napping Alfonso Soriano) and a 2-run double by Jim Thome. Sean Marshall relieved him with the bases loaded to face pinch-hitter A.J. Pierzynski, and when Marmol arrived in the dugout, he threw his glove hard against the wall, but was not reprimanded by Lou as far as the TV cameras could tell. Marshall threw one pitch to A.J., who grounded into an inning-ending double play.

Perhaps feeling left out of the post-game gossip, Sox manager Ozzie Guillen called out A.J. for having a "bad at-bat" swinging at the first pitch. There certainly is a case to be made that A.J. occasionally attempts to do too much when he's looking for a big hit, though you shouldn't send him up there expecting patience. He has only 12 walks this year, and only 180 in his entire career (that's about 1.5 seasons' worth of walks for Thome, to put it in perspective).

Thome was the big contributor for the Sox, with 3 RBIs, including a homer off Cubs starter Randy Wells, who now has recorded a win in his last 2 starts after much earlier frustration. Jermaine Dye also had a solo shot, but the Sox otherwise showed only a glimmer of the energy that produced 16 runs in the previous 2 games against teh Dodgers.

Meanwhile, Jose Contreras actually pitched pretty well for a guy who gave up 5 runs (4 ER). He struck out 8 and only walked 1 in 7.1 IP. The homer by Geo in the 7th was the obvious big mistake, though it came after Paul Konerko botched a difficult-but-playable grounder that could have nabbed at least 1 out. Contreras also appeared to have a back problem, though he didn't come out of the game, and not much was made of it later.

Mighty K.C.

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The Sox have lost two in a row in Kansas City and four in a row overall. With the struggling Jose Contreras set to take the mound Wednesday night, I'm not feeling confident about their chances to bust the losing streak.

With the exception of a 3-0 loss to 2009 Cy Young Award Winner Zack Greinke the other night (What? You say they haven't given him the Cy Young yet?), the problems have been mostly in the pitching department. Last night, gavin Floyd let another lead get away from him after the Sox put him ahead 4-1 early on. Things actually looked pretty good in the early going because the Sox managed to hit well off Kyle Davies, the K.C. pitcher who previously has mystified them.

But, Floyd eventually let 6 runs go to waste before departing, and Matt Thornton and Octavio Dotel helped the Royals to a 7th run as this one went into extras 7-7. The Royals won 8-7 in 11 innings. No, K.C. is not the whimpering mess it once was, and the Sox are now 1-4 this season against the Royals. The worst stat from Wednesday night's game was a woeful 11 walks issued by Sox pitchers.

The Sox actually out-hit K.C. 16-11, so maybe they should have come up with a few more runs. Jermain Dye and Josh Field both homered, A.J. Pierzynski was 4-5, Carlos Quentin was 3-5, and Scott Podsednik had 2 RBIs, but as a team, the Sox left 13 men on base.

Still, I find pitching more troubling right now, as the bullpen has begun to weaken, and Contreras, Floyd and even John Danks have strung together a series of poor outings. Who thought at the start of the season that Bartolo Colon would be the second-most effective pitcher on the Sox after Mark Buehrle. Giving Contreras a breather might not be a bad idea, especially with Aaron Poreda picthing well in the minors, but Ozzie Guillen seems resolved to let Contreras find his old self while hacking his way through meaningful games.

Yes, it is still early, but K.C. is in 1st place, and we don't want them to get used to it.

Trop toppers

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The Cubs' Sunday Night Special was rained out and postponed until July 12 (SBW's birthday, by the way), but the White Sox scored enough runs for both teams, beating the Rays 12-2. The Sox took 3 of 4 from the Rays down at Tropicana Field (which is in St. Pete, not Tampa, by the way), a indoor park which usually gives them fits almost as bad as they get up at the Metrodome... almost.

Could this spell an end to the Sox misfortune in domes? Maybe we'll find out when the Sox go to Toronto in a few days. Right now, they are getting ready to face Baltimore at Camden Yards tomorrow, and perhaps some of them are reliving the experience of meeting President Obama, the nation's "highest-ranking White Sox fan," today at the White House. It's pretty hilarious about Octavio Dotel asking for and receiving a hug from The Chief.

But back to Sunday: Gavin Floyd pitched very well after his first two outings had been shaky, logging 7 IP, 7 Ks and no walks. Carlos Quentin now leads the league in homers with 7 after getting his 3rd in 3 games and his 5th in the last week. Everybody in the line-up had a hit except for late fill-in Jerry Owens, and Brian Anderson--he only had 2 hits on the year entering Sunday--went 3-5 in the game. A.J. Pierzynski and Jim Thome both had round-trippers. Paul Konerko had 2 more RBIs.

The Sox not only won this series, they mad ethe Rays look bad and they came within a run--some might say one pitch--of sweeping their 2008 postseason nemesis. They need to keep the memory of this experience top of mind so they can access it later on. They may want to remember that visit to the White House, too.

Just getting started

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I have been false-starting posts all winter as the Cubs and White Sox made and failed to make various moves, but every time I did, something derailed me, whether it was actual paying work, the mediocrity of the Bulls and the Bears (both the Wall Street version and the football verson)demanding my attention, or my newest obsession, a little column called Fantasy Fix, over at The Beachwood Reporter.

But, finally, someone is prodding me about getting started, and maybe that's all I needed.

There is too much ground to cover in one sitting, so let's begin by looking back at some fun we had last fall trying to predict the Sox and Cubs line-ups for this spring. In both cases, we assumed too many off-season moves. Not that we expected the moves to really happen, but as a fan, I guess you always hope for more off-season business than actually gets done.

Let's start with the Sox, and pick up the Cubs in the next post. Here's what we described back in November as a likely version of the Sox line-up:

CF Taveras
SS Ramirez
LF Quentin
DH Thome
RF Dye
1B Konerko
C A.J.
2B Getz
3B Fields or Uribe

So, we didn't get Willy Taveras, who ended up in Cincinnati. Uribe, who had managed to stick around like a barnacle, is gone. Everyone else is in play. The most interesting conundrums are at second base and third base. At second, there's Getz, but also Jayson Nix, Brent Lillibridge, Wilson Betemit, even the awesomely powerful Gordon Beckham, who would move from his natural shortstop position. At third, Betemit and Dayan Viciedo are in the mix with Fields.

I like Beckham's and Viciedo's to make the opening day roster, but I don't know if both of them can. Maybe neither will. Beckham has been impressive but may just be getting a long look. He's been both patient and aggressive at the plate, though Ozzie still seems uncommitted. Viciedo is getting every chance to become another Cuban Missile, but seems one-dimensional so far--albeit that one dimension is a nice power stroke.

The outfield hasn't changed much, as Jerry Owens and DeWayne Wise probably will stick around, and challenge Brian Anderson in center field. CF is still a question mark for the Sox, but the question seems to become less emphatic each passing season that Anderson, Owens and whatever other speedster du jour is on the roster (now Wise) show up for spring training. Still, I really would have liked Taveras to be the answer.

Among pitchers, Jose Contreras surprisingly is still around and looking good this pring, and new signee Bartolo Colon introduces some interesting options, but the Sox will of course have to watch him closely. Clayton Richard, Jeff Marquez and Lance Broadway are getting a chance.

With all that in mind, here's my new look at the 2009 line-up and starters:

CF Owens
SS Ramirez
LF Quentin
DH Thome
RF Dye
C A.J.
1B Konerko
3B Fields
2B Getz

SP Buehrle
SP Floyd
SP Danks
SP Contreras
SP Richard

RP Marquez
RP Colon
RP Jenks
RP Linebrink
RP Dotel
RP Thornton
RP Broadway

I like Owens to beat out Anderson in CF. I think despite appearances, 2B is Getz' job to lose, and that the Sox don't want to rush Beckham to the majors even if he's fantastic. Same with Viciedo. Fields was terrible during spring training 2008, but has been better this spring.

Among SPs, there are thorny decisions to be made. Three lefties starting? Also, Contreras was not expected to be a factor, and I think the Sox can't write off the World Series vet quite yet. I think Colon could make the roster as a project, maybe even starting out on the disabled list. Marquez has been good so far, and perhaps could still take a starter job that otherwise looks like it belongs to Richard. I think Aaron Poreda is bound for the farm, but will be on speed dial. Same with Carrasco.

So, how will these regulars do? Can they do their half of the job in trying to bring us our dream of a Windy City World Series? We admit last year may have been the rare time when that looked possible for a while. This year, the A.L. Central could really tighten up. The Sox proved last year that you can never count them out, even if you have to extend the season.

This year, I see some fading punch in this line-up, starting pitching with potential, some speed and good defense on the bench, and a bullpen with an increasingly shaky closer and a few other live arms. I think the Sox are good for second place, maybe 86-76, with a shot at first if Cleveland isn't good enough, the Twins are no better, and Detroit and Kansas City fall short in their seeming improvement. No Game 163 this year, for better or worse, and no chance at a Wild Card, which is permanently attached to the American League East.

The dream is alive

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Two Chicago baseball teams have reached the postseason for the first time since 1906. The Sox didn't do much in Game 163, but they did exactly enough in beating the Piranhas 1-0 to seal the A.L. Central Division crown. Only four things of note happened:

1) John Danks pitched 8 "black-out" innings, yielding just 2 hits.

2) Jim Thome hit a towering homer over the centerfield wall.

3) A.J.caught what looked like a tough throw at the plate from Junior on a would-be sac fly, blocked Michael Cuddyer's way and held onto the ball, keeping the shut-out intact.

4) B.A. made a diving catch on a sinking woulda-been-a-hit-in-the-dome blooper to end the game.

The dream is alive for the Sox, who are headed for the ALDS, and the dream is alive for SBW, which was founded on the premise that this could be the year for a crosstown Windy City World Series. The Cubs host the Dodgers tomorrow night in a series that has to start soon so I can stop worrying about it. The Sox begin their postseason journey on Thursday, which doesn't afford much rest for a tired team. That's OK. We'll all take a nice long nap in November.

Danks tanks, part 2

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Remember this post? I had made this mistake of identifying John Danks as a possible big-game pitcher, and he then proceeded to disappoint me and other Sox fans with a run of sub-par games. That cold streak extended into last night's excruciating 11-8 loss to the Indians. It was excruciating because:

1) Minnesota got killed at home by K.C. (What do the Royals have that the Sox don't? Starter Kyle Davies, who has shut down both the Sox and the Twins in the last week.)

2) Regardless of what was happening in Minnesota, the Sox had to approach this game as a must-win, but Danks, who was ineffective from the first batter, and D.J. Carrasco, who served up a grand slam to Ryan Garko, didn't get the memo. The Sox batters picked away at the big lead, but never could develop a big enough inning to catch up.

3) The Sox offense looked obviously better than it had recently, combining long balls by Paulie, A.J. and JeDye with sound, fundamental small ball--well-placed singles and right-side grounders that moved runners and scored runs. A wasted effort.

The Sox again face a must-win game today, because they can't go on assuming the Piranhas will lose. The difference today is that they were handed 1st place last night, and couldn't collect.

So, what's going on with the Cubs? Well, they split a four-game series at Shea Stadium, which is not a bad outcome. However, they won the third game of that series so effortlessly--a 9-6, extra innings win that actually somehow looked easy--against a Mets team that squandered so many chances, you expected them to win the fourth game and teh series as well. Harden led an all Sub-Cub team against Pedro Martinez in that one. The subs performed well against Pedro, and better after he left, especially Micah Hoffpauir, who had his much-anticipated coming-out party with a 5 for 5, 2 HR performance. Unfortunate, Harden wasn't great and the bullpen eventually let the Mets walk away with a 7-6 win.

Last night, the Cubs looked like a 1st place team with nothing to play for until next week, which is not what anyone wanted to see. They lost 5-1 to the Brewers, which gave the Brewers help in the wild card race. Would you rather see the Mets win the wild card and have the Cubs face them in the first round, or watch the Brewers win it, see the Cubs take on the Dodgers in Round 1, and know a possible I-94 match-up might decide the NLCS?

The Mets, even though they have Santana, Wright and Delgado, seem like an easier Round 1 candidate than the sill-hot Dodgers. The Mets needed a full game of fighting and scratching the other night just to beat the Sub-Cubs. At this point, a Brewers team that makes the postseason after all they have been through would be very a dangerous team. Regardless of everything else, I would like they Cubs to go into October on a winning streak.

Closer than we would have liked

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I predicted the White Sox would do a little something against Roy Halladay and they did, scoring five runs off him without the benefit of a homer, which is encouraging rather than not. The final was 6-5, so the Sox just got by a hot Jays team, but more on that later.

A.J. and B.A. both had key two-out, run-scoring hits, and the Missile and Thome kept the line moving, too. Best of all, Buehrle was smooth, quieting a Blue Jays line-up that had won 10 in a row, and putting the Sox in position to split the series. The game only got terrifyingly close when Jenks gave up 3 runs in the top of the 9th. B.A.'s two-out insurance RBI turned out to be the difference. Jinxie's blow-up was not terribly re-assuring as the season winds down, though he struck out a great hitter, Alex Rios, with the tying run on 3rd to end it.

A supposed closer also gave the Cubs a scare/ Don't worry, the Cubs finally won 4-3 Wednesday night, though Woody came perilously close to guiding the Cubs to what would have been their 3rd straight bottom-9th loss. Woody was definitely throwing some heat, but a lot of it was right over the middle of the plate. He looked angry and in a hurry, and after giving up a double and a HR to Pujols and this year's unforseen star, Ryan Ludwick, he got the next batter, No-Name Phelps on a high fly that Phelps really could have smashed out of the park, such was the plate location of Woody's pitch.

I'm not complaining... not about the win at least. A win is a win is a win, Yogi should have said, and we'll take it. The Cubs again only managed to score in one inning early on, the 2nd, and didn't have any hits after the 5th inning. Also, two errors by Felipe Lopez actually helped the Cubs to 3 of their 4 runs, so a disturbing trend of a quiet offense continues. A-Ram is hitting well, though, and had 2 hits. Al-So threw out a man at home. Nice.

Someone else who looked angry and in a hurry was Ted Lilly. For the most part, that worked for him, as he got Cards hitters to swing into outs quickly, often early in hitters' counts. Lilly also pulled a Butkus move on Yadier Molina, trying, apparently against coach's advice, to score from 3rd on a grounder to 3rd in the 2nd inning. Not sure why Lilly took off--maybe he wanted to get back to the dugout and get ready for his next inning--but he was a dead duck. Unfortunately for Molina, he (Molina) stood square in front of the plate, probably expecting from Lilly a kindly acceptance of a gentle tag. Instead, Lilly leveled him, and the talented Molina later left the game.

Lilly was great through 8 IP, and a quick, confident performance was exactly what the Cubs needed from their starter, but curiosity lingers: Is anger the Cubs' new act? Is that the way you get back on track toward the World Series? I'm not so sure...

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