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Jake Peavy took to the airwaves not long ago to criticize Ozzie Guillen, still seemingly a safe target for criticism, given the way Ozzie left the team. If players need to blow off some steam regarding Ozzie's departure, they should be able to have at it this winter and early spring before it's time to get down to business again.

Or, at least that's the attitude I would have about anyone other than Peavy. The former Cy Young winner has pitched fewer than 40 games for the Sox over the last two and a half seasons. Has he earned the right to criticize a manager who brought a World Series and several winning seasons to Chicago?

Of course, the whole thing has started what looks to become a war of words with Ozzie.

Maybe Peavy is trying to step up and be a leader to a pitching staff that has lost its long-time leader-by-example, Mark Buehrle. There hasn't been much activity by the Sox this off-season--or at least not as much as there has been on the other side of town--but most of the moves than have been made have altered the make-up of the current pitching staff and the deeper reserve of arms:

--Buehrle left

--Sergio Santos was traded for Nestor Molina, a guy who seems like a younger version of himself.

--The Carlos Quentin deal brought four new pitchers, all probably destined for the minors--or at least we won't see any of them until the second half when the Sox are relegated to holding tryouts for 2013.

--John Danks got a $65 million contract that seems to position him has the ace of the staff and potential leader, perhaps a surprise given his horrible first half of 2011.

--Gavin Floyd--well, nothing has happened with Floyd yet, but don't be surprised.

We're looking at a probable rotation of Danks, Peavy, Floyd, Phil Humber and Chris Sale, with the possibility that Zach Stewart or Dylan Axelrod could force their way into the mix in spring training. Matt Thornton is the likely closer, with the remainder of the bullpen led by Jesse Crain and co-starring Will Ohman (ugh) and maybe Addison Reed.

In other words, there isn't much to get excited about. The best to hope for is that Danks proves 2011 was an anomaly and does become the new ace of the staff; that Peavy somehow starts close to 30 games, that Floyd finds a consistency he's always lacked; that Humber can recapture whatever he found in early 2011; and the Sale can continue to deliver on promise by making a seamless transition to from the bullpen. Meanwhile, let's hope Thornton can actually make himself a closer, something he already failed to do once.

Given the uncertainties, I don't blame Peavy for trying to step up. But, he still has a big job in front of him just trying to prove he can still pitch, let alone rally the troops. In fact, proving he can still pitch--rather than criticizing Ozzie--would be the best way to lead a rally. Maybe Peavy can finally make Kenny Williams look smart for betting him while on the DL in 2009, but time's running out.

Buehrle has never won a Cy Young, but he provided White Sox fans with many great memories over the years--a World Series; his perfect game; his first no-hitter; the Opening Day 2010 backward, between-the-legs flip to Paul Konerko to thrown a man out at first; the gem he threw in his final game with the Sox, a 2-1 victory Sept. 27, 2011 that the bullpen nearly lost for him.

One of my favorite Buehrle memories was my own bachelor party--a stunningly warm day in April 2006 when we had about 10 guys down at The Cell, already primed with several beers by the time the game started. Buehrle gave up three hits and two runs in the first inning, and it looked like an uncharacteristically long day for him, but the rest of the way it was typical Buehrle--he only have up two more hits and got us out of the park and on to the next bar in 2:10 as the Sox won 4-2 (This was also the game in which Tad Iguchi threw out a runner at first in the ninth by scooping the ball to Konerko as he was diving to the ground; Konerko accounted for all of the Sox runs, hitting a pair of two-run homers).

2006 otherwise wasn't great for the Sox or Buehrle. With a 12-13 record, it remains his only losing season. And of course, it's that consistency that the Sox will miss the most. That consistency was at the core of what made a leader of a guy who was by no means vocal.

Buehrle's departure was not really a surprise to anyone, though fans aware of Jerry Reinsdorf's legendary loyalty to his employees certainly believed there was a chance Reinsdorf would swoop in with a creative (if not financially competitive) offer, and a pep talk about Buehrle's true worth to the Sox.

But, it didn't happen, and what we're left with is Peavy trying to take his place--and getting off on the wrong foot.


A day after my assessment of the Cubs, it's good timing to look at what's happening with the White Sox, as we've been greeted with two fairly big pieces of Pale Hose news this morning: Manager Ozzie Guillen has chosen Matt Thornton to open the season as his closer, and The Great and Powerful Oz also said Jake Peavy looks ready to start in April, at least a month ahead of what many of us assumed earlier.

With this news in mind, I'll kick off my spring training likes/unlikes:

Matt Thornton: Like. He actually hasn't done much one way or the other, and if he is going to be the closer, I would like to see him in some save situations soon, but you know what you're getting with Thornton. I have been a big fan of Chris Sale, but Thornton deserves the call right now.

Chris Sale: Unlike. I still actually like his promise, and hope Ozzie's tough love methods don't make him worse before he gets better again (and he will get better). However, spring training has been a big missed opportunity for him. On the plus side, he is striking guys out, and has only issued a couple walks, but he has been way too hittable for further consideration as closer.

Jake Peavy: Like. I have not always been a fan of Peavy, but the guy is showing his toughness coming back ahead of schedule, and has been pretty effective. I'm feeling more confident about him right now than about Mark Buehrle.

Mark Buehrle: Unlike. This is a borderline call, because he looked great in his start this week, and you know he will show up when the season starts. But these off-season regimens he has been engaging in the last two winters seem to do little for him, and I'm also getting tired of reading how baseball is a burden for him.

Ozzie Guillen: Like. He has been behaving well, and has been decisive about things like the closer move. What more can you ask for? Also has been very funny on Twitter--I want to create a Twitter feed built only around Ozzie retweets.

Lastings Milledge: Like. He has been a problem child and a bust elsewhere, and I'm not ready to believe he is a long-term answer for the Sox, but he has shown power, hitting chops and nice defense, and his speed fits the profile for the role previously played by Willie Harris, Dewayne Wise and Pablo Ozuna. It may be him of Brent Lillibridge. Sorry, Brent.

Tyler Flowers: Like. He was practically written off days into spring training, but has been hitting really well. The Cubs (with Wellington Castillo) and Sox both have great young catchers just about ready for the majors. I think the Cubs should turn to their newbie now, but I'm not sure the Sox would consider the same. I have a feeling the Sox' traditionally heavy focus on pitching favors vet Ramon Castro and puts Flowers back in the minors to start the season.

Brent Morel: Unlike. Like Sale, another young guy that was in a position to win a big job, but he just has not delivered, leaving Mark Teahen looking like a possible starter. Why do I have the feeling we will be seeing a lot of Omar Vizquel at third again?

Phil Humber and Jeff Marquez: Like. In a battle for bullpen spots, these guys are really showing their stuff. Humber looked good enough to be a possible fifth starter if Peavy would have need more time. He still looks like a bullpen lock and a successful Don Cooper reclamation project. Marquez has show flashes before, but could never stick with the big club. His 11 strikeouts in 9.1 innings and 1.93 ERA are pretty enticing.

Dayan Viciedo: Like. There was a lot to like before he was injured, and let's hope he can make a quick comeback.

Sox offense: Like. In terms of springs stats, the Sox are among the leaders in HRs and RBIs, which probably was expected. They also have been generally hitting better recently than earlier in the spring. On the down side, there have been fewer stolen bases than you would expect from an Ozzie team, and Adam Dunn has not done much yet. But, other middle of the order guys like Alex Rios, Paul Konerko and Carlos Quentin look ready.

Sox defense: Unlike. The defense overall has been creaky (though not as bad as the Cubs'), and Gordon Beckham and Mark Teahen have specifically not been good. Beckham has hit well, but I hope he's not sacrificing growth on defense. Watching Teahen on defense makes me prefer Vizquel with one hand tied behind his back.


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.

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).



Bad teams wear black

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The Sox, at 5-10 after last night's perfect game-revenge blowout by the Rays, are apparently off to their worse start since 1997. Things haven't been going great, but I didn't think the Sox were doing any worse than they might have done in previous Aprils. I guess we have had it pretty good.

I still like the look of this team, and the balance of the Sox line-up, though it seems like they are missing Jermaine Dye's bat more than anyone thought and Carlos Quentin might be pressing too much trying to make up for the power outage. The starting rotation has not lived up to its billing, but I'm betting we will be singing a different tune about that but this time next month.

Gettig back to last night's game, it was Mark Buehrle's first outing against the Rays since his perfect game against them last July. He was good early, but the Rays rae in 2008 form alread, and the huge chip on their shoulder from last year's perfect game helped them to a 12-0 knockout.

Panic time? Not yet.

Weekend update

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After their first weekend of play for the 2010 season, both are teams are 2-4, with line-ups on both sides of town still struggling mightily. The White Sox actually did manage five runs Sunday, the most either team has managed since the Cubs scored five in a hopeless effort back on Opening Day.

The Sox got a nice surprise from Andruw Jones Sunday in the form of an eighth inning game-winning hit that kept them from losing their fifth in a row and getting swept by the Piranhas. Paul Konerko had a two-run homer to continue his tear, and the Sox got solo shots from Mark Kotsay (finally make Ozzie look good for sticking with him) and Gordon Beckham, but Jones' pinch-hit single may have been the brightest moment for this team since Game 1.

Mark Buehrle also was good enough in holding the Twins to four runs over eight innings, keeping a somewhat taxed bullpen off the field.

The win came after a frustrating 2-1 Saturday loss in which a gutsy performance by Freddy Garcia's was wasted. The Sox had a number of scoring chances, but couldn't manage timely hits, and all the recent talk of aggressive base-running backfired at one point when Alex Rios, after his lead-off double, was doubled off of second on a fly ball out.

The Sox head north for a series in Toronto early this week, and it seems unlikely they will find their hitting touch in a dome (damn domes...), but at least they won't have to face Roy Halladay anymore.

The Cubs really should have won all three games in Cincinnati, yet they leave losing two out of three, and when they don't get sabotaged by their own bullpen, they can always count on Alfonso Soriano's clumsy fielding to do the job. On Sunday, Soriano's fumbling of a catchable fly ball in the seventh inning--while not extending the inning, since it would only have been the second out--changed the karma of a game in which Tom Gorzelanny had pitched very well.

After Soriano's error, and with the bases now loaded, Lou Piniella decided to take his anger out on Gorzelanny, removing the lefty for... another lefty, Sean Marshall. Still, Marshall has been dominant this past week, and we've been hoping he'd get the call more often, so the change wasn't a complete surprise. In any case, the karma had changed for the Cubs, and what we got next was a pure bad luck play in which a possible double-play grounder deflected off Marshall's glove and brought in the tying run.

The Reds scored two runs an inning later, and three runs is just too much for this Cubs team. The Cubs didn't do much hitting against rookie starter Mike Leake, with Kosuke Fukudome collecting three of the Cubs' five hits, but they didn't need to, as Leake awarded them seven walks. Still, except for an RBI single by Derrek Lee, the Cubs did nothing with the free runners. The worst was a waste of a bases-loaded, no-outs situation in the first inning. So maybe a little of the bad karma was there from the beginning.

Saturday featured the Cubs' second win of the season and a nicely modulated performance by Carlos Zambrano, who fell behind early 3-0, but didn't implode, and kept the Cubs in the game until homers by Soriano, Fukudome and Jeff Baker brought them a 4-3 lead. Carlos Marmol was at his unhittable best un the ninth for the save, but Zambrano was most impressive. With the obvious exception of his no-hitter in 2008, I've rarely seen get tougher to hit and more calm as a game has gone on. It was an especially nice recovery after his Opening Day horror show.

Home opener for the Cubs tomorrow against the Brew Crew.

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.

Pair of aces

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Jake Peavy, the new ace of the White Sox pitching staff (even though Mark Buehrle still officially holds that place in the rotation) and Carlos Zambrano, the old ace of the Cub staff (the new one is Ted Lilly) both pitched last night like it meant something, like their respective teams still might have a chance to make the postseason. This is not true of the Sox, and only barely mathematically-supportable for the Cubs.

Peavy through 7 shut-out inning and put his superior National League fielding stuff on display in a 2-0 Sox win over Detroit, which is still in 1st place but looking susceptible to a last-minute surge by the Twins. (How would Sox fans like it if prevailing in this weekend's final home series against Detroit actually helped the dreaded Piranhas move into 1st place? Honestly, I would rather the Sox roll over this weekend--Detroit sucks, yes, but it deserves a little uplift, if only for Ernie Harwell's sake.)

Peavy gave the Sox a glimpse of what could have been had he not suffered from lingering injuries the last couple months, as well as a glimpse of what is to come. Let's hope his mental toughness can inspire the Sox bats to wake up next year, too. His effort last night was saved only by a two-run homer from Gordon Beckham. Peavy will provide a nice foundation for next year, but the Sox will need a busy off-season and tough spring training to build on that foundation.

Zambrano pitched a 3-0 complete game victory against a legitimate play-off contender, the Giants (though their hopes are fading fast), and with Cy Young winner (reigning and possibly still champion after this year's votes are tallied) Tim Lincecum throwing for the Giants. It was Zambrano best game since his no-hitter against the Astros more than a year ago. Yes, once in a while, Big Z keeps his alter ego, Zammy the Clown, at bay and shows you what he is truly capable of: Complete-game shut-out stuff on the mound, including 8 Ks, 1 BB and just 2 hits allowed; and success at the plate--2 RBIs out of the Cubs' 3 total, including a run-scoring double and a tremendous effort to beat out a throw at 1st base, which thwarted what would have been an inning-ending double play and allowed a run to score.

But, is it enough to see this version of Zambrano just once or twice a year? He says he wants to stay in Chicago, but has never been able to remain composed enough to show us a performance like this on a consistent basis. Will next year be the year?

Seeing the Sox

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Here's a couple photos taken from the Scout Seats at The Cell Monday night, when Mrs. SBW and I made our annual pilgrimage. The Great and Powerful Oz is on his way back to the dugout after arguing a close play at second base. Mark Buehrle started for the Sox and wasn't bad (6 IP, 4 ER), but didn't get the win.

Meanwhile, the pre-game buffet was great as usual, though one of my favorite Scout Seat rituals is my mid-game stroll back to the ice cream cooler for an Oreo ice cream sandwich. This time around, I sent the Missus back to fetch me "an ice cream sandwich" when she went back to go to the bathroom, but she came back with a standard-issue Good Humor style ice cream sandwich.

Nothing wrong with that, mind you, and those bar-style treats take me back to the days in the 1970s growing up in Grayslake when the ice cream man came down our street once a week, with his truck playing that mind-numbing jingle the whole way. My standard order was an ice cream sandwich, my brother favored Push-Ups (even though he probably doesn't remember), my dad liked the chocolate ice cream bars with the thick plank of solid chocolate in the middle and my mom liked the toasted almond bars.

Anyway, while I wouldn't normally turn down any old ice cream sandwich, I was aware that the Powers-That-Be with the White Sox organization usually are very attentive in such matters, making sure a wide variety of food choices are available. I have in the past enjoyed both the Oreo sandwich and the Toll House chocolate-chip cookie variety while watching from the Scout Seats (the cooler also features drumsticks, but the less said of those the better), so I went back and, sure enough, my frozen, racially-integrated treat was waiting for me. Good stuff. (I gave the original and now rapidly melting, plain-old ice cream sandwich to Mrs. SBW, who gladly ate it, lest I consume two, which I clearly would have done.)

By the way, the Sox won 8-7, though not before Scott Linebrink tried to give up the game. He has since been demoted to middle relief (finally).





Welcome, Jake Peavy

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A couple of months ago, I was not crazy about the idea of the White Sox trading for Jake Peavy, who despite being a former Cy Young winner, also seems to get injured frequently (though not his arm... yet), and seemed hesitant to come play for the Sox and compete in the American League in general. I also didn't want to see the Sox give up both promising lefties Clayton Richard and Aaron Poreda.

Now that the Sox have snared Peavy in a last-minute trading deadline, I'm still nervous, though I have to admit there is a lot to like and little to complain about when you land a 28-year-old superstar pitcher who immediately becomes the rotation's only true power pitcher. Of course, we'll have to wait another few weeks for Peavy to come off the DL to see how much help he can be in this year's quest. Things could be very interesting in particular if the rotation gets lined up so that both Peavy and Mark Buehrle face the Twins and Tigers on what could be very decisive series late next month.

Meanwhile, the Peavy era started for the Sox with a bt of good luck, as they beat the Yankees 10-5 last night in a game that they almost forfeited at the start. Because Richard was the scheduled starter, the Sox had to send out middle reliever D.J. Carrasco, who looked uncomfotable from the very beginning, not covering 1st base quickly enough on a ground ball by Derek Jeter. But, the Sox piled on the hits, and the bullpen held. They have now won the first two games of a four-game series against a team that entered with the second best record in baseball.

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