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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.


Chicago's best pitcher

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As we count down toward this weekend's cross-town series, let's have some fun: Who is the best pitcher in Chicago?

My vote goes to the guy who notched his 8th victory against no losses today--Carlos Silva. I doubt I will get much argument otherwise, though some might suggest Ryan Dempster, John Danks, Freddy Garcia, carlos Marmol or Sergio Santos as alternatives. Dempster and Danks have been very good hard-luck cases for the most part, and Garcia has been a pleasant surprise. marmol has been mostly electric, and Santos an almost perfect single-inning artist, but Silva has been dominant against all comers.

At 8-0, Silva has the best start to a season by a Cubs pitcher since Ken Holtzman's 8-0 in 1967. Who woulda thunk it?

Milton Bradley update

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During the off-season, when the Cubs traded Milton Bradley for Carlos Silva, I thought it was a bad move to cap all the bad moves, mainly because the Cubs had already destroyed whatever was left of Bradley's value on the market that he had not destroyed himself.

But, that Silva deal is looking better by the day. Not only has the seemingly good-natured Silva pitched quite well, but Bradley is up to his old tricks, supposedly walking out on his new team before asking them for help dealing with stress.

I'd like to think the Cubs did everything they could to help Bradley on and off the field last season. He didn't always make it easy, and where they might have failed, I hope Seattle can help Bradley salvage something of his career.

Just getting started

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A nasty week-long cold has me filled with delirious thoughts, so maybe that's why I'm picking the White Sox to win the A.L. Central Division in 2010.

The headache, fever and ticklish sinuses are combining with a few other strange notions--that Alex Rios is going have an epic 30 HR, 30 SB, 100 RBI year; that the Piranhas will give up more power-runs and score fewer of their own patented small-ball runs in their new park; and that the Sox will have not only the best starting rotation in the A.L. Central but also the best bullpen, while the Joe Nathan-less Twins bullpen struggles--to convince me that the Sox are destined for an 87-75 record and division crown.

That's exactly where I had them a month ago.

My delirium has its limits, of course, and though the Cubs were better than the Sox this spring (18-12-3 to the Sox' 12-17-5), and have emerged with some surprises--Tyler Colvin on the roster and Carlos Silva in the rotation--I still see them no better than 83-79. That's not bad, and a game or two better than I had them a month ago, but I don't think they have the horses to beat either the Cardinals or Brewers.

That might change if Aramis Ramirez and Derrek Lee play well and stay healthy all year, and if Carlos Zambrano doesn't implode, and if Colvin plays like a Rookie of the Year candidate, and if Alfonso Soriano excells batting sixth, and if Silva pitches better than he has in years, and if Carlos Marmol chills out, but that's a lot of ifs.

Barring a worsening of my own health, I'll be taking in the Sox opener with The Commish tomorrow afternoon at The Cell. Let's hope it's not a repeat of 2007. I don't like the Mark Buehrle-Grady Sizemore match-up, but aside from that, the Sox seem well-poised to get off to a string start.

Spring cleaning

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The Cub and White Sox have both been doing some spring cleaning the last few days as they work their rosters down. There are also a few players who have strengthened their chances to win roster spots or starting jobs.

--Starlin Castro turns 20 this week, but won't be celebrating as a major leaguer. He was sent to Iowa, a bit early for my tastes, even though Ryan Theriot has been the best-hitting Cub this spring and it looked unlikely Castro would usurp his starting role. The veteran infielders--not only Theriot, but also Mike Fontenot and Jeff Baker--seemed to take the competition from Castro seriously. I'm betting Castro will be up before the All-Star if an injury or slump calls for another infielder.

--Brad Snyder was sent down, too. Unexpectedly, Justin Berg and Esmailin Caridad look like they will be in Chicago come April.

--I'll bet on Kevin Millar and Tyler Colvin to make the Cubs roster, and Chad Tracy and Sam Fuld to fall short.

--Carlos Silva suddenly is pitching well.

--Old news at this point, but from White Sox camp, 2009 spring training stars Dayan Viciedo and Jeff Marquez have gone to the minors.

--Daniel Cabrera, late of the Orioles, the guy who entices with a rocket arm but frustrates with terrible control, has been released. I thought maybe Ron Cooper could bring something out of him that the Orioles couldn't, but in any case, a fairly insignificant loss for the Sox.

--Alex Rios has been looking better than he did late last season.

--Mark Teahen still isn't hitting. Maybe it's because he no longer faces White Sox pitching. I'm kidding... sort of. He will make the team regardless, but it would be nice to see him get going before Easter.

--Bobby Jenks had an MRI on his right calf, but says he'll be ready to go Opening Day.

How is it that the Cubs are suddenly looking better than the Sox? The Cubs are 11-7-1 this spring and seem to have found pitching depth despite having a key starter (Ted Lilly) and a top reliever (Angel Guzman) out of action. The Sox aren't hitting, the manager is annoyed and possibly distracted by a Twitter controversy and his son's resignation, the closer is not healthy and also seemingly annoyed... Should we re-think our expectations?

Carlos vs. Carlos

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The Cubs-Sox spring training re-match was postponed today due to rain, and I decided to take another look at yesterday's Sox victory. After watching Carlos Quentin belt two homers and drive in five runs off Carlos Silva, I'm wondering this: Is that a sign of Quentin's return to prominence, or a sign that Silva is even worse than some of us thought?

My money right now is on Quentin to have a pretty decent year, possibly another 30+ homer year, though it all depends on whether he can keep that injury bug at bay. The more time he spends at DH (where he hit yesterday) the better.

Silva, on the other hand, is vying for the same bottom-of-the-rotation starter job he had with Minnesota (before Seattle bought into the idea he could be something better). Yet, Silva so far doesn't even look that good. I think he can be useful for the Cubs, though not as a starter--probably more like a long reliever.

In other news, I was surprised to see Lou Piniella say this early in the spring that Starlin Castro probably would start the season in Triple A. he was moved to say that after Andres Blanco hurt his ankle yesterday, though the statement probably comes as better news to Ryan Theriot, who not only lost his arbitration case, but has been living with the speculation that Castro is challenging him for starts at shortstop. I think the Cubs should let Castro earn a job to open the season if he puts up the numbers.

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