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Cheap sweep

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Any thoughts that a sweep of the Cubs proved how good the White Sox are should be put back into perspective by Tuesday night's 9-2 thumping by the Twins. This is not a good Twins team. It is one of the worst in recent memory.

The Sox, 21-21 going into Tuesday's game, have been getting some good power in recent games, off the bats of Adam Dunn, Dayan Viciedo and Gordon Beckham in particular. That's nice to see, but the Sox are now entering a tough stretch that should answer the questions about what kind of .500 team they really are--the kind that is a little streak away from being a winning team, or the kind that has used beatings of worse teams to puff up its record.

The Sox sweep at Wrigley may have proved more about exactly how bad the Cubs really are than how good the Sox are. With Bryan LaHair coming back down to earth a bit, the Cubs offense has been limited of late to the occasional Alfonso Soriano homer and a handful of runs so late in blowouts that the other team's closer wasn't being used.

The Cubs were 15-27 going into Tuesday's game at Houston, look like what they are--they worst team in the majors by number of losses. It's not only the offense, as the starting pitching has not been nearly as brilliant as it was in April. If anything, the bullpen, which let the Cubs down so often in April, has been better in recent games.

However, the lost weekend against the crosstown rival may have left the Cubs in too deep of a hole to come out of, even though they are actually only about eight games out of first place. Suddenly, the fans want Anthony Rizzo called up, something the Cubs said they weren't in a hurry to do.

I don't see a dire need to call up Rizzo now. to do so would suggest he can fix everything that''s wrong with the Cubs. I'm definitely in favor of bringing him up later in the season, but he's still young enough that the minors are where he should be. He may be tearing up the minors, but that's exactly what he's supposed to be doing.

As we head into Memorial Day weekend, I'm not feeling great about either of our teams. It will be interesting to see which one has brighter prospects when the next crosstown series rolls around next month. The Sox should still have the better record, but I have to wonder if both teams will be settled well below .500 by then.

Don't got Wood

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Some moments are bigger than the game. Whether or not they should be depends on your perspective, and it is difficult for most Cubs fans to consider anything Kerry Wood does with a balanced perspective. 

In announcing his retirement yesterday, Wood upstaged the game--a Crosstown Classic at that--and the Cubs assured that he could go out the way he wanted, facing one last batter in a close game, and getting a tender in-game farewell from fans and players alike

Since his 20-strikeout game on May 6, 1998, it has been impossible for a lot of us to view Wood as you would any other pitcher who has been on the disabled list 16 times in 14 years and who hasn't even spent his entire career with the Cubs. 

Wood had one truly great game and a handful of very good ones, but the promise of miracle talent flashed at age 20 created a legend that wouldn't fade, and when he set himself apart from other players by being an all-around nice guy and generous tipper, it only enhanced the warm feelings people have had for him. The injuries gave him the star-crossed quality of someone who can never really fail in the eyes of fans because he never really gets the chance.

Of course, what many fans forget is that Wood did get that chance. If he had won the biggest game of his life--Game 7 of the 2003 NLDS--the 20-strikeout game, the 1998 Rookie of the Year award and some other good performances might have been only chapter headings in a bigger and broader legend. You certainly can't heap all the blame for that year's postseason implosion on him, but that loss is something a lot of fans are likely to ignore when they think about Wood.

I can't really think of an over-hyped player getting the farewell from the game that Wood got yesterday, but I guess it was in the cards when the Cubs re-signed Wood last winter. I thought when he returned for the 2011 season, it was a decent signing of a fan favorite who had a bit of talent left and probably would retire at the end of the year. When Theo & Co. seemed committed to re-building, I thought Wood would take the hint and announce his retirement, but instead he forced the team to make a PR decision and sign him to a cheap deal. It's the only time new management has blinked so far.

I don't really fault Wood for dictating his own public exit in the middle of a game--I think he wanted it for the fans more than for himself because he has probably been a fan of the legend, too. But it was emblematic of everything else about Wood's whole story--kind of out-sized and disconnected from reality, the kind of moment fans celebrate because, like Wood, they have no idea what it's like to win the biggest game of their lives.

The White Sox won two of three in Round 2 of the Crosstown Classic series, and end the bout having taken four of six overall, which probably surprises no one. Some reflections on the weekend that was:

--Juan Pierre's slugging era last all of three games. So, what are the Sox going to do for runs now that the bottom of the line-up isn't getting on base and getting knocked in by Pierre?

--The Sox only had two runs in the last two games vs. the team with the league's worst starting rotation ERA.

--Adam Dunn continue to find ways to look worse doing absolutely nothing--but good news, Sox fans: He said he's getting "comfortable" at the plate. You gotta be kidding.

--The Sox remain really, really close to going over the.500 mark. Raise your hand if you think they will do it against the Royals in this week's first series.

--Now, put that hadn down if you think they will fall back under .500 against the Twins in this week's second series.

--Mike Quade got a standing ovation for arguing a horrible call, but still mismanages his pitchers (sometimes by putting a bat in their hands) based on theories about how he wants to end games in which the Cubs are losing or could at least use runs.

--Starlin Castro is the only All-Star Cub, but I think Darwin Barney could have made the last player vote pretty interesting had he not gone on the DL.

--It goes without saying that Paul Konerko should get voted in and also participate in the Homerun Contest.

--It goes without saying the Mike Quade going to the All-Star game is pretty laughable.

Random observations

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--You know Mike Quade doesn't know how to handle his pitching staff when he watches Randy Wells fall apart in the 7th inning against the Sox, but doesn't yank him because he's trying to preserve his 9th inning plan.

--Quade stuck with Wells yesterday two days after he pulled Ryan Dempster after Dempster gave up a lead-off 9th inning double in a 1-0 game that Dempster had dominated, giving up just three hits with no walks. Dempster had only thrown about 80 pitches. If anything, Quade often stuck with Dempster too long earlier in the season when he obviously was burnt toast, but this time let him start the 9th, then yanked him at the first sign of trouble. If he was going to be that quick about it, Carlos Marmol should have started the 9th. Pulling Dempster wasn't fair to Dempster or Marmol. I know, the win is what matters--well, unless you're about 15 games under .500. Then, maybe you should just start with consistency.

--Juan Pierre has come up with a couple clutch hits for the Sox in the last two games. I like little Juan, but again, he has no real value if he's not stealing bases. These clutch triples will not last through the rest of the summer.

--I guess I'm finally giving up on Adam Dunn. The walk yesterday was charity from Randy Wells, and I swear Dunn looks about 10 lbs. heavier every game.

--The Sox can go over .500 this weekend. I usually root more for the home team durng Crosstown Classic games, but I'm suspending that this weekend, just in the hopes of seeing one of our teams poke its ahead above the water.

What wasn't supposed to be much of a series turned out to be three games worth of exciting baseball, punctuated by a lot of the controversy we have come to expected from the White Sox-Cubs rivalry. My quick hits:

The final scores:The Sox won the series 2-1, but only after dropping the first game 6-3. Both the second and third games were one-run affairs (3-2 and 4-3) in which it really did seem like anything could happen right down to the final pitch.

Heroes: Carlos Pena and Starlin Castro for the Cubs, Paul Konerko, Sergio Santos and A.J. Pierzynski for the Sox. Pena hit a homerun in each game, including the game-winner in Game 1. He is finally, happily in a hot zone--just in time to be traded. Castro continued to show he will hit any pitcher, any day, under any conditions--there is no stopping him. Plus, his fielding is improving. Paulie hit homers in Games 2 and 3 to give him a five-game homer streak and keeping him among league leaders in homeruns (21) batting average (.327, and that's after 0-3 in Game 3) and a bunch of other categories. Santos saved both White Sox winners, and A.J. went 5-for-11 in the series in two RBIs in Game 3 on a rare triple. And, he scored on a bunt.

Zeroes: Adam Dunn. He was so conspicuously worse than anyone else that no one else is worth mentioning. Dunn is supposed to be teeing off against interleague pitching, and in particular, Cubs pitching, to prove he isn't a complete wash-out. Instead he went 0-8 with five strikeouts in two games against the Cubs. It's the definition of hitting bottom--we can only hope.

Honorable mentions: Carlos Zambrano deserves one for not giving Sox fans what they wanted. When the Sox jumped on Z for a 3-0 lead in the first inning of Game 1, he looked steamed, and the entire not-quite-full ballpark was waiting for a meltdown. Somehow, he kept it together and kept the Sox scoreless the rest of the way.

Controversy #1: It wasn't Zambrano that blew a fuse in Game 1. It was Ozzie, who got ejected arguing a call at home plate after Alexei Ramirez appeared to foul a ball off--the home plate ump called it fair and an out after The Missile was tagged by Geovany Soto (To be honest, I'm still not sure who was right.) Ozzie, amid full-throated yelling, turned and kicked Geo's catcher's mask toward the Sox dugout. Ok, that one started in controversy, but ended in hilarity. The papers tried to bait Geo into agitation over the whole thing, but he wouldn't bite. What was he supposed to do--turn into Michael Barrett?

Controversy #2: Alfonso Spriano said something to the effect that the booing he has received in Wrigley while playing poorly is worse than he has received elsewhere--even New York. He later clarified that he did not mean the fans were worse at Wrigey than anywhere else, and that, of course, they have the right to boo. The funny thing is that Al-So seemed inspired by the controversy, having a good Game 3, actually stealing a base (!) and playing defense in a, well, adequate manner. The not-so-funny thing is that Soriano's extra effort only highlighted that he has given less than that in other games. I mean, if he can still run--which came as a surprise to most of us--why isn't he stealing bases more often (I don't mean every game, just more often than never.)

Controversy #3: Jake Peavy and A.J. appeared to have a dugout confrontation in Game 3, even though the Sox were winning. Peavy was decent in his return from the DL, though there were hesitations between a couple pitches where Peavy either said something to A.J. or to himself, and an odd moment when Don Cooper came out to the mound to chat even though the Sox were up 3-0. These two battery mates are both well-known bulldogs who will both bark at you and then bite you. A.J.'s handling of the pitching staff sometimes appears to involve a little bit of tough love, but you can't argue the results of the last several seasons. Meanwhile, I don't know that barely occasional starter Peavy has earned the right to go toe-to-toe with A.J. in public. It was one moment when the Sox looked a lot more like the Cubs.

Is there more to talk about? Probably...

Somewhat lackluster attendance at The Cell got a lot of attention, but I'm still giving this entertaining series a thumbs-up.

Weaknight showdown

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There is not much to look forward to as the first battle in the Crosstown Classic series starts at The Cell tonight. Last year, the White Sox were on a winning streak and an impressive month-long run that went on to fuel division title hopes until mid-September (the Cubs ended their streak at 11 games in the series finale). The Cubs, meanwhile, were already falling apart, well out of first, but still creating headlines with speculation about Lou Piniella's job and Carlos Zambrano's uncontrollable rage.

Perhaps it's fitting that Zambrano returns to the scene of the crime tonight in the series opener. Last year's tirade had many assuming Zambrano would be traded or let go, but instead he went off to anger management and became a new man, at least until he recently criticized Carlos Marmol, disrespected Mike Quade and apparently tried to conduct an interview during this past Saturday afternoon's game with Fox field reporter Ken Rosenthal. After the recent shenanigans, I think Z's about ready for another blowout.

So, perhaps the series is worth watching to see how far Zambrano walks down the plank. Other than that, the Sox beat a good Arizona team two out of three over the weekend. If they beat the Cubs two out of three or sweep, they'll have the chance to push over .500 this weekend. But, their inability to beat the Tigers and Twins recently has me less excited than I was last year about a possible mid-season run.

The Cubs beat a streaking Milwaukee team three out of four, but barely escaped a visit from the Yankees with a win in their pockets. The Cubs are providing some exciting moments, but nothing worth a long-term emotional investment.

The worst part about this year's crosstown series is that the Cup won't be there--the Stanley Cup, I mean. Unfortunately, that stupid BP Cup will be in attendance.

So much to talk about, so little time...

--The White Sox have a 10-game winning streak, reportedly their longest since 1976 (?!), and everything is clicking. Even Gordon Beckham homered yesterday in the Sox-Cubs crosstown clash at The Cell. Excellent pitching and just enough hitting allowed the Sox to sweep the first-place Atlanta Braves earlier this week, which should convince many that the streak is for real, and not just a hot run against cold teams (though playing the Cubs twice in two weeks really helps).

--Carlos Quentin is still punishing pitchers, homering yesterday off Carlos Zambrano, but it's even better to see him driving singles up the middle and to the opposite field. It's 2008 all over again.

--Jake Peavy had his third straight strong outing, though again, two of those have been against the Cubs and the third against another the National League foe, so it remains to be seen if he can deliver against the American League.

--The Zambrano tirade is all over the place, so I won't get into the details, but his most recent meltdown into Zammy the Clown has many people demanding and believing that Zambrano's days are over as a Cub. How that will happen remains to be seen. The Cubs once again have held onto damaged goods for far too long, and (as with Milton Bradley) are forced to try to move a player who is suspended. Who will want him? (Even the Mets have to be shaking their heads...)

I'm not saying Zambrano didn't deserve to be suspended. It was the only remaining option. It's unfortunate because it leaves the already sad-sack Cubs a man down. And, it only reminds us that GM Jim Hendry should have tried to move Zambrano long ago, when teams like the Mets were still interested and their praise could have convinced Zambrano to wave his no-trade option.

I don't think Zambrano's days as a Cub are over. I think he will apologize and will be allowed to come back to the team--but only long enough for Hendry to move the once-promising (always promising, it seems) pitcher to another team, probably for a couple of iffy minor leaguers.

There are further implications to consider after this episode: Lou Piniella, I fear, has lost his team. They are not just bad, and behaving badly--they are unresponsive. With the exception of Marlon Byrd, who is a true gamer, they are a lackluster group. Zambrano's tirade yesterday apparently was aimed partly at Derrek Lee for not diving at a ball hit down the line by Juan Pierre, and while Lee's resume is impeccable and Zambrano's criticism questionable, Lee has not been the same strong fielder lately that he was earlier in the season and throughout his career. You could say the same of the entire error-prone group, of course.

The Cubs, like it or not, may be headed for a rebuilding. That project should start with Piniella's dismissal.

Lilly no-no? Not

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The only trouble with a Cubs pitcher and a Sox pitcher building toward a no-hitter on the same day is that they were doing it against each other. When neither Ted Lilly nor Gavin Floyd had given up a hit through six innings of Sunday night's crosstown series closer at Wrigley, I was not necessarily too surprised. Both of them had been down this road before. Having said that, my money was on Gavin Floyd to go longer with his no-hit bid. I figured Lilly had been too star-crossed recently and still maybe wasn't 100% after his injury. I didn't think either of them would actually get the darn thing.

But, Floyd lost his no-hit bid after 6-2/3, but Lilly went into high gear, holding on until the 9th, when Ozzie Guillen's deployment of Juan Pierre as a pinch-hitter had base hit--any kind of basehit-written all over it. A basehit was what he got, and though Carlos Marmol nearly gave away Lilly's fine effort by walking two (one intentionally) and balking, Lilly at least got the one thing the Cubs line-up has been too stingy to give him lately--a win.

The Cubs' 1-0 victory saved them from being the victoms of a crosstown sweep. And what do you know, the Stanley Cup made an appearance...

Steve Johnson Swings Both Ways!

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SBW welcomes Chicago Tribune columnist Steve Johnson to the ranks of Chicago baseball fans who lead double lives as both Cubs and Sox fans. S.J.'s column today talks about doing away with the tribal loyalties at a time when neither team seems to deserve our exclusive loyalty.

My own evolution as a Cubs-and-Sox fan rose many years ago from feeling some frustration in rooting only for the Cubs, but also the notion that I didn't have to chose between two local teams who never played one another (a tradition which of course has changed over the years). In any case, I think S.J. is dead-on that there are more Chicago baseball fans who SBW than will admit to it.

Increasingly, I'm meeting more casual baseball fans who SBW, or at least claim they do, so perhaps it is coming into fashion, and I hope to have contributed in at least some small part to the new wave, or at least help to chronicle it. The main challenge that these true Chicago baseball fans will face after this season is maintaining dual status as both teams hopefully will improve. It's easy to say you like both teams when both are going nowhere fast this year (though I cling to the possibility that the Sox will survive a late September three-team A.L. Central cataclysm), but the true test comes when they both are doing well and feeding the crazy possibility that we could see another Windy City World Series.

Another big challenge--and one that the column touches on--is surviving the Crosstown Classic North and South Series without tearing your hair out. There's a lot of taunting and ill will that must be endured during each of these three-game sets, but to survive with your sanity intact, just follow SBW's one simple rule:

Always root for the home team.

Summer stays, patience fades

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It was a beautiful day for a crosstown, make-up game, but the home team felt none of the sun, nor any warming adulation from the fans. The White Sox beat the Cubs 5-0 Thursday to formally end the Crosstown Classic North series from back in June.

How differently things looked then for the Cubs. Yes, there were injuries and players sunk into slumps at the plate (some things never change), but the Cubs had a stunning comeback win against the Sox back in June that looked at the time like it might launch them into a much-anticipated run of victories that would result in a division title.

Now, the division title is all but mathematically lost, and the wild card is only marginally more attainable. The Cubs were booed left and right Thursday as the sun and late summer warmth failed to mellow the crowd. The fans now seem to come only to boo and make plans for their post-7th inning stretch social calendars, but the darn Cubs keeping inviting them to do nothing more. Fielding miscues by Alfonso Soriano and others let the game slip away, and each strikeout by Cubs hitters (there were 9, including 3 by Al-So and 2 by Milton Bradley) were met with boos that seemed to build to the shower of ill affection that met Al-So's game-ending K.

The Sox, meanwhile, now in third place and clinging to the hope offered by division match-ups later this month, had to do almost nothing to win this one except run the bases without tripping. The highlight of the game to my mind was the nice throw DeWayne Wise made to nail Jake Fox at the plate in the 7th inning when it was still 1-0 Sox (Should we call it "The Throw" or "The Assist"?) Carlos Torres als had a great start, pitch 7 innings with 6 Ks and no walks, though the Cubs made it easy for him.

Amid the boos, Cubs fans may be somewhat under-appreciating a club that is still in second place, still has a winning record, and won 2 of 3 against the Mets and Astros before Thursday's crosstown loss. We would have been just fine with 67-65 and a shot at the postseason a few years ago. But, who wants to hear that when you were promised another division title (promised it, at least, by last year's amazing success)?

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