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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.
--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.
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.
--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.
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...
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.
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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