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Ups and downs up north

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Went to Wrigley today for this first time this season, and will have a post on that tomorrow...

For now, a look at the White Sox, still in Toronto (Still?), where a brilliant extra-inning win was followed by almost being no-hit, which was followed by John Danks and a crushing offensive effort shutting down the Blue Jays 11-1, which was followed tonight by, you guessed it, a 7-3 loss.

Will the real Chicago White Sox please stand up?

The 11-1 victory further showcased Andruw Jones, who had three hits and his third homerun of the year and is looking like a more frequent starter than anyone expected. Carlos Quentin also kept up his hot streak with a grand slam. The line-up delivered 15 hits overall. Danks didn't give up a hit until the fifth inning.

But, the bats took the night off tonight. It was nice that Donny Lucy got his first career homer, and Alexei "formerly the Cuban Missile" Ramirez hit his first homerun amid what has been another lackluster start for him. But, Jones, Quentin and Paul Konerko were hitless.

Splitting a four-game series in Toronto isn't a bad thing, but the next time the Sox have an 11-1 drubbing or an 8-7 extra-innings comeback, they need to bottle it.

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?

24 good reasons for 17 runs

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The Sox won two of three with strong pitching and just enough offense in the right spots before they left for one of those nerve-racking West Coast road trips (albeit a quick one, to play the Angels). Generally speaking, the Sox have had a ton of offensive trouble this year, and the Angels have put together some strong pitching outings.

What a surprise then to see the Sox explode for 17 runs on 24 hits. The Sox only had four walks, but it was more impressive the way the attacked pitches down the center of the plate before the Angels pitchers could really establish themselves. Patience certainly is a virtue at the plate, but it's also nice to see batters so confident and so unwilling to let an opponent settle in that they attack the ball.

Scott Podsednik continued to hang tough, with a 4-5 outing, and Alexei "The Missile" Ramirez may finally be airborne, going 4-7 with another all-around strong game that raised his average to .243. Jim Thome, Jermaine Dye and Paul Konerko were the predictable homer contributors. John Danks pitched well enough for the second game in a row, though he had an unsightly 6 walks, but there wasn't much he could do to lose this one.

The only bad moment in this game was a big one, when Carlos Quentin pulled up lame legging out a double, his nagging foot injury suddenly terribly worse--he had to be helped off the field. The Sox have been missing C.Q.'s bat most of the year, and even when he's been in, he's been off. Looks like Pods will be getting more PT, which is still a good thing, but for how long?

Trading places

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The Cubs looked great Tuesday night, while the Sox looked flat, but our teams traded places Wednesday night, as the Cubs could not muster a single run against the Reds' Johnny Cueto in a 3-0 loss, while the Sox pummeled the Orioles 8-2 behind lock-down pitching from John Danks.

Danks was one of our favorites of 2008, and while he was not as over-powering against the Orioles as he was in his first two starts this year, he kept the Orioles off balance, walking none, limiting them to 4 hits in 7 IP and picking off a runner.

The Sox batters gave him everything he needed early, staking him to a 4-0 lead in the first 3 innings. Jim Thome and Josh Fields had homers. Fields and Chris Getz, working out of the top two spots in the line-up, both had three hits. Fields had 3 RBI and Getz drove in 2 runs.

Scott Linebrink and Matt Thornton were not all that impressive, each getting an inning of work late and letting multiple runners on, but the Sox had plenty of breathing room.

The Cubs, meanwhile, did not get much going against Cueto after stringing together a pair of hits by Kosuke Fukudome and Derrek Lee in the 1st inning. There were a couple other situations in which they had 2 on base without 2 outs, but couldn't find a clutch hit. Milton Bradley, having trouble getting back in the swing of things after injury, struck out 3 times. Lee and Alfonso Soriano both had 2 hits.

Ted Lilly looked pretty good, with his only run in 7 IP coming shortly after he made a throwing error on what would have been a bunt hit anyway. Neither Angel Guzman nor Kevin Gregg could escape their own one-inning assignments without giving up a run each.

The word during last night's Cubs telecast was that Jeff Samardzija was being called up after a scorching run at AAA--I guess I'll start spellking his name correctly. Though Neal Cotts is the most obvious pitcher to be demoted or worse, the Cubs need his left arm, shaky as it is, in the bullpen. The Trib suggested Luis Vizcaino may be the one walking the plank.

The Cubs are about to begin an afternoon game, so get the to a TV or GameDay.

It's still early, he says

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Rockies 5 Cubs 2
Cardinals 7 Cubs 4

Tigers 9 White Sox 0
White Sox 3 Rays 2

Again had a few problems with BlogSpot earlier today and so I'm catching up:

Rockies 5 Cubs 2--My first trip to Wrigley this year. Not much has changed, thankfully, except for the Captain Morgan's Club monstrosity along Addison which further clogs of the sidewalks. Why doesn't someone close Clark and Addison already on game day?

I'm just grumpy because the Cubs never got it going against an old mate. Jason Marquis had his ups and downs as a Cub, and as he pitched against his former teamates as a member of the Rockies, he looked a lot like his Cub self: A very hittable pitcher who gets into plenty of jams, but sometimes finds his way out via a timely ground-out, strikeout or--in one case--a strike-him out/thrown-him-out double play.

Colorado beat the Cubs 5-2 Wednesday as SBW watched from the cheap seats, in a game where you kept anticipating a Cubs comeback that never quite happened, right down to the fizzled bottom-9th attempt at a rally. That inning started with a Derrek Lee solo homer (The crowd was on D-Lee at the start of this one for his slow start this season, but he went 3-4 in this game.) The Cubs added 2 baserunner and had Geovany Soto (the tying run) at the plate with no outs.

But within a couple of minutes, the game was over: Mike Fontenot made an ill-advised attempt to advance from second to third on a pass ball. From my lofty perch, it looked like he left late and that the ball didn't get all that far away from Rockies catcher Chris Ianneta. Why he was in such a rush to advance is anyone's guess--if he get's to third and scores on a sac fly, the Cubs would still be down 5-3. Lou could not have been happy.

Next, Geo, who was in his first game back from a shoulder injury and looked pretty rusty the whole game, grounded into an easy double play. The Cubs blew some earlier chances with runners on, but tying run at the plate with no outs will be the hardest to forget. Micah Hoffpauir had an RBI double for the first run, by the way, and Fukie still has his mojo.

The other story of this one was that Rich Harden had a very strange outing, only 3.2 IP, but 8 Ks and 4 BBs. Lights out in the 1st inning, and then increasingly hittable and wild after that. Marquis drove in 2 runs. Soriano let a run score on an error. What else? Neal Cotts was brought in to face lefties, but could get them out--remember that one for later.

Cardinals 7 Cubs 4--Today was just as frustrating, if not more so, as the Cubs squandered some early BBs courtesy of Cards pitcher Adam Wainwright. Milton Bradley made a surprise appearance as a pinch hitter with the bases juiced and was called out on strikes and then thrown out of the game for arguing--get used to that. Bradley started off with the count 3-0 and then looked like he didn't want to swing. I'm sure he would have gotten a pinch-runner if he got on, but he looked extremely tentative, and while Bradley and the crowd got on the home plate ump, it looked to me like he let 3 straight strikes blow right by him.

Other than that, Fukie again showed up when few others did, stroking a 3-run homer. he was caught stealing for the second game in a row--needs to work on that. D-Lee had a sac fly for the other Cubs run.

On the mound, Sean Marshall was definitely at least adequate, with 5 IP, 3 ER and 4 Ks, but was pulled after 93 pitches. Piniella and his staff are keeping him on a short leash to start the season, but I sure would have liked to see him go another inning in this one. He was pulled after an inning-opening single, and handed a 4-3 lead to Aaron Heilman, who gave it up the same inning. Later, Neal Cotts was handed the game with a lefty up and a runner on third, and guess what happened? Single to right field. I loved Cotts as a very effective member of the 2005 World Champion Chicago White Sox, but the last few games he is not doing the one thing he is required to do: Get lefties out.

Anyway, it's a good thing its only April 16.

Tigers 9 Sox 0--Almost nothing worth mentioning from the Sox' blow-out loss on Wednesday. Jose Contreras started well, but got knocked around his second trip through the Tigers' batting order, almost the same thing that happened in his first start. Also, Contreras is just about one of the easiest pitchers around to steal on, and he proved it in this game by letting big, slow Miguel Cabrera steal second base off of him. Cabrera is an amazing player, but if he steals another base all year it will have to be because Contreras is on the mound.

Still, while Contreras was most definitely not dealing in this one, it was Mike MacDougal who really put the game out of reach, giving up 4 ER on 4 hits and 3 BBs in 2 IP. Ozzie seemed determined at the opening of the season to give Mac yet another chance, but we'll see how long that lasts. I'd mention the Sox hitting highlights, but there were none.

White Sox 3 Rays 2--Speaking of stealing bases, the Rays are absolutely relentless in that department. But, they could not do much with lefty John Danks pitching tonight. Danks was pretty tough with 6 IPs, 1 ER and 8 Ks, and left with a 2-1 lead. The runs came on a 2-run homer by Jermaine Dye.

The Rays found it much easier to steal on the Sox bullpen, getting a stolen base off Octavio Dotel and stealing 3 bases off Bobby Jenks as he tried to close out the 9th. Jenks gave up a run, but the Sox fortunately had purchased insurance in the top of the 9th on an RBI infield hit by Josh Fields.

The Sox actually left the bases loaded in the 9th, and didn't make the most of their chances tonight. That usually spells misfortune against the Rays, but this time they escaped.

Sorry, folks, problems with Blogger again yesterday morning prevented me from making some timely comments on our city's one, very lonely postseason win. As it turned out, there wasn't much time to enjoy the celebration after the White Sox' 5-3 Game 3 ALDS win over the Rays, as barely 24 hours later, those same Rays were celebrating their first play-off series victory on our own carpet.

But, let's not gloss over Game 3: Danks proved to be the big-game pitcher we knew he could be. He mostly mowed down a Rays line-up that no one else seemed to have an answer for, striking out seven in 6.2 IP. The few jams he got himself into, he managed is way out of, and was one out from notching 7 IP when he gave up a two-run shot to B.J. Upton, who had been silent the whole series until then. For once, the Sox bullpen held, as Matt Thornton and Bobby Jenks kept the Rays in check the rest of the way.

Ozzie was aggressive with the base-running plan, unless it was all the players. With the bases jammed with piano movers (Thome on 3rd, Paulie on 2nd, Junior on 1st), the Missile hit a sacrifice fly. Thome scored, but the real surprise was seeing Paulie, who seriously must be the slowest man in the league, tag and take 3rd, while Junior, whose aged thickening around the middle belies his nickname, took off and made it to second. They may have both been seriously winded, but their improved position helped them score on a double by DeWayne Wise, who might have been ALDS MVP in a parallel universe. It's hard to believe the Great and Powerful Oz didn't have something to do with the tag-up calls, but he didn't let on after the game that this was the case, and in true Ozzie fashion, blabbed that he thought Junior didn't actually tag.

Wise also had a stolen base, and so did B.A., who replaced Junior in the sixth when the future HOFer walked. I thought at the time that with Junior building a nice afternoon with two hits and a walk, Ozzie was really taking a chance removing his bat from the line-up so early against the comeback-kid Rays, but it proved to be a golden move when Juan Uribe came up with a two-out hit that scored B.A.

Game 3 was great overall effort, and the Sox looked as ready for big things as they did going into Game 163 the week before...

The Commish and I were at Game 4, sitting in the upper tank, and I have to say it is a very strange experience watching another team celebrate like that on your field. Painful, yes, but almost more strange than painful, as it's a bit like watching a silent movie (at least for those of us too far up to hear what the Rays were probably yelling and laughing about) or maybe a car crash on the other side of the expressway. The Rolling Black Out tried to keep emotions high throughout yesterday's contest, even with a four-run deficit that looked like an eight-run spread the way the Sox were hitting (which is to say, not much), but by the bottom of the 9th, there was mostly a lot of sighing, and I have never heard a ballpark more quiet than when the fans were exiting and the Rays were dancing for the cameras around the pitcher's mound, celebrating their 6-2 victory. The most touching moment may have been when the handful of fans still left starting cheering "Let's go, White Sox!" as Bobby Jenks and a couple other bullpen pitchers made their way across left field toward the clubhouse. The Sox were done, but the appreciation wasn't.

The Sox offense never had it yesterday against Andy Sonnanstine, one of those guys with a 4+ ERA who suddenly becomes unhittable in the postseason because everyone is too amped up to wait for his 78 mph junk. The last time I saw the Sox flail this badly was in Game 1 of the 2005 ALCS (yes, the only loss of the play-offs) against well-traveled junkball tosser Paul Byrd.

Unfortunately, Gavin Floyd couldn't stay even, giving up 2 HRS to Upton in two straight at-bats. In the 4th inning, the ex-Cub factor reared its head when Cliff Floyd doubled home a run and later score. The Great and Powerful Oz pulled Floyd for young Clayton Richard, who managed 3 IP, 1 ER in another performance that suggests a 5th rotation spot may be in his future. Octavio Dotel turned in an out-less performance and was charged with a run, but the damage was done. All the Sox could muster were solo HRs by Paulie and JeDye in a toothless, four-hit attack.

Some fans on the train ride North tried to keep it together by bragging that the Sox had lasted longer than the Cubs this postseason, but for most, the 3-1 ALDS series provides little to console. What's at stake is so much bigger than cross-town rivalries, as this postseason has painfully made clear. SBW began with the hope, now brutally dashed, that we would see our "great in 2008" Cubs and Sox teams meet for the MLB title. We're embarrassed about the end result, but we'll continue to carry the torch for both teams into the off-season and into 2009. Check back in the days to come as we talk about potential off-season moves for both teams, and list some of our favorite moments from the season that was.

One more thing: I said I would tell you on the eve of the Windy City World Series who I would root for, the Cubs or the Sox. I guess I don't have to tell you now, but I will... my next post.

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.

Danks tanks, play-off push begins

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Not long after I identified John Danks as my pick as a big-game pitcher for this year's White Sox staff, Danks betrayed me Wednesday, as the Sox got crushed by the Orioles 11-3. Though it was Lance Broadway who allowed it to become a route, Danks gave up 4 runs early and threw a lot of pitches on the way to 3 BBs and just 1 K. Not much to like in this one at all, except JeDye's 32nd HR, Konerko hitting a rare round-tripper.

With just about a month to go in the season, this weekend begins our teams' play-off push against two tough possible play-off opponents. The Sox next take on the defending champ Red Sox, as the Cubs start a four-game series against the Phils, who fell out of 1st place last night, but still look like a play-off team.

By the way, The Trib's Phil Rogers had a column today on why the Cubs should fear the Sox come October...

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