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Watching the play-offs

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Well, even though the Cubs and White Sox didn't come close this year, we still have a postseason worth watching, and some former Chicago players are making contributions.

It was nice to see Jose Contreras, key member of the 2005 World Champion White Sox, come out for the Phillies last night and hold down the fort to get the win. And it was just plain sad to see star-crossed Dusty Baker watching his own team become suddenly error-prone and give up a 4-0 lead with just a handful of outs left. It wasn't quite deja vu, but close enough.

In San Francisco, look who's overcome his penchant for late-inning implosions--the Farns. Kyle Farnsworth, now with Atlanta, got the win last night by pitching 1.2 not-perfect-but-good-enough innings. I was certain after the Giants blew the lead that the reliable Farns would provide them with a storybook comeback in the 11th inning, but he did the job for the Braves, who really had few options but to leave him in the game. Derrek Lee was 2-for-5 with two key runs scored.

And, of course, both Sox fans and Cubs fans are watching the Twins-Yankees series with interest. So far, Sox fans are getting exactly what they had hoped, with the Twins down to their last chance and unable to spook the Yankees the way the do the Sox. With every Yankees victory, however, Cubs fans may be forced to wait a little longer to find out who will be the next manager. Joe Girardi's postseason poise is something to make Cubs fans salivate, but I think the further the Yankess go, the less likely he'll figure in GM Jim Hendry's decision.

Finally, who isn't rooting for Kerry Wood? He has pitched a scoreless 1.2 innings this week as the Yankees set-up man. From heroic rookie pitcher to injured mess and 2003 NLCS Game 7 loser to even more injured mess to effective, but unwanted Cubs closer to Cleveland and finally to the Yankees, who seem to have figured him out. Here's hoping that one last Cubbie occurrence isn't lying in wait for the former Cub.

Former Sox Nick Swisher also plays for the Yankess, but let's not even go there...



Don't got Wood

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I'm checking in for the first time in more than a month because yesterday was such a significant day for Chicago baseball: Kerry Wood will be leaving the Cubs, after GM Jim Hendry declined to pursue a contract with him. It's not totally surprising because even if Wood would (heh-heh) have settled for less than market value to stay in Chicago, he would have commanded a multi-year deal that wouldn't have made sense, given Carlos Marmol's apparent readiness to be the closer.

The Cubs also traded once-ballyhooed minor league pitcher Jose Ceda to the Marlins yesterday for Kevin Gregg, who is now the Cubs' closer insurance if Marmol isn't ready. At least, I'm assuming that will be the case, and not that Gregg will be given the closer job out-right. If Gregg is presumed to be the new closer, the Cubs just downgraded slightly, as Gregg walked twice as many men as Woody did last season (36 to 18) in about the same number of innings (68.1 to 66.1). I do worry about Marmol's emotional readiness. Part of Wood's successful transition to closer was that he became very cold-blooded early last season, a state which was never more apparent than when he paralyzed Prince Fielder with that well-placed curveball on Sept. 16 to end a 10-pitch at-bat and the game. That had to be one of my favorite moments from last year.

Wood will be missed, especially if he does well somewhere else--and that could even be in the Central Division, with Milwaukee and St. Louis both wondering who their closers will be. Wood had such a star-crossed career here that some may say the Cubs and Wood should have parted ways sooner. Say what you want about his durability, but ultimately, Woody has reached the postseason four times in 10 years as a Cub, and that's how I will choose to remember him.

The next question is, what will the Cubs do with the money they may have saved by cutting Wood loose. The talk about Peavy has been intriguing. Will the Cubs pull off a trade that may involve Dempster and then fish for another free agent starter? We'll see.

On the other side of town, the White Sox traded Nick "Dirty 30" Swisher and minor league pitcher Kanekoa Texeira to the Yankees for two minor league pitchers and Wilson Betemit, who a multi-position Mark DeRosa type. That could mean Juan Uribe won't be back, though we have all heard that before.

Betemit is a good acquisition, though he has never really fulfilled his promise as a hitter. If you look at Swisher's stats from last season, you have to say the Sox got a great deal, but many observers, SBW included, think Swish will rebound in '09. It's a little disconcerting the Sox also shipped Texeira, who was unhittable last year at A and AA. The Sox received two somewhat more experienced hurlers in Jeff Marquez and Jhonny Nunez, but neither seems to be a real stand-out.

The Sox had earlier picked up one-time Rockie Jayson Nix to press Chris Getz at second base. Nix actually lost the starting job in Colorado last year and went to the minors, but he's decent hitter and has the speed asset Ozzie highly valued by the Sox. Other news we've all heard: Junior Griffey and Toby Hall are gone, and center field remains open.

Your 2009 Chicago White Sox

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I was waiting a while to post my thoughts on what the off-season may have in store for the White Sox, partly because I couldn't get over how quickly White Sox GM Kenny Williams tried to promote Chris Getz as a starting second baseman next season. Within a day after the ALDS-concluding Game 4 loss, the papers speculated on the Sox' plans for 2009, and Williams strategically mentioned the injured and somewhat forgotten Getz as a possible key figure next year.

That's assuming everyone's favorite new player, Alexei Ramirez, moves to shortstop with the departure of free agent Orlando Cabrera. This is the one change for next year that everyone seems to agree will happen.

The other news of the past week that had me re-thinking various scenarios was Junior Griffey's knee surgery and the likelihood that he will play another year somewhere. Would the Sox consider picking up his option and operating a power/speed platoon of Junior and B.A. or Jerry Owens (remember him?) in center field? I'm probably the only one who feels this way, but I still kinda like the idea of a healthier Junior hitting in The Cell. But, with the reality of the rest of the line-up, it's not going to happen.

Since I lasted posted, my friend The Commish weighed in with potential conservative and aggressive designs on the 2009 Sox. I like his idea of pursuing Willy Taveras a lot, and that's just the kind of speedy CF and lead-off man the Sox need to play Ozzie Ball. He had a bad year hitting in Colorado (.251) but still stole 68 bases. Take a few more pitches and bunt a little more, and he could end up with 80 SBs. I agree the Sox would need to ship Dirty 30 to make it happen, which would be fine, though the Rockies could want one of our young pitchers and a speedy outfielder (B.A., Dewayne Wise, Owens?) instead. Dirty 30 will have a better 2009 than his horrible 2009, but I would still rather see the first deal than the second.

However, trading 1B/OF Swisher would make it harder to do another attractive deal--moving Paulie to the Angels, as The Commish suggests in his more aggressive scenario, for crafty, speedy, useful lead-off man Chone Figgins. I think it would be a coup, and would give the Sox their 2B replacement for the Missile.

There's also a possibility, however, that the Sox may re-commit to Paulie the way that he has promised to re-commit to getting in better shape for next year. If they did somehow trade both Swisher and Paulie, it would be imperative for them to sign a 1B free agent like Kevin Millar or Tony Clark (forget Texeira). Thome is no longer a full-season option at 1B.

That's a lot of different pieces falling into place. If Paulie-for-Figgy doesn't happen, you still need to fill that 2B spot, if only because there are proven second baseman better than Getz on the free agent market:

Orlando Hudson
Mark Loretta
Mark Ellis
Ray Durham (!)

Then, there's the issue of 3B--re-sign Joe Crede or take a shot with Josh Fields or Juan Uribe who somehow manages to keep providing enough value to hang around? Could the Sox do the above deals AND sign a free-agent second baseman, which would move Figgins to 3B? Wow... I don't see all this falling into place at all. Here's my three different scenarios:

Your 2009 Chicago White Sox starting line-up

Likely version:

CF Taveras
SS Ramirez
LF Quentin
DH Thome
RF Dye
1B Konerko
C A.J.
2B Getz
3B Fields or Uribe

Radical version:

2B Figgins
DH Thome
LF Quentin
RF Dye
C A.J.
SS Ramirez
CF Taveras
1B Millar or Clark
3B Fields or Uribe

Totally radical version:

3B Figgins
2B Hudson or Loretta
LF Quentin
DH Thome
RF Dye
C A.J.
SS Ramirez
1B Millar or Clark
CF Taveras

In my likely version, I want to be clear that I think Kenny is sticking to this idea of Getz starting at 2B despite the other possibilities. If he then pushes hard for Taveras and gets him, he'll call the off-season a success and watch his own free agents go bye-bye. That would be a step in the right direction, but not what the Sox will need to win it all next year. Move Paulie while you can and pack the line-up with speed.

One last thing: Jake Peavy apparently is available. Trading young pitchers and position players for him sounds like a Kenny Williams move, but Peavy I think would not do as well in The Cell or in the A.L. Could the Sox, as The Commish says, trade Gavin Floyd, maybe Clayton Richard and others for Peavy? If not, I predict the sox will have three southpaws--Buehrle, Danks and Richard--in the starting rotation next year.

Feel the magic

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SBW took a couple days off to tend to real life, and look what happened: The Cubs' magic number is down to 4 and the White Sox' magic number is down to 10. We're getting closer...

The last two games for the Cubs: Oh, not much happened at all, just another near no-hitter, this one by Ted Lilly, followed by another of Woody's heart attack specials. The Cubs finished their "road trip" playing Houston in Milwaukee by demoralizing the Astros for the second straight game, winning 6-1 behind Lilly, who no-hit the Astros into the 7th (though he was not nearly as dominating as Zambrano the night before). The Cubs actually scored in three different innings, which hasn't happened a whole lot lately. Power was back in vogue at the plate, with D-Lee, Geo and Old Man Edmonds all going yard. A-Ram also had a sac fly. the Astros are not out of it yet, but with this two-game run, the Cubs kinda killed the 'Stros momentum. They not only beat a team they have had trouble with this year, but also cooled off the hottest team in the Central Division since the second half started.

We won't give back the wins, but it's terribly unfortunate that these games had to be moved to what was definitely not a neutral site. How can a Cubs fan talk that way? I'm a baseball fan, too, and I don't like when MLB appears to give teams that can provide better postseason ratings a leg up. Moving the games elsewhere may have changed the course of history--maybe Zammy wouldn't have thrown a no-hitter, and maybe the Cubs would have had a tougher time winning both, but it would have been the right thing to do. Instead, I think MLB's favorable treament gave other teams even more reasons to want to beat the Cubs. The third game of the series likely will now go un-played, unless the Astros remain in contention to the final weekend.

Last night, the Cubs came back home from their vacation home in Milwaukee to face... Milwaukee. When the Cubs were swooning, I was not looking forward to this series at all, but the Brewers have been swooning even worse since, and fired manager Ned Yost, a shocking move. Yost may have overseen the Beermakers' swoon, but he was torpedoed by tightly-wound hitters and a terrible bullpen. Still, maybe it's what the Brewers need to make the postseason.

But, if they do make it into October, it will be as a wild card. The Cubs virtually assured themselves the division flag with last night's 5-4 win. If they can sweep the series, they win the Central and make what looked like a murderous stretch of games from now until the end of the season almost meaningless. This one wasn't easy. The Cubs had to face CC, and did well against him for the second time, scoring three runs in the first three innings, but he got better as the game went on. Meanwhile, Dempster piled up Ks early on, but later let Prince Fielder chip away with a mammoth right field HR. Al-So added a solo HR that gave the Cubs a 4-2 edge, but Fielder added another HR, this one almost more impressive because it was muscled out opposite field against filthy Carlos Marmol.

The Cubs added another run for a 5-3 edge in the 9th, which is more often than not the kind of cushion Woody needs. He gave up a run-scoring double to Ray Durham, who is a great clutch hitter going back to his days on the Sox, but if it's possible to make a 96 MPH fastball easy to hit, Woody did just that, pushing it over the middle of the plate just above the knees. After a cheap infield single by Ryan Braun, Woody stared down Fielder with men on 1st and 3rd, two outs. Woody ended up facing the one guy no one wanted to see him face, and as Fielder worked to a 3-2 count and kept fouling of fastballs, this looked like the kind of at-bat the pitcher can't win. But, Woody dropped in a waist-high slider (or curve, some said) that shocked everyone watching, most of all Fielder. Again Woody turned in a final inning that makes you queasy when you think of October games, but he got it done.

The last two games for the White Sox: The bullpen imploded on Sunday, and though the Sox still managed to win, it didn't make you feel good about Monday's game against the Yankees. The Yanks have almost nothing to play for except a small amount of pride in leaving their old stadium on a winning note. Still, with Buehrle starting Monday, things looked OK early on. DeWayne Wise homered for the second straight game, but after Buehrle left the game 2-2, the bullpen couldn't hold and the Sox eventually lost 4-2. More concerning than the bullpen performance, however, was a flat performance by the offense. Dirty 30, filling in for the still-injured Paulie, was 0 for 3 and saw his average go down to .220, though he wasn't the only culprit. The Sox seemed to lack play-off race urgency, but the Piranhas may be having more problems: After losing in Baltimore Sunday despite crushing the O's earlier in the weekend, the Twins lost in Cleveland Monday night. The Sox often have seen the Twins become their main nemesis in the play-off hunt, and the Twins have ruthlessly dispatched the Sox more than once, but this year, it seems like the Twins want to give it away.

Tuesday night was much better for the Sox. Gavin Floyd again proved to be exactly what they needed on the mound, while the offense scored often with power (The Missile fired on into the left field seats) and finesse (Paulie was back and delivered a run-scoring hit, Junior delivered and RBI and both B.A. and uribe and two-out RBIs). Paulie has been building back to full strength, and only last week, his sprained MCL looked like it would kill his momentum, but he seems to have lost no steam at all. The Sox won 6-2, and even though the bullpen had a big lead to work with, scoreless innings by Thornton and Jenks meant a lot in this one. And, hard to believe, but the toothless Piranhas lost again. Thanks, Cleveland.

The Sox are now again 2.5 games up on Minnesota. They have reached this threshold before only to give games back. If they can manage to add just one game to that lead in the next five very winnable games against the Yanks and K.C., they will be in great position going into Minnesota next week. And, while it would be great to clinch the division at home (especially Sept. 26, when I will next be at The Cell), it would also be fun to do it in Minnesota, wouldn't it?

A new beginning

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Who had a good feeling about last night's Cubs/Reds pitching match-up? That's right, you heard it here first that Marquis would have a strong outing and lead the Cubs out of their 6-game losing streak. OK, maybe Soriano's 3-HR performance had something to do with it, too. Marquis kept the game in hand despite an bases-loaded walk on a questionalble call that looked like it would get him tossed early.

The Cubs offense--AlSo, DeRo, D-Lee and the rest--scored in every inning after the 2nd, but in the end, the bullpen did a lot to make this one a more painful experience for some fans than the 14-9 final would indicate. Mrs. SBW and I were heading back from dinner and listening to the radio when the Cubs were ahead 11-1, and I made fun of Ronny for feeling nervous about the 10-run lead. Then, the Reds scored 4 runs in the 8th, and by the time D-Lee was up in the 9th with the bases loaded, the Mrs. was screaming at the radio demanding more runs. Again, I had to laugh with the Cubs still up 11-5 at the time, but Lee and then Mighty Mite together drove in 3 runs to make it 14-5, I felt good with Wuertz on the mound to start the 9th, giving Marmol a rest with a 9-run lead, but Wuertz loaded the bases and Marmol came in looking like someone woken up in the middle of the night. He promptly gave up a grand slam to Jolbert Cabrera (Who?), but then came to his senses.

Hopefully, the Cubs are back to their winning ways, though their tough road to October gets tougher later this week.

I hate giving the White Sox second billing today because their 7-6 15-inning victory was a hugely significant game (while we were in the car with the Reds scoring runs late against the Cubs, I was switching from 720 AM to 670 AM frequently to track both games.)

Not long after we got home and the Cubs had sealed their victory, Thome obliterated an 0-1 pitch for career HR No. 537 and a White Sox winner, a turn of events which I called from my own couch just before it happened (my dog is a witness). I couldn't tell whether Thome's smash landed on the right field consourse or not, but yes, it went that far. Jenks had given the Angels a 6-5 lead in the 9th after the Sox had tied the score in the 7th an a 2-run HR by Dirty 30. But, the Sox tied it off K-Rod in the bottom of the 9th, thereby keeping Thiggy's 57-save record safe a little longer (K-Rod has 54 saves and certainly will break the record, though he has been off lately.)

The Sox blew a great chance to win the the 10th, wasting a man on 3rd with no outs situation. A.J. again showed poor base-running choices in getting caught off 3rd base for the second out of the inning (Doug Eddings wasn't around to save him this time.) A.J. wasn't replaced with a pinch-runner presumably because Ozzie used both Wise and Owens as PRs in the 9th (Owens getting himself thrown out at 2nd after doing a delayed tag-up from 1st base on the sac fly that scored the tying run.)

Despite the base-running gaffes, the bullpen was in lock-down mode. Even Jenks pitch a strong 10th after his bad 9th. But, Matt Thornton was more impressive, pitching 2-2/3 scoreless innings and Ehren Wasserman got the Sox out of a 14th inning jam--and got the win--by de-clawing the aging but still dangerous Vlad Guerrero.

The Piranhas lost, so the Sox are 2-1/2 games up in 1st place. They have already won the series against the postseason-ready Angels, and go for the sweep today. Both of our teams suddenly look fresh with new beginnings.

September to mis-remember

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Pardon the time off--I was waiting to have something good to say, and finally I do: The White Sox just beat Cleveland 4-2, escaping town with a win and winning for the second time in their last six games. The story was solid pitching by Vazquez and a 1-2/3-inning, two-double-play save by no longer rusty Bobby Jenks. the Missile and Dirty 30 had HRs.

More importantly, everybody looked loose in this one. Last week, there was a call for more urgency and intensity, but maybe this Sox team is tougher to beat when it isn't trying so hard to find its inner strength. The Sox had been shut out on Labor Day, but the victimizer was likely Cy Young winner Cliff Lee, who won his 20th game. Last night's 9-3 downfall was tougher to take, as Danks tanked again and th Sox left 10 men on base. But, the bright spots were Dirty 30 and Paulie, who are both getting better at the plate. And... the Piranhas lost last night, so things are looking up... a little.

What's worse than leaving 10 men on base? 12, which is how many the Cubs stranded in a tough 9-7 11-inning loss Tuesday. After three games in which they had barely mustered any offense--peaking in a 3-0 loss when Mrs. SBW and I were in attendance on Labor Day--the Cubs had 15 hits, but could only bring 7 home. Geo, Edmonds, DeRo and AlSo (yes, Soriano) all hit HRs and there were even some other non-single run-scoring hits by The-Riot and Mighty Mite.

But, after Zammy left (more on that later) in the 5th with the score tied 3-3, the bullpen--more specifically Howry--couldn't hold. Woody gave up a game-winning 2-run HR to ex-Sox World Series hero Geoff Blum, but after multiple innings in which the Cubs left the winning run stranded, it didn't seem like such a surprise. Woody actually was otherwise good, striking out 4 in 2 IP, as was Marmol, who had 2 IP and came away clean. Fortunately for the Cubs, the Brewers lost their last two.

Well, the Cubs have now matched their longest losing streak of the season at 4. Hopefully, the fact reminds them of how good they really are.

Now, about Zammy. His 5 IP were by no means great, but he looked better than he had in recent games. But after the game, word come out that he "didn't feel good." When pressed, Lou said, according to the papers, "I think it's his arm." Do you really think so?

Zammy was supposed to be examined today, but no news yet on how that turned out. But, I bet Lou's right--it's his arm.

Is it too soon to start Samardzija?

The Cub that ate Pittsburgh

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Tuesday night's 14-9 Cubs victory against Pittsburgh showed again just how tough and patient this year's team is, coming back after being placed in a hole more than once by poor pitching and fielding. A 7-run 8th inning put the Bucs to bed for good, and two of the initial runs that inning came on walks to big boppers D-lee and A-Ram, both of whom patiently waited for Bucs pitcher Hansen to find the strike zone (he never did), rather than feeling the need to air out big swings with the bases jammed.

But the real hero was Geo, with an HR, 2 doubles and 7 RBI (in the crazy 8th, he later cleared the bases with a double for the second time in the game, making soto fan and the rest of us very happy). Great team all around this year, but I think Geo and Reed Johnson are maybe my favorites this season.

The bad part of the amazing comeback victory is that part of the reason the Cubs had to mount multiple comebacks was Zambrano's inability to shut down the Lowly Pirates. Being Zammy, he did well at the plate, but his hitting is becoming the best part of his game (6 ER, 4 BB, 3 Ks in 4.2 IP in this one-ick). Somebody straighten him out or get him to watch some video or something before he actually breaks a hand taking his frustration out on inanimate objects in the dugout.

Another victory today, 2-0 over the Lowly Pirates in the getaway day matinee. Marquis was due for one of his good outings, and the Cubs got it. The bats were tired from last night, but Reed started a two-run inning with a bunt single and DeRo later scored on a squeeze bunt by Blanco. Nice. Now, it's back to Chicago to take on the Phillies. Giddyup...

The Sox looked strong Tuesday night, too, scoring 8 runs to show the offense was still alive after a string low-scoring games. Dirty 30 homered and is maybe finally earning his keep, CQ was 3-5, Junior drove in a run and Gavin Floyd settled in to a Floyd-like 8 IP. Again good news out of the Great Northwest: The Piranhas lost to Lowly Seattle, so the Sox are 2 games up in 1st. Just another agme or two is all I ask for now... Another game in Baltimore tonight.

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