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Are the Sox done?

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Worst fears realized. That's what I was thinking watching the White Sox get swept out of Minnesota and out of 1st place last night. Not only did they get swept, but the Piranhas did so in the most infuriating and demoralizing way possible. It is true that they hit and run the bases and field as if they knew the score already--knew they were going to win. But, that is just good baseball by a team perfectly designed to the venue they call home--that horrible dome, as my friend The Commish calls it.

The Sox didn't seem to be out-matched coming in, but their starters never got started (with the exception of Buehrle, who pitched well, but not well enough), their closer and bullpen did not close when the game--the season--was in their hands. Their hitters did not hit (with the exception of Junior Griffey, who had 2 HRs, 3 RBIs, and 3 runs scored in the series) There was also Uribe's pitcher-plunking, bases-clearing line drive last night--that was the only piece of luck that went the Sox's way in a series where they ended up on the wrong end over several questionable calls.

Ultimately, they didn't have enough in the tank to render those calls and other bits of misfortune meaningless, and the Piranhas took advantage of them everytime. The O.C., who was brought in precisely to get this team through this sort of crunch-time, again criticized the team's intensity, and got slapped on the wrist by Ozzie, who may think there's still a chance...

Is there still a chance? Of course, if the Sox run the table, including the make-up game with Detroit that shouldn't have needed to be played, and the Piranhas sweep K.C. to end their season, the teams will be tied with a play-in game deciding who gets October honors. Oh, and there is always the chance the Piranhas could lose a couple to K.C.--who wants to take that bet?

The Sox are not done yet, but a couple of players seem to have given in. Sadly, JeDye did not show up for the Minnesota series in any form, Konerko's hot streal went cold, the Missile fizzled, Wise came off as an unwise choice. It is true that Junior and JeDye and their aged bodies were a poor match for the Dome's spacious, stale-aired, ball-velocity-killing outfield. Sox fans were actually calling for B.A. to save the day--yes, it got that bad. But, the Sox had no answer to what the Piranhas proposed. They played the last two games of this series with more apparent toughness than the first one, and Ozzie's choice in-game can't be argued against too vigorously.

So, what's next? Well, they are at least three games left. How's that for optimism?

False start

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Well, Javier Vazquez blew his chance in what was a big game for the Sox. The Great and Powerful Oz tried to downplay the series opener in Minnesota before it began, which itself was a strange occurrence, but maybe who had an inkling of what would happen. The Sox were beaten 9-3, and amazingly it was not even as close as that ugly score would indicate.

The Sox blew some chances against Scott Baker, a pitcher in whose games against the Sox this year the Twins have gone 2-0. Junior hit into a run-scoring double play in the 2nd inning and hit a two-run HR in the 9th long after this one was over. Other than that, the Sox loaded the bases in the 5th with nothing gained. Yet, it was definitely Vazquez who threw the game away, leaving everything over the plate. He's a strike-zone pitcher, and that may not be a good match-up to begin with against a contact team like the Twins, but Vazquez seemed to bring nothing extra to this one, no ability to deceive or find a higher speed gear when he needed it.

Seeing all the Piranhas' lefties attack Vazquez, I was yearning for southpaw John Danks to have a start somewhere on this series, but that won't happen. The Sox do have reliable lefty Mark Buehrle going tonight, but he's just 1-2 against Minnesota this year (It also was Buehrle who once famously spotted the Piranhas a 7-run 1st inning lead in a game the Sox later won 9-7). Nick Blackburn goes for the Twinkies, and is 1-2 vs. our Sox.

The Cubs started well against mighty Johan Santana last night, scoring two runs early, but they eventually lost 6-2 in a game the Mets needed to win. I was hoping for a surprise victory against Santana, which could have further demoralized the Mets, which is exactly how I would like them to be if the Cubs end up facing them in the division series next week. That can still be accomplished if the Cubs win the next two.

Much chatter today on sports talk radio about how Piniella will handle the Milwaukee series. He had earlier said the Cubs owe it to the league to play out their schedule with vigor, but the starting rotation for the division series remains up in the air. If the Lou Crew takes a soft route against the Brew Crew, it could set the course for a potential NLCS match-up against the Brewers, both an exciting and scary thought.

We're going streaking!

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Yes, the Cubs are still losing, this time finding a way to lose before the game was half over, getting pounded by the Lowly Reds 10-2. This one looked like a bad match-up from the start with Lilly going to the mound (he's now 0-4 with an 8.15 ERA against Cinci this season after getting tagged with 5 runs in 2 IP Friday night.)

No offense again. The Cubs are hitting so little that Koyie Hill, the catcher now know more for his mangled hand than anything else, drove in both runs (though the second only scored because uber-rookie Jay Bruce, who earlier in the game hit a grand slam, bobbled the ball, so no RBI). much was made of Piniella and Sinatro getting lost on the drive to Cincinnati from Chicago, just the kind of thing you might think would lighten up the mood and loosen up the team a little, but it only served as ample metaphor for how the Cubs are losing their way.

Tonight, Marquis goes against Cueto, which most nights would otherwise be described as a match-up of a middling, inconsistent veteran and an incredibly talented rookie, but for some reason, I'm feeling good about this game. Marquis looked strong last time out, and Cueto is coming off a sore elbow. The Cubs have to win sometime...

And now, for a much more enjoyable analysis of a 10-2 game: The White Sox didn't let a possible season-ending injury to their best hitter bring them down as they opened a weekend series against the play-off-bound Angels. CQ was out for the first of many games, but Junior had 2 RBI, Uribe tapped his occasional power streak for a pair of 2-run HRs and Paulie hit another round-tripper as he gradually works his way back to normal. Buehrle was unscored-upon for 6 IP with an uncharacteristic 7 Ks. And, Linebrink is back and looked pretty good.

CQ has been getting criticism for breaking his wrist against his bat as he was punishing himself for missing a pitch against Clieff Lee in Cleveland. Don't get on him too much though, for a freak injury. I have seen other players, such as Zambrano and Geo on the Northside, break bats after poor at-bats, which is much more dangerous and unnecessary. You see some guys get so upset, you wonder how they can keep their focus the rest of the game. CQ was doing something anyone with a competitive streak would do in the same situation, and which he noted he has cone many times over the years. Unfortunately, fate took over.

Meanwhile, Uribe, for all his expendability earlier this season, has proven to be a key part of this club yet again, particularly with Joe "My achin' back" Crede now done for the season, according to the Great and Powerful Oz. The Sox won big, and have tougher match-ups the next two games, but a little of the swagger that the Cubs lost recently has re-emerged on the Southside.

Injury report

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Is it possible that injuries to star players on both the Cubs and the Sox could threaten our dream of a Windy City World Series? Zambrano has tendinitis, and now comes the news that Carlos Quentin, AL HR leader and our town's best candidate for a league MVP award (sorry A-Ram), will be out at least a couple weeks with a broken wrist. Can he come back in time to make a difference?

After both teams have come so far, injuries were the last thing we expected to possibly derail post-season hopes. But, make no mistake: The Cubs and Sox are still both in it, and better than that, they are both in the driver's seat in their respective divisons. CQ's absence may hurt the Sox more than Zammy's short leave from the Cubs, assuming Zammy doesn't take a turn for the worse, and further assuming Harden doesn't miss too much time with his own pains. At times, CQ has been the Sox offense, amazing in that he wasn't expected to even be a factor on this team. Also, the Sox are only a game up in 1st place and must win their division, whereas the Cubs have some flexibility to lose a few (more) games. The acquisition of Junior may prove fortuitous for the Sox if he can pick up the slack offensively (though we really need the Junior of 10 summers ago).

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.

Harden, harder, hardest

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You know how some people are social smokers? Well, I'm something of a social Catholic, which meant I wasn't about to miss the Boys' Night Out event at Wrigley Field Tuesday night for the lcoal mens' church group I've latched onto through my brother. The evening started as I noted in a previous post, with a visit to Tai's on Ashland, where we stretched out livers and stomachs in preparation for the big game. We chatted about the Farns' reputed 2003 visits to Tai's, and recent neighborhood sitings of Ryan Theriot's Escalade (Do you think he ever lets Fontenot drive it?). In any case, once we got to the game, our boys were on their best behavior, and so were the boys in royal blue pinstripes.

Rich Harden was Harden-like (7 IP, 10 Ks, 1 ER, 0 BBs). There was some talk after the game that maybe he's better than that fella CC up north, but without discounting Harden's massive talent, CC--or is it CG?--is a much stronger finisher. This one was still just a one-run game when Harden left, and that single run came on an unlikely sac-bunt down the 3rd base line by Harden himself. Geo, on 3rd at the time, crept toward home, but didn't seem to build a full head of steam until the ball was in the glove of Joey Votto at 1st base. Harden got credit for the RBI, but Votto's wild throw may have been the difference. The Cubs had two baserunning blunders earlier and for a moment, this play looked dicey. Of course, none of that mattered after the Cubs went up 5-0 in the 8th.

Meanwhile, 9.92 miles south (according to MapQuest) the White Sox did their part to bring us closer to an all-Windy City World Series, beating Lowly Seattle 5-0. The Sub-Mariners can now say they are so bad they got beat by Clayton Richard... We're kidding--Richard looked great in lowering his ERA out of the double-digit territory and getting his 1st MLB win during the same week he was supposed to be pitching in the Olympics. (Oh, well, maybe that Phelps kid can hold down the open bullpen spot in Beijing.)

What's harder than facing Rich Harden? Overcoming a 15-run attack, which is what the Sox bought down on the Sub-Mariners in the Wednesday matinee today (Final 15-3). The Missile again fired one into the seats as the Sox hit 4 HRs in a game for the 4th time in a week. Even that Griffey kid is starting to hit. Junior hit his 609th career HR to tie him with Sammy (You remember Sammy, don't ya?)

Both our teams are cruising right now, but remember who they are playing. The hardest tests still remain: The Sox have road trips to Tampa and Boston coming up, and a whole bunch of division games next month, including three the final week against the Piranhas. The Cubs have 12 next month against the Cards and Beermakers, 6 against Houston and 4 against the Mets. Yikes...
Consecutive visits to the Friendly Confines and The Cell this week got me thinking about what I like and dislike about both stadiums. In my next post, I'll elaborate...

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