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Freaks and Jenks

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The Cubs Convention starts today. As far as I'm concerned, this event is only for the truest-blue, most die hard Cub fan freaks out there, the ones who really have turned their lives over to the Church of the Baby Bear. It's for those who are desperate enough that they need a fix on all things Cubby between the end of the season and the beginning of spring training. Also, it's for those who only can feel vindicated by the chance to speak out in front of other fans and ask a supposedly tough question that Cubs management will merely dance around rather than answer directly.

Meanwhile, the Cubs are still looking for another outfield bat and another bullpen arm. Lefties are preferred for both positions, but only right-handers are being mentioned at the moment. The latest outfield target is rumored to be none other than White Sox 2005 World Series hero (of course, they were all heroes) Jermaine Dye. Just like the Cubs to latch on to Dye after he has apparently started breaking down (he turns 36 later this month). JeDye delivered consistently for the Sox over the years right through the first half of last season (hitting .302 as of July 18), but then began a downward spiral that ended only with the end of the season (finished hitting .250, with only 4 homeruns in the final two months of the season) and the end of his career on the Southside.

The bullpen rumors also revolve around righties--Heath Bell and Kiko Calero.

The latest on the White Sox front is a story in the Tribune that appears to be more or less a retread of the report from the end of last season that had Sox manager Ozzie Guillen criticizing Bobby Jenks for being out of shape. This came after Jenks gave up a career-high nine homeruns last season and generally looked bad as the year went on. Ozzie actually defended Jenks' poor outings early in the year, but lost patience and faith in him later.

Anyway, the J.J. Putz deal may apply pressure for Jenks to lose a few more pounds. Though, am I the only one who remembers that it was Ozzie who lended Bobby's big boy dimensions iconic status with the hand gestures he used to call in Jenks from the bullpen? I wonder if Ozzie will stop that act now. Apparently, it was OK for Jenks to be fat as long as he was pitching well.

Bye, bye, JeDye

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Jermaine Dye, the MVP the 2005 World Series for the White Sox, is probably done as a Southsider. The Sox, as expected, declined their option on JeDye, who now will become a free agent.

The Sox also confirmed the reports that they have traded Chris Getz and Josh Field for Mark Teahen. At first glance, it would seem the multi-position Teahen might take Dye's spot in right field, but Sox GM Kenny Williams is already saying that Gordon Beckham will move to 2nd base, while Teahen comes in to play 3rd.

That's definitely workable, though a little surprising. Why not move Beckham to his original position at shortstop, where Alexei Ramirez has had defensive troubles, and move The Missile back over to 2nd? Meanwhile, we hope the Sox are still thinking about going after Chone Figgins as a possible off-season signing. He's speedy, a great lead-off hitter and can play right field, or 3rd base or pretty much anywhere.

The loss of Getz generates mixed emotions. He hit in the .260s and never developed into the lead-off hitter the Sox might have expected (Last year at this time, Kenny was pitching Getz as a solid starter at 2nd), but he displayed nice speed base-running skills, and had his moments last season. It is good to see the Sox got something for Fields, whose time with the Sox started ticking away when Beckham became a star.

Giving up

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"If they give up on me, then I give up on them." --White Sox Manager Ozzie Guillen, after Thursday's 4-3 loss to Seattle.

If you are the type who believes that Guillen is a great manager because he "tells it like it is," then you may be getting a little bit of perverse enjoyment of the Sox' current late-season implosion. The vitriol spilling from Guillen in the last few days rivals anything he's said this season and perhaps any of the toughest lashings he's administered in his time leading the team.

His answer to the loss in Seattle was to beat up the team after the game and to do it again before last night's game against the Royals, which the Sox eventually lost 11-0, and in which they didn't even look as good as the "0" suggests.

Perhaps they are as terrible as Guillen has repeatedly said, but at what point is he going to try a tactic other than magnifying how bad things are going? It may be too late now, but perhaps Guillen should try (or should have tried) some different motivational techniques, like reminding the players how close they are to 1st place, reminding the veterans that they never gave up last year and won Game 163 and reminding all of them that the core and spirit of a World Series Champion lives on in this group. In short, issue a wake-up call instead of a beating.

Meanwhile, though Guillen finally moved the slumping Jermaine Dye and Alex Rios out of the line-up Friday night (though it didn't seem to help), he previously had complained a lot about the limp line-up without really doing anything to change it up.

Finally, though the line-up is the glaring disappointment, the bullpen has been pretty bad, pitching the Sox out of many games recently. The bullpen's make-up has changed a lot, and recent acquistions and call-ups haven't worked out, but the real disappointments there have been Scott Linebrink and Bobby Jenks. Linebrink really seems to fall off his game as the season progresses--he showed it last year with the Sox and in Milwaukee before that. Jenks has as many blown saves as Kevin Gregg, the guy who lost his closer's job across town. There may be few other options for the Sox, and that's why Guillen and Ron Cooper need to figure out what's really going on with those vets.

Maybe the Sox have problems that only off-season personnel changes can fix, and that Guillen ultimately can't affect the necessary change on his own. But, I think there's a good debate to have about who's giving up on whom. This is the same song we hear from Guillen every time things get tough, and the players either have tuned it out, or no longer automatically respond. So, maybe Guillen needs to re-think his approach. If the players give up, or appear to, that's when the manager really has to earn his keep.

Guillen will have a Cy Young winner, Jake Peavy, starting for him tonight. I wonder what Peavy, the notoriously tough competitor, will think about his new manager's attitude.

Bombs away

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Four homers brought some life to the Crosstown Classic South Friday, though the game will be remembered more for the dugout-clubhouse verbal altercation Lou Piniella and Milton Fradley got into in the 6th inning that resulted in Bradley being told to "go home," according to Lou.

Don't expect Bradley to stay home though, unless he's planning on retiring. The incident happened after Bradley threw his helmet after flying out and allegedly busted another water cooler (I think the Cubs players need to start bring their own water bottles to the games with their names on them, like you see in Little League).

I'm guessing this was a tension release on the part of both Bradley, who is still slumping, and Pinella, who basically was called a wimpy wuss in the newspaper yesterday. We'll see, but Piniella claimed Bradley would be in the line-up today.

The incident overshadowed the Cubs' perilous 5-4 win, which included all the Cubs's scoring on 2 homers, a Jake Fox 2-run shot and a Geovany Soto 3-run dinger. Fox homered in his second consecutive game and is making a brilliant case for more playing time when interleague play ends and the line-up loses a hitter. Could Bradley be the one to pay the price? Soto was revealed as a one-time pot smoker (What else is there to do during the World Baseball Classic?), and seems to be a new man at the plate with the burden of secrecy off his back. He has homered twice in three games (He only got 1 AB in the homerless game), and 4 times in his last 8 games.

Of course, it would not be a Cubs game if Carlos Marmol didn't try to give it away. He walked 3 men in the 8th inning, and gave up a single (though it should have been caught by the napping Alfonso Soriano) and a 2-run double by Jim Thome. Sean Marshall relieved him with the bases loaded to face pinch-hitter A.J. Pierzynski, and when Marmol arrived in the dugout, he threw his glove hard against the wall, but was not reprimanded by Lou as far as the TV cameras could tell. Marshall threw one pitch to A.J., who grounded into an inning-ending double play.

Perhaps feeling left out of the post-game gossip, Sox manager Ozzie Guillen called out A.J. for having a "bad at-bat" swinging at the first pitch. There certainly is a case to be made that A.J. occasionally attempts to do too much when he's looking for a big hit, though you shouldn't send him up there expecting patience. He has only 12 walks this year, and only 180 in his entire career (that's about 1.5 seasons' worth of walks for Thome, to put it in perspective).

Thome was the big contributor for the Sox, with 3 RBIs, including a homer off Cubs starter Randy Wells, who now has recorded a win in his last 2 starts after much earlier frustration. Jermaine Dye also had a solo shot, but the Sox otherwise showed only a glimmer of the energy that produced 16 runs in the previous 2 games against teh Dodgers.

Meanwhile, Jose Contreras actually pitched pretty well for a guy who gave up 5 runs (4 ER). He struck out 8 and only walked 1 in 7.1 IP. The homer by Geo in the 7th was the obvious big mistake, though it came after Paul Konerko botched a difficult-but-playable grounder that could have nabbed at least 1 out. Contreras also appeared to have a back problem, though he didn't come out of the game, and not much was made of it later.

Only good thoughts

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The Cubs won 2-1 over the Dodgers Friday, and I guess I had become so accustomed to all-or-absolutely-nothing offensive efforts, I had no idea that the Cubs had not won game while scoring less than four runs since last Sept. 11 (according to the Tribune).

The Cubs managed hits Friday, though not with runners in scoring position, as has been the problem of late. But, they did get just enough from a Koyie Hill solo homer and a bases -loaded sac fly from Kosuke Fukudome for the vcitory. Another very strong pitching performance, this time from Ted Lilly, kept the Cubs in the game.

The Cubs are now 3-1 since their 8-game losing streal ended and are winning for the month, 14-12 with two games to go. While stars and core line-up goes continue to gradually--very gradually--come back from slumps and injuries, guys like Hill, Bobby Scales (though he had a scary 9th inning error Friday), Micah Hoffpauir and Jake Fox are stepping up and doing just enough. More good news: The Gatorade machine survives another day. And, we're getting closer and closer to the return of Aramis Ramirez.

The White Sox, meanwhile, actually won in Kansas City, a feat that was starting to seem as hard as winning in Minnesota. After pounding K.C. 11-3 Friday night with a great pitching performance by Clayton Richard, the Sox also are 3-1 in their last four games, and 5-2 since the 20-1 demolishing at the hands of the Twinkies last week. Jermaine Dye, Paul Konerko, Alexei Ramirez and Josh Fields each had 2 RBIs in this one.

May has not been as good to the Sox: They have an 11-15 record for the month headed into Saturday night's game, though if you ask anyone in Chicago who is in better shape right night, almost anyone would say the Sox. Both teams are in fourth place in their divisions, and the Sox have a losing record, but it's the Cubs who have more work to do, and a taller mountain to climb comeptition-wise.

The last bit of probably good news for the Sox is that they traded Lance Broadway (who was no longer impressing anyone despite past first-rounder status) to the Mets for catcher Ramon Castro and designated catcher Corky Miller for assignment. Castro is probably an offensive step up from Miller and is an Ozzie guy, having been in Florida when Oz was coaching for the Marlins (the Cub fan side of me will acknowledge no further details about teh Marlins during that period).

Athlete's foot

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Carlos Quentin has plantar fasciitis (two "i"s, according to Yahoo! Sports), which Bulls fans may remember pretty much derailed Andres Nocioni's career playing basketball in Chicago. By all accounts, it's a heinous condition that is either addressed by surgery and a very long lay-off, or by playing through the pain until something "pops," as it did with CQ. Unfortunately, this also involves a long lay-off.

When Quentin came to town, he had promise, but also injury problems. First, we saw the promise being fulfilled, and since late last season, the injury part has taken over. Is it too early to wonder if he will ever hit more than 30 homeruns again? Probably, but for now, his time out of the line-up means one less power option for the Sox and the loss of a pretty effective No. 3 hitter. It looks like Jermaine Dye will fill the slot for the most part.

JeDye has been doing OK, hitting around .280. Paul Konerko is the only regular in the line-up now who is still hitting over .300, which is surprising, considering he looked to be entering gradual career breakdown last year. Last night against the Angels, he was responsible for driving in the Sox' only run with a sacrifice fly (scoring Dye).

Pitching continues to be the real story for the Sox: Gavin Floyd turned in his second straight strong performance and the latest in a string of strong performances, as Sox starters haven't given up more than 3 ER in a game since May 17, when Floyd got shelled for 6 ER in 5 IP. Floyd lost this one 3-1, only making a couple of mistakes, both run-scoring double in the 6th inning. He threw a complete game.

With Quentin gone for a while and the offense rarely piling up runs like the 17-run effort in Anaheim this week, the Sox will need more of the same from the rest of the rotation.

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?

Mighty K.C.

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The Sox have lost two in a row in Kansas City and four in a row overall. With the struggling Jose Contreras set to take the mound Wednesday night, I'm not feeling confident about their chances to bust the losing streak.

With the exception of a 3-0 loss to 2009 Cy Young Award Winner Zack Greinke the other night (What? You say they haven't given him the Cy Young yet?), the problems have been mostly in the pitching department. Last night, gavin Floyd let another lead get away from him after the Sox put him ahead 4-1 early on. Things actually looked pretty good in the early going because the Sox managed to hit well off Kyle Davies, the K.C. pitcher who previously has mystified them.

But, Floyd eventually let 6 runs go to waste before departing, and Matt Thornton and Octavio Dotel helped the Royals to a 7th run as this one went into extras 7-7. The Royals won 8-7 in 11 innings. No, K.C. is not the whimpering mess it once was, and the Sox are now 1-4 this season against the Royals. The worst stat from Wednesday night's game was a woeful 11 walks issued by Sox pitchers.

The Sox actually out-hit K.C. 16-11, so maybe they should have come up with a few more runs. Jermain Dye and Josh Field both homered, A.J. Pierzynski was 4-5, Carlos Quentin was 3-5, and Scott Podsednik had 2 RBIs, but as a team, the Sox left 13 men on base.

Still, I find pitching more troubling right now, as the bullpen has begun to weaken, and Contreras, Floyd and even John Danks have strung together a series of poor outings. Who thought at the start of the season that Bartolo Colon would be the second-most effective pitcher on the Sox after Mark Buehrle. Giving Contreras a breather might not be a bad idea, especially with Aaron Poreda picthing well in the minors, but Ozzie Guillen seems resolved to let Contreras find his old self while hacking his way through meaningful games.

Yes, it is still early, but K.C. is in 1st place, and we don't want them to get used to it.

Swinging away

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The Cubs lost their 4th game in a row, 8-2 to the Cards, who are running away with the division title for the month of April (good thing there is no such thing). The problem, beyond injuries leaving the Cubs with a noticeable lack of depth, is that the Cubs are definitely tense and swinging away at the plate. A fair amount of contact, a few singles here and there but not often together, lots of lineouts and what else? Oh, right, very few walks--and it's the walks that helped the Cubs win many games last year and a few more earlier this month.

During the Cubs losing streak, here's their team BBs for each game: 0, 2, 2, 2. Compare those numbers to their 3 previous wins: 4, 7, 7. It seems obvious they feel a lot of pressure to make something happen, and when that happens this early in the season, it's a bad sign, but it's also something they have time to fix. Alfonso Soriano has been rendered useless by the line-up change putting him 3rd in the batting order. So useless that it almost seems like he is swinging at bad pitches on purpose--I'm not accusing him of anything, but that's how it looks. It's that bad.

The bright spots today: Ryan Theriot, who had a brief slump hitting lead-off had a pair of hits and 1 of the 2 Cubs walks today. Kosuke Fukudome had 2 hits, and so did Mike Fontenot, who has picked himself up the last couple games.

The worst things about today's game: David Patton grooved one to Albert Pujols with the bases loaded, and guess what? Patton's appearance after a decent start by Sean Marshall, began badly and went downhill as he walked 3 and gve up 5 runs, including the grand slam.

Also, very bad: When the score was still 3-1 Cards, Joey Gathright hustled out an infield hit, but then got picked off. Gathright, Aaron Miles and Patton are among the Cubs players that really need to start showing up in the wake of injuries to others.

Swinging away turned out not to be a bad thing for the White Sox--and especially Alexei "The Missile" Ramirez--tonight as they pummeled the Blue Jays 10-2 after mustering on offense ina 14-0 loss last night.

The Missile, who has struggled badly all month, came up in the 5th inning with the bases loaded and the Sox already up 4-2. The Missile of course hit four grand slams in his rookie season last year, and with his recent difficulties, I was just hoping he wouldn't try to be a hero--just sit on a few pitches and try to make contact. It seemed pretty darn unlikely that his young career had room for another big moment, but the unlikely was exactly what happened. He took a juicy inside-part-of-the-plate pitch into the left field stands, and it exited the yard about as quickly as his first four grand slams did. It was a no doubter--you could tell the way he got those skinny arms fully extended with the fat part of the bat coming directly into your living room. He went 2-4 with 5 RBIs for the game, his 3rd 2-hit game of the last week, so maybe he's back.

Other notables: Jermaine Dye had a 2-run homer and Brian Anderson drove in 2 runs. Paul Konerko was 3-4. Mark Buerhle, who we all were so worried about this spring, is now 3-0, and pitched a pretty quiet 6 innings before handing it off to the bullpen. Every batter in the Sox line-up had at least 1 hit in this one, and the team collected 6 walks. Sounds like a good template for the Cubs.

Good luck and lack thereof

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A cat was seen skulking across the field during Tuesday night's Cubs-Reds game, but it wasn't a black cat. A fan was seen leaning over the left field side wall to catch a foul ball, but he wasn't wearing headphones and Moises Alou wasn't playing left field. So, we have no other recourse than to view these curiously familiar situations as good luck for the Cubs rather than bad.

The Cubs themselves may have been disinterested in omens of any kind, since they were busy cruising to a 7-2 victory behind 6-inning maestro Rich Harden. We may rarely see Harden go longer than the 6th inning, since that is usually about the time he closes in on 95 pitches and sets off the dugout alarm system that screams "PULL HIM! PULL HIM!" But, in most cases it's enough too make a huge impact, and he did last night, holding the Reds to 2 runs while striking out 8 batters. Interesting stat I saw on the MLB Network today: Harden currently has more strikeouts--34--in any 25 inning span to start a season than any other pitcher in baseball history. Not that it will mean much in the long run...

Most of the Cubs hitters did their jobs, drawing walks are getting hits off former Cub Micah Owings so that RBI-guru Aramis Ramirez could come up in his preferred situation with runners on base and get his fill: 3 RBIs last night on 3 hits, 14 RBIs now on the year. Micah Hoffpauir, who I am fast coming to prefer over Milton Bradley, had his first homer of the season (and the first Micah-on-Micah homerun in baseball history!) and added another RBI later on. Ryan Theriot stayed on pace for a 200-hit season with another multi-hit (2-4) game. Everything's rolling right now--except for Neal Cotts, of course, who started a relief appearance last night with strikeout, but quickly lost his bearings and let the next two batters on base. Rescuing Cotts is becoming a full-time job for Carlos Marmol, and he did it again last night, saving Cotts ERA by shutting down the would-be Reds rally.

Cotts, I think, will soon go the way of Mike MacDougal, the wild, unreliable reliever that the White Sox parted ways with before their Tuesday night game in Baltimore. MacDougal always appeared to have a nice arsenal of pitches and had been effective as the one-time closer in Kansas City, but his stay with the Sox was about 98% disappointing.

Still, the Sox could have used Mac for mop-up duty Tuesday night, as they got popped by the Orioles 10-3. Jose Contreras again took it on the chin, and has not been able to find his control since his promising early return from injury during spring training. Contreras had 6 BB and 6 ER in 5.1 IP. At 0-3, he's responsible for half the Sox losses this season.

He didn't get much help from the offense, which managed only 3 runs (2 of which were unearned after a Baltimore error) off a rookie pitcher, Brad Bergesen, who seemed to befuddle them. The only bright spot in this one, other than a reliable RBI each from Jermaine Dye and Paul Konerko, was that Alexei Ramirez went 2-4 for the second game in a row. He seems to be scratching his way out of his slump.

The Sox looked great in Tampa the weekend, but apparently left their bats in Florida. They haven't had much luck at all in Baltimore in recent years, though what does luck have to do with anything?

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