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Some thoughts on recent Cubs news:

-Mike Quade will go down as particularly star-crossed Cubs manager, having been given the job in a no-win situation: He got a job everyone assumed Ryne Sandberg would get, was handed a team of unproven newbies combined with free agents who were either surly or bloated, sometimes both, and was left a dead man walking by the former GM's firing and the hiring of new executives. Quade had his chance, and he often had the right approach and mindset, but too often let the game within the game get away from him. His authority also was challenged one too many times by veterans, and if this speaks ill of the players, it also suggests Quade failed to inspire and motivate them.

-Billy Corgan thinks Ryne Sandberg should have gotten a chance to interview for the job left open by Quade's firing. I'm not sure how Ronnie Woo feels about it, but I would classify Corgan's view of the matter as having roughly the same weight as the Woo-man's. The indication that Sandberg will not be interviewed for the manager job is easily the most controversial decision of the Theo Epstein era thus far. Though, should it be much of a surprise?

Much was made of Epstein having interviewed Sandberg, and possibly having wanted to hire him, for the minor league Pawtucket Red Sox manager job last season. I'm not sure why the next logical conclusion would be that Sandberg would become the favorite for a major league job. Sandberg has the same amount of major league level coaching experience he had prior to the 2010 season--none. I'm betting Theo & Co. would be open to having Sandberg manage in the farm system, or coach at the major league level if the next manager wants him in the dugout (though Sandberg's notoriety almost guarantees that won't happen), but there is no reason for Sandberg to be considered to lead the Cubs. It was a nice idea once, when the Cubs needed a warm body to fill the job for half a season and audition for future work, but not anymore.

Hiring Sandberg would be the easy and obvious thing to do, and a wonderful way for a new regime to win fan support, but that is not the No. 1 thing Theo & Co. is trying to win.

-Ryan Theriot was roundly criticized for landing for saying he had landed on the right side of the Cubs-Cardinals rivalry when he signed with St. Louis before last season, even though he didn't leave the Cubs by choice the season before last. Apparently, Theriot was right--though in the darkest corner of your Cub fan sould you knew he was. He is now a World Series champion, and though he didn't hit well in the series--only 1 for 13--he did driven in two key runs for the Cards.

So, two of my favorite scrappy players from recent years--LSU products Theriot and Mike Fontenot (I liked to call them the French Connection, though no one else ever pick it up)--both have World Series rings. Yet, they weren't good enough for the Cubs, always on the hunt for the future HoF-er who could do everything and help them win it all.

--Carlos Zambrano is pitching in Venezuela. A lot of us hope he stays right there, though I wouldn't be surprised if Theo & Co find a way to smooth things over just enough and polish up his rough edges just enough to trade him.

--Aramis Ramirez is not in the Cubs' future plans. So says Theo. Is Bake DeWitt taking over, or is Bryan Lahair learning how to play third base as we speak? Or maybe Thepo has something different in mind.


Mike Fontenot is getting a ring

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Think about that for a minute--little Mike Fontenot, who could never really hang on as a starter with the Cubs, is a member of the Word Series Champion San Francisco Giants. Good for Mighty Mite. Former White Sox Aaron Rowand and Juan Uribe are now two-time world champs. Couldn't happen to a better couple of guys.

Meanwhile, in the land of current Cubs and Sox, there is some news this week, though not nearly as awesome:

--Omar Vizquel was signed for another year by the Sox. He had a much more productive season than the Sox were expecting, and at times was the most consistent offensive and defensive player on the team. Still, he's 43, and the Sox can't possibly expect the same next season, can they?

--Joey Cora reportedly will not get the Brewers manager job. I don't whether I feel sorry for him more because he a bridesmaid once again, or more because he may have to spend another year with Ozzie (just kidding, Ozzie).

--Jim Hendry says Ryne Sandberg has declined to return as manager of the Iowa Cubs, possibility the least surprising news of the off-season so far. It would probably be good for Sandberg to get more experience in the minors, but by all appearances, he was jilted by Hendry after being told four years ago that he need to get some experience in the minors. Ryno is saving face, and allegedly will pursue other jobs with other teams, but I wish for his sake and for the Cubs' sake that he would stay in the organization for a bit more seasoning.

--Todd Ricketts is going to clean toilets on TV. Insert joke here about Alfonso Soriano's crappy contract.


Vegas, baby

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The Cubs and White Sox had another spring training tussle Friday night, this time at Cashman Field in Las Vegas. The Cubs came out on top 6-5.

These Vegas spring training games have always looked like a lot of fun. The crowds are always big, and the weather tends to be windy and cool on spring nights in Vegas, so the ball may sail. And then, well, you're in Vegas... I have always wanted to catch one of these games during frequent spring business trips to Vegas, but have always missed them by a day or two. I wonder if the players get to enjoy any of Sin City's temptations, or are held on a short leash.

The Vegas visit gave Sox manager Ozzie Guillen a chance to talk about his days playing for the Las Vegas Stars as a minor leaguer, and how he didn't lose any money at the tables.

Notable from the game: Cubs 3B Josh Vitters continued a good spring with a two-run-scoring triple. He's hitting .571. Mike Fontenot went 3-4, and continues to play like a man who desparately wants a job. Tom Gorzelanny looked wild at the start, but settled down. The Sox' Mark Teahen finally got a hit--who would have though Alex Rios would have two homers this spring before Teahen even got his first hit?

Finding their rhythm

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As I write this Sunday night, the Cubs are losing early 6-0, but I'm going to ignore that and say their crisp 7-0 victory of the Dodgers on Saturday afternoon was a great demonstration of a team finding their rhythm.



The Cubs scored 7 runs on 10 hits, scoring on singles, extra base hits, walks, and one homer by Reed Johnson. They did waste a couple of baserunners, and probably should have had more like 10 runs, but they used patience and textbook contact hitting to get other runners home. Ryan Dempster pitched 7 shutout innings and the bullpen was airtight--and don't forget this game was against the best team in the MLB right now.



Milton Bradley was 3-4 for his biggest hit output as a Cub thus far in Wrigley. Johnson continued is hot hitting with a 3-3 outing, and Mike Fontenot continued working his way back from a slump with a 2-3 effort, including a run-scoring doubel and triple. The more even hitting throughout the line-up, combined with ongoing great pitching from the starters looks to me like a sign of good things to come.



The White Sox have been finding their own rhythm, winning with 9th inning runs both Saturday and Sunday against Kansas City, and finishing their first series sweep in ages. Saturday's 5-3 win came after Mark Buerhle pitched quite well, but just not well enough to survive the 8th inning, before the real action began. Old-is-new-again lead-off man Scott Podsednik singled home a run to break a 3-3 tie and Alexei Ramirez added an insurance run on a follow-up single.

Pods factored in another 9th inning rally Sunday as the Sox this time picked up 3 runs in the 9th to break a 4-4 tie, eventually winning 7-4. This time, Chris Getz single in 2 runs and Pods singled home the final insurance run. Bobby Jenks saved both games.

The real story with Sunday's game, however, was that the Sox beat--and beat up on--Zack Greinke, who has been beating everyone this year while giving up less than a run per 9 innings. The Sox scored 4 runs, 3 earned, off of him Sunday by twice getting 2-0ut run-scoring hits, and general pushing Greinke deep into counts. Pretty impressive stuff against the A.L.'s best pitcher this year.

Better off with Ted

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The Bulls haave lost and are out of the play-offs, the White Sox are in Texas losing 9-1 in a game interminably delayed by rain, so alll Cubs for this post. And the Cubs actually got a win today that seemed easy, a rare thing this year. They beat the Marlins 6-1 behind a very strong performance from Ted Lilly (8 IP, 1 ER, 10 Ks, 0 BBs).

It seems easy partly because the Cubs scored early and often, but also because they didn't dip until the bullpen until the 9th inning, and neither Lilly nor Aaron Heilman, who pitched the 9th, yielded a walk--the stat category that has been the source of many problems for Cubs pitchers this year.

Lilly also helped himself with a rare (very rare) 2-run double on what was described on ESPN as a "softball swing." Let's put it this way: He was lucky the Marlins pitcher hit his bat. The other offensive blows came from Ryan Theriot, who homered for the second day in a row, Derrek Lee, who finally got his second homer of the year, and Mike Fontenot, who singled in a run. Things really seemed to click today, as every started except Kosuke Fukudome had a hit, and he still was active with 2 BBs and 2 SBs. Whatever the Cubs ate for breakfast, they shoulod have it again tomorrow, as they go for their second three-game winning streak of the season.

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.

Line-up revamp remorse?

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Cubs manager Lou Piniella shocked just about everybody with this line-up Friday night:

Ryan Theriot, SS
Kosuke Fukudome, RF
Alfonso Soriano, LF
Aramis Ramirez, 3B
Derrek Lee, 1B
Mike Fontenot, 2B
Geovany Soto, C
Reed Johnson, CF
Ryan Dempster, P

Putting Theriot in the lead-off spot is something of a no-brainer, since he is the team's leading hitter and has batted lead-off may times before, but wouldn't you know it, he went 0-5 last night. He lined out for the final out of the game after the sort fo battling, intense at-bat we've come to expect from him, but with a man on in that situation and the Cubs down by just a run, I was sort of wishing it was Soriano's spot in the order.

I have long disliked the idea of Soriano batting lead-off, but the Cubs knew what they were getting in Al-So. Throughout his career, he has delivered diminshed returns when you move him around. The thing with Soriano is that he can strike a power-hitter's fear into a pitcher in a situation like that with the game on the line. Still, he's been hitting well through April, and was 1-4 last night.

In the 3-spot, Soriano was 1-4. A-Ram was 1-2 after being put back into the clean-up slot, but he strained his calf, so the Cubs will need a new plan today. Calm and steady D-Lee was 1-4 after his demotion to 5th, and I wonder if we'll see more pitchers pitching around A-Ram and walking him with D-Lee in the on-deck circle presenting a dimishing threat.

Fontenot was 1-4 with an RBI, but still seems to be pressing and over swinging at pitches he would have left alone or sat back and waited for last year. I still thing he might be the best possible lead-off man for Cubs if they do try to wedge Soriano in somewhere else. Meanwhile, what about batting Fukudome 3rd, as long as we're playing with the line-up? How about this take for this afternoon, assuming A-Ram will be too hobbled to play?

Fontenot, 3B (subbing for A-Ram at 3rd)
Theriot, SS
Fukudome, RF
Soriano, LF
Lee, 1B
Soto, C
Johnson, CF
Miles, 2B
Marshall, P

Putting a .200-something hitter at the top of the order is not a great idea, I know, but Piniella seems intent on changing things to find a bit more run-scoring chemistry, so why not go with a guy who had a .395 OBP last year? Alternatively, he could bat Aaaron Miles lead-off. Miles has been doing nothing at all so far this year, but he is somewhat used to batting lead-off in Busch Stadium.

Fukie's back

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I actually have three games to discuss very quickly:

Tuesday night:
Astros 3 Cubs 2

Tonight:
Royals 2 Sox 0
Cubs 11 Houston 6

Tuesday night's 10-inning loss to Houston was almost a comeback victory, with Alfonso Soriano homering for the second game in a row, this time an 8th inning shot that tied a game that no one seemed to wnat to win. Both offenses left numerous men on base. Both starters were effective enough, but neither was dominant. The Cubs bullpen pitched well after Ryan Dempster left losing 2-1. Kevin Gregg inherited a 10th-inning jam, and did the best he could with it, inducing, as he himself noted in the Tribune, a doubel play ball that didn't go to one of his fielders (That's almost a Yogi-ism). No, not much happened at all in this game, and it sort of looked like exactly what it was--an early season game in which both teams were feeling their way around.

Tonight's Sox game was almost the same, as Gavin Floyd pitched well enough to win--that is, well enough to win if the Sox offense gave him 3 runs, which they did not. The offense looked anemic, mustering only 3 hits, but it also logged 3 walks, which is 3 more than in the previous game. Hitters overall were more patient, but Zack Greinke, who supposedly is destined for a break-out year this season, was lock-down good for 6 IP. Unlike in the opener, K.C.'s bullpen also was very good.

Like the Sox bats, K.C.'s offense barely got going tonight, but did manage to push across 2 runs. I'm going to resiste the temptation to worry about the Sox hitters for at least another game or two, though I do wonder if DeWayne Wise, 0-the season leading off this far, is headed for the bench. Despite being 1-1, this seems like an area where the Great and Powerful Oz will have no patience whatsoever. Look for Brian Anderson in center field soon, and perhaps Chris Getz leading off.

Meanwhile, the Cubs offense did explode tonight after two fairly quiet games, and it was led by none other than Kosuke Fukudome, who played like it was April 2008: 4-5, HR, BB, SB, double. A-Ram and Mighty Mite also drove in 4 runs each in an 11-6 win to take sthe series in Houston. Who knows where the year will take Fukie, but he found himself for at least one night.

Meanwhile, Ted Lilly could not find himself, even staked with an 8-0 lead. Mr. Stability of the Cubs pitching staff gave up 4 HRs, though he was kind enough to do so without filling the bases first. Still, he last long enough. Young David Patton gave up a HR to the first batter he faced, but Carlos Marmol and Angel Guzman (the latter pitching the 9th!) kept the Astros at bay. The Cubs now have some momentum to build on as they head to Milwaukee.

Opening Day: Hits and misses

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Well, because the White Sox postponed (perhaps prematurely) their opener by one day, I am left on the bench, unable to make the trip down to the Southside because of a prior work commitment. It's the first time I will fail to report for a Sox opener since, I think, 1999.

Too bad for many reasons, but also because today is about as nice as early April weather gets in Chicago. Brightly sunny, high 40s. I'll be watching out of the corner of my eye later on, but it won't be the same.

The Cubs started off on time and according to plan last night in Houston, winning 4-2 behind a surprisingly effective Opening Night performance by Carlos Zambrano. We got Big Z, the effective dominator, rather than Zammy, his rodeo clown evil twin. By mid-game, Zambrano had struck out 5 of 7 batters and looked about as good as he did during his no-hitter against the Astros last September in Milwaukee.

Still, Piniella pulled him after he put the first two men on in the 7th inning. The bullpen was good: Aaron Heilman limited the damage to a run, and Neal Cotts finished off the 7th; Carlos Marmol pitched through a walk in the 8th; and Kevin Gregg started his tour as a Cubs closer with two hits and a sacrific fly, but settled down and locked down the win.

Offensively, there was both power and efficency, as Alfonso Soriano led off the game (and the Cubs season) with a home run, and Aramis Ramirez later led off the 2nd inning with a solo shot. Why do pitchers--and especially a pitcher as effective and experienced as Roy Oswalt--throw so many fastballs to Soriano? Maybe it's the old adage that you need to establish the fastball and your location before doing anything else, but it's the top reason why Al-So has so many game-starting HRs. It doesn't make much sense to have him lead-off--never has and never will--but every time he starts a game with a homer, he makes it harder to argue the case against moving him.

Mike Fontenot also had three hits and scored a run on a sacrifice fly from Ryan Theriot--that was the efficiency part. Zambrano's win was his first career Opening Day win--we are looking for signs already...

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