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There may only be disappointment in Chicago today, as the Bulls' NBA Championship dreams were stopped cold by the Miami Heat. This latest letdown comes not long after the Blackhawks failed to make it past the first stage of the playoffs, and both our baseball teams have more or less limped through the first couple months of their seasons.

Yet, there may be reason to be happy in Mudville. I will gloss the two most disappoint baseball players in town right now (Adam Dunn and Aramis Ramirez) and cut to the top 10 reasons why we should feel good about baseball in Chicago right now:

1) Neither team is really out of contention: The White Sox are 8.5 games back and in third place, while the Cubs are in fifth, but only 6.5 games back.

2) The Cubs can score: Sure, they have been unable to solve Kevin Correia and the Pittsburgh Pirates yet again, but for the most part they string together hits like crazy for a team now running mostly on youth and whose best power hitter (A-Ram) is once again powerless. Even Carlos Pena is hitting better than last year, though not by much.

3) The Sox can pitch: The bullpen woes of April are mostly a thing of the past, and the starters, most surprisingly Phil Humber and this new call-up Jake Peavy, are delivering. Even the winless John Danks pitched great last time out.

4) Tony Campana and Reed Johnson: Their bats will definitely cool off, but the dirty uniform club sure is fun to watch right now. Campana seems like a threat to beat out any grounder, and Johnson knows his core audience sits right behind him.

5) Carlos Quentin, Alex Rios, Alexei Ramirez: The Sox quiet bats have ruined many a game for them, but these three in particular have each had stellar individual performances in the last week or so, with CQ's 3-HR game being the highlight. One of these games, they're all going to click on the same night and the Sox will score about 17 runs.

6) Jeff Samardzija: I can't believe I just wrote that, but the guy has been delivering out of the bullpen. I guess we'll have to put up with the hair.

7) Sergio Santos: For a guy who wasn't supposed to be the closer, he is doing everything he can to keep things locked down in the 9th inning.

8) Darwin Barney: Get that RoY award ready. With the exception of a few dumb errors, he has been terrific at the plate and in the field. He and Starlin Castro have gotten the Daily Double tag for this year. Is it too early to say Barney is Scottie Pippen to Castro's MJ? Probably...

9) Ozzie Guillen: He has survived what now looks like a brief stretch of very ugly play by the Sox, and has stayed out of trouble himself. What more can you ask?

10) The weather: It can't get any worse, right? C'mon summer! We're pullin' for ya!


Who's on first? Paulie and Pena

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Sox fans said good-bye to one of their favorites on the last day of the 2010 season, but guess what--it wasn't good-bye after all.

The news of the day is that the White Sox have succeeded in re-signing Paul Konerko to a three-year contract, a deal that came after what seemed like 11th-hour hijinks by GM Kenny Williams to bring in a first baseman from elsewhere, though of course Kenny might have been bluffing.

The duration of the contract is perfect for the Sox and Konerko. It may allow him to finish his career in Chicago, but doesn't keep the Sox tied to a 40-something player down the road, as so many contracts these days do. There were other options for the Sox, but hard to argue re-signing a guy who got MVP votes.

This saves the Sox from having to look at Adam Dunn as a full-time fielder, rather than as a DH. Look for Paulie to so some very hittable pitches batting a spot ahead of Dunn, or maybe even getting more walks from lefties who want face Dunn instead.

Meanwhile, on the Northside, the Cubs have signed slugger Carlos Pena as their new first baseman, concluding a hunt that had them rumored to be interested in Dunn, Adrian Gonzalez, Adam LaRoche, Chris Davis and pretty much every other 1B with either trade value or no current contract. Pena is a gamble, having hit .196 last season. He had 28 homers, and usually has been among the A.L. leaders while playing for Tampa the last few years, but his homer totals have been going down.

He does know how to take a walk--actually a lot of walks, and he hits left-handed, so might be a good compliment to Aramis Ramirez in the line-up, more than Derrek Lee was in his final days as a Cub, but the Cubs really need to hope for a rebound in homer totals and his average. As an intangible, he is said to be a happy-go-lucky guy and a fun clubhouse mate, something that always helps in surviving those Cubbie occurrences.

In other news, The Sox lost J.J. Putz this week when he signed with Arizona, and the future of Bobby Jenks remains unclear, so I'm going to bet Chris Sale will be closer next year.


Who's on first? A Cubs wish list

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If you believe absolutely everything you read, then here is where the Cubs' wish list stands for their first base job:

--Adam Dunn: Probably too expensive a free agent for teh Cubs to afford. In any case, I think he White Sox are willing to out-bid them.

--Adrian Gonzalez: What the Cubs would give up to San Diego to get him is a scary thought indeed. Tyler Colvin and Carlos Zambrano? Starlin Castro and a boatload of minor leaguers? Aramis Ramirez and Kosuke Fukudome? Actually, I could live with that last trade...

--Lance Berkman: The Yankees didn't pick up his option. He's a switch-hitter who has done well in the National League, certainly better than he was briefly in New York. Intriguing.

--Carlos Pena: He strikes out a lot, walks a lot, and hits a lot of homeruns. Depends how willing you are to ook past a .230 average.

--Aubrey Huff: He drives in runs in big bunches and has decent first-base power. Wears a thong. Turned out to be a significant piece of the puzzle for the current world champs, but that's why the Giants want him back.

--Nick Johnson: Nice hitter, walks a lot. Not much power. Injury-prone. Sounds a lot like Xavier Nady.

So, what's wrong with Nady?


MLBTradeRumors.com says that SI.com's Jon Heyman says via Twitter (Does this make it third-hand info?) that the Seattle Mariners are about to hire Eric Wedge as manager. This means the Cubs won't be hiring him, not they Cubs GM Jim Hendry was planning to. Seeing Wedge's name in the mix was an odd addition from the start, given the Cubs have at least three other candidates in mind--Joe Girardi, Mike Quade and Ryne Sandberg--who all have a good understanding of Cubbie occurrences and century-plus-long pressure that comes with them.

If Wedge goes to Seattle, that also means that White Sox third-base coach Joey Cora won't be going there. Cora reportedly has been considered for that job before, and presumably was being considered again. He also reportedly has a shot at the manager job with Milwaukee.


Fight back against despair

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The Cubs blew Game 1 of the NLDS, losing to the Dodgers 7-2 at Wrigley, which by the accounts of some who were there, was as somber as a tomb from the moment the gates opened. Not that the Cubs and their fans look to the Southside for lessons on anything, but the fan-unifying "black out" at The Cell earlier in the week showed how a team and their fans can forget the past and throw themselves into the moment at hand. The Sox stumbled their way to Game 163, but the entire park was nothing but focused energy and excitement.

It's the players, of course, who carry the responsibility to win, energy or not, and Ryan Dempster looked completely uncomfortable in a park where he won 14 games this year. His supposed cold-weather throwing regimen during the 0ff-season seemed to prepare him well for the chilly October night at Wrigley, but he was wild from the start. Seven walks in five innings will doom any pitcher in any game, but issuing two of those walks to the opposing pitcher is an urgent cry for help, a cry that was not heard urgently enough in the dugout. Lou and Larry seemed to want to give Demp the benefit of the doubt, but as some columnists have pointed out this morning, why wait for your starter to find himself in a play-off game when you have other would-be starters sitting in the bullpen? On a cold night, it would not have been a bad idea anyway to get a couple guys up a bit earlier than usual to warm up. True, it's only Game 1, but is is the freakin' play-offs.

Dempster has proven adept all year at getting himself out of jams and avoiding the big inning. his two moments of collapse this year occurred at The Cell, and more recently when he fed Albert Pujols a three-run HR down in St. Louis. But this time, with the bases loaded, Demp hung one right in front of James Loney, an extremely good, but fairly unheralded contact hitter. I would say Demp committed the sin of going of the middle of the plate with a 1-2 count, but it looked like he meant to drop something in front of Loney to either get him fishing or ground into a force play. But, he didn't have the command last night to make it happen--something which was obvious to a lot of us at least a few batters earlier.

The Cubs had their chances on offense to right the ship, of course. They got a wind-blown homer from De-Ro and actually out-hit the Dodgers. Here's perhaps the most amazing fact from last night's game: The Cubs had players reach base in every inning of the game. This one was really a missed opportunity in every respect.

But, getting back to the fan behavior, erasing the collective memory of Cub fandom is not an option. When one thing goes wrong, most Cubs fans are bound to fear the worst. I know my stomach was churning even before the fateful 5th inning, when Demp loaded the bases in the 3rd with Cub-killer Andre Ethier at the plate. But, for lack of a better phrase, we need to find out nuts. We need to bring as much energy and excitement to the task as we expect our teams to bring, even when they let us down a little. I'm not saying cheer mistakes, but at least boo them vigorously for a limited moment and get onto to the next thing. And even when the Cubs are behind, make your voice heard during every Cub at-bat and every big pitch. I'm not an advocate of standing early in games our in favorable pitching counts when there are less than two outs, but there's nothing wrong with using your outside voice a little more. That's what seemed to be happening at Wrigley late in the regular season even when the Cubs were behind, but it seemed absent last night. Lord knows, it may add to the pressure for some and there's more pressure on the Cubs than most, but the pressure is there and the only thing to do is focus and play through it.

Game 2 starts tonight at the chilly hour of 8:37 p.m. The Cubs send Zammy against young strikeout-artist Chad Billingsley, but where last night's L.A. pitcher Derek Lowe is postseason-seasoned and tough to hit, young Chad can be had when he doesn't over-power. If he strikes out a few guys early, the Cubs should be able to learn something for later in the game. So, don't panic. And, someone remind Zammy that even though the situation calls for heroes, actually actually trying to be a hero usually doesn't get him very far. Don't you knda wish Lilly was starting tonight?

Meanwhile, the Sox go early down in Florida, and I like their chance in Game 1, coming off of the energy in Game 163 against a young team that has been sitting around waiting for them. Game on.

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.

Do you Swing Both Ways? I sure do

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There are about 40 games left in the baseball season, and I'm just trying to keep it together. I have been a Cubs fan for as many baseball seasons as I can remember (about 34 of my 40 years). I have been a Sox fan since 1983 (though I felt a certain interest building during the 1977 90-72 season of the unbelieveably cool Southside Hitmen). To those of you who don't believe such a thing is possible, that it's cop-out, let's just say you and I grew up in different worlds.


If you grew up on the Southside or the Northside of Chicago, surrounded by perhaps multiple generations of family and friends nearby all rooting for the same team, it was easy for you to choose your allegiance. Easy enough that maybe it wasn't a choice at all. Neighborhood allegiances may now be a thing of the past anyway, since there are no more real neighborhoods.


In any case, Chicagoland is a sprawling place, and for a lot of us, the choice wasn't that easy. If you had a grandfather who spent some formative time on the Southside and grew up a Sox fan, as mine did, but a father who grew up in a small town up near Wisconsin, as mine did, (call it the extreme Northside), things start to get complicated. Anyway, I'll say more about my evolution as fan in future posts...


Compartmentalizing my dual passions for many years was not an incredibly difficult challenge. There certainly were people who knew me more as a Cubs fan and others who knew me more as a Sox fan, but for most of my growing-up years, there were no crosstown classics (and even when that started, it was only exhibition). Interleague play raised the stakes, but these games are still more like rowdy fun than truly meaningful, occurring early in the season as they do.


Now, however, those of us who Swing Both Ways (and I know there are plenty of us), are being called to the mat. The Cubs and Sox are closer then they ever have been to a Subway Series, a Crosstown Classic to Beat All Classics, a Windy City World Series. Sure, there's a long way to go--the Sox are barely hanging in against the Piranhas, and the Cubs still have not only the Brewers to contend with but the unkillable Cards as well. Yet, this Cubs team is the best in my lifetime and would be the best in my father's, were he still alive (as a six-year-old in 1945, he remembered V.J. day, but not too much about the Cubs World Series appearance, except that the Cubs won the first game, and lost another on a homerun by Hank Greenberg.) My grandfather was five years old and oblivious when the Sox won in 1917 and didn't live to see the 2005 winners (he was annoyed about the 1983 playoff collapse, but not as much as he was by the 1959 WS loss to the Dodgers).


Everything feels different this year. Skill and luck and guts are pushing us toward a major event. I'm all in. We can root all year every year for both Chicago teams to win (and for each of them to win the interleague games that take place in their respective home fields), but now we have to make a choice. If you are a true Chicago baseball fan (not Sox, not Cubs, but Chicago, the home team they both play for), you want them both to make the play-offs and then the World Series. Despite what it will do to your heart, you want that World Series to go seven games. But, who do you want to win it all?


Someone else who Swings Both Ways said to me the other day that if the Cubs and Sox meet in the World Series, she would have an emotional conundrum. She seemed afraid that it might happen, not excited by the thought. I'm excited. I will finally make my choice. Now, we just need for this thing to happen. I'll be posting after every Cubs and Sox game the rest of the way. I'll talk about the things that happened in my life that made me Swing Both Ways, what I love and hate about both teams, why you must finally make a choice and how well they are doing toward fulfilling the SBW wish for a Red Line Rapture. Enjoy the next 40 games.

-Dan

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