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Ohman, Johnson and the ex-Cub factor

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Will the ex-Cub factor--which dictates that the performance of ex-Cubs will always be greater than, and never equal to or less then, their performance while with the Cubs--work for Will Ohman?

The lefty reliever who left the Cubs back in 2007 via trade, and was probably better known for whining his way out the door than for anything he did on the field, has been signed by the White Sox. This seemed at first like an odd move by GM Kenny Williams, who currently has at least two lefties--Matt Thornton and Chris Sale--in his bullpen. Ohman also seemed like sort of a character risk, the type of player Cubs GM Jim Hendry would sign again even though he bitched and moaned his way out of Chicago the first time.

But, consider the likely possibility that Thornton will be the first choice to set up Sale as the new closer, and the Sox still need a southpaw specialist they can bring in to face one or two left-handed batters, and save Thornton and Sale for prime time appearances. Also, Ohman sounds more mature than when he left town, and has generally been more effective the last few season than he was with the Cubs, so maybe it will all work out.

Speaking of character, the Cubs have brought back Reed Johnson in a minor league deal. (Does the ex-Cub factor work for ex-Cubs who come back to the Cubs?) The scrappy outfielder was a fan favorite, hustling on the bases and playing the field with no concern for life or limb. But, he was a marginal hitter whose .303 average in 2008 was out of the ordinary, and that was when he was 31. He's now 34.

It's a low-risk deal and if he makes the team out of spring training, he'll get a nice hand when he returns to Wrigley. But, consider him the new Sam Fuld (though I guess you could also call him the old Sam Fuld, for multiple reasons)--that is, a guy who will make a few tumbling, diving, jumping catches, hopefully as a late-game replacement for Alfonso Soriano, and may collect a clutch hit or two, but probably won't have much impact overall.

 


Ohman, Johnson and the ex-Cub factor

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Will the ex-Cub factor--which dictates that the performance of ex-Cubs will always be greater than, and never equal to or less then, their performance while with the Cubs--work for Will Ohman?

The lefty reliever who left the Cubs back in 2007 via trade, and was probably better known for whining his way out the door than for anything he did on the field, has been signed by the White Sox. This seemed at first like an odd move by GM Kenny Williams, who currently has at least two lefties--Matt Thornton and Chris Sale--in his bullpen. Ohman also seemed like sort of a character risk, the type of player Cubs GM Jim Hendry would sign again even though he bitched and moaned his way out of Chicago the first time.

But, consider the likely possibility that Thornton will be the first choice to set up Sale as the new closer, and the Sox still need a southpaw specialist they can bring in to face one or two left-handed batters, and save Thornton and Sale for prime time appearances. Also, Ohman sounds more mature than when he left town, and has generally been more effective the last few season than he was with the Cubs, so maybe it will all work out.

Speaking of character, the Cubs have brought back Reed Johnson in a minor league deal. (Does the ex-Cub factor work for ex-Cubs who come back to the Cubs?) The scrappy outfielder was a fan favorite, hustling on the bases and playing the field with no concern for life or limb. But, he was a marginal hitter whose .303 average in 2008 was by far a career peak, and that was when he was 31. He's now 34.

It's a low-risk deal and if he makes the team out of spring training, he'll get a nice hand when he returns to Wrigley. But, consider him the new Sam Fuld (though I guess you could also call him the old Sam Fuld, for multiple reasons)--that is, a guy who will make a few tumbling, diving, jumping catches, hopefully as a late-game replacement for Alfonso Soriano, and may collect a clutch hit or two, but probably won't have much impact overall.

 


Soriano's streak

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I have called him the team albatross and have been horrified by his fielding, but all is forgiven now that Alfonso Soriano is hitting--and more specifically, hitting homeruns. He has a four-bagger in each of his last four games and looks to tie the franchise record in Pittsburgh tonight (Don't say I jinxed him--people have been talking this since last night).

I'm kidding when I say all is forgiven, though it is until he starts slumping again. We all know from past experience that Soriano is streaky, and I still think his in the midst of one of those streaks. Working with Rudy Jaramillo supposedly has made him more patient at the plate, and there have been some definite differences, like when he lays off an outside pitch more frequently than he used to. He also has hit to the right side more often--at least from my seat it has looked that way. But, until we see it last all season, we'll still call him a feast-or-famine kind of guy. (Soriano also supposedly stopped using his annoying, fundamentally-unsound hop when catching fly balls, but it seemed to me he has gone back to it the last few games).

I don't think anyone can change Soriano too much, but enjoy the streak while it lasts. Maybe it will last a little longer than in past seasons, and maybe he can carry the Cubs for a few weeks, too.

The Soriano dilemma

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What's to be done with Alfonso Soriano?

Maybe that's not the top question on everyone's mind after the Cubs just lost two of three to Houston (3-2 today in 10 innings, with Carlos Marmol blowing his first save), but it certainly has been the pressing theme of this young season.

Soriano already has three errors in left field this season, even though he hasn't played in every game and has been pulled in the late innings in a couple others. When I was at Wrigley last Thursday, Soriano came in as a pinch hitter and was greeted with a chorus of boos even louder than those showered on Jeff Samarzdija an inning later when handed Milwaukee the lead.

Uncharacteristically, Soriano walked in that at-bat, and though he has been average at best at the plate this year (.263 after 0-3 today, 1 HR, 3 RBIs, 1 SB), he has shown some positive signs--better plate patience, and a willingness to hit the ball to right field or give it a slap of solid contact rather than airing out a homerun swing on every pitch.

His fielding has been worse than ever though, and after an easy drop yesterday on a soft liner, he said he would eliminate his trademark hop. If that's all that was needed, why didn't he do it sooner, or why didn't coaches force him to do it? I think the answer is that the hop, though obviously not a sound fundamental way of fielding, isn't really the problem. Soriano has maintained a positive attitude, but it seems like the threat of being pulled from the field, perhaps combined with the pressure to produce batting in a different spot in the order, has played with his head enough that he's just too tentative.

There have been rumors, denied by GM Jim Hendry, that the Cubs could buy out Soriano's contract. That would be a mistake this early in the season. It doesn't seem like the Cubs can really trust him in the field, but if his hitting gradually improves and he starts on a power streak, they could realistically trade him for some decent value later in the season. If that happens, the Cubs probably will have to cover some of the tab, but if they can get a warm body or two and get Soriano to an American League city where he can DH, or to a National League team in dire need of bats, it would be worth it.

It seems in the last couple games like center fielder Marlon Byrd has expanded his range more into left field. That may further hurt Soriano's confidence, but it's probably the best thing to do until the Cubs have a chance to move him in a deal.

Wins and boo birds at Wrigley

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The Cubs are unbeaten at home, now 4-4 on the season and everyone inside and outside of the dugout seems happy, but one of the Cubs isn't catching any fan love--and he's having trouble with fly balls, too.

The Cubs beat the Brewers 7-6 today, getting a bit of a streak going after beating the Brew Crew 9-5 in Monday's home opener. Today, they came back in the eighth from being down 6-3, with Ryan Theriot and Kosuke Fukudome coming up with the big run-scoring hits. Theriot had a huge day, going 4-5 with two stolen bases, Fukie added two hits and three RBIs, and Jeff Baker continued his mini-tear witha pair of hits. Also, slumping Geovany Soto had his first homer of the year, which reached Waveland Ave. Carlos Marmol was unhittable for the second straight appearance and got the save.

But, the boo birds were out, too, for Alfonso Soriano, who made two more bad plays in left field, bobbling a ball, which allowed Rickie Weeks to get to third after he doubled, and later completely misplaying a ball at the wall so that it bounced back past him toward the infield. Judging from the crowd reaction, you would have thought he had a chance to catch it, but I think every time he does something wrong now, fans imagine Sam Fuld or Tyler Colvin doing someting graceful and acrobatic to make the play that Soriano messed up.

Making matters worse, Lou Piniella, per his new policy, pulled Soriano on a double-switch late in the game, which gave the crowd a good, long opportunity to let Soriano know what they think. I'm definitely not a fan the albatross power hitter, but found it kind of sad and slightly unnecessary, particularly after Soriano had scored the first run of the day for the Cubs after doubling earlier in the game.

Soriano seemed to have a pretty level-headed attitude about the whole thing after the game. With the size of his contract, he's not trade bait, so hopefully he can keep his chin up.

Off to Wrigley tomorrow for some summer weather and another matinee.

Weekend update

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After their first weekend of play for the 2010 season, both are teams are 2-4, with line-ups on both sides of town still struggling mightily. The White Sox actually did manage five runs Sunday, the most either team has managed since the Cubs scored five in a hopeless effort back on Opening Day.

The Sox got a nice surprise from Andruw Jones Sunday in the form of an eighth inning game-winning hit that kept them from losing their fifth in a row and getting swept by the Piranhas. Paul Konerko had a two-run homer to continue his tear, and the Sox got solo shots from Mark Kotsay (finally make Ozzie look good for sticking with him) and Gordon Beckham, but Jones' pinch-hit single may have been the brightest moment for this team since Game 1.

Mark Buehrle also was good enough in holding the Twins to four runs over eight innings, keeping a somewhat taxed bullpen off the field.

The win came after a frustrating 2-1 Saturday loss in which a gutsy performance by Freddy Garcia's was wasted. The Sox had a number of scoring chances, but couldn't manage timely hits, and all the recent talk of aggressive base-running backfired at one point when Alex Rios, after his lead-off double, was doubled off of second on a fly ball out.

The Sox head north for a series in Toronto early this week, and it seems unlikely they will find their hitting touch in a dome (damn domes...), but at least they won't have to face Roy Halladay anymore.

The Cubs really should have won all three games in Cincinnati, yet they leave losing two out of three, and when they don't get sabotaged by their own bullpen, they can always count on Alfonso Soriano's clumsy fielding to do the job. On Sunday, Soriano's fumbling of a catchable fly ball in the seventh inning--while not extending the inning, since it would only have been the second out--changed the karma of a game in which Tom Gorzelanny had pitched very well.

After Soriano's error, and with the bases now loaded, Lou Piniella decided to take his anger out on Gorzelanny, removing the lefty for... another lefty, Sean Marshall. Still, Marshall has been dominant this past week, and we've been hoping he'd get the call more often, so the change wasn't a complete surprise. In any case, the karma had changed for the Cubs, and what we got next was a pure bad luck play in which a possible double-play grounder deflected off Marshall's glove and brought in the tying run.

The Reds scored two runs an inning later, and three runs is just too much for this Cubs team. The Cubs didn't do much hitting against rookie starter Mike Leake, with Kosuke Fukudome collecting three of the Cubs' five hits, but they didn't need to, as Leake awarded them seven walks. Still, except for an RBI single by Derrek Lee, the Cubs did nothing with the free runners. The worst was a waste of a bases-loaded, no-outs situation in the first inning. So maybe a little of the bad karma was there from the beginning.

Saturday featured the Cubs' second win of the season and a nicely modulated performance by Carlos Zambrano, who fell behind early 3-0, but didn't implode, and kept the Cubs in the game until homers by Soriano, Fukudome and Jeff Baker brought them a 4-3 lead. Carlos Marmol was at his unhittable best un the ninth for the save, but Zambrano was most impressive. With the obvious exception of his no-hitter in 2008, I've rarely seen get tougher to hit and more calm as a game has gone on. It was an especially nice recovery after his Opening Day horror show.

Home opener for the Cubs tomorrow against the Brew Crew.

Colvin makes it interesting

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Several reports today suggest that versatile Cubs OF Tyler Colvin could make the Opening Day roster. The way he's been hitting--leading the Cactus League in hits, whatever that's worth--he deserves consideration above Sam Fuld, Micah Haffpauir and others.

It remains to be seen how much playing time he'll get. It's been suggested that Alfonso Soriano could lose at-bats, but as much as I think Soriano has crippled the Cubs at times in the past, he has looked good this spring and I doubt Lou Piniella will take him out much unless he obviously slumps from the start of the season.

Right now, I wonder if it's more likely that Kosuke Fukudome could be the one on the short leash. He started slow this spring, though has picked it up the last few games. Colvin replacing Fukie still gives you a lefty hitting second, and for now at least, one with a bit more pop in his bat and probably more speed. One big difference, however, us that Fukudome is showing his typical plate patience this spring with seven walks in 13 games. Colvin has none in 17 games, though you could argue that you need to swing and hit to get noticed in spring training, rather than take pitches. Hopefully, Colvin would be more selective when the games start counting.

In any case, Fukudome could keep his job and playing time by starting hot, which he has done in the past. If Soriano and Fukudome both start well, then Colvin could be back in the minors before too long, but that also would means the Cubs are doing well, right?

Summer stays, patience fades

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It was a beautiful day for a crosstown, make-up game, but the home team felt none of the sun, nor any warming adulation from the fans. The White Sox beat the Cubs 5-0 Thursday to formally end the Crosstown Classic North series from back in June.

How differently things looked then for the Cubs. Yes, there were injuries and players sunk into slumps at the plate (some things never change), but the Cubs had a stunning comeback win against the Sox back in June that looked at the time like it might launch them into a much-anticipated run of victories that would result in a division title.

Now, the division title is all but mathematically lost, and the wild card is only marginally more attainable. The Cubs were booed left and right Thursday as the sun and late summer warmth failed to mellow the crowd. The fans now seem to come only to boo and make plans for their post-7th inning stretch social calendars, but the darn Cubs keeping inviting them to do nothing more. Fielding miscues by Alfonso Soriano and others let the game slip away, and each strikeout by Cubs hitters (there were 9, including 3 by Al-So and 2 by Milton Bradley) were met with boos that seemed to build to the shower of ill affection that met Al-So's game-ending K.

The Sox, meanwhile, now in third place and clinging to the hope offered by division match-ups later this month, had to do almost nothing to win this one except run the bases without tripping. The highlight of the game to my mind was the nice throw DeWayne Wise made to nail Jake Fox at the plate in the 7th inning when it was still 1-0 Sox (Should we call it "The Throw" or "The Assist"?) Carlos Torres als had a great start, pitch 7 innings with 6 Ks and no walks, though the Cubs made it easy for him.

Amid the boos, Cubs fans may be somewhat under-appreciating a club that is still in second place, still has a winning record, and won 2 of 3 against the Mets and Astros before Thursday's crosstown loss. We would have been just fine with 67-65 and a shot at the postseason a few years ago. But, who wants to hear that when you were promised another division title (promised it, at least, by last year's amazing success)?

7 and counting

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The White Sox have won 7 games in a row, and while the streak has come against teams best described as "troubled"--the Royals, the Indians and the Cubs--they have definitely found a rhythm.

Great pitching has been the top reason for the streak, and in a 5-0 trouncing of the Royals last night, John Danks contonued his recent comeback from a string of inconsistent starts: 7.1 IP, 5 Ks, 0 BB, 0 ER. Danks and Gavin Floyd, getting the Star-Spangled start today, have gradually found their way back to 2008 form. With Jose Contreras pitching like the second half of 2005 and Mark Buehrle throwing more like its 2001, the Sox staff has figured out how to bottle their best moments and tap into them when need (OK, maybe not the best metaphor in the era of PEDs).

The offense is starting to show up as well. Newly rejuvenated by lead-off man Scott Podsednik, these Sox hitters do not look like the same ones who have been shut out 9 times this year. They are keeping the line moving, taking advantage of whatever opposition errors fall their way and not relying too much on the long ball, though homeruns certainly have helped, like A.J. Pierzynski's tone-setting solo shot last night against Zack Greinke.

Pods proves an effective lead-off man doesn't always have to draw a walk. Just the threat of something else, like the combination of speed with a bunt or a swinging bunt, which Pods has started to do very well, is enough. That may be the only element that the Cubs are missing with Alfonso Soriano, who reportedly is being moved out of the lead-off spot. Sam Fuld, in a few games leading off for the Cubs this week, looked more like Pods than anyone else in compiling a .600 OBP in his first 10 at-bats.

The rest of the Sox line-up is hitting, too, with Gordon Beckham really finding his stroke and his confidence. Could the Sox have a Rookie of the Year candidate two years running?

Got Wood, got win

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I was supposed to go to Friday's Cubs game, but the rain-delayed start, threatening weather and a need to get home early and get downtown for dinner plans kept me home. Poor decision, as the weather improved greatly and the game cruised through the first 7-1/2 innings. I would have missed the rest, but it might have been worth the trip to see some of the Indians fans, who according to my brother were acting like it was again Ten-Cent Beer Night in Cleveland, rather than a muggy dau in Chicago.

The Cubs completed their second straight amazing comeback win Friday when Ryan Theriot drove home Alfonso Soriano on a groundball with eyes that scooted past the Cleveland Indians 1st baseman. Another Cubbie moment to make the final score 8-7 on a day when the Cubs were down 7-0 halfway through. Minutes after the finish, another wave of storms swept through, so it was a case of great timing by the Cubs.

But, the biggest moment may have been Derrek Lee's game-tying bottom-9th homer off of former Cubs favorite Kerry Wood. I wish it would have happened to someone else, but I wouldn't trade the outcome for anything. Woody has not had a great year at all with his new team, though he has been better the last month or so. The problem may be that the Indian's never get him a lead, so he doesn't get much work--he was best last year after he came back from minor pains and got consistent work for the Cubs during the second-half. Sorry, Woody, but the Cubs need the wins.

In the 8th inning, it didn't look like we would get Wood at all, as the Indians were ahead 7-2, but their terrible bullpen gave up 4 more runs that inning. An error helped, but the Cubs looked like a new team stringing together singles and aggressive base-running that inning--all with 2 outs. Andres Blanco had a big 2-run, bases-loaded single to start the rally, while another run scored on a hard-hit grounder that was called an error and left Koyie Hill safe at 1st. Soriano, suddenly hitting again, drove in the last run of the inning with a single.

D-Lee had 2 homers on the day, the other in the 6th against the tough Cliff Lee. reed Johnson also homered earlier off of Lee.

Friday was also the homecoming for Mark DeRosa, the guy from last year who I think the Cubs miss the most. He got a nice standing ovation, and was 1-3 with an RBI and 2 walks. When Lou Piniella said the other day in the paper that the Cubs clubhouse is pretty quiet this year, that confirmed it for me: The Cubs made the wrong decision when they decided that a left-handed bat was worth more than DeRo's personality in the clubhouse. What they did in trading him of course makes perfect baseball sense--but, for all the stats and tendencies and percentages we all collect, there is so much about baseball that doesn't fit neatly into a spread sheet, or even an old baseball mentality that says the more lefties the better. Of course, if Milton Bradley and Aaron Miles, the switch-hitters that effectively replaced DeRo, guide the Cubs to the World Series, all will be forgiven.

Woody's replacement, Kevin Gregg, got the win yesterday, though most days I would still rather have Wood.

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