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A day after my assessment of the Cubs, it's good timing to look at what's happening with the White Sox, as we've been greeted with two fairly big pieces of Pale Hose news this morning: Manager Ozzie Guillen has chosen Matt Thornton to open the season as his closer, and The Great and Powerful Oz also said Jake Peavy looks ready to start in April, at least a month ahead of what many of us assumed earlier.

With this news in mind, I'll kick off my spring training likes/unlikes:

Matt Thornton: Like. He actually hasn't done much one way or the other, and if he is going to be the closer, I would like to see him in some save situations soon, but you know what you're getting with Thornton. I have been a big fan of Chris Sale, but Thornton deserves the call right now.

Chris Sale: Unlike. I still actually like his promise, and hope Ozzie's tough love methods don't make him worse before he gets better again (and he will get better). However, spring training has been a big missed opportunity for him. On the plus side, he is striking guys out, and has only issued a couple walks, but he has been way too hittable for further consideration as closer.

Jake Peavy: Like. I have not always been a fan of Peavy, but the guy is showing his toughness coming back ahead of schedule, and has been pretty effective. I'm feeling more confident about him right now than about Mark Buehrle.

Mark Buehrle: Unlike. This is a borderline call, because he looked great in his start this week, and you know he will show up when the season starts. But these off-season regimens he has been engaging in the last two winters seem to do little for him, and I'm also getting tired of reading how baseball is a burden for him.

Ozzie Guillen: Like. He has been behaving well, and has been decisive about things like the closer move. What more can you ask for? Also has been very funny on Twitter--I want to create a Twitter feed built only around Ozzie retweets.

Lastings Milledge: Like. He has been a problem child and a bust elsewhere, and I'm not ready to believe he is a long-term answer for the Sox, but he has shown power, hitting chops and nice defense, and his speed fits the profile for the role previously played by Willie Harris, Dewayne Wise and Pablo Ozuna. It may be him of Brent Lillibridge. Sorry, Brent.

Tyler Flowers: Like. He was practically written off days into spring training, but has been hitting really well. The Cubs (with Wellington Castillo) and Sox both have great young catchers just about ready for the majors. I think the Cubs should turn to their newbie now, but I'm not sure the Sox would consider the same. I have a feeling the Sox' traditionally heavy focus on pitching favors vet Ramon Castro and puts Flowers back in the minors to start the season.

Brent Morel: Unlike. Like Sale, another young guy that was in a position to win a big job, but he just has not delivered, leaving Mark Teahen looking like a possible starter. Why do I have the feeling we will be seeing a lot of Omar Vizquel at third again?

Phil Humber and Jeff Marquez: Like. In a battle for bullpen spots, these guys are really showing their stuff. Humber looked good enough to be a possible fifth starter if Peavy would have need more time. He still looks like a bullpen lock and a successful Don Cooper reclamation project. Marquez has show flashes before, but could never stick with the big club. His 11 strikeouts in 9.1 innings and 1.93 ERA are pretty enticing.

Dayan Viciedo: Like. There was a lot to like before he was injured, and let's hope he can make a quick comeback.

Sox offense: Like. In terms of springs stats, the Sox are among the leaders in HRs and RBIs, which probably was expected. They also have been generally hitting better recently than earlier in the spring. On the down side, there have been fewer stolen bases than you would expect from an Ozzie team, and Adam Dunn has not done much yet. But, other middle of the order guys like Alex Rios, Paul Konerko and Carlos Quentin look ready.

Sox defense: Unlike. The defense overall has been creaky (though not as bad as the Cubs'), and Gordon Beckham and Mark Teahen have specifically not been good. Beckham has hit well, but I hope he's not sacrificing growth on defense. Watching Teahen on defense makes me prefer Vizquel with one hand tied behind his back.


Spring training isn't over yet, but I just don't have Mike Quade's patience when it comes to making final roster decisions--or for being level-headed amid disastrous performance. With that in mind, here's my partial assessment of spring training heroes and zeroes thus far for the Cubs, in a language you social media-loving kids will find easy to understand (my White Sox review will follow shortly):

Starlin Castro: Like. Revive the hyperbole that greeted Castro's MLB debut in Cincinnati last season. With 4 HRs and 12 RBIs this spring while keeping his average consistently above .400, Castro is showing signs that he is ready to accept the probably unwanted mantle of being the Cubs' next big star. Is it too early to start planning where we will put his statue? How about at the corner of Aggressive Hitting and Poor Defense?

Carlos Zambrano: Like. Even-tempered? Check. Pitching well? Check. I reserve the right to click "Unlike" if either changes by May 1.

Carlos Silva: Unlike. He really should be gone by now, but the Cubs have a possibly misguided idea that keeping him on the staff will somehow project trade value upon him. Day by day, the out-of-shape, poor-performing, ill-tempered Silva is changing the assesment of the Milton Bradley trade from a clear win to a probable draw.

Blake DeWitt: Unlike. Seemed like a nice acquisition last year, but a pitiful spring has the Cubs rumored to be considering vet Luis Castillo, just released from the Mets.

Cubs starting pitchers: Like. Even though Silva didn't show up for the starting rotation battle, other starters have looked very good, and Randy Wells and Andrew Cashner have given little reason not to pick them as the fourth and fifth starters.

Andrew Cashner: Like. You can unlike the seven walks and 11 hits in 11 innings, but Cashner has been mostly effective. We'll see how we feel about him after he gets a spring training start.

Cubs defense: Unlike. The less said about this the better. Maybe a sign of the team's youth, but Aramis Ramirez in particular seems to be regressing.

Scott Moore: Like. Back in a Cubs during training uniform again after a brief stint in Baltimore, he is looking like a better back-up to Ramirez at third than DeWitt.

Wellington Castillo: Like.11 hits in 15 at-bats, and with the Cubs basically already out of contention, why not give him a longer tryout? Koyie Hill, by the way, is 1-for-24.

Tyler Colvin: Like. Another tentative endorsement. He is not exactly hitting everything in sight and defesne remains questionable, but you can tell the power storke is there.

Carlos Pena: Like. Ask me a week ago, and I would have felt differently, but Pena has slowly raised his average and found his homerun stroke.

Matt Garza: Like. Another slow starter who seems to be picking up the tempo, along with his pitch velocity.

Carlos Marmol: Unlike. Spring is just a tune-up, of course, but his propensity for walks is rearing its ugly head at a time when he should become the top closer in the majors. He's got about 10 days to get his head on straight.

Mike Quade: Like. Totally engaged and level-headed, though I would like to see him challenge his guys Ozzie-style on their defensive play and shoddy bullpen outings.

Jeff Samardzija, John Russell, John Gaub: Unlike.These guys all still look more like Quadruple A pitchers than big leaguers, which doesn't bode well for the future.

 

 

 


Peavy's debut

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So far, so good for Jake Peavy. In his first spring training start and first start of any kind in many months, he blanked the LA Angels for two innings. The effectiveness is appreciated, but I'm simply happy Peavy didn't stumble off the mound writhing in pain at any point.

I've doubted Peavy could be ready for the start of the season, but there suddenly seems to be a glimmer of hope.

Peavy's shutout innings today also extended the impressive streak of shutout innings by White Sox starters to 10. For spring training, that is darn good.

I've got some commentary on the Cubs' latest dugout scuffle I'll be posting a little later on.


Winter warm-up

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It's still winter in Chicago, and we've got the snow to prove it--though it's fading fast. Down in Arizona, it's time for a warm-up as the Cubs and Sox take (or were supposed to take) the field for their first spring training games today. Only, it doesn't sound like the weather down there is much friendlier than up here.

The Cubs will take on the Oakland A's at Fitch Park later on in what sounds like pretty chilly temps--the low 50s--by spring training standards. Meanwhile, the White Sox reportedly already have cancelled what was supposed to have been an intrasquad game, primarily due to rain at Camelback Ranch. Hopefully, the weather's better tomorrow as the LA Dodgers pay them a visit for their first real taste of spring competition.

I'll take a more in depth look at both teams later this week, but most of what I've been hearing and reading the last few days has been about the managers. Mike Quade sounds like a dynamo, upbeat and hands-on with the Cubs. Bookmaker.com has the initial over/under for Cubs wins this season at 82. I'm still thinking under, though Quade makes you want to believe in bigger things, always a dangerous practice for Cubs fans.

Ozzie Guillen, on the other hand, seems as manic as ever. If he's not Tweeting about the Bulls, his golf game or his new website, he's putting a price on the head of Bobby Jenks. Also, at one point earlier this week, he said he had many different line-ups running through his head, but later said he wasn't going to tinker with the line-up as much this year. In other words, same old Ozzie.

Let the spring training games begin.


Crain on the brain

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The White Sox officially signed ex-Piranha Jesse Crain, a deal we have been hearing about for several days while the team parted ways with 2005 World Series hero Bobby Jenks and veteran relievers J.J. Putz and Scott Linebrink.

Signing Crain and losing those bigger names doesn't sound like much of a trade-off (or cpensation for the Twins' signing Jim Thome last year), but Crain surprisingly pitched better than either Putz or Jenks last season, and not surprisingly was much better than the long-declining Linebrink. The Sox opened the 2010 season with what appeared to be great depth and heavy artillery in the bullpen, but when Tony Pena looks like your most effective reliever down the stretch, you know something has gone wrong.

Crain strikes out a lot of guys, and in some ways may look like another Linebrink, primarily a fastball pitcher prone to streaks of both greatness and failure. If nothing else, the Sox get in Crain a guy who vexed them when he pitched for Minnesota (though you can say that about a lot of guys). But, Crain may prove to be much more than that. I particularly like his .196 opponents' batting average vs. lefties last year, making the right hander someone you can count on in a multitude of situations without wasting a southpaw.

Crain presumably will be setting up Chris Sale as the closer, though we may need to see what spring training brings before the news becomes official. If the Sox had been able to land Kerry Wood, they would again be heading to Arizona with nice bullpen depth. With key components of the new Sox power offense now in the house, the team may still have some work to do to round out the pen.

 


Just getting started

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A nasty week-long cold has me filled with delirious thoughts, so maybe that's why I'm picking the White Sox to win the A.L. Central Division in 2010.

The headache, fever and ticklish sinuses are combining with a few other strange notions--that Alex Rios is going have an epic 30 HR, 30 SB, 100 RBI year; that the Piranhas will give up more power-runs and score fewer of their own patented small-ball runs in their new park; and that the Sox will have not only the best starting rotation in the A.L. Central but also the best bullpen, while the Joe Nathan-less Twins bullpen struggles--to convince me that the Sox are destined for an 87-75 record and division crown.

That's exactly where I had them a month ago.

My delirium has its limits, of course, and though the Cubs were better than the Sox this spring (18-12-3 to the Sox' 12-17-5), and have emerged with some surprises--Tyler Colvin on the roster and Carlos Silva in the rotation--I still see them no better than 83-79. That's not bad, and a game or two better than I had them a month ago, but I don't think they have the horses to beat either the Cardinals or Brewers.

That might change if Aramis Ramirez and Derrek Lee play well and stay healthy all year, and if Carlos Zambrano doesn't implode, and if Colvin plays like a Rookie of the Year candidate, and if Alfonso Soriano excells batting sixth, and if Silva pitches better than he has in years, and if Carlos Marmol chills out, but that's a lot of ifs.

Barring a worsening of my own health, I'll be taking in the Sox opener with The Commish tomorrow afternoon at The Cell. Let's hope it's not a repeat of 2007. I don't like the Mark Buehrle-Grady Sizemore match-up, but aside from that, the Sox seem well-poised to get off to a string start.

Peeved about Peavy?

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Take what you want from spring training. I tend to write off poor performances by veteran pitchers, who seem like they are just trying to work on control more than anything else, and veteran hitters, who seem to work more on honing their timing and their sense of the strike zone.

It's a little surprising that a lot of people are worried about the White Sox' new ace Jake Peavy. I do think Peavy may have some difficulty initially with homerun balls at the Cell, but only relatively speaking for a guy who has been otherwise extremely hard to hit over his career. In any case, I expect the notoriously tough competitor to adjust very quickly by pitching certain types of power hitters different than he might have in San Diego's big Petco Park.

I'm not worried at all that Peavy lost a game to the Charlotte crew yesterday because he actually did well--seven strikeouts in just four innings and no walks. The three earned runs in that stretch are about as bad as it gets for Peavy, and something the Sox line-up should be able to overcome.

Millar time? Guess not...

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On the surface, Kevin Millar's release from the Cubs yesterday might be read as the Cubs arguing against the theory that a good-vibe clubhouse guy can change everything for the team. However, Millar's recent career stats and current age, plus Chad Tracy's relative youth, power potential, natural third base abilities and left-handed bat are difficult to ignore.

Tracy is the obvious choice, and though most of us (Millar included) were surprised when the Cubs chose Tracy over Millar yesterday, in retrospect Millar would have had to hit .350 (he hit .242), pound a few homers and make a couple eye-catching defensive plays at third this spring just to even the battle. That's how big and bright Millar's reputation and personality are--he made us overlook the obvious for a while, and it was kinda fun.

Of course, organizationally-speaking, it would have been easy to give Millar a brief shot at the beginning of the season to see if he had some curse-busting magic left. The Cubs could have simply sent Tracy down for a bit, ready to call up at the first sign of Millar not cutting it or the inevitable Aramis Ramirez injury. Let's hope the rest of the Cubs can manufacture their own good vibes this year, unlike 2009.

Demp dominates

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Ryan Dempster has looked good this spring for the Cubs, though never better than Sunday, when he struck out nine in seven shutout innings. Carlos Zambrano has been grabbing headlines over his weight loss and new supposedly serious attitude, and Ted Lilly's injury has been a major concern, but in the middle of it all Dempster has looked fantastic this month and could put together another season like 2008, when he went 17-6.

Also, Tyler Colvin did end up making the team. He leads the Cubs this spring with a .468 average and 13 RBIs. Which one of our outfield vets will pay the price in bench time?

And, finally, Andres Blanco is no longer a Cub, having been shipped to the Rangers. So... Mike Fontenot had better be for real this year.

The Sox lost two split squad games Sunday, though the upside was that Gavin Floyd pitched well in a 5-0 loss to Texas, going six innings with six strikeouts and two earned runs; and bullpen brothers Scott Linebrink, Matt Thornton and J.J. Putz each pitched a scoreless inning in a 10-8 loss to Kansas City.

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?

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