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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!


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.

 

 

 


Dead men walking

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Carlos Silva vs. Aramis Ramirez.

It almost seems like a PR stunt to make these Cubs look a bit more lively and passionate than they actually are.

It also conveniently covered the fact that the Cubs made three errors in one inning of what has been a ball-bobbling spring thus far. Sure, the errors may have had something to do with the fight, but the fight is what will be remembered.

My big question is will either Silva or Ramirez be with the Cubs at the end of the coming season? I think the odds are against it on both counts. Silva may not even break spring training with the team if he pitches as he did in the first inning against the Brewers before he and A-Ram scuffled (with A-Ram reportedly defending another teamate against Silva). Whatever value he seemed to possess early last season seems to have disappeared with his health issues that followed.

And unless the Cubs magically--and I do mean magically--end up in first place in July, I think Ramirez could be gone by the trade deadline, possibly to team like the White Sox that may find themselves in need of a third baseman and a bat. Though the Cubs would have to pay his option if they do trade him, I don't see him fitting in for long with Mike Quade-led team.

If it sounds like I'm really down on the new-look Cubs, that is not necessarily true. Starlin Castro is having a great spring--except when the ball is hit to him--and should have an even better second year than his first. In general, I think the Cubs will be the sort of team they look like--scrappy offense, decent starting pitching, excellent bullpen, sad defense. In their division, with the Cardinals falling to pieces, that could very well be a third place team.

Don't look so disappointed.


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?


Rookie mistakes

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Judging from the boos heard at Wrigley Field Monday night, no one would have blamed you if you thought it was Fidel Castro playing shortstop, rather than Starlin Castro. But, a three-error performance, plus a brain-fart that allowed a runner to advance, is not going to earn praise.

After Starlin's sterling debut in Cincinnati, he has shown nice patience at the plate, but also now has four errors in the field. What can the Cubs do, though, but put up with the newbie mistakes that are sure to come when you promote a 20-year-old to the majors?

Castro basically earned that promotion back in spring training, but the Cubs weren't willing to give it to him until it was clear they were a losing team that needed to jump-start its line-up (Given the bullpen woes, I thought we would see Andrew Cashner promoted first). Now, they are seeing some of the rookie jitters they would have seen back in April had they brought him to the major league level then, and only time will tell if Castro can overcome those initial blunders.

Although, if the Cubs have any better ideas for giving a slumping line-up a boost, they can go ahead and send Castro back down for some seasoning.

In other words, fans should get used to him, and try to cheer for him the next time he does something well--at least as loudly as they booed him Monday night.

Here's more buzz on the Cubs' latest wonderboy.

The Starlin Castro Era began at about 6:40 p.m. Central time tonight when the rookie shortstop, just called up from West Tennessee, took his first major league at-bat against Cincinnati's Homer Bailey. The second pitch he saw was a nifty curve that tailed in over the plate, and Castro almost visibly buckled. But, the next time he saw it, on the fifth pitch, he knew just what to do, waiting on it and then driving it over the right field fence for a three-run homerun.

Not bad for a newbie.

The sound you heard in the background a moment later was the hype machine starting up. What a wild turn of events in just the last 24 hours, since rumbings of Castro's imminent arrival began.

Spring cleaning

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The Cub and White Sox have both been doing some spring cleaning the last few days as they work their rosters down. There are also a few players who have strengthened their chances to win roster spots or starting jobs.

--Starlin Castro turns 20 this week, but won't be celebrating as a major leaguer. He was sent to Iowa, a bit early for my tastes, even though Ryan Theriot has been the best-hitting Cub this spring and it looked unlikely Castro would usurp his starting role. The veteran infielders--not only Theriot, but also Mike Fontenot and Jeff Baker--seemed to take the competition from Castro seriously. I'm betting Castro will be up before the All-Star if an injury or slump calls for another infielder.

--Brad Snyder was sent down, too. Unexpectedly, Justin Berg and Esmailin Caridad look like they will be in Chicago come April.

--I'll bet on Kevin Millar and Tyler Colvin to make the Cubs roster, and Chad Tracy and Sam Fuld to fall short.

--Carlos Silva suddenly is pitching well.

--Old news at this point, but from White Sox camp, 2009 spring training stars Dayan Viciedo and Jeff Marquez have gone to the minors.

--Daniel Cabrera, late of the Orioles, the guy who entices with a rocket arm but frustrates with terrible control, has been released. I thought maybe Ron Cooper could bring something out of him that the Orioles couldn't, but in any case, a fairly insignificant loss for the Sox.

--Alex Rios has been looking better than he did late last season.

--Mark Teahen still isn't hitting. Maybe it's because he no longer faces White Sox pitching. I'm kidding... sort of. He will make the team regardless, but it would be nice to see him get going before Easter.

--Bobby Jenks had an MRI on his right calf, but says he'll be ready to go Opening Day.

How is it that the Cubs are suddenly looking better than the Sox? The Cubs are 11-7-1 this spring and seem to have found pitching depth despite having a key starter (Ted Lilly) and a top reliever (Angel Guzman) out of action. The Sox aren't hitting, the manager is annoyed and possibly distracted by a Twitter controversy and his son's resignation, the closer is not healthy and also seemingly annoyed... Should we re-think our expectations?

Carlos vs. Carlos

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The Cubs-Sox spring training re-match was postponed today due to rain, and I decided to take another look at yesterday's Sox victory. After watching Carlos Quentin belt two homers and drive in five runs off Carlos Silva, I'm wondering this: Is that a sign of Quentin's return to prominence, or a sign that Silva is even worse than some of us thought?

My money right now is on Quentin to have a pretty decent year, possibly another 30+ homer year, though it all depends on whether he can keep that injury bug at bay. The more time he spends at DH (where he hit yesterday) the better.

Silva, on the other hand, is vying for the same bottom-of-the-rotation starter job he had with Minnesota (before Seattle bought into the idea he could be something better). Yet, Silva so far doesn't even look that good. I think he can be useful for the Cubs, though not as a starter--probably more like a long reliever.

In other news, I was surprised to see Lou Piniella say this early in the spring that Starlin Castro probably would start the season in Triple A. he was moved to say that after Andres Blanco hurt his ankle yesterday, though the statement probably comes as better news to Ryan Theriot, who not only lost his arbitration case, but has been living with the speculation that Castro is challenging him for starts at shortstop. I think the Cubs should let Castro earn a job to open the season if he puts up the numbers.

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