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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!


Ups and downs up north

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Went to Wrigley today for this first time this season, and will have a post on that tomorrow...

For now, a look at the White Sox, still in Toronto (Still?), where a brilliant extra-inning win was followed by almost being no-hit, which was followed by John Danks and a crushing offensive effort shutting down the Blue Jays 11-1, which was followed tonight by, you guessed it, a 7-3 loss.

Will the real Chicago White Sox please stand up?

The 11-1 victory further showcased Andruw Jones, who had three hits and his third homerun of the year and is looking like a more frequent starter than anyone expected. Carlos Quentin also kept up his hot streak with a grand slam. The line-up delivered 15 hits overall. Danks didn't give up a hit until the fifth inning.

But, the bats took the night off tonight. It was nice that Donny Lucy got his first career homer, and Alexei "formerly the Cuban Missile" Ramirez hit his first homerun amid what has been another lackluster start for him. But, Jones, Quentin and Paul Konerko were hitless.

Splitting a four-game series in Toronto isn't a bad thing, but the next time the Sox have an 11-1 drubbing or an 8-7 extra-innings comeback, they need to bottle it.

Oh, man: Sox get Omar

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The White Sox made good on recent rumors and signed 42-year-old shortstop Omar Vizquel as a tutor for their young, promising infielders Alexei Ramirez and Gordon Beckham. Actually, though a lot of his value will come as a defensive mentor and tutor to The Missile specifically, Omar can still play, and he could play a great late-inning defensive role for the Sox at 2nd, shortstop or 3rd.

I'm guessing this is another move--along with the Mark Teahen deal, the re-signing of Mark Kotsay and the likelihood that the Sox won't trade the already expensive Dayan Viciedo--that signals that GM Kenny Williams probably will not attempt to bring in Chone Figgins.

That's a shame, because the Sox could really use him in the lead-off spot, where Vizquel will give you no help at all. But, Vizquel brings the Sox a step closer to their commitment to win with string defense, and that's definitely a good thing.

The Cubs, meanwhile, recently traded Aaron Heilman, re-signed John Grabow and still haven't moved Milton Bradley. There has been some buzz about possibly acquiring Chicago product and talented Detroit centerfielder Curtis Granderson. That would be nice, and though Granderson strikes out a lot as a lead-off man, he's got the speed and power of a younger Alfonso Soriano with that much-desired left-handed bat. But, I'll believe this one when I see it.

I started writing during the 8th inning of today's Crosstown Classic North game that the Sox had completed the sweep (sort of--the series won't officially be over until September). I either jinxed the Sox, or turned around the luck of the Cubs, depending on how you want to look at it.

The Cubs won 6-5, today, literally minutes after being down 5-1 and exhibiting again that they could not drive in runs even with a man on 3rd and no outs. It all happened in the bottom of the 8th. Milton Bradley struck out for out No. 2 while Micah Hoffpauir waited on 3rd and Alfonso Soriano, who moments before proved he was still alive by notching a basehit, waited on 1st base. Bradley was walking around the dugout with his bat still in his hands and his helmet still on, so stunned he may have been by his and other hitters' inability to convert baserunners into scoreboard digits. Then, almost at the instant the TV picture returned to the home plate, Derrek Lee, the one Cub who has been on a tear, plunked a 3-run homer into the basket. Moments later, Geovany Soto added a solo shot to tie the game 5-5.

And, suddenly, there was life... Reed Johnson started the bottom of the 9th, score still tied, with a single, was moved over to second on a perfect bunt by Andres Blanco, and scored the game-winner on a bloop single by Soriano. Yes, boys, it's that easy.

I literally had been very near giving up on the Cubs for the year, as dramatic as that sounds. Now, I'm going to wait until at least tomorrow. Prior to Lee's homer, I was just sick of things not working, and sick of Lou Piniella's What-am-I-supposed-to-do stance, which yesterday evolved into an I'm-about-to-do-something-but-not-quite-yet stance. I didn't see where Lou had any options, unless he moved Soriano to 2nd base to get the hotter, younger bats of Jake Fox and Micah Hoffapauir into the outfield. Bench Kosuke Fukudome for Johnson? Sure, but the problem has been that not enough of the dots have been getting connected on offense. It almost hasn't mattered how much talent allegedly was behind those dots.

That was happening again in the 8th inning until the consecutive homers, and I'm not sure everything was fixed by those miracles. We'll see. The changes that may need to be made might be in Jim Hendry's hands, rather than Lou's.

So, the Cubs earned a split with the White Sox after the Sox cruised to a 4-1 victory yesterday. They still looked great today, with Gavin Floyd silencing the Cubs and The Missile, Chris Getz, Gordon Beckham, Brian Anderson and Paulie all contributing timely hits today. Getz also unfortunately contributed a poorly-timed error to allow Hoffpauir on in the 8th. And, the bullpen that I've felt would come to be the Sox' second-half charm blew it today, though the loss was really on the hands of Scott Linebrink, who struck out Bradley, but then gave up the consecutive homers.

It's hard to tell how good the Sox are from this trip to Wrigley--they are 31-35. Yesterday, the used great fundamentals and a little power plus a knockout performance from John Danks to beat up on a Cubs team that looked broken down completely. Sox fans should take more from the last two impressive victories against the slugging Brewers than these two contests. While I'm hoping Hendry is going shopping, I'm hoping Kenny Williams is staying home at least a little longer.

Only good thoughts

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The Cubs won 2-1 over the Dodgers Friday, and I guess I had become so accustomed to all-or-absolutely-nothing offensive efforts, I had no idea that the Cubs had not won game while scoring less than four runs since last Sept. 11 (according to the Tribune).

The Cubs managed hits Friday, though not with runners in scoring position, as has been the problem of late. But, they did get just enough from a Koyie Hill solo homer and a bases -loaded sac fly from Kosuke Fukudome for the vcitory. Another very strong pitching performance, this time from Ted Lilly, kept the Cubs in the game.

The Cubs are now 3-1 since their 8-game losing streal ended and are winning for the month, 14-12 with two games to go. While stars and core line-up goes continue to gradually--very gradually--come back from slumps and injuries, guys like Hill, Bobby Scales (though he had a scary 9th inning error Friday), Micah Hoffpauir and Jake Fox are stepping up and doing just enough. More good news: The Gatorade machine survives another day. And, we're getting closer and closer to the return of Aramis Ramirez.

The White Sox, meanwhile, actually won in Kansas City, a feat that was starting to seem as hard as winning in Minnesota. After pounding K.C. 11-3 Friday night with a great pitching performance by Clayton Richard, the Sox also are 3-1 in their last four games, and 5-2 since the 20-1 demolishing at the hands of the Twinkies last week. Jermaine Dye, Paul Konerko, Alexei Ramirez and Josh Fields each had 2 RBIs in this one.

May has not been as good to the Sox: They have an 11-15 record for the month headed into Saturday night's game, though if you ask anyone in Chicago who is in better shape right night, almost anyone would say the Sox. Both teams are in fourth place in their divisions, and the Sox have a losing record, but it's the Cubs who have more work to do, and a taller mountain to climb comeptition-wise.

The last bit of probably good news for the Sox is that they traded Lance Broadway (who was no longer impressing anyone despite past first-rounder status) to the Mets for catcher Ramon Castro and designated catcher Corky Miller for assignment. Castro is probably an offensive step up from Miller and is an Ozzie guy, having been in Florida when Oz was coaching for the Marlins (the Cub fan side of me will acknowledge no further details about teh Marlins during that period).

24 good reasons for 17 runs

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The Sox won two of three with strong pitching and just enough offense in the right spots before they left for one of those nerve-racking West Coast road trips (albeit a quick one, to play the Angels). Generally speaking, the Sox have had a ton of offensive trouble this year, and the Angels have put together some strong pitching outings.

What a surprise then to see the Sox explode for 17 runs on 24 hits. The Sox only had four walks, but it was more impressive the way the attacked pitches down the center of the plate before the Angels pitchers could really establish themselves. Patience certainly is a virtue at the plate, but it's also nice to see batters so confident and so unwilling to let an opponent settle in that they attack the ball.

Scott Podsednik continued to hang tough, with a 4-5 outing, and Alexei "The Missile" Ramirez may finally be airborne, going 4-7 with another all-around strong game that raised his average to .243. Jim Thome, Jermaine Dye and Paul Konerko were the predictable homer contributors. John Danks pitched well enough for the second game in a row, though he had an unsightly 6 walks, but there wasn't much he could do to lose this one.

The only bad moment in this game was a big one, when Carlos Quentin pulled up lame legging out a double, his nagging foot injury suddenly terribly worse--he had to be helped off the field. The Sox have been missing C.Q.'s bat most of the year, and even when he's been in, he's been off. Looks like Pods will be getting more PT, which is still a good thing, but for how long?

Slump buster

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I returned from vacation just in time to see my pick for 2009 White Sox MVP thus far--Mark Buehrle--pitch another gem and break a six-game Sox losing streak. The Sox beat the dread Piranhas 6-2 at home, giving Buehrle a 6-1 record and 2.77 ERA.

Buehrle has gotten a bit of luck getting run support from a Sox offense that has been increasingly anemic for his rotation mates, but if it weren't for Buehrle's luck, the Sox would have none at all. Having just been swept in a four-gamer by the Blue Jays (who afre in first place, but still...), it was good to see the Sox come back and take it to their most-hated rival (no, that's not the Cubs in my book).

The Sox still have plenty of problems, with Jose Contreras pitching in the minors to figure himself out, a talent void in center field (Sorry, Pods, but it's no longer 2005), a lingering slump at shortstop (The Missile is still sputtering on the launch-pad), and now downward batting averages at second base and third base as well.

Finally, to my mind, The Great and Powerful Oz seems a bit lost for possible solutions to it all. Injuries have been a problem, as they are for all teams, but this team seems undermotivated. I wonder if a well-timed tantrum by Ozzie could help things out. In his first few seasons at the helm, Ozzie's emotions, and how and when he chose to put them on display, were a key ingredient to the Sox' success. It's been a tough year all around, but at 16-22 and with the Tigers and Royals playing better ball than expected so far, I would like to see Ozzie step up and step out of the dugout a little more frequently, even if--and particularly if--it's intended to get a rise out of his own players.

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.

Good luck and lack thereof

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A cat was seen skulking across the field during Tuesday night's Cubs-Reds game, but it wasn't a black cat. A fan was seen leaning over the left field side wall to catch a foul ball, but he wasn't wearing headphones and Moises Alou wasn't playing left field. So, we have no other recourse than to view these curiously familiar situations as good luck for the Cubs rather than bad.

The Cubs themselves may have been disinterested in omens of any kind, since they were busy cruising to a 7-2 victory behind 6-inning maestro Rich Harden. We may rarely see Harden go longer than the 6th inning, since that is usually about the time he closes in on 95 pitches and sets off the dugout alarm system that screams "PULL HIM! PULL HIM!" But, in most cases it's enough too make a huge impact, and he did last night, holding the Reds to 2 runs while striking out 8 batters. Interesting stat I saw on the MLB Network today: Harden currently has more strikeouts--34--in any 25 inning span to start a season than any other pitcher in baseball history. Not that it will mean much in the long run...

Most of the Cubs hitters did their jobs, drawing walks are getting hits off former Cub Micah Owings so that RBI-guru Aramis Ramirez could come up in his preferred situation with runners on base and get his fill: 3 RBIs last night on 3 hits, 14 RBIs now on the year. Micah Hoffpauir, who I am fast coming to prefer over Milton Bradley, had his first homer of the season (and the first Micah-on-Micah homerun in baseball history!) and added another RBI later on. Ryan Theriot stayed on pace for a 200-hit season with another multi-hit (2-4) game. Everything's rolling right now--except for Neal Cotts, of course, who started a relief appearance last night with strikeout, but quickly lost his bearings and let the next two batters on base. Rescuing Cotts is becoming a full-time job for Carlos Marmol, and he did it again last night, saving Cotts ERA by shutting down the would-be Reds rally.

Cotts, I think, will soon go the way of Mike MacDougal, the wild, unreliable reliever that the White Sox parted ways with before their Tuesday night game in Baltimore. MacDougal always appeared to have a nice arsenal of pitches and had been effective as the one-time closer in Kansas City, but his stay with the Sox was about 98% disappointing.

Still, the Sox could have used Mac for mop-up duty Tuesday night, as they got popped by the Orioles 10-3. Jose Contreras again took it on the chin, and has not been able to find his control since his promising early return from injury during spring training. Contreras had 6 BB and 6 ER in 5.1 IP. At 0-3, he's responsible for half the Sox losses this season.

He didn't get much help from the offense, which managed only 3 runs (2 of which were unearned after a Baltimore error) off a rookie pitcher, Brad Bergesen, who seemed to befuddle them. The only bright spot in this one, other than a reliable RBI each from Jermaine Dye and Paul Konerko, was that Alexei Ramirez went 2-4 for the second game in a row. He seems to be scratching his way out of his slump.

The Sox looked great in Tampa the weekend, but apparently left their bats in Florida. They haven't had much luck at all in Baltimore in recent years, though what does luck have to do with anything?

Almost instant karma

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Lou Piniella says he was looking for a "change in karma" after his bullpen walked 3 batters in a row against the Milwaukee Brewers Saturday night, so he sent pitching coah Larry Rothschild out to change pitchers. Personally, I think Lou was just fuming and didn't want to tear off the head of Neal Cotts in fron of thousands of fans. During last week's extra-innings loss to the Astros and Friday night's bullpen meltdown against the Brewers, Lou could be seen on TV in the dugout mouthing some very recognizable bad words. Forget Sweet Lou--Sour Lou is out early this year.



The karma did not change instantly for the Cubs, as new pen arrival Aaron Heilman gave up a single after the 3 walks that put the Brewers up 5-3, but it did change an inning later. Aramis Ramirez hit a solo HR to bring the Cubs within a run in the 8th, and in the top of the 9th and down to 2 outs, Alfonso Soriano was the hero. Hit blasted (literally) a 2-run HR after Reed Johnson had pinched a single. Soriano was one possible goat after Friday's loss, but again seems to show you has value just at the time when you (or its was just me) are ready to question him. Al-So has come up big the first week of the season... maybe he should bat clean-up (as Milton Bradley is hitting .063 this far).



The Cubs won 6-5, and it wasn't twice-bitten closer Kevin Gregg who finished the game. Carlos Marmol got the save, giving up a single, but facing down the toughest Brewers hitters to end it. Apparently, Lou doesn't want to change the karma too much, because he said Gregg will be back in the closer role Sunday if needed.



Other notes: Kosuke Fukudome has been fairly torrid--or at least better than expected. He was 2-5 with a HR yesterday, and apparently loves hitting against the Brewers (It was his 4th HR off Brewers pitching since his heroic debut as a Cub on Opening Day 2008.) Also, Carlos Zambrano was pretty darn good for the second game in a row, though his effort was squandered by the pen's collapse.



White Sox update: The Sox had a karma change, too, in the form of a heavweight pitcher thought to be wobbling toward retirement until recently. Bartolo Colon had vintage stuff, blanking the Minnesota Piranhas for 7 innings (giving them nothing to chew on), on the way to an 8-0 victory (a Colon blow-out, if you will, though I know you'd rather not).


The Sox also were effective for the first time this year in simply pushing runner after runner across the plate. When the starting line-up flashed on the TV at the beginning of the game, it certainly didn't look like that's what would be in store: It featured 3 new starters (Brent Lillibridge, Corky Miller and Wilson Betemit) and 2 others (Alexei Ramirez and Brian Anderson) who were hitless for 2009--5 guys with .000 batting averages.

But, Colon's workman-like pitching and the new shaken-up batting order seemed to bring some new karma. Lillibridge, leading-off, didn't have a hit, but was decent anyway, walking twice, stealling a base and showing the rest of the team how to execute a sacrifice bunt. Ramirez, "The Missile," finally took flight with his first 2 hits and first 2 RBI of the season. Even Miller had 2 RBI. It's doubtful the Sox batting order will continue to have the same names in place as it did yesterday, but the rag-tag group somehow broke the team-wide hitting slump.

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