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Falling backward

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The Sox don't want it, the Piranhas don't want it--is there a scenario in which K.C. can still win the A.L. Central Division? The White Sox are hitting again, and for power, with Paulie pounding 2 HRs last night, The Missile going yard and JeDye homering again, but the Sox lost 12-6 behind a starter and bullpen that have completely fallen apart.

Javier Vazquez is either too tired to go on from pitching twice on three-days rest, or just plain incapable of finding his edge. He was charged with seven runs and didn't make it out of the 5th inning, only finding his aggressive side when A.J. went out to the mound. It looked like maybe Vaz took issue with A.J.'s pitch calls? Or maybe A.J., disgusted, said something that made Vaz drop what looks like an F-bomb in the photo fronting the sports section in today's Trib. Either way, it wasn't too late to win the game after Vaz departed, but Clayton Richard (despite three mostly good innings), Lance Broadway and especially Scott Linebrink (who has proven himself three years running to be half-season pitcher) all faltered by giving up key hits.

Maybe this late-season collapse was inevitable after the loss of Jose Contreras--just time and extensive bullpen labors catching up with the Sox. Maybe Richard or Broadway should have been used in a couple more spot starts. Post-game radio chatter had a lot of people wishing that Richard had started this particular game. Perhaps Ozzie would have been lambasted if Richard started and lost, but Vazquez has proven amazingly lame in big games (just ask the Yankees, though he did get a victory out of the pen during the infamous 2004 play-offs against Boston). Maybe going with Richard to start and then Broadway for three innings would have shaken the pitching blahs. But hindsight of course is 20/20, and not many managers would pass up a veteran in a situation like last night's game.

The Piranhas lost again to K.C., and though they looked WS-caliber against the Sox, it is again becoming clear that this Minnesota team is not necessarily like the division winners of past years. Too bad the Sox couldn't figure out where the holes were. The Sox are of course still in it, and get another bit of luck falling their way today, as they will not have to face injured 22-game winner Cliff Lee. If fate was ever sending the Sox a gift, this is it.

The Cubs won 7-3 behind a stellar performance from Ted Lilly, who no-hit the Brew Crew into the 7th inning. The Brewers scratched back, but Fukie, who loves Brewer pitching even when he's not hitting anyone else's, added insurance runs with a homer in the 9th. Marquis didn't look good in a bullpen showing intended to get him ready for his October role. The Cubs will go with Sub-Cub pitchers today instead of a limited turn by Zammy, which is fine by me--maybe he can come back strong from extra rest to do well next week. In starting Angel Guzman and probably going to the pen early and often, the Cubs may gift-wrap the wild card for the Brewers, while setting themselves up for a first-round match with the tricky Dodgers. There's not much other choice, but if they beat the Brewers today and the Mets somehow managed to win despite increasing fatigue--well, that would be nice.

False start

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Well, Javier Vazquez blew his chance in what was a big game for the Sox. The Great and Powerful Oz tried to downplay the series opener in Minnesota before it began, which itself was a strange occurrence, but maybe who had an inkling of what would happen. The Sox were beaten 9-3, and amazingly it was not even as close as that ugly score would indicate.

The Sox blew some chances against Scott Baker, a pitcher in whose games against the Sox this year the Twins have gone 2-0. Junior hit into a run-scoring double play in the 2nd inning and hit a two-run HR in the 9th long after this one was over. Other than that, the Sox loaded the bases in the 5th with nothing gained. Yet, it was definitely Vazquez who threw the game away, leaving everything over the plate. He's a strike-zone pitcher, and that may not be a good match-up to begin with against a contact team like the Twins, but Vazquez seemed to bring nothing extra to this one, no ability to deceive or find a higher speed gear when he needed it.

Seeing all the Piranhas' lefties attack Vazquez, I was yearning for southpaw John Danks to have a start somewhere on this series, but that won't happen. The Sox do have reliable lefty Mark Buehrle going tonight, but he's just 1-2 against Minnesota this year (It also was Buehrle who once famously spotted the Piranhas a 7-run 1st inning lead in a game the Sox later won 9-7). Nick Blackburn goes for the Twinkies, and is 1-2 vs. our Sox.

The Cubs started well against mighty Johan Santana last night, scoring two runs early, but they eventually lost 6-2 in a game the Mets needed to win. I was hoping for a surprise victory against Santana, which could have further demoralized the Mets, which is exactly how I would like them to be if the Cubs end up facing them in the division series next week. That can still be accomplished if the Cubs win the next two.

Much chatter today on sports talk radio about how Piniella will handle the Milwaukee series. He had earlier said the Cubs owe it to the league to play out their schedule with vigor, but the starting rotation for the division series remains up in the air. If the Lou Crew takes a soft route against the Brew Crew, it could set the course for a potential NLCS match-up against the Brewers, both an exciting and scary thought.

We are having technical difficulties

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I tried to post after yesterday's amazing comeback, extra-inning victory by the Cubs, and last evening's complete breakdown by the Sox, but kept getting errors when I tried to save. Just as well, because I might have been over-reacting to both events at the time.

The Cubs 7-6 win happened after the Cubs had been four runs down in the mottom of the 9th with two out. I was literally in the act of changing the channel as A-Ram took his first swing and saw the ball trip through Ryan Braun's legs before it the channel actually flipped over. I turned back to the game, of course, and had almost no chance to think about the possibilities before Geo tied the game 6-6 on a three-run no-doubter HR. At that point, I refused to entertain the idea the Cubs would lose this one, even after Woody had put two men on in scoring position with no out in the 11th. D-Lee came through in the 12th, and like that the magic number when from stuck at 4 on down to 2.

Piniella joked with reporters afterward about tying one on after the game, and from the looks of today's peformance, which I unfortunately witnessed live, everyone tied one on last night. Zambrano, in his first appareance since his no-hitter, was awful, the worst he could possibly be, and I'm not just talking about his pitching. He was charged with eight runs in less than two inning, and looked the polar opposite of the guy who no-hit Houston less than a week ago. But, the worst part was that as Piniella came to remove him, he stormed off the mound before his glacially slow manager made it all the way out to the mound. Piniella looked absolutely livid and pointed Z back to the mound. It looked like Z Big Cry Baby had a few more words for Piniella before departing and ripping at the buttons on his jersey.

Reportedly, Zambrano's grandmother just passed away, and no one can blame him for feeling bad about that, but at this time of all times, the Cubs needed him to handle that pain, and his apparent disappointment in himself, like a grown man. The Cubs will clinch the division, hopefully this weekend, but this is the last kind of distraction anyone needs. How could this guy go from unhittable and gracious on Sunday night to awful and immature on Friday afternoon? Grow up now, Z, because the postseason is not for big babies.

The Cubs went on to lose 12-6. Most of the starters played like they were hung over (though I'm sure they are all too professional to let that happen), but the scrubs (Casey McGeehee?) tried to make a game of it. Tune in tomorrow to find out if the Cubs are ready to win this thing.

The White Sox rolled over and played dead last night, and just when you thought the Piranhas would help out again as they started a series vs. the Amazin' Rays, they actually won and cut the Sox lead to 1-1/2 games.

Vazquez was not as bad last night as Zammy was today, but he was not good, and left in the 4th inning down 4-1. The bullpen let that lead build to 7-1, and the cause not helped by a key error by the Missile, who is great and everything, but really needs to concentrate a bit better sometimes. The bullpen overall was better than Vazquez, but is really starting raise concerns.

Meanwhile, Paulie took most of the season to start hitting, but now he's the only one. He had a run-scoring double and homer last night. The Sox have failed to fully take advantage of a recent tailspin by the Piranhas (I know, the metaphor doesn't work), and had better be ready to play some very important games next week in Minnesota.

Toughening up, falling down

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Ryan Dempster's assignment Saturday was not a tough one: Beat a team with a 46-83 record. Yet, the Cubs couldn't get it done Friday and needed a win Saturday to give them a chance to win the series and stay in a strong pace-setting position. Dempster was as stingy as he's been all year, with 1 ER and 1 BB being the key stats in 7.1 innings. He's had only one truly bad outing all year (8 ER in 2.1 IP against our White Sox down at The Cell on June 27), and though he often puts himself in trouble with walks, he has been very good about avoiding getting shelled.

Much has been made of Demp's WS prediction in spring training, but what matters most, is that he came into the year fit and has stayed fit and amazingly consistent. He's 15-5, and you don't see any reason why he can't keep winning, unlike the hugely talented but topsy-turvy Zambrano. A-Ram helped Demp with 2 3-run HRs. DeRosa had another HR, and is in a groove.

I had a strange dream last night in which I met Mark DeRosa at a bar, and he came off in person as the fun-loving guy he seems to be on field and in interviews. Then I went to introduce him to Mrs. SBW, saying to her, "This is Mark De----,"and I suddenly couldn't remember the rest of his name. He got kind of annoyed and walked away. I ran after him, saying I always liked him even before he was on the Cubs, putting him on a couple of my fantasy teams because of his multi-position eligibility. How embarrassing...

Speaking of which, Javier Vazquez had a much tougher assignment than Dempster Saturday, facing the extremely resourceful Rays. He was fantastic through 7 innings and seemed a distant cousin of the Vazquez who often falls apart after 6 IP (By the way, when did we all start noting perfect games after 5 IP? Isn't the unwritten rule to wait until after the 6th?) With the Sox ahead 3-1 in the 8th, Vaz loaded the bases with no outs. Matt Thornton, who had struck out the side the day before, came in and things fell apart from there.

Though Vazquez doesn't do well in the late innings, you can't really blame Ozzie for staying with him. He could have gone to Thornton or D.J. Carrasco to start the inning (The first man up, Dioner Navarro, swings both ways, literally, but is worse vs. southpaws.) But, Vaz was under 90 pitches at the time. The bullpen got a very tough assignment, but that's what the job is all about (Ask Carlos Marmol, who came in with 2 on and 1 out Saturday and shut down the Nats, but also knows what it's like to unravel.)

Ultimately, the Sox, with the exception of JeDye, did almost nothing against the talented, but very beatable (especially if you're patient) Scott Kazmir. The power output on the Southside has been absolutely amazing, but it's not enough if guys aren't on base for those jacks, or if the infantry can't be counted on to keep inching the Sox forward between the heavy artillery hits (I'd like to dedicate that sentence to Sox fan G.B., who loves a good military metaphor.)

The Angels helped keep things tight in the A.L. Central by beating the Piranhas, but I think a lot of Sox fans today are feeling vulnerable. But, it ain't over yet, not nearly.

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