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Sunday, May 30, 2004

Sunshine nestled between thunderstorms 

I went to the Sox-Angels game Sunday and watched the Sox pound Anaheim 11-2. Like Saturday, I sat in Section 158, although this time we were in Row 15, instead of Row 22. I went with my dad, who brought along the grandson of one of his employees. I haven't given him a grandson yet, so he's outsourcing. Dad called me around 11:30 a.m., and with the rain and dark skies, we were regretting my idea to buy the tickets on Saturday.

It's just the luck of the Sox to have some lousy weather to kill the walk up sales on Sunday. The iffy weather might have held down the attendance on Saturday, too, although Dog Day made up for that. It got downright hot in the stands during Sunday's game, with the sun beating down on us. Not that I minded feeling warm in the stands. It sure beats the alternative.

The eventual breaking of the weather also seemed to inspire some of the female fans. There was one brunette in particular who I'd stack up next to any good-looking Trixie in the bleachers at Wrigley. She was wearing a turquoise top with little spaghetti straps and low-cut jeans. She was hunting ballplayers Sunday, pitchers in particular, since Section 158 is right behind the Sox bullpen. She made her way down the aisle between 158 and 159 and got Mark Buehrle to stop and talk to her early in the game. Buehrle had come down to the pen to get some throwing in, then watched the Sox hit in the first inning. Perhaps because the Sox scored three runs, he stuck around and watched as they put up another four in the second, including three runs on a home run by Jose Valentin. When he started for the dugout after the second, I yelled out that he has to stay out there, he's good luck. I was way too far for him to hear me. And besides, I wasn't a smoking-hot girl who nicely filled out a skimpy top.

Speaking of Skimpy Top, she also tried to get the attention of Neal Cotts via Man Soo Lee, who I'm going to start calling the Mayor of the Bullpen, the way he shakes hands with the regulars out there. Cotts wouldn't budge. Didn't even look in her direction. He doesn't know what he missed. Either that, or life as a single guy in the big leagues must be even better than I've ever dreamed.

Skimpy Top also made friends with the middle-aged guys sitting around her and her two friends. They all had disposable cameras, probably because the promotion Sunday (which was postponed because of the weather until Aug. 8) allowed fans with Fuji disposable cameras purchased at Dominick's to go onto the field before the game and take photos with players. (One question -- as long as you buy the crappy disposable camera, can you bring your digital camera down there?) The guys posed with Skimpy Top and her friends, and everyone down there seemed to be having a good time. I guess that's one of the advantages of the dead time in baseball -- you can do some good people watching.

Both teams were lucky to get that game in and avoid a doubleheader when the Angels return in July. There was a perfect window of sunny weather, bookended by thunderstorms.

It was a nice win to head into a travel day to Oakland. Guess I'm going to be up late this week.

What was he thinking, exactly? 

I'm not sure I can figure out why Jon Rauch aburptly left the clubhouse after his rough start Saturday against the Angels. Then, he called the postgame show on WMVP AM-1000 to apologize. Look, Rauch should have just stuck around. It's still possible that we'll hear what this miscommunication was that Rauch talked of when he called 'MVP. Right now, he just looks like an idiot.

I'm not 100% sure why GM Ken Williams felt the need to put out a statement about Rauch's untimely departure. I suppose that he responded to media inquiries, and it's good to be more responsive than the White Sox have been at times in the past. I'm not sure how much good it does to say that Rauch is on the trading block. Perhaps Williams should have measured his words more carefully. My father reminded me that Tony LaRussa declined to speak to reporters on the day that bonehead Ken Harrelson fired him. (Sadly, given Harrelson's long tenure with the team, I have to acknowledge that he has become a White Sox institution. Thank God for John Rooney and Ed Farmer.) LaRussa told the reporters that he might say something he would regret later. He didn't burn that bridge, and his friendship with Jerry Reinsdorf continues. I saw a blurb last week that said LaRussa had dinner with Reinsdorf last week when the Cardinals were in town.

Then again, Rauch doesn't exactly have a ton of trade value. The players seemed to agree with Williams, or at least Paul Konerko did. Williams will ask them what they think of Rauch's disappearing act before deciding his fate.

Interesting to note 

Even before Ken Williams became so unhappy with Jon Rauch yesterday, he was trying to add a starting pitcher via trade. Williams really wants Freddy Garcia of the Seattle Mariners, but the Tribune reported that the Mariners are looking for a bigger package of players and think they might get more for him closer to the July 31 non-waiver trading deadline.

Bench coach Harold Baines made his managerial debut Saturday. Ozzie Guillen was in Florida attending son Oney's high school graduation. Baines said he'd consider managing in the minors if he decides that he wants to be a big-league manager some day. My bet is that he'll stick with the bench coach role for years. It suits him, because he's not the most talkative guy, of course. Plus, he had this to say about working with former teammate Ozzie Guillen:
"Yeah, it has been fun," Baines said. "It may not look it in my face, but it has been fun. I think what helps me is I know the coaches I'm with. We pretty much came up in the game together, so that helps out a lot.

"In our case, we're not looking over our back to see if somebody's talking about us. We're here because we love the White Sox, because we played for this organization and we want the organization to go forward.

"When you can be positive (as a coaching staff), it always can bring out the best in a player."
Doesn't sound to me like a guy who's interested in going anywhere.

Magglio Ordonez could be headed to the disabled list. He won't play until at least Tuesday in Oakland. He has a bruise behind his left knee, the aftereffects of his collision in Cleveland with Willie Harris. At least Ordonez's injury comes while Carlos Lee is in the midst of a hot streak.

I attended Saturday's game, which also was Dog Day. They were just a section away from us, but I can't say that I noticed them during the game. The fireworks were conspicuous by their absence, both after the introductions and after Konerko's home run. Saturday was the second game I've attended since the Sox revamped the player introductions. They play AC/DC's "Thunderstruck" and have public address announcer Gene Honda introduce the starting lineup in something a little more like a basketball introduction. I like it. The Sox are fortunate to have such an excellent announcer in Honda. Honda follows a classic style, always ensuring that his voice is smooth, even as his volume rises, yet he's still enthusiastic. Contrast that with Ray Clay, the former Bulls announcer. Like so many other people associated with the Bulls in the 1990s, you could say that Michael Jordan made Clay. I never liked the way his voice would crack during introductions, "And now the starting lineup for your WORLD CHAMPION Chicago Bulls!" It was the message I liked, not the messenger.

Williams had better things to say about Bartolo Colon, another pitcher who's not part of the Sox rotation anymore. Colon's results and stuff haven't been stellar this year, but the Angels say they think he's turned the corner.

This is the problem with Reinsdorf 

Greg Couch chronicled all the hoops the Sox made him jump through just to be ultimately denied an interview with team Chairman Jerry Reinsdorf. Reading Couch's work over the years, he's always struck me as a hard-working reporter. I also know from personal experience that he's responsive to readers. He and I traded several e-mails after a column he wrote about Illinois head basketball coach Bruce Weber. (I was trying to explain why we Illini fans were so disturbed -- too quickly, I now admit -- when the team hit a rough patch early in the Big Ten season.) Couch's attempts to speak to Reinsdorf about his lack of connection with fans and the anger that he draws out of fans rang true to me. Reinsdorf, as the Daily Herald's Barry Rozner pointed out earlier this month, is not the face of the team. No one is, although Couch allows that Ozzie Guillen could very well grow into that role. Still, someone at the upper levels has to be out there more. The club appears to be ready to add to the payroll this year. Reinsdorf's stinginess is more with his time than the ownership group's money.

He's so close to jumping off 

Jay Mariotti on Sunday contemplated the unthinkable -- what if the Sox make the playoffs and the Cubs don't. It's perfect timing for Mariotti, as the Cubs were suffering through a season-high five-game losing streak and the Sox were playing well against the top two teams in the American League West. Mariotti sings the praises of manager Ozzie Guillen and even has nice things to say about Ken Williams, pointing out the gold the Sox have made out of unwanted players Esteban Loiaza, Juan Uribe and Scott Schoeneweis. He ends with this:
This could be a fun summer ... on the wrong side of town.
That, and some other digs he got in (such as referring to the "South Side inferiority complex") probably ensured that the Sun-Times received a boat-load of e-mails about his column. Exactly what Mariotti wants.

Prediction: If the Sox pull off a deal to bring in another starter, Mariotti will write a column wondering what Cubs GM Jim Hendry will do to overcome the team's injuries. Yeah, Mariotti's looking for a soft place to land when he leaps from the Cubs bandwagon.

The Wrigleyville watchdog 

Carol Slezak's not letting go of the raucous party scene in Wrigleyville after Cubs games. I think this column goes too far, suggesting that perhaps all bars in the area should be closed for an hour after the end of the game, but Slezak is right that the city needs to enforce the ordinances that are already on the books. Those include occupancy codes and liquor-license restrictions on restaurant-bars that forget about the first part of their name after games. The city and the bar owners both have an interest in keeping things from exploding. Slezak mentions a couple of recent bar brawls that have broken out after games, including one at Hi-Tops.

Something to watch 

I like Ozzie Guillen's approach of sticking with his starters, and while the accumulated pitch counts in back-to-back starts have made me a little nervous at times, I think he's doing a good job with the starters. This story by Bob Foltman in the Tribune says that the top four Sox starters are all in the top 10 of pitches thrown in the American League this year. To me, this is another big reason to get at least a decent starter into the No. 5 slot in the rotation. I'd like to see the top four starters get the occasional extra day between starts, but it's difficult to do that when you have no good option for the fifth starter. But at least Guillen recognizes that on a given outing, 115 is pretty much as far as you want to push a starting pitcher.

I haven't forgotten 

Maybe I should wear my "Sammy Sosa Cork Co." T-shirt on Thursday, the first anniversary of Sosa's infamous corked bat. In this article, Greg Couch writes that fans on the road aren't mocking Sosa for the cork any more. I bet that ends when he visits the South Side in late June.

In a companion column to Couch's story, Chris DeLuca writes that the corked bat shouldn't take away from Sosa's legacy. He rightly pointed out that Hall of Famer Gaylord Perry was a noted cheater, using foreign substances to get more movement on his pitches. I'll always have fun with Sosa's corked bat.

The latest change 

The White Sox will be moving the FUNdamentals youth baseball instruction area to a new platform that will be built above the left-field concourse. It will be interesting to see whether the move changes the experience of sitting in left field. It may be harder for adult fans to congregate on the concourse during games. On the other hand, fans might seek shelter under the FUNdamentals platform during rain delays and seek shade on scorching hot days there. If it draws more fans, that's good enough for me. I still want to see green seats.

(Music to write by: Blur, "Blur," Coldplay, "A Rush of Blood to the Head," and John Lee Hooker, "His Best Chess Sides.")

Tuesday, May 25, 2004

I keep telling you 

It's not just us, Sox fans. Cubs fans root against the Sox, too. Here's a report from my good friend Chris, a former coworker:
Kim and I went to both the Saturday night and Sunday day game against the Twins two weeks ago. Noticed what may be a new trend: Cubs fans, who can't get into Wrigley, come to Sox Park in their Cubs-wear and cheer against the Sox. Not for the opposing team, mind you, just against the Sox. Saturday night we sat in the bleachers with an entire row of drunk North Side wannabes who spent the game chanting "White Sox Suck" in a section full of White Sox fans. They received some verbal taunting in response, and I thought things might come to fisticuffs at one point with some fans one section over.

But I just sat there and smiled. After all, the best part is that the joke is on them. Eight of them spent $26 each for those seats, and they easily consumed another $200 worth of beer. The way I figure it, that's 400-plus green U.S. dollars in the pockets of the White Sox and their vendors. Cheer away, you jackasses; and by the way, thanks for the cash. Heh heh.

I'll be in a rooftop club on Memorial Day for the Astros-Cubs game. It's my first time in a rooftop club. It's something I've wanted to do once. (Major props to the club, Brixen Ivy, for donating the space for a fundraiser. All the proceeds will go to the charity.) Belive me, I'll be rooting for the 'Stros.

One last thing. I'm watching "Seinfield," and they just played a preview commercial for the 6:30 p.m. rerun scheduled for tomorrow -- "The Soup Nazi."

Protecting your leader 

I think Ozzie Guillen is going to have to sit Jose Valentin occasionally against left-handed starters. I know the argument is that Willie Harris doesn't hit lefties well either -- just one hit in 15 at-bats -- but Valentin looked absolutely brutal tonight. Valentin's left-right splits show a huge platoon difference this year. Valentin struck out four times tonight against Kenny Rogers and Brian Shouse, a lefty reliever brought on to pitch to Valentin. Neither of those guys is 6-foot-10 with a mullet on his head and two no-hitters on his resume. You could see Rogers pitching around Paul Konerko to get to Valentin in the sixth. Just mix it up a bit, let Harris play against some of those lefties, with Juan Uribe (who had two more hits tonight) sliding over to short. Give it a shot, Ozzie.

Don't misinterpret this post as blaming Valentin for the loss. The pitching was just as much to blame tonight as the lineup. I also thought Guillen left Scott Schoeneweis in too long. I know he's trying to get his starter a win, but I wouldn't have even started the seventh with Schoeneweis. He had struggled the entire game. That said, Mike Jackson and Kelly Wunsch did him no favors.

Try, try again 

I'm happy to read that Neal Cotts will return to the bullpen after his spot start Saturday in Minnesota. For now, I'm willing to try another minor leaguer. Jon Rauch would seem the most likely candidate. His numbers are OK, but not exactly great for a guy who's been at Class AAA for, what, three years now. I don't think he's anything but a temporary answer, but it's better than throwing Cotts out there. I forget where I read it, but Cotts does not have a starter's repertoire yet. Cotts has two very good pitches -- fastball and curve -- but nothing else. He needs a change up, something else offspeed. He won't develop a new pitch until next year. He belongs in the bullpen for now.

Who gets sent out this time? Well, Kelly Wunsch hasn't exactly been lighting it up and, the Sox now have three lefties in the pen right now. Wunsch looks afraid of the strike zone right now. He may need to throw some more to build up arm strength. I don't think the Sox have an option on him, but Cliff Politte looks like he could use some time to get straightened out. He was wild tonight, and I can't remember the last time he had a good outing. If he's had one recently, I missed it.

This situation will get resolved when GM Ken Williams trades for another starter. There's no two ways about it: The Sox need another major-league-ready starter. The struggles of the fifth starters shouldn't obscure the success that the top four in the rotation have been having.

A couple of good stories 

There were two stories in the Sun-Times that I really enjoyed during the last week.

Carol Slezak had a nice Sunday feature about the adjustments that reliever Shingo Takatsu has had to make since coming to the White Sox from Japan.

GM Ken Williams was a member of the Detroit Tigers in 1990 when Randy Johnson pitched his first no-hitter. Williams recalls the hard sliders Johnson was still throwing in the eighth inning.

A note to readers 

The following two posts date from work I did last week. I updated in a few places, but I may have missed something that makes it look dated. Well, thanks to problems with my Internet connection, it is dated.

Let's say we didn't 

I think the Tribune's Phil Rogers has taken leave of his senses. He'd like to see the White Sox trade for Diamondbacks pitcher Randy Johnson and center fielder Steve Finley, with Carlos Lee, Neal Cotts and prospects goint to the D-backs. Then, because that deal would stretch the team's budget too much, the Sox would trade Magglio Ordonez, and possibly trade for a lower-priced corner outfielder -- Rogers mentions Juan Gonzalez.

Let me see how wrong this deal is. I agree that both of these guys fill needs. I really like the Sox pitching staff right now, but the rotation lacks a power pitcher. The Sox also could use a left-handed hitter with power, and Finley would fill that need while also providing good defense in center. (I hate the Peter Gammons/ESPN slang of trading for "a bat," by the way. What's wrong with hitter? Perfectly good word.) But if the net result is Finley and Johnson for Lee and Ordonez (I'm just netting out the big-league effects; they'd probably get a few prospects for Ordonez, to reload the system for future trades and to make up for last year's mid-season deals), then I think the Sox come up short on offense. Here's your lineup:

1. Harris/Uribe, 2B
2. Valentin, SS
3. Thomas, DH
4. Finley, CF
5. Konerko, 1B
6. Crede, 3B
7. & 8. Two of Gload, Perez and Rowand in the outfield corners
9. Olivo/Alomar Jr., C

I'm not too crazy about this lineup. I don't think it can score enough runs in the American League, not even if we assume that Paul Konerko's recent resurgence will last (remember how poorly he hit in September last year, after two en fuego months?) and that Crede will have another hot second half.

I'm also wary of making such huge changes in mid-season, especially at the cost of Ordonez. He's a rock for the Sox. No, he's THE rock of the Sox. I'm very worried about what would happen to this team without Ordonez, especially losing him mid-season. If he walks after the season, at least you have the time to regroup and you know what you're getting into.

I can see a deal for Finley -- say, Lee and a prospect -- and you stick him in center field and in the fifth slot, something like my proposed Lee-for-Ryan Klesko trade. The advantage with Finley is that he's a free agent at the end of the season, so that gives the Sox more payroll flexibility to re-sign Ordonez. Finley's replacement could come from the minor league system (Joe Borchard or Brian Anderson) or from the mid-level free agents that are becoming more and more common each winter. Look at the deal Carl Everett ended up with in Montreal -- two years, $7 million. Players won't accept deals like that from their current teams, because they want arbitration, where they'll make more money. As a result, a lot of these players get set free -- either non-tenders or free agents. The players in the latter group don't even cost a draft pick if they weren't offered arbitration.

A Lee-for-Finley also gets the Sox out from under Lee's contract. $16.5 million over the next two years isn't bad if you think he'll put up the numbers he did last year, but I'm betting that he won't.

This is all premature anyway 

I'm glad that GM Ken Williams is looking aggressively, because you never know what can happen, but more players will be available in a month, as more teams feel like they're out of contention. Still, let's take a look at what could be available from the also-ran teams, starting with the American League East.

Only the Toronto Blue Jays and Tampa Bay Devil Rays figure to possibly be dealing. From Toronto, the only position player who fits the profile -- power-hitting lefty -- is Carlos Delgado. Not only is he having an awful season (.230/.335/.394 would be a weak BA/OBP/SLG for a middle infielder) that may be linked to injury, but he's also making $19 million. And he only plays first base, and not particularly well. I suppose if the Jays were willing to take Carlos Lee and Paul Konerko and throw in a left-field replacement like Frank Catalanotto, the Sox would do it. I just think it's more likely that George W. Bush will become popular in Canada than the Jays will do that deal. The only power starting pitcher is Roy Halladay, and he won't be available. I won't even dream about him.

From the Devil Rays, Aubrey Huff is an interesting player having a bad season, but he does come relatively cheap, which is why the Rays won't be trading him. There isn't a power pitcher on the Rays worth mentioning, but I suppose Paul Abbott could be servicable at the end of the rotation.

Let's look at the AL West next (I'll take a look at the AL Central at the end). The Seattle Mariners are the team that's clearly not going to be in the race. They simply got too old all at once. There isn't a hitter that fits the lefty slugger criteria. If the Mariners were willing to do a Scott Speizio-for-Konerko deal, I'd do it just to free up salary for other moves, but that's nothing special and I doubt the M's would want to do it. As for pitchers, I've already expressed my interest in obtaining Freddy Garcia. I've seen some chatters on the message boards at White Sox Interactive saying that Garcia's numbers are a product of the pitcher-friendly Safeco Field, but his home-away splits for the last three seasons show that he's actually allowed more home runs at Safeco than on the road, in almost the same number of innings. True, his road ERA is 4.14 versus 3.76 at home, but that's not a huge difference. I thought maybe he was benefitting from the home official scorer, but his unearned runs are similar (nine on the road versus seven at home). Interestingly, he strikes out a lot more batters on the road -- 7.1K/9 innings versus 6.2K/9 innings. And he's a free agent at the end of the season, so he has flexibility going for him, which is nice.

If the Texas Rangers start to fall out of it, I don't see any position players who would likely work. David Dellucci could be nice in left field for the Sox as a lefty with some pop, but I can't imagine the Rangers trading a guy making $750,000 for Lee and his fat contract. Brad Fullmer is a lefty slugger they might want to part with, but he's a DH and not having a good season. There isn't a starting pitcher I'd want from that staff.

Oakland is an interesting case. There's talk that they might be willing to trade one of their three big starters because they don't believe they can keep them all as they become free agents over the next few years. The A's also believe they have a replacement in minor leaguer Joe Blanton. There's been talk of one of the Big Three for Ordonez. Two good reasons not to do this, even if the A's offer Tim Hudson, who's my favorite of the three. One, as I outlined above, I think taking Ordonez off this team mid-season would be a disaster. Two, I wouldn't want to make a potential playoff foe stronger by fixing his biggest problem. Let Oakland get their hitter from someone else.

The Angels are going to be in it all year, and there's nobody who would fit either the hitting or pitching bill for the Sox anyway.

In the National League East, it is clear that the Montreal Expos will be in-season sellers. The only hitter I'd want is Carl Everett, but only if they'll take Lee and only if Everett will play left, not center. Everett's got a nice contract (2 years, $7 million total) and he's a switch hitter with good lefty pop. I doubt the Expos would or could take Lee in return, moneywise. Because the White Sox did not offer Everett arbitration last winter, he cannot be traded to the Sox until June 15. As for pitchers, Livan Hernandez fits the bill as a power pitcher (7K/9 innings isn't Clemens territory, but it's good), and he has playoff experience. The Expos just signed him to a three-year, $21 million extension, however, and it doesn't appear they want to move him. Moreover, his arm has been extended with high pitch counts for much of his career. I'm not sure I want to invest that much money ($24 million, counting what's left on this year's salary) on a 29-year-old pitcher (if that's really his age) who's been used so heavily. Still, he's intriguing.

There aren't any players on the Braves that I'd want right now. I like Chipper Jones and, with his power from the left side, he fits the hitter criteria I'm looking for, but he's making $15.3 million and I believe his contract has several more years to run. Trading for Jones would be the end of Ordonez, and if you're going to spend that kind of money, Ordonez is a much better bet. Mike Hampton, while not really a power pitcher, could fit the bill as an experienced starter, except that his contract is a monster, even with the money the Marlins -- for whom Hampton never played -- are eating on it.

The pitcher Hampton replaced in the Braves rotation -- Mets lefty starter Tom Glavine -- is problematical for salary reasons and he's not the power pitcher that I'm looking for. He's the only one even close on the Mets.

The Marlins and Phillies figure to be in it all season. The only possibility I see is if the Marlins try to unload Carl Pavano because of his pending free agency. It's a stretch. The Marlins wouldn't be likely to take a salary in return any larger than Pavano's $3.8 million and it would have to be someone with an expiring contract, like Jose Valentin. I don't want to trade Valentin -- he's still a masher against right-handers, and we can afford to sit him against a lot of lefties with the emergence of Juan Uribe.

In the National League Central, there's been a lot of talk that Kris Benson of the Pittsburgh Pirates could be available, also because of his impending free agency. With Benson's injury history and $6.15 million contract, he's a big risk. His numbers right now are nothing special. If he remains healthy and improves over the next month, he might be a guy a team could get for two mediocre prospects so long as the receiving team is willing to pay the $3 million or so left on his salary. Or, the Pirates might demand better prospects in return for paying most of Benson's salary. He's far from a top option, but it's a possibility. A Kip Wells return would be nice, now that he's figured out how to pitch, but he won't be available. As for position players, there isn't the right fit between the Pirates and the Sox.

Let's take a look at the Milwaukee Brewers. Would they take Lee for Geoff Jenkins? I doubt they would want to move him because of the contract extension they signed Jenkins to in March. It's a guaranteed for three years (starting in 2005) and a total of $23 million (including $500,000 option year buyout). Nice player, but no thanks. Unless Ben Sheets comes on the market -- and the Brewers insist that he won't -- there aren't any pitchers to be had there either.

We can look at the Cincinnati Reds next. I'd love Adam Dunn, but he's not being traded. They'd love to unload Ken Griffey Jr. and his long-term contract, but I've covered my opposition to that idea before. Starting pitchers Paul Wilson and Cory Lidle are possibilities if the Reds cool off. With Wilson's hot start, the Reds will probably want a ransom for him if they move him. Wilson is a lot like Jon Garland, in that they both rely on sinking fastballs, but Wilson is allowing a .270 BA, while Garland is at .262, and that's with facing designated hitters, not pitchers. Wilson is a free agent at the end of the year, so he scores for flexibility. He'd be an OK upgrade that would ensure that the Sox have five decent starters, but he's not the go-for-the-jugular trade that I'm looking for. Lidle would be much the same, at slightly less cost, but with an AL track record of decent success (.268 BA against, 5.5K/9 innings, 4.47 ERA). I don't think either of these guys would cost the Sox a ton in terms of prospects.

I think it's safe to assume that the Astros, Cubs and Cardinals won't be bailing water.

Moving to the NL West, I'll start with the Diamondbacks. I've already covered Steve Finley and Randy Johnson above. What about Luis Gonzalez? There's no indication they'd trade the man who got the game-winning hit in Game 7 of the 2001 World Series. Besides that, he has a problem with his throwing elbow and he's due $21.5 million over the next two seasons, when he will be 38 and 39 years old. Still, he could play left field if the Sox could move Lee, either for him or elsewhere, presuming that that elbow holds up. The elbow problem makes him something of a defensive liabilty, which isn't good with a pitching staff that allows a lot of balls in play, but it isn't fatal, either. He's still hitting for power, with a .262/.374/.582 BA/OBP/SLG line. I wonder what kind of prospect package they'd want, but I'd prefer Finley, because he allows more financial flexibility.

There's been talk of Jeromy Burnitz from the Colorado Rockies as a lefty slugger. His numbers are seriously inflated by Coors Field, but with the kind of hitters park the Cell is, you'd have to expect that he'd keep some of that home-field advantage here. Interestingly, what seems to be helping him at home is more hits dropping in because of the huge outfield at Coors, not more power related to the elevation. His isolated power and on-base numbers (that is, when you isolate the effects of batting average by subtracting BA from OBP and SLG) aren't as far apart home vs. road as I expected. For isolated power, it's .408 at home and .306 on the road. For isolated on-base, it's .069 at home and .090 on the road. And he's hitting lefties about as equally well as righties. At $1.25 million salary this year, Burntiz might be interesting. He's playing center field in the cow pasture that is the Coors outfield. Could he handle it at the Cell? Could Ozzie Guillen put up with Burnitz's striking out one in every four at-bats? This option was denigrated on the fan boards at White Sox Interactive, but this could work and leave the Sox with more salary flexibility to add a pitcher. That pitcher will not be coming from the Rockies, however.

The San Francisco Giants seem close to an everything-must-go mode, but there's not much here for the Sox. Jason Schmidt is the type of ace that I'd love to see, but he's expensive, signed through 2006 (I think; I had trouble finding any information on his contract other than this year's figure of $7.9 million) and has had some elbow and rotator cuff trouble. Oh, and Felipe Alou let him throw 144 pitches in his one-hit shutout of the Cubs last week. Yes, I know the Giants have a slugging lefty left fielder, but I don't see that happening for a slew of reasons.

It's hard to see any of these three NL West teams making a run at the San Diego Padres and Los Angeles Dodgers, but it's a little easier to imagine the two SoCal teams falling back even closer to the pack. It could be that this race is too tight most of the year for these teams to unload. Of course, I already covered the Padres and Ryan Klesko a few days ago.

Now, for the AL Central. I don't see any major help here. For obvious reasons, the Twins aren't going to make a deal with the Sox. The Indians don't have much in the way of what the Sox are looking for, because the Indians are so young and they aren't going to be trading anyway. If the Sox needed a top of the order player, I suppose the troublesome Matt Lawton could be available, but I don't think he'd fit the ethos Ozzie Guillen is trying to establish. I suppose Carlos Beltran is an outside possibility. He fills the lefty slugger and center field problems. Beltran also might find that he likes it here in Chicago, so he could be an option to sign after the season, which would ensure the loss of Ordonez but would also cushion the blow. I'm not sure he's worth the money that he's expected to command, however, especially since Scott Boras is his agent. Nah, this isn't going to happen. There isn't any immediate pitching help in Kansas City either.

In Detroit, the only possibility I see is Dmitri Young, a lefty masher who could play left field. He's got two years (plus two club option years) left on a four-year, $28.5 million contract ($44 million over six years if the options are exercised). Young-for-Lee isn't bad for the money side. Young is still out with a broken bone in his right leg, so he should be watched closely when he finally returns. The only problem with this possibility is that I can't see why the Tigers would do it. Young was excited to go to Detroit when the Reds traded him there two years ago, and he remains a favorite of the front office. The only possible reason to do this from Detroit's standpoint is that Lee is three years younger than Young, but the Tigers are hardly an aging team.

I'm also not crazy about making a significant trade within the division. If the player or players the Sox give up takes off with an in-division opponent, he or they will be beating our brains in for years.

(Music to write by: The White Stripes, "De Stijl," Led Zeppelin, "Led Zeppelin I," and Pearl Jam, "No Code.")

Monday, May 24, 2004

A note to readers 

I am sorry that I have not posted anything since May 18. I was getting some posts ready for Saturday, but I keep losing my internet connection. I'm still trying to sleuth out why. I hope to be back soon. Thanks for your patience.

Tuesday, May 18, 2004

Excellent pitching, just enough hitting 

Jon Garland had another strong outing tonight, as the White Sox beat the Tribe 4-2 in Cleveland. Entering today's game, Garland had been a different pitcher once he hit the 75th pitch in a start. The story, by Bob Foltman of the Tribune, says that all six of the home runs that Garland has allowed came after the 75th pitch. Garland is allowing a batting average of .245 up to 75 pitches and .327 average after the 75th pitch. It's interesting to read that. I'm glad, for a change, that Guillen isn't going to be swayed by those numbers. One, it's still a fairly small sample size. Two, Garland's never going to get better at throwing beyond 75 pitches if he's not allowed to try it. Garland can be at least a top No. 2 starter, but not if Guillen were to show no trust in him the way former manager Jerry Manuel did.

I know the offense wasn't anything special tonight, but I did like the way they put together a sustained rally to score all four of their runs in the fourth inning without the benefit of a home run. The Sox capitalized on their opportunity with huge run-scoring hits that inning by Paul Konerko (2 RBI) and Miguel Olivo and Willie Harris (1 RBI each).

What I didn't like was the way that Olivo continues to struggle with his throws around the infield. He's double-clutching his throws a lot the way he did on a double steal in the sixth inning. He would have cut down Matt Lawton at third with a clean throw. I'm also worried about Damaso Marte. He doesn't seem to be hurt, as his velocity and movement are good. His location is terrible. He's either walking batters the way he did against the Twins Friday night or he's wild in the strike zone, leaving the ball where it can be mashed. He pulled it together to finish the eighth, but I'll be relieved when he has a few good outings in a row.

Billy Koch is so unpredictable, pleasantly so tonight. He struck out the side without allowing a base runner. I like the way he is throwing. OK, 95 mph isn't 99 mph, but it's still pretty good. He seems to have added a two-seam or cut fastball that is a little slower but with better movement, and his curve ball is very good. He has learned to pitch now instead of just throw. I know his detractors will never grant him the slightest compliment, but here is a pitcher who overcame injury and losing his closer's role last year, his first year with a new team that had high expectations, and has completely remade himself into a real pitcher, all the while keeping his good humor and supporting his teammates. I don't necessarily want to see him back next year -- it depends on the price and his performance the rest of the year -- but you have to tip your cap to him.

Start the trade rumors 

Peter Gammons spotlighted the aggressive trading of GM Ken Williams as part of a column today. After mentioning the Roberto Alomar and Carl Everett deals from last year, Gammons wrote, "already [Williams] is trying to get another starting pitcher and see if he can work a deal where he trades a right-handed bat for a left-handed hitter." Interestingly, later in the same column, Gammons mentions that the Padres may be looking to unload Ryan Klesko because of his struggles in the ultra pitcher-friendly Petco Park.

Hmmm. Carlos Lee for Klesko? The money is about as even as it gets. Both players are making $6.5 million this year. Klesko is due $16.5 million over the next two seasons. Lee is due $8 million next year and there is a club option for $8.5 million the following year -- also $16.5 million. For the Sox, they get a slugger who hits from the left side instead of the right side. Klesko was in several pennant races, playoff series and World Series with the Braves. The Sox can plop him down in left field and the five hole in the lineup; after next season, when Paul Konerko's contract is up, Klesko could move to first base. His production was down last year, and his numbers aren't spectacular thus far. Interestingly, most of his at-bats have come in pitchers' parks (scroll down a bit for the park splits on his stats). Klesko would be a risk, but, on my first look at it, I think he's worth that risk.

For the Padres, they get a younger player whose production is similar, and they trade Klesko before he becomes a 5-and-10 player (i.e. five years with the same club and 10 years in the big leagues) who has an automatic trade veto. Let's take a look at their numbers over the last three years:

PlayerABRH2B3BHRRBIWHBPKAVGOBPSLGOPS
Klesko1,4752424169178027522910258.282.377.516.893
Lee1,6732574619468127715012249.276.337.484.821

Source: ESPN.com

One concern is that his 2003 season was cut short because of a right shoulder injury that required surgery in the offseason. The worry, of course, is that at his age (he'll be 33 next month, just a couple of weeks before yours truly hits the same age *groan*), the decline has already started. I don't know enough about Klesko to know whether he's susceptible to a rapid decline. At the very least, the Sox should have their scouts watching him.

Meanwhile, Jose Valentin says he hopes Williams will let the team jell before shaking up the roster. Fair enough, but a deal for a pitcher is probably even more urgent than the need for a left-handed slugger. I'd love to see Felix Diaz come through, but I'm dubious to say the least. I think we should see what kind of prospect package the Seattle Mariners want for Freddy Garcia.

That would mean Garcia has come full circle in his career. Garcia himself was an Astros prospect that the Mariners picked up when they traded Mr. Perfect Game, Randy Johnson, in 1998. Not to take anything away from Johnson, but take a look at the Braves lineup he mowed down. Yeah, they're probably better than the 1965 Cubs lineup (not much besides Ron Santo, Ernie Banks and Billy Williams) that Koufax blanked in his pefect game, but still -- a 45-year-old Julio Franco (well, ask Kyle Farnsworth what a tough out he still is), journeymen like Mark DeRosa and light-hitting Jesse Garcia, J.D. Drew and Chipper Jones just coming off injuries and Nick Green, a 25-year-old who made his major league debut on Sunday.

Another rough night Monday 

Felix Diaz wasn't much better than Dan Wright on Monday in his second major league start. Diaz is not missing a lot of bats at this point. He allowed six runs and eight hits in 4-2/3 innings. His next start is scheduled for Saturday in Minnesota, but Guillen acknowledged that that may change. I think it's worth it to give him another start. I prefer to leave Neal Cotts in the bullpen for the time being, possibly even for the entire year. I think Cotts will be a starter come next year. There have been mitigating circumstances in both of Diaz's starts. He had to wait for the opening game of a doubleheader before making his major league debut on Thursday, then came back and pitched on three days' rest for his second start, after waiting through a rain delay of more than 90 minutes.

The defense around Diaz was ugly, as the Sox committed four errors. Two of them were by Miguel Olivo, a throwing error in the first and a catcher's interference. Magglio Ordonez flat out dropped a flyball. Jose Valentin couldn't handle a good throw from Ordonez to tag out a runner at second.

Interesting to note 

Aaron Rowand was back in center field with Indians lefty Cliff Lee starting Monday's game. Rowand, who said speculation about his job status used to bother him, had a hit and scored a run Monday. Rowand thinks he's ready to start hitting, but I think it might be too late for that. He's still going to get his opportunities, but I'm not sure manager Ozzie Guillen can justify not playing Willie Harris full-time in center, except against some lefties, as long as he and Juan Uribe continue to hit. I hope he gets to bat against lefties from time to time, however, because you can also make the case that Jose Valentin should sit against lefties (with Uribe sliding over to shortstop, of course).

Jon Adkins is sometimes mentioned as a possible candiate for the fifth starter's position, but his goal is to be the closer someday. I'm not sure if he has the closer make-up. He doesn't have traditional closer stuff. He could be another "Average" Joe Borowski in the making. Let's keep Adkins in middle relief.

Monday, May 17, 2004

Like a yo-yo 

The White Sox are playing one stinker of a game right now, but they looked excellent on Sunday, as good as the weather. I attended the game with three friends. I was heartened to see lines at the ticket windows outside Gate 3 about 15 minutes before game time. We got four seats in Section 105 and had ourselves a heck of a time. I read later that we were among about 7,000 walk-ups for the game. When I have more time, I'm going to take a look at the weather the Sox have had for their home games this year. My perception is that it has rained a lot, but I'm not sure if that's actually true.

I was especially glad to see Willie Harris in center field, allowing Harris, Juan Uribe and Jose Valentin to all play at the same time. The lineup on Sunday proved that manager Ozzie Guillen wasn't blowing smoke when he vowed to make changes after Saturday's disappointing offensive display. I think they're a different team with Harris and Uribe at the top of the lineup.

The hit-and-miss offense wasted some fine starting pitching on the recently completed homestand. Scott Schoeneweis, Jon Garland and Esteban Loiaza all pitched very well in their most recent outings, and they're 0-2 with a no decision to show for it. Mark Buehrle, on the other hand, was the beneficiary of 26 runs scored in his last two outings.

This may be the best way to summarize the team's poor play in tonight's 7-2 loss at Cleveland: It took until Ross Gload's home run pinch hitting in the eighth inning for the Sox to have more hits than errors.

Interesting to note 

Sandy Alomar Jr. suggested that Sox hitters seem to concentrate better against tougher pitchers who have been otherwise successful rather than pitchers who are struggling. Carlos Silva was 5-0 with a 3.11 ERA entering his start Sunday, so it's no surprise the Sox hit him hard Sunday.

My friends and I didn't notice that Frank Thomas was ejected during the fifth inning, but I don't think we were alone in that regard. When Guillen sent up Timo Perez to bat for Thomas in the eighth inning, we speculated that Guillen was helping Thomas to avoid the Golden Sombrero. Thomas already had the hat trick of striking out three times in the game. I'm not that concerned that the ejection will have any effect on the team. I think Thomas's teammates know that he has been struggling, and they understand his frustration. The suggestion was that Thomas was out of sync with his teammates, complaining while the team was going well.

Mark Buehrle said, from his perspective, that it looked like Sox hitters were doing a better job of going the other way on pitches away, instead of trying to pull the outside pitch, during the two offensive explosions in his last two starts.

Guillen and some of his other coaches met with GM Ken Williams to talk about what to do with the team slumping again in May. They hatched the plan to try Harris in center, where he started 23 times last year.

A note to readers 

The three posts below this one were written Saturday morning. I experienced some web-access problems that kept me from posting them. I'll have some fresher items later tonight. Thanks for checking in.

Bunts don't lead to fall bunting 

Friday's game was incredibly frustrating. Regular readers of this site know that I'm a big booster of White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen. That hasn't changed, but two decisions that he made in the 3-2 loss to the Twins bothered me. In the first inning, after Willie Harris reached on an error, Guillen ordered Jose Valentin to lay down a sacrifice bunt. Valentin did so successfully. The Sox eventually loaded the bases with two outs (Twins starter Kyle Lohse walked Frank Thomas and hit Carlos Lee), but Paul Konerko was retired to end the inning. I think bunting needs to be rare anyway, but it should never be used with a position player in the first inning. Never. Maybe if the pitcher bats in the first inning (in which case, things are going well for your team already), you can bunt. Valentin has a lot of power. Guillen shouldn't take the bat out of his hands in the first inning.

Then, in the ninth inning, when Aaron Rowand reached thanks to an error (and to his hustling down the line on a slow dribbler), Guillen had Sandy Alomar Jr. bunt. I'm not a huge fan of Alomar's offensive game any more (he refuses to walk, even though he's nowhere near the hitter he was in the late 1990s), so I don't mind seeing him bunt at times. For instance, in a no-out, first-and-second situation, I don't mind seeing Alomar bunt to avoid the double play. It's not the sabermetric ideal, but OK. But I don't understand why Alomar was even batting in that situation in the ninth inning. Juan Uribe was available to hit. I suppose Guillen could have been saving Uribe to bat for Valentin if the Twins brought in a lefty. Even so, Miguel Olivo would have been available for that scenario, and he could have then replaced Alomar behind the plate if the Sox tied it anyway. Why give away an out in that situation with a weak hitter like Alomar? Why not send up a fine hitter in Uribe? He's a good contact hitter, so Guillen could have tried a hit-and-run, if he was itching to manufacture a run. I don't get it. It was crushing to see the game end on a strike-three-looking-and-caught-stealing double play.

I do think that it's interesting how well Guillen has handled his pitchers, the thing that most observers thought would be the most difficult for him. He took Scott Schoeneweis out at the right point, before he could ruin a great evening of work. Cliff Politte was used in the right role -- the seventh. He could have stayed in, I suppose, for the eighth, but I can't argue with bringing in Damaso Marte to pitch to the left-handed hitters the Twins had due in the eighth. Marte blew it with his wildness. I also have to give the Twins' Lew Ford some credit for being able to even get the bat on the ball against Shingo Takatsu in that situation, driving in the winning run with an infield single. Despite allowing that inherited runner to score, Takatsu had another nice outing.

Statistic to keep in mind 

The Tribune's Phil Rogers says there's no point in playing smallball at the Cell. There have been more home runs per game at the Cell than any other park in the big leagues this year, Rogers reports. More troubling, Rogers writes that the Sox have a huge split between home win percentage and road win percentage over the last three seasons. He calls the Sox the "American League's version of the Colorado Rockies," and he notes that that is not a compliment. Agreed. They have to find a way to play around .500 on the road.

Interesting to note 

One reason that left-handed starter Arnie Munoz is tearing it up at Class AA Birmingham is that he's already pitched a season at Class AAA Charlotte. Munoz was a reliever until this season, when he went back to AA ball to work as a starter. I'll be very interested in how he does when he's promoted to Charlotte. That will be the true test. He had a 4.75 ERA as a reliever with Charlotte last year.

Rookie Felix Diaz will make his second start on three days' rest Monday in Cleveland. Wednesday's rainout required one of the starters in the Thursday doubleheader -- either Diaz or Jon Garland -- to pitch on three days' rest. Diaz threw just 67 pitches. Garland threw 123. This was a no-brainer. Pitching coach Don Cooper liked the way Diaz threw strikes (42 out of 67 pitches). Diaz just has to locate better in the strike zone, Cooper said.

Twins manager Ron Gardenhire complimented Ozzie Guillen yesterday, saying he makes the game fun: ''We see Ozzie laughing,'' he said. ''That's different.'' Another Jerry Manuel put down. Oh, and then there's the remodeling of the manager's office that Guillen insisted on, restoring a door that leads from the office to the clubhouse. The story doesn't say if Manuel asked for the door to be bricked over, but it did occur during his tenure.

(Music to write by: Radiohead, "Amnesiac," The Beatles, "Revolver," and Eric Clapton & B.B. King, "Riding with the King.")

Friday, May 14, 2004

Listen to the "Paul-ie, Paul-ie" 

There probably won't be a better day this year for Paul Konerko to knock in five runs. Rick Morrissey in the Tribune thinks we Sox fans don't appreciate Konerko enough. Morrissey is paying too much attention to chat boards and talk radio and not enough to fans at the park. Sure, Konerko might hear some boos when he hits into another double play that almost anybody else on the team would beat out (except Joe Crede; he, too, is lugging that piano around). But those boos aren't long or loud. Sox fans stick with Konerko because we know how hard he plays.

Morrissey also tries to clear up the perception that Konerko was upset with manager Ozzie Guillen for sitting him down Wednesday, which turned out to be the first game on Thursday. Guillen ended up plugging Ross Gload into right field and letting Konerko play both games of the doubleheader. Good thing Konerko played in the second game.

Konerko said he loves the way Guillen is running the team. I believe that for two reasons. One is that I thought the lead on Doug Padilla's story in the Sun-Times overstated the case. I read Crede's and Konerko's comments, and they didn't seem to have a problem. The story did say that they didn't want to complain. Maybe the lead was rewritten by a copy editor who barely read the story. Wouldn't be the first time. I thought Guillen might have gotten a little hotter than need be with the reporters who asked the players why they weren't playing, but as long as he's not spitting out his toothpick at them twice a week, metaphorically speaking, I don't have a problem with the occasional show of emotion to the reporters. Two is that Konerko has been talking about how great things are with Guillen since the first days in Tucson.

It's nice to see Gload get a little publicity, too. I thought the two-run single he had in the first inning on Tuesday was key. The Sox have been misfiring in situations where they could put multiple runs on the board too often the last two weeks.

By the way... 

Who told you the Sox would call up Felix Diaz and start him against the Orioles? I take no responsibility for his performance, however.

The worm is turning 

Jay Mariotti is standing up and edging his way toward the back of the Cubs World Series bandwagon. He's getting a little nervous about the injuries. The Daily Herald's Barry Rozner thinks everyone should be nervous about Kerry Wood's elbow precisely because the Cubs are saying everything is copacetic.

All it will take is a sweep in San Diego, and Mariotti will be looking for a soft place to land. His first target, of course, will be the guy whose butt he's been kissing since November, Jim Hendry. Hendry never deserved to be billed as the greatest general manager in history -- maybe someday, but he hasn't been on the job nearly long enough to talk like that -- and he won't deserve to be pilloried, as Mariotti surely will when the first rough patch hits. Next up: A demand to trade for Carlos Beltran. "If the Cubs want to be the Yankees of the National League, then this is a deal they must make, no matter what the long-term cost," he'll thunder. "When fans have been waiting 96 years...."

I will say this: Mariotti was shrewd enough to pick the Cubs as the wild card winner, not the NL Central champ. He knows that if they exceed his prediction, he can slip a mea culpa in a column while all the Cubs fans are completely delirious about winning their division in back-to-back years. No one will remember his wild card call if they beat his prediction.

Mariotti also said this week that the Sox need a power pitcher to head their rotation, something they lack "in contrast to the North Side ballclub." You mean the power pitchers who get hurt all the time? When he goes through the list of pitchers who might be available, however, he mentions only two who could be considered power pitchers, Randy Johnson and Freddy Garcia. He mentions a couple of soft-tossers in Kirk Rueter and Jamie Moyer. Yeah, the Sox need another finesse lefty. He also mentions Al Leiter, who's not the power pitcher he once was, and Kris Benson, a fragile pitcher with pretty good stuff. I like the idea of Garcia. I've thought that the Mariners might be interested in a young, slugging outfielder from us. With Garcia being a free agent at the end of the season, maybe they'd even take a chance on Joe Borchard.

Much more curious was Mariotti's column asking everyone to just lay off Ol' Unsanitary Hose himself, Moises Alou. A guy who never fails to make the low-blow joke wants us all to stop kidding poor Alou. Just imagine for a moment. Suppose in 2000, Gary Miller had reported on ESPN.com that Frank Thomas urinated on his hands to toughen them for batting. Are you going to tell me that Mariotti still wouldn't be bringing that up? He'd be calling him the Big Squirt.

Chipped 

Ed Sherman in the Tribune writes about the unsettled future of Cubs TV play-by-play man Chip Caray. Sherman points out that it's not unusual for his corporate cousins to let their on-air talent finish their contracts before negotiating new deals. Caray, in that fake announcer voice of his, I'm sure, said that he'd love to keep working for the Cubs. Sherman also said that Caray and Steve Stone have a good rapport. This is true. They're both huge geeks. They make the dumbest jokes (remember, I don't listen to Ken Harrleson anymore). Difference is, Stone knows the game inside out, and he does an excellent job of anticipating the action. I bet they'll keep Chip. He's just the kind of sycophant they're looking for on the North Side. Harrelson, I guess, must be the kind of sycophant they're looking for on the South Side.

(Music to write by: P.J. Harvey, "Stories from the City, Stories from the Sea" and "To Bring You My Love.")

Monday, May 10, 2004

Squeezing the bats 

Despite the trouble the White Sox had scoring runs on their six-game road trip, the hitters seem confident they'll turn it around. Sunday's 5-2 loss to Toronto was against a fifth starter, Justin Miller, who won his first major league game. White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen wasn't pleased with the seven strikeouts his hitters had against Miller, noting that he's not a strikeout pitcher. Paul Konerko, who struck out twice against Miller, said he had a great slider on Sunday. Konerko also said he doesn't think the cold hitting stretch is as bad as last year's:
''I don't think anybody is questioning their swings or approaches,'' he said. ''That's different. When hitters or pitchers start questioning what they're doing, as opposed to being upset at the results, that's different. I don't think anybody thinks there is something wrong with the core of what we're doing.

''I think we're just [ticked] off that we're losing and things aren't going our way.''
Konerko said eventually, the pitchers will make some mistakes, and Sox hitters will make them pay, as John Rooney and Ed Farmer like to say. Problem is, Orioles pitchers made a lot of mistakes and walked a ton of batters in their series in Baltimore last week, and the Sox didn't light up the scoreboard, relative to their opportunities. Orioles pitchers walked 19 Sox batters in that series. The Sox stranded 29 runners over three games. They still won two of three. Esteban Loiaza had his second complete game of the season Sunday, but he wasn't particularly sharp, allowing five runs over eight innings.

Who's the Chicago-bound Knight? 

The order of the rotation for the Class AAA Charlotte Knights will play a role in determining which inexperienced pitcher is called up to fill the fifth starter's slot, manager Ozzie Guillen said.

I also read in the Southtown that one of the leading candidates, Felix Diaz, was schedueld to start Charlotte's game Monday. But he came on in relief of another candidate, Jason Grilli, in Sunday's game and did not make Monday's start. This has me thinking more and more that the club has wised up, along the lines of an interesting suggestion I saw on one of the message boards on White Sox Interactive: Instead of having the call-up pitch Saturday against the Twins, have him pitch one of the games against the Orioles. That would allow three of the top four starters to face the division-rival Twins. In Grilli's start Sunday, he got the win, allowing two runs over five innings on just a single hit but eight walks.

Diaz's relief stint was short: two-thirds of an inning, two hits allowed and no runs. That could be the tip off right there that they're planning to bring up Diaz. They may have wanted him to get some work in without starting a game and leaving him out of action for a longer period of time. It also could mean he's starting one of the games against the Orioles. Sunday's relief outing could very easily have served as a side throwing session to get him ready for a Wednesday start, for instance. His last start was on May 6, and it was very good -- 7.1 innings, one run allowed.

There's some long-shot candidates, too. Jon Rauch pitched today instead of Diaz. He was leading but was too wild to go the required five innings for the win. Dan Wright got shellacked in his start on May 6 -- nine earned runs in two innings. Soft-tossing lefty Josh Stewart, who had a handful of starts for the Sox last year, is also a possibility. He last started a game May 7, getting a win and holding Indianapolis (Milwaukee's Class AAA team) to two runs over seven innings.

Interesting to note 

Kelly Wunsch is one pitcher who won't be coming up from Charlotte any time soon. Wunsch completed his 30-day rehabilitation stint, but the Sox have options on him, so they took him off the disabled list and officially optioned him to Charlotte. At this point, he's insurance or trade bait, unless the Sox decide to move Neal Cotts to the rotation later this year.

Now it's Esteban Loiaza who's on velocity watch. He said he's down 4-5 mph on his fastball. Loiaza said he's not injured but needs to build up strength in his arm. He's really just had the one outstanding outing this year, his complete game at the Devil Rays. He wasn't stretched in that game -- he threw 110 pitches (or so), had a five-run lead much of the game and was rarely threatened, really. Loiaza said he needs to throw more over the top, which is exactly what he said before the brilliant start in St. Petersberg. His next start is against the Twins. That would be an excellent time for Loiaza to refind that brilliance.

This seems sensible 

White Sox pitching coach Don Cooper will be giving his pitchers a 30-game report before the Sox play the Orioles Tuesday. Cooper said he likes a lot of what he's seen so far, but there are areas he'd like improvement. One in particular is hits allowed on 0-2 and 1-2 counts. I assume he has hard numbers that show that Sox pitchers allow a higher batting average in those counts than the league average, or compared with a higher benchmark that they're shooting for. I know my sense is that they give up a ton of hits on 0-2 and 1-2 counts. That may just be because hits on those counts tick me off, so I remember them more. Cooper also said that, in particular, he wants to see Jon Garland pitch better with the lead, noting that he's lost four leads this season, including three leads after the fifth inning.

This is an overreaction 

Ron Rapoport in the Sun-Times is calling for some serious measures in response to last week's shooting death near Wrigley Field. Enforcing the occupancy limits of the bars and restaurants near the park is a good idea. Along with a greater police presence, Rapoport agrees with a former Sluggers bartender who suggests a game-day court like the one that is set up in Philadelphia during Eagles games; I'm cool with that, too. Closing the streets closest to the park on game days is a bad idea. What's needed is better control of the flow of pedestrians. More could be done to encourage drivers to park farther away from the park. How about parking at Truman College and taking the Red Line from Wilson south to Addison? I know that wouldn't work a lot of times, but that lot could be available for some games. (Maybe it is and I'm just not aware.) I don't like the idea of shutting down traffic in the area because it begs the question: How long before and after games does that go on? If it's the two hours after the game ends that would have been necessary to avert last Thursday's shooting, that's a heck of a cost to people living in the neighborhood for preventing something that perhaps could have been prevented in other ways.

Rapoport's worst suggestion amounts to a governmental taking of private property. He said he's all for the suggestion, made by the former bartender, of closing all the bars in the area at midnight. A lot of money has been invested in that neighborhood to open new, bigger bars. The city has granted the building permits and the liquor licenses (and collected the fees for same). Now the city is going to come in and suggest that these bars have to sharply curtail their business because of this incident? If the city tried to do that to my business, my first call would be to my lawyer.

I do think you can make a good case that the bars and, to a lesser extent, the restaurants should kick in to a fund to pay for things that will alleviate problems, such as more police, perhaps the wider sidewalks on Clark that I mentioned Sunday, more portable toilets and the like.

(Music to write by: Blur, "Think Tank," and Stevie Ray Vaughn and Double Trouble, "The Sky Is Crying.")

Sunday, May 09, 2004

These troubles are offensive 

The White Sox couldn't capitalize on a strong outing by Scott Schoeneweis yesterday, losing 4-2 to Toronto. Right now, only Juan Uribe, Willie Harris and Miguel Olivo are really hitting. Magglio Ordonez is OK. The other big guns -- Frank Thomas, Paul Konerko and Carlos Lee -- aren't hitting much at all. White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen is rightly resisting suggestions that Thomas needs to change his approach now that he hits cleanup. Guillen said Thomas struggles when he tries to be more aggressive. Once the hitters behind Thomas, Lee and Konerko, start hitting, no one will be asking this stupid question. Lee's struggles with runners in scoring position have been particularly acute. Last season, Lee hit .346 with runners in scoring position, but he's hitting just .120 in those situations this year. That statistic from last year would have been a good reason not to give Lee a big contract. Few players are likely to repeat a performance like that. It obviously inflated his value. The good news, I guess, is that he's bound to improve. He may not be as good as his contract suggests, but I do think Lee is a quality hitter. If he stays healthy, his numbers will improve. Lee said his swing is good, the hits just aren't falling in for him. He did hit the ball hard for outs twice yesterday. Neal Cotts said the pitch that Josh Phelps hit out of the park for the winning runs was a cut fastball that was supposed to be inside. Instead, it seemed to start away and cut over the heart of the plate.

Interesting to note 

Scott Schoeneweis credits the season and a half that he spent in the bullpen for making him a more complete pitcher. Five of his six starts this season have been quality starts (six or more innings, three or fewer earned runs allowed). I was at the only one that wasn't, that rough outing against the Indians. The bats took him off the hook that day with a stunning 5-run rally in the bottom of the ninth.

Esteban Loiaza said Toronto pitching coach Gil Patterson taught him the cut fastball that has revitalized his career. Patterson taught him the pitch late in the 2002 season, just before the Jays let Loiaza walk. The Jays must be saying to themselves, Who knew?

Sox fans would do themselves a favor if they stop whining about Billy Koch, for now at least. His performances lately have been heart-stopping, I agree, but his arm seems sound, unlike last year. His location is the problem. I think he'll come around.

This Bob Verdi column about the Sox and the Cell is about a week late. I guess that's what happens when you have a weekly column (his full-time job is as a writer for a golf magazine, if I remember correctly). But I'll take good words about the Sox and the park wherever I can get them, even from a columnist I have never liked.

More reaction to the Wrigleyville shooting 

Jay Mariotti writes that he knew it was coming. He overplays it, of course, as he always does, but he is right to call for more safety measures in the neighborhood. He's also a little sensitive:
Sox fans, I know what you're thinking: "See, we're not the only ones with ballpark issues.'' I never said you were.
No, he hasn't explicitly say that. But he's implied it in column after column.

Mariotti's coworker, Carol Slezak, has more credibility than anybody on this situation. She lives in the neighborhood, and she predicted this after the first weekend with home Cubs games. And she actually went out and interviewed people, coming up with this gem from a loser Cub fan:
''That was just road rage,'' Rickey Waller said. ''[The victim] was a Sox fan. He probably was talking s--t about the Cubs.''
A very solid column.

Rick Morrissey writes that those who are making a big deal about the connection to the Cubs and the huge crowds they are drawing are confusing proximity with causation. Morrissey believes that Wrigleyville was never the idyllic place people made it out to be. It's a city neighborhood and, like most of them, it has its share of incidents, no more or less than other so-called safe neighborhoods. Morrissey quotes Chicago police spokesman David Bayless (any relation to the always annoying Skip?) to "show" that the crowds are actually a little bit better behaved because only true fans were able to get tickets this year. Bayless said that's what the cops on the beat are saying. Unlike Slezak, Morrissey didn't get off his butt and interview people who work in the neighborhood.

I think he's just plain wrong. The problem, as I see it, is too many people in too little space. That's why they're spilling out into the street, and that's why you have the potential for pedestrian-driver altercations. I never considered the possibility that there would be a shooting. I'm not that smart. But I did wonder, as I stood on the west side of Clark Street that night during the playoffs, how long it was going to take for a pedestrian to be hit and killed by a car. People were tip-toeing through the parked cars and streaming into Clark Street.

Neither the Cubs, the city nor the Wrigleyville bars are to blame for the deadly conclusion to what began Thursday as a traffic incident, but they should all be interested in finding a way to keep those traffic incidents to a minimum. Perhaps the city needs to widen the Clark Street sidewalks close to Addison, taking up parking spaces if need be, and then install barriers to keep people from crossing in the middle of the street.

Steve Strauss, the owner of Sluggers, said yesterday that the area around the park is like Bourbon Street on game days. Strauss called for a greater police presence, as did Charlotte Newfeld, the chairmwoman of Citizens United for Baseball in Sunshine. This Tribune story included comments from Mayor Daley saying that there are plenty of police there and nothing needs to be done. The three reporters who worked on this story did not give any indication that they asked their corporate cousins at Clark and Addison for any comment.

The suspect in the shooting was charged with first-degree murder. A judge ordered him held without bond. The defense team contends that their client acted in defense of his friend, the driver of the SUV, who was being beaten by the friends and brother of the victim.

You think the Sox go unnoticed? 

Toronto is much more crazy about its Maple Leafs than its Blue Jays (or Raptors, for that matter). Former Jays and current Sox pitchers Cliff Politte and Esteban Loiaza talked to the Tribune's Bob Foltman about playing in Toronto. Loiaza lived at the hotel attached to Skydome and somedays didn't go outside at all.

Not closing bars anymore 

Teddy Greenstein has a long feature about Kyle Farnsworth. I'm sure it will set off the sensitive Cubs clubhouse again. There's the recalling of Farnsworth's glory days in the local bar scene. There's some comments from 2000 about Farnsworth from former Cubs manager Don Baylor (these remarks show why Baylor is no longer a manager). There's comments from Farnsworth's father wondering why Cubs manager Dusty Baker chose Joe Borowski instead of his son:
"I root for Joe Borowski, but I'm not quite sure why they turned to Joe last year rather than Kyle. His stuff is so much better than Joe's. He's done a good job and I root for Joe. But I don't think he's the long-term closer in Chicago."
That one will have the biggest sting, I think. Borowski is seriously touchy these days. Notice that Farnsworth's father said he roots for Borowski twice. Like he's trying to convince himself that he really does. Hey, it's his son he's talking about. I don't blame him.

(Music to write by: Wilco, "A.M." and Paul Westerberg, "Mono.")

Thursday, May 06, 2004

Worse than I imagined 

When I wrote that I was concerned that something bad was going to happen in or near Wrigley Field, I never imagined it would be this bad. The Tribune gives an account of a shooting right outside the Cubbie Bear: A pedestrian was nearly hit by an SUV and a shooting ensued during a confrontation between the pedestrian and the driver. The story doesn't say specifically, but it appears that pedestrians were attempting to cross Clark Street from west to east. When the car nearly struck one of the pedestrians, the pedestrian who was shot hit the SUV with a souvenir mini-bat. The shooter is believed to have been a passenger in the car. Police told the Tribune that the victim was dead, but the paper was not able to confirm that with the Cook County medical examiner's office.

This is the type of scenario that I witnessed during Game 3 of the NLCS last fall. I won't be surprised if I read tomorrow that the cops say it's difficult to keep pedestrians crossing with the lights in that area. I think this should be a huge story tomorrow. Mayor Daley and police officials will be questioned about this. So will the Cubs. And this is sure to spur the neighborhood activists who hold the Cubs accountable for almost anything that happens near the park. It will be interesting to see how the newspapers and electronic media play this story. I didn't catch any of the 10 o'clock newscasts, but I did see a teaser about the shooting on WMAQ-TV, Channel 5 during "Friends."

The truly eerie thing is that I was discussing (via e-mail) the likelihood of an incident in or near the park this morning with a friend and coworker. She had sent me a link to a web site that offers a comparison of Cubs and Sox fans from the North Siders' point of view.

I've run out of close-call headlines 

Everytime I thought of a pithy saying for the header, I realized that I'd already used it to describe another one-run victory for the Sox that included a wild ride in the ninth with Billy Koch. I was impressed with the way Koch didn't make excuses after the 6-5 victory over the Orioles:
"(Bleeping) pathetic,'' Koch said. "There's absolutely no reason in the world I should walk those guys. Let them put the ball in play and let them get themselves out. That is a pathetic showing.

"It's not fair to the other 24 guys in this room,'' Koch said. "It's not fair to the coaching staff or to the fans in Chicago. It's not fun having to bite your nails down to bloody stumps watching me pitch. I apologize to everyone out there.''
White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen said Koch is still the closer. I know a lot of Sox fans are tired of hearing that, but look, Koch is not going anywhere for this year. The guy's making nearly $6.4 million this season, after which his contract expires. Guillen has little choice, really, but to let Koch close until he truly pitches his way out -- either out of his erraticness or out of his role as closer.

I was watching the game at Murphy's with some friends. Well, we were sitting out on the patio area. I was walking back and forth between our table and the TV that had the Sox game on -- it was inside, toward the back, near the hot dog window. By the end of the agonizing ninth inning, there were a handful of other Sox fans gathered around the set. Maybe five of us. When the final out was recorded, I turned to a couple of them, shook my head and said, "He's going to put 10 years on us this season."

Really, though, it's Cubs fans who are aging fast. The tension in that place for a May game was unbelievable. Calm down, folks. There's a lot of baseball to be played.

Interesting to note 

White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen said he likes his infield defense, despite the errors that contributed to their 10-3 spanking by the Orioles on Tuesday. Guillen said Joe Crede could be a Gold Glover, and I agree with that. He occasionally has trouble getting the ball out of his glove, but otherwise, I think he makes every play at third.

Magglio Ordonez shows that he knows how runs are scored:
"I would rather hit .300 and 40 [home runs] than 50 [home runs] and .260 because you're giving your team more of a chance to win,'' he said. "You're getting on base more and taking your walks, and that helps the team more.''
The better right fielder in town is also the smarter right fielder.

Willie Harris said he was happy to play against his original organization and show them what he can do. It was the first time Harris had played against the Orioles since the Sox acquired him for Chris Singleton in January 2002.

Keep an eye on leadoff man and second baseman Brian Roberts when the Orioles visit the Cell next week. The Sox failed to do so during the first two games of the series, and he ran wild on them.

Strikeouts are down for the Sox staff this year, leaving them in 12th place in the American League thus far. That's usually not a good sign -- a declining strikeout rate is often an early indicator of trouble for pitchers. At the least, it's putting a premium on defense.

When Jose Valentin returns to the Sox Friday, Guillen plans to find at-bats for Juan Uribe, Willie Harris and Valentin in the middle infield, with Uribe also occasionally spelling Crede at third, too. (Kelly Dransfeldt was sent down, but he'll have to clear waivers before he can go to Class AAA Charlotte.) Some people have suggested a trade of Valentin, to give Uribe the job full time. I suppose if there's a decent pitcher with a similar salary, there might be a deal available. I don't think Valentin has great trade value right now, at $5 million for this season and 34 years of age.

Appropos of what, I'm not sure, but the Sun-Times' Chris De Luca has a decent story about the travails of Sox bonus baby Joe Borchard, who is still languishing at Charlotte.

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