Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Cubs/Sox Weekend Means Household Conflict

I'm in a mixed marriage.  No, it's not religion; it's baseball.  I met my wife Pam on September 13, 1969, just as the Cubs finished blowing an eight-game league and losing the division title to the hated Mets.  I never let her forget it, and that resulted in a rocky first few months of dating.  But things smoothed out; heck, she even went to a Sox game with me when the new park opened.

I've always been a Sox AND a Cubs fan, but always Sox first.  Growing up, Ernie Banks was my third favorite baseball player, after Nellie Fox and Luis Aparacio.  But Pam HATES the White Sox.  She still complains about her dad buying a White Sox team photo in 1959 after the Sox made it to the World Series.

Pam and I always were able to co-exist on the topic of baseball until inter-league play came along.  Now, for two weekends each baseball season we fight like cats and dogs. 

So in the interest of getting ready for fight weekend, here's my unbiased analysis of the Cubs and White Sox--position by position.  Pam's looking over my shoulder so I must be fair. 

First Base:  Bryan LaHare's ten home runs make Cub fans wonder why the 29 year-old has been languishing in the minors for nine years while Derek Lee and Carlos Pena played first.  Not many think LaHare can maintain his great start, but he certainly has prevented the Cubs from slipping into obscurity early in the season.  LaHare is a decent fielder too!  I love the guy!
Paul Konerko is having another great year, hitting .344, with 7 home runs and 20 RBI.  I've heard Konerko's name mentioned recently in in Hall of Fame conversation.  He certainly seems to have gotten better with age.  Konerko is a better fielder than LaHare, even though Pauly doesn't cover as much ground as Bryan.  Adam Dunn has also played first quite a bit this year for the White Sox, and Dunn's 12 homers are keeping the Sox near .500.  The Big Man is having the year everyone thought that he'd have in 2011.   Hey Cubs fans, Dunn is going to play right field this weekend.  Be ready for some fun!
Tough call here, but Dunn's play tips the scale.  ADVANTAGE WHITE SOX.

Second Base:  A position that the Cubs are concerned about and so are the White Sox.  The Cubs dumped fan favorite Ryan Theriot two years ago and gave the position to Darwin Barney, who's hitting .262 with only one stolen base.  Like Theriot, Barney is slow for a second baseman.  Darwin's inability to get to the ball today against the Cardinals contributed to the Cubs' loss.  I think Theo Epstein will try to eventually upgrade this position.
Gordon Beckham has all the tools.  He wowed Sox fans when he came up direct from playing college ball at the U. of Georgia.  Beckham had a solid first season, but it's been all downhill since then.  The Sox hitting coaches have tried to work with him on his swing, but Beckham continues to have the hitch of a home run hitter instead of the short, compact swing of a second baseman.  Beckham fields the position better than Barney, but his .195 batting average, one stolen base, and 25 strike-outs make this call easy.
Second base is one reason why neither of these two teams will contend.  ADVANTAGE CUBS.

Shortstop.  Is Starlin Castro a true shortstop?  Can he maintain his concentration throughout an entire game?  Castro sure can hit.  His .331 average and 22 RBI are impressive, and he has stolen 12 bases already.  I'm one who thinks this kid just needs the right coaching.  Manager Dale Sveum threw Castro under the bus on Monday after Starlin failed to lay down a bunt against the Cards, but if placed in the right hands, Castro will be a superstar.
Alexei Ramirez is hitting an anemic .208, with 16 RBI, and only 3 stolen bases.  He usually has a hot streak during the season when he carries the club, but we haven't seen that yet this year.  Ramirez is a much better fielder than Castro, and that's important when it comes to evaluating shortstops.  This one should be hard, but it's easy because of Castro's bat:  ADVANTAGE CUBS.

Third Base:  I'm not sure what the Cubs were expecting when they signed Ian Stewart.  He's never hit better than .259 in the bigs.  Even though Cub fans were tired of Aramis Ramirez's act, his shoes have not been filled.  Stewart plays the field better than Ramirez, but Ian is only hitting .205, with four home runs.  More production is needed from that position in order for the Cubs to contend.  
The White Sox third baseman is worse.  Brent Morel is hitting .178 with no home runs and only 5 RBI.  Morel looks lost at the plate.  Hawk Harrelson never lets us forget how great Morel's arm is, but that doesn't mean crap when he's this bad at the plate. Where is Omar Visquel when we need him? The question is how long the White Sox will wait until they jettison Morel.  The clock is ticking . . . . ADVANTAGE CUBS.

Left Field:  The latest trade rumor is LF Alfonso Soriano to Boston for pitcher Josh Beckett, who plays golf on days he's supposed to pitch.  Soriano hit his first home run on Tuesday against the Cardinals to tie the game in the ninth.  He stood there at home plate and watched the ball go over the right field wall--some things will never change, Cubs fans!  Cubs players always argue that Soriano is a great clubhouse guy, but I've tired of his lack of hustle and poor fielding (He missed the cut-off man on Tuesday).  Fonsie needs to be better than .258, one home run, and 18 RBI.
Dayan Viciedo is hitting only .218, with 4 homers, and 10 RBI.  He's struck out 31 times.  Tank is starting to look like a south side bust.  He's a butcher in the outfield, and looks clueless at the plate.  Can I really pick the Cubs here with Soriano?  ADVANTAGE CUBS.

Center Field:  Tony Campana took over when the Cubs traded Marlon Byrd to Boston after Byrd started the season horribly.  Campana is hitting .333, with 13 stolen bases.  He's become a fan favorite with his blazing speed down the first base line on bunts.  Tony fields his position well as his speed can make up for judging a fly ball wrong--the catch he made in the fog last week was beautiful.  However, Campana fell way off last year, and he's only a temporary fix until Brett Jackson is ready.
Alejandro De Aza has been as good for the Sox as Viciedo has been bad.  De Aza is hitting .289, with 3 homers and 12 RBI.  Plus, he has 7 stolen bases.  De Aza doesn't cover the ground Campana does, but he's just as good a fielder.  Tough call here:  EVEN.

Right Field:  David DeJesus covers more ground in right field than I thought he could.  He's certainly better out there than Tyler Colvin was last year.  But DeJesus only has 1 home run and 9 RBI.  That's horrible.
When Alex Rios hit that game winning triple for the White Sox the other night, I wanted to say, "All is forgiven!"  But hold on.  After a great start, Rios has come back to earth and is hitting .275, but that's a heck of lot better than he hit in 2011.  Like DeJesus, Rios has only one home run.  Both teams need more power from this position, but Rios gets the nod here.  ADVANTAGE WHITE SOX.

Catcher:  Geo Soto was an all-star once upon a time.  He's a hitting catcher with average or below defense.  This year Soto has been horrible at the plate, with a .167 batting average and only 3 home runs.  Maybe he's got the mad munchies again like he had his second year in the league, but the Cubs may be looking to Steve Clevenger to be the catcher when he recovers from his shoulder injury.  Wellington Castillo is not the answer as the Cubs' back-up catcher.
A. J. Pierzynski went five for five today for the Sox in their loss to Detroit.  He's hitting .288, with 5 home runs and 24 RBI.  Like Soto, A.J. is not much of a defensive catcher, but he's better than Geo.  Tyler Flowers has disappeared, and that's good because he's been horrible!  Clear choice here!  ADVANTAGE WHITE SOX.

Starting Pitching:  The Cubs starting pitching has been much better than expected; it's the bullpen that has let the team down.  Ryan Dempster has the lowest ERA in the majors, but has yet to get a win.  Matt Garza, Jeff Samardzija, and Paul Maholm have also been great.  I think Randy Wells is a head case--he's in Iowa, and Chris Volstad is the only weak link in the present rotation.  Cubs' management has to be overjoyed at this group.  Will they re-sign Garza?  Stay tuned!
John Danks was supposed to be the ace of this staff, but he has given way to Jake Peavy.  Danks's 6.45 ERA is the worst among starters.  But Peavy has been magnificent (except for Tuesday).  So have Phil Humber and Gavin Floyd.  Who knows where Chris Sale will fit in?  Probably here with the starters, but who knows after last weekend's soap opera.  Sale tips the scale.  ADVANTAGE WHITE SOX.

Bullpen:  Both teams' bullpens have struggled.  Carlos Marmol is on the disabled list and is not likely to return as a closer.  Kerry Wood has an 8.64 ERA, and can't stop walking batters.  Is Kerry Wood finished?   Rafael Dolis has taken Marmol's place, but who knows how he'll work out; he's just a rookie.
The White Sox's relievers have also struggled.  Addison Reed looked like he might be the answer to the closer problem, but he got bombed by KC the other night.  Matt Thornton started the year great as the set-up guy, but he can't get his breaking ball over.
This area is too ugly to rate.  EVEN.

Manager:  Both Dale Sveum and Robin Ventura have looked like rookie managers, which they are.  I'm still upset that Ryne Sandberg didn't get the Cubs job, but I'll let that go.  Sveum should have ordered Dolis to walk the Cardinals Yadier Molina on Tuesday with two out in the bottom of the ninth and first base open.  Bob Brenly was pleading from the booth for him to do it, but Sveum let Dolis pitch to Molina . . . game over!
Like Sveum, Ventura does not know when to pull a pitcher from a game.  That 14 inning loss to Oakland a few weeks ago showed Ventura's hesitancy when Hector Santiago couldn't get anyone out.  Give me a Tony Larussa, who always had the quick hook.  EVEN.

Hey, Cubs and Sox fans, enjoy the games this weekend.  Pam and I will be watching and bickering!

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