GAME 41 PREVIEW CHICAGO WHITE SOX (31-12) at CHICAGO CUBS (18-22) Wrigley Field, 2.20pm CT, TV: WGN
SP Mark Prior SP Brandon McCarthy
LF *Scott Podsednik 2B Jerry Hairston
2B Tadahito Iguchi SS #Neifi Perez
CF Aaron Rowand 1B Derrek Lee
1B Paul Konerko RF *Jeromy Burnitz
C *AJ Pierzynski 3B Aramis Ramirez
RF Jermaine Dye CF *Corey Patterson
SS Juan Uribe LF Jason Dubois
3B Joe Crede C Henry Blanco
Pitcher's spot Pitcher's spot
The Cubs have managed just two runs total in the first six innings of their last four games. That simply isn't a recipe for winning a lot of games, and it puts a tremendous pressure upon the the pitching staff and the defence behind them. Zambrano yesterday was simply masterful, and given his seven shutout inning performance, the Cubs should have been in a position in the game where they could afford the odd defensive mistake. A lack of offence though and Corey Patterson's prematurely closed mitt, after fantastic hustle and pace to make the ball playable at all, cost the Cubs dear. These bats simply have to wake up if the Cubs are going to win a decent number of games. Either that, or Mark Prior and co will have to throw a perfect game. Either way, or both. Today the Cubs get to see a major league debutant on the mound for the Chicago White Sox. Brandon McCarthy was the minor league strikeout leader last year, having a fantastic campaign in the Southern League (Double-A). Though he hadn't quite been at his best so far this year in Triple-A, he did have a fantastic Spring Training with the Sox, looking so dominating that the White Sox seemed to have few qualms about inserting him into their rotation to start the year when it seemed Mark Buerhle would miss time. Buerhle's injury wasn't as serious as first feared though, so McCarthy's had to wait, but he now gets his shot while El Duque takes his annual trip to the disabled list. Hopefully those Cub bats can say "welcome to the big leagues, kid, we do things differently here". While the Cubs are labouring against the best team in baseball, the St Louis Cardinals are beating upon the worst, the Kansas City Royals, and the rest of their interleague schedule is undisputedly easier too. While with the way the Cubs are playing this year this probably will prove to be irrelevant, major league baseball really needs to look into ensuring a more balanced and fairer schedule in future. [ruz] I'm in Harrisburg PA right now, looking at houses (we found one!) so I've had to follow the Cubs solely online, here and at Exile in Wrigleyville. It hasn't been fun, but luckily Vince hasn't rubbed it in my face too much. There hasn't been a cross-town sweep since 1999, so hopefully Prior can prevent that!
WHITE SOX 5 CUBS 3
Recap | Box Score | Play-by-play | Game Chart
W: Jose Contreras (2-1) L: Mike Wuertz (2-2) S: Dustin Hermanson (10)
Zambrano's elbow really was the least of the Cubs' worries, the big Venezuelan throwing seven innings that were all but flawless but for a little wildness. He was dealing throughout, with velocity and movement, confidence and swagger, not to mention plenty of emotion. In other words, he was just the same good old Zambrano. The offence though simply didn't show up yet again, and so when Zambrano departed after those seven innings having thrown 108 pitches, the bullpen had the slenderest of 1-0 margins to protect. Mike Wuertz didn't pitch particularly well, working too high in the zone for my liking and hanging a few breaking balls that he was lucky went unpunished. But he deserves little blame for the way the critical runs crossed the plate. In spite of some excellent defence (particularly from Neifi in the hole) that made the plays closer than they should have been, two infield hits gave the White Sox first and third with two outs, setting the stage for "Paulie", as the White Sox could all too loudly be heard chanting on the broadcast. Konerko half lined and half blooped the ball towards short left center. Corey, reading it well right off the bat and using his sheer speed to good effect, covered a lot of ground and got within a dive of the ball. He dove, but just as the fans thought he'd got it covered and was about to end the inning, he closed his glove just a moment too soon. The ball hit off the glove and squirted into left field, behind Dubois who had been backing up Corey in case it got by him. Podsednik scored from third, and Rowand wasn't so far behind him that he couldn't plate the go-ahead run. And, just like that, the Cubs' one-run lead was not only gone but they trailed by one. Damn. From there on out, there was a sense of inevitability to the game. Will Ohman came in and allowed hits to both runners he faced, and with that another two runs, and it was left to Hawkins to record the final out of the four-run rally. The Cubs got two back in the bottom of the inning (Hairston picking up a 3rd RBI and Lee a 38th), but Hawkins, left in to pitch the ninth, served up a meatball to Jermaine Dye. Then if was Bartosh's turn to make a mess of things, before Dusty finally decided he'd go to his best reliever of late, only a bit too late. Wellemeyer for closer? And so the White Sox take the series. I'm not indifferent to that.
GAME 40 PREVIEW CHICAGO WHITE SOX (30-12) at CHICAGO CUBS (18-21) Wrigley Field, 12.15pm CT, TV: FOX (blackout restrictions)
SP Carlos Zambrano SP Jose Contreras
LF *Scott Podsednik 2B Jerry Hairston
2B *Willie Harris SS #Neifi Perez
CF Aaron Rowand 1B Derrek Lee
1B Paul Konerko RF *Jeromy Burnitz
C *AJ Pierzynski 3B Aramis Ramirez
RF *Carl Everett CF *Corey Patterson
SS Juan Uribe LF Jason Dubois
3B Joe Crede C Henry Blanco
Pitcher's spot Pitcher's spot

With a day off today, we can all sit back and enjoy the lovely post-McGriff glow. If Baylor actually lets Matt Stairs play left field while Rondell White is hurt, that makes the lineup significantly better than if he decides to keep playing Delino DeShields out there. With The Franchise (finally) being sent down to make room for McGriff, that means one less outfielder out there, which means Stairs might actually get some playing time. He's not much with his glove, but he's the second-best offensive player on the team and he should be playing nearly every day.

The Cubs made a minor deal today, acquiring David Weathers and minor league pitcher Roberto Miniel from the Brewers for Ruben Quevedo and minor league outfielder Peter Zoccolillo. Rotonews calls Miniel a good prospect, and his K/BB ratio, a good indicator of future success, is a sterling 117/27. I hope John Sickels will write a few words about Miniel -- if he is a hot prospect, then this looks like a very good trade for the Cubs. Quevedo has some promise but is not ready to help the team this year, and Weathers is a solid middle reliever who should shift Van Poppel and Fyhrie down a seat in the bullpen. Zoccolillo is a non-prospect, so getting someone good on the back end of the deal is a major bonus.

Finally, the long-awaited position player roundup. Now we can start writing about things like why Baylor bunts so much.

The fact that every first baseman on the market has been mentioned as a possible Cub says something about the success of the Matt Stairs/Ron Coomer/Julio Zuleta troika. They’ve hit a combined .250 with a 745 OPS – hardly what you want to get out of a power position. With Fred McGriff on the way, things should improve here, but up to this point the first basemen get a C-minus.

Recently, I’ve seen a few online columnists I read talk about how Eric Young isn’t a very good player. Usually, it revolves around how his stats aren’t the type of numbers you want your leadoff hitter to put up. It seems to me that, aside from not walking 100 times a year, he’s doing everything you could ask. His on-base percentage is .333 – not in the top ten in the league, to be sure, but among the leaders as far as leadoff hitters are concerned. He’s stolen 21 bases, and his steal percentage is 65%, right around the break-even point. On a team that scores as little as the Cubs do, it would be nice to get your leadoff man onbase a bit more (and into scoring position without giving up an out by bunting), but I’ll take what he’s giving the team. Grade: B

Third base has been a disaster since Bill Mueller went down in May. Ron Coomer, Miguel Cairo, and Augie Ojeda have filled in, less than admirably. About the only good thing that happened was that the Cubs didn’t sign Vinny Castilla (of course, look how he’s doing for Houston). Here’s hoping Mueller comes back and plays as well as he did at the beginning of the year. Grade: INCOMPLETE

Chip Caray has taken to calling Ricky Gutierrez “the Secret Weapon.” While I wouldn’t go that far, I do think he’s an underrated player. He will hit just about anywhere in the lineup, has a bit of power, and (this year at least) has been close to automatic with runners in scoring position (he’s got an 830 OPS in those situations). He could walk more, but the NL is short on shortstop talent right now, and beside Rich Aurilia and Jimmy Rollins, Gutierrez is the best out there. Grade: B+

As far as the outfield goes, it’s a mess. Rondell White is putting up really good numbers when he’s healthy, which appears to be about never. As a result, left and center have seen a revolving door of AAAA players like Todd Dunwoody, not-ready-for-prime-time-players like Sarge Jr., and retreads like Delino DeShields. I was amazed (in a good way) when the Cubs cut Damon Buford loose, but I wish they could have done it with someone in mind to take his place. The Franchise is not ready to play center every day, and it’s unfair to stick him out their occasionally, watch him put up an 0-for-4, and then bench him for not performing. Better to send him to Iowa to play every day and learn the strike zone, like they did with Rosie Brown. So now we get Michael Tucker, who at least didn’t cost anything to acquire. Who knows, maybe he’ll start hitting….

As far as right field goes, I could (and will someday) write a whole column about how Sammy Sosa has changed his career by becoming more selective at the plate, but for now, let’s just say that whatever it was the Cubs ended up paying him, it’s looking like a really good investment right about now. Outfield grades: D-plus, C-minus, A.

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