Cubs going nowhere; Sox are up in the air
Attention, Ozzie Guillen.
Since you left Chicago as a player, our fair city has sent seven baseball teams to the playoffs in 13 seasons—roughly one every other year. And guess what this season is?
It’s every other year.
You and Lou Piniella failed in your civic duty a year ago, and as this season dawns it’s clear you’re on your own. Mike Quade is adjusting to a permanent gig at Wrigley Field, but anyone who expects him to produce more than 83 victories this season hasn’t seen what has become of Alfonso Soriano, Aramis Ramirez and Carlos Zambrano.
The 2011 baseball season in Chicago would seem to boil down to this question: Can Guillen’s Sox win a three-team race with the Twins and Tigers?
Before the first pitch that counts, here are some others that need answers:
White Sox: How do they stack up in the AL Central?
Nobody knows at this point. The White Sox appear to have a deeper roster than the Twins and Tigers but don’t have as many studs in the primes of their careers. They don’t have a Miguel Cabrera, a Justin Verlander or a Joe Mauer. But Mauer still was battling knee issues in spring training, and the Tigers have been a perennial tease since 2006. The onus is clearly on Guillen to win head-to-head games.
Cubs: Can Aramis Ramirez be trusted?
What choice does Quade have? The guy who quit on Piniella a year ago is a major key to 2011. He seemed more interested in spring training. He can make a difference in the field and at the plate, as his fielding was even worse than his .207 average at the All-Star break last season.
White Sox: Can a Big Donkey learn a new trick?
Adam Dunn seemed like a caged lion in spring training as he adjusted to the DH role. He will be more comfortable during the regular season, as he can burn off steam in the batting cage during games, but don’t be surprised if Dunn starts slowly as his sanity and self image suffer from having time on his hands.
Cubs: Will the real Matt Garza stand up?
The idea is Garza develops into a No. 1 or, at the worst, No. 2 starter after working in the middle of playoff rotations for the Twins and Rays. He pitched badly in spring training and at times still seemed as tightly wound as when he was a kid with the Twins, a way of being that hasn’t worked well at Wrigley in recent years. It’s hard to imagine general Jim Hendry surviving if the Garza deal goes bad.
White Sox: Will Bobby Jenks be missed?
Matt Thornton gets first crack at the ninth inning but rookie Chris Sale is the real security blanket. He could pull a full-Neftali Feliz and go from setup man to Rookie of the Year closer.
Cubs: Do you really need a leadoff hitter?
Quade’s best candidate is Starlin Castro but he’s comfortable in the No. 2 spot, so he’s staying there. The Cubs bounced between Kosuke Fukudome and whoever happened to be the second baseman during spring training. If Soriano wasn’t signed through 2014, the Cubs could consider 5-foot-nothing Tony Campana, who batted .319 and stole 48 bases in Double-A last year. At least he has a tiny strike zone. “I say he’s like John Cangelosi,” says one Cubs minor-league coach. “But Cangelosi was bigger.”
White Sox: Should a Silver Slugger winner really bat eighth?
Guillen is old school in terms of how he views the leadoff spot, so he’s fine with Juan Pierre getting 100-plus more plate appearances than Alexei Ramirez (734-626 last season). Unless Gordon Beckham struggles as the No. 2 hitter, Ramirez again may get a majority of his at-bats near the bottom of the lineup. If anyone at the University of Chicago has a formula to show how many runs/games this will cost the White Sox, we would like to see it.
Cubs: Could Carlos Marmol become the badly needed No. 1 starter?
Sadly, no. He’s the Cubs’ best pitcher, holding hitters to a .150 average over the last three seasons, but like Mariano Rivera, he’s not built to start. He lacks a third pitch and what scouts call “pitchability,” the trait that allows them to set up hitters and ease through one inning after another. His pitch calling was notoriously bad as a minor-leaguer and hasn’t gotten much better. As one club official says, “when Carlos shakes off pitches, bad things happen.”
White Sox: Won’t July be exciting?
It sure will be. GM Ken Williams loves the headline-grabbing trade as he never has seen a 22-year-old he couldn’t trade. (How did Mark Buehrle survive in 2001, anyway?). But beware the big deal. Williams’ trades for Jake Peavy and Edwin Jackson haven’t yielded fruit like his take-what-you-can-get deal for Geoff Blum in 2005.
Cubs: Is Quade only keeping the office warm for Ryne Sandberg?
No. No. No. For the last time, no. People still ask but Hendry did not bypass Sandberg for Quade because he didn’t want to saddle a Hall of Famer with a team built to fail. He thinks Quade is prepared better for the job. Sandberg still may wind up managing the Cubs, but Hendry won’t be the GM hiring him.