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Winds of change after Chicago series
Funny how dueling no-hit bids can turn a game between two disappointing teams — combined record: 56-69 — into riveting baseball theatre. (It helped, too, that the Blackhawks brought the Stanley Cup for a pregame ceremony/lovefest.)
The hosts nicked Gavin Floyd for two hits and one run in the seventh, but Ted Lilly still had his chance at a slice of history when the ninth began. At that point, either of two outcomes — a successful no-hitter or calamitous Cubs defeat — would have been epic.
Neither happened. Juan Pierre, the former Cub, led off with a single.
Carlos Marmol relieved Lilly and loaded the bases with one out, before wriggling away with his 13th save. Lilly later compared the atmosphere to the memorable 2001 World Series, which he witnessed as a young pitcher with the Yankees.
The Blackhawks probably won’t need to reciprocate with a United Center title celebration for either baseball team this fall. But there are some intriguing months ahead in Chicago.
Here are five observations and opinions involving the Chicago teams — with three crosstown games to go.
1. The Cubs need to trade Kosuke Fukudome
Fukudome has apparently been displaced as the everyday right fielder. Manager Lou Piniella told reporters Sunday that rookie outfielder Tyler Colvin will start playing “a lot more than he has been.” And it doesn’t take a baseball sleuth to see where he will get the at-bats.
Left fielder Alfonso Soriano is hitting for power. Center fielder Marlon Byrd is second in the National League with a .333 batting average. Fukudome, who didn’t play Sunday, is hitting just .236 with one home run since May 1.
I guess Steve Stone was right.
If general manager Jim Hendry trades Fukudome now, he will be selling low. Not ideal. But it wasn’t that long ago that Hendry acquired the suddenly effective Carlos Silva for Milton Bradley, in perhaps the sell-low trade of the offseason.
As long as Fukudome is around, Piniella will face perpetual questions about his arrangement in right field. And we know how much he enjoys answering them.
But the manager’s media-related irritations aren’t reason enough to trade Fukudome. This is: The Cubs need to make a clear commitment to Colvin. He shouldn’t need to wonder how patient Piniella will be if he struggles.
If the Cubs have decided that the job should be Colvin’s, then he needs a month or two to settle into it. And that can be best accomplished without Fukudome playing the role of Mike Lowell.
Fukudome will be hard to trade — almost as difficult as Bradley last winter. He has roughly $21 million left on his contract between now and the end of next season, and sitting on the bench won’t do wonders for his trade value.
Hendry has to hope that an interested team is looking to unload a similarly overpaid player from the 2011 free agent class. Time for another swap of bad contracts.
One more thing to keep in mind: Fukudome has a no-trade clause that permits him to block a deal to 15 teams, according to a major-league source. Couple that with his salary, and it will be a challenge for the Cubs to trade Fukudome.
2. While Hendry is at it, he should consider moving Ryan Theriot, too
Theriot is a popular Cub, having played shortstop on two playoff teams. But he’s not the shortstop of the future — or the present, now that Starlin Castro is up.
Castro has started every game at short since arriving in the majors on May 7. So, the Cubs aren’t deriving any value from the fact that Theriot has played there.
Theriot led off and played second base — roles that don’t necessarily match his skill set — in each of the Cubs’ past two games. He doesn’t walk as often as a classic leadoff hitter. And is he really more productive than a platoon of Mike Fontenot and Jeff Baker?
The Cubs also have middle infield prospect Darwin Barney at Class-AAA Iowa, so trading Theriot wouldn't be as risky as it seems.
Theriot was never regarded as a great defensive shortstop, but he’s shown that he can play the position. The Padres, Tigers, Twins and A’s are among the contenders who have had below-average production at shortstop, but there are no indications that those clubs have interest in Theriot.
For that reason, there’s no need for Hendry to rush. (Also: Castro is hitting .227 since his first 10 games in the majors.) But if enough teams need a shortstop by early July, the GM should act.
It helps that Theriot wouldn’t be too expensive. He’s earning $2.6 million in his first year of salary arbitration.
3. The White Sox might not win the division, but they will be a difficult team to play in the second half
Witness the performance of the White Sox rotation over the last six games: 4-1 with a 1.51 ERA, including two terrific starts by the hot-and-cold Gavin Floyd.
It looks like Jake Peavy has corrected his mechanical flaw, too.
“I believe we’re going to continue that way,” White Sox pitching coach Don Cooper said over the weekend. “Each guy has had good games. Each guy has had the poor games that drive the numbers up.
“We’ve got five guys capable of pitching well. It looks like we’re starting to make strides. Instead of having one good one, one bad one, one good one, one bad one, we’ve been more consistent. That’s the key.”
The White Sox are 7-1/2 games behind the first-place Twins. No one would claim that they have a great chance to win the division. But a .500 record, perhaps a little better, looks attainable if the starting rotation continues to perform like this.
4. Somewhere, A.J. Pierzynski is having a party today
Pierzynski’s 10-and-5 rights — 10 years of major-league service, 5 with the same team — kicked in after Sunday’s game.
So, now he has full no-trade protection. If the White Sox want to move him this season, he will have the right to stay.
This won’t stop the trade speculation altogether, particularly given the number of teams looking for a catcher. But now Pierzynski controls the process.
“Every day, I get four or five people that ask me about it,” Pierzynski said Saturday. “I’m happy it’ll be over with, so we can talk about something else.”
On cue, he’s hitting again — a .281 batting average over his last 23 games.
“I feel great,” he said. “Balls are starting to fall. I made a couple minor adjustments. I’m trying to put good swings on good pitches.”
What if I had told you in February that Byrd (the team’s biggest offseason signing) and Silva (8-1, 2.89 ERA) would be legitimate All-Star candidates? You would expect Hendry to get support for Executive of the Year awards.
Instead, he’s being criticized roundly for the second straight year. And it’s because of two players he signed long ago.
Just look at the numbers:
Lee: .229, seven home runs, 26 RBIs.
Ramirez: .168, five home runs, 22 RBIs.
Lee said over the weekend that he’s healthy. (“Just not swinging it,” he said.) Ramirez isn’t feeling as well; he’s on the disabled list with an injured thumb and will probably abstain from swinging for several more days.
“You look at their lineup, and you can’t see how they’re doing what they’re doing,” Pierzynski said. “They have guys who can hit — Lee, Ramirez, (Geovany) Soto. It’s kind of like our lineup. You can’t figure it out. If they get those guys going, they’ll be right back in it.”
But it remains to be seen how much Ramirez can contribute. He has lost weight — the team press guide lists him at 205 pounds, down from 215 last year — and isn’t hitting for the power he once did. His slugging percentage is 200 points below his career average.