In Which It’s a Historic Day

Allow me to hearken back to the long ago time of April 18.

Back on January 15th I noted that they had managed to screw up a Teddy Bear. The release was so ill timed as to be laughable. In one week they were announcing the highest ticket prices in baseball, welcoming Mashairo Tanaka to the Yankees and admitting they had no real plans to do any of the actual work on the stadium that they’d promised. Into this maelstrom they unveiled a mascot. One that they would rent for kiddy parties at $400 a pop. That’s a common rate, but you can see the disconnect.

Just FYI, if you do take your kids to meet Clark make sure they have waterproof shoes. Numerous reports state that the floor is awash in beer from drunken yahoos trying to get their pictures taken with the kid friendly darling.

In keeping with that theme they are celebrating 100 Years of Wrigley. Except that they’re not. The park wasWeeghman Field from 1914 to 1926. Only then was it renamed Wrigley. And the Cubs didn’t play there until 1916. In other words, the Ricketts family pulled a random date out of some random ass and decided to sell the crap out of it. The anniversary they are celebrating, if I may completely abuse that word, is for a concrete edifice that has, at least not for two more years, nothing to do with the team. Because that seems to be working they are joining the high class world of soiled pantie sales and offering pre-worn, pseudo-antique, jerseys for sale from the upcoming “anniversary game” on April 23rd. When you read the press release, and - no - it was not written by The Onion, they do not actually list the game time. Just the cool stuff that will be available. Oh, and in keeping with their minor league vibe, all of the park staff will be wearing costumes.

Come on down and bring fucktons of cash.

In the meantime the Cubs are NOT promoting games on MLB.TV like every other major league club. Nope, they are promoting games on MiLB.TV. That would be the network for Minor League Baseball. I couldn’t make this stuff up if I tried.

In their favor I should note that the first 30,000 fans who show up at the park today get a free throwback jersey. Since the online pic of said jersey looked like a T-shirt with buttons I tried to find out who made them and what they were made of. No one got back to me so I guess fans will just have to find out on their own. Nevertheless, free is a good price. However, as noted above, if you want them soiled with official Cubbie sweat that will cost you.

The Cubs marketing guru was on WGN today and let fly with the Freudian slip to end all Freudian slips, at least when it comes to this team. When talking about the many changes that have been made to the park since 1914 he said “and if the Ricketts renovations happen ....” Yeah, he said “if.” Not “when.”

In any case, let’s let Carrie Muskat share the joy that encompasses all things Weegham / Wrigley / Whatever comes next.

One hundred years ago, on April 23, 1914, Weegham Park hosted its first game as the Chi-Feds played the Kansas City Packers. It was the eighth game of the Federal League season, and 21,000 fans filled the new ballpark at Clark and Addison Streets.

Catcher Art Wilson hit two home runs to back pitcher Claude Hendrix, who went the distance in a 9-1 win. Chi-Feds manager Joe Tinker also was the No. 3 hitter, going 1-for-3 and scoring a run.

Weeghman Park cost $250,000 to build, and it was completed in two months. It was a single-story grandstand that stretched from the left-field foul pole around home plate to the right-field pole. There was a small bleacher section in right.

Today, that park, now known as Wrigley Field, will celebrate its 100th anniversary. The event has been hyped as part of a year-long “Party of the Century,” and it’s a chance for fans to salute the Friendly Confines.

The Cubs will play host to the D-backs—whose home state had been admitted to the union just two years earlier in 1912—and will wear throwback uniforms. Major League Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig will attend, along with several former Cubs players, including Hall of Famers Ernie Banks, Billy Williams, Fergie Jenkins and Andre Dawson. The first 30,000 fans will receive a replica 1914 Chicago Federals jersey, and the first 10,000 fans will get a birthday cupcake.

In the fifth inning, fans will be asked to sing “Happy Birthday” to Wrigley. Make sure you have your cellphone cameras ready.

If you look at some of the photos included in the book “A Century of Wrigley Field: The Official History of the Friendly Confines,” you’ll see the neighborhood around the ballpark hasn’t changed much. Built on land that once was the site of a seminary, Wrigley has gone through several renovations since it was first built, but there is still some 100-year-old concrete and steel left from the original structure, located primarily near the dugouts. Most of the ballpark has been refinished or resurfaced.

A quick history: Weeghman Park and the Chi-Feds team were owned by Charles Weeghman, and when the Federal League folded after the 1915 season, he purchased the Cubs and moved them to the ballpark at Clark and Addison Streets. It was renamed Cubs Park in 1919, and it didn’t become Wrigley Field until 1926 after owner William Wrigley Jr. bought the team.

Banks hit his 500th home run at Wrigley, and Babe Ruth allegedly called his home run there during Game 3 of the 1932 World Series. Hack Wilson drove in his 190th and 191st runs of the season there, and Pete Rose notched his 4,191st career hit. Kerry Wood struck out 20 Astros, and Sammy Sosa hit his 60th home run in three separate seasons. Greg Maddux notched his 3,000th strikeout there.

The Chicago Cardinals and Chicago Bears football teams called Wrigley home. So did the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League and the Chicago Sting soccer team. The Norge Ski Club held its 38th annual ski jump tournament at Wrigley in 1944; the Harlem Globetrotters played there in 1954.

The ballpark has evolved. The vines were purchased and planted in 1937 by Bill Veeck. The bleachers and scoreboard were constructed that year, as well. In 1941, it became the first ballpark with an organist. The first televised baseball game was broadcast on July 13, 1946, from Wrigley as the Cubs played the Dodgers, but the stadium was the last to add lights, finally doing so in August 1988. A $14 million renovation project in ‘89 included the addition of 67 private mezzanine-level skyboxes.

More changes are coming. The Wrigley family sold the Cubs and the ballpark to the Tribune Co. in June 1981 for a reported $21.1 million, and the Ricketts family took over in October 2009 for $845 million. Next up: the Ricketts have a $500 million renovation plan for Wrigley Field and the surrounding area, which they hope to begin this offseason.

Today will be a day to celebrate the past. Sue Quigg, grand-niece of former Cubs owner Charles Weeghman, will throw out the ceremonial first pitch with a 100-year-old ball her grandmother, Dessa Weeghman, threw at a Chi-Feds game.

The second-oldest ballpark in the Major Leagues behind Fenway Park, Wrigley Field has been host to players from David Aardsma to Dutch Zwilling, from managers Phil Cavarretta to Don Zimmer. It’s tucked in a neighborhood about six miles north of downtown Chicago. Games can be as unpredictable as the weather, depending on which way the wind is blowing off Lake Michigan.

And it’s a special place.

“I didn’t want to leave,” Banks told “A Century of Wrigley Field” author Alan Solomon. “I was always the first one there and the last one to leave. I just loved that place.”

Banks even tried to convince ownership to let him live in the small house located just outside left field, now used by the food services groups and vendors. The groundskeeper used to live there before traveling secretary Bob Lewis made it his home.

“I wanted to talk to Mr. Wrigley about, ‘I don’t want to go on the road. I want to stay here,’” Banks said.

Wrigley most likely means more to you than a timeline. Maybe this is where you saw your first big league game. Remember walking up the steps from the concourse to the seating bowl and seeing the bright green field with the thick ivy on the outfield walls and that towering scoreboard in center? It’s a goosebump moment.

Sure, Wrigley is dated. The center-field scoreboard isn’t big enough to handle all 30 teams’ games. There is no video scoreboard to watch replays. The cramped clubhouses are legendary. If Cubs players want to take a few swings during the game, they have to drop a net in their clubhouse and use a batting tee. The visitors have nowhere to go.

“It’s tough, because the amenities aren’t quite up with some of the other ballparks,” said former Cubs pitcher Sean Marshall, “but once you go on the field, that stuff is all forgotten. It’s definitely one of the most beautiful ballparks I’ve ever played at. It’s one of the most beautiful ballparks in the world.

“There’s a lot of history there, and a lot of players have stepped on that field. To be part of that and part of the Cubs tradition for six years or so was pretty cool.”

If you catch a foul ball today, take a close look. It will feature an “April 23, 2014” time stamp. It’s a special date in Wrigley Field history.

Happy 100th.

Your updated “We’re trying as hard as we can to get rid of these guys” list is now Samardzija, Wood, Hammell, Castillo, Barney & Bonifacio.

The Cubs will attempt to win their first series since 9/11/2013 today.

“But, Uncle Big Bad,” you whine, “the past is for losers. What are they doing for me now?”

I’m glad you asked that. Gordon Wittenmyer had the same question on his mind and he asked it of Theo Epstein.

Fair warning, this will be one of the more uncomfortable interviews you’ll read.

As parties of the century go, Wednesday’s 100th ‘‘birthday’’ celebration for Wrigley Field falls woefully short compared to the classic centennials.

The United States had victories over Britain, Mexico and the Confederacy before its 100th birthday. Boston’s Fenway Park had seven World Series championships. Even George Burns had a turn at playing God.

Of course, that was supposed to be Theo Epstein’s role at Wrigley if you believed the walk-on-water media coverage he got 30 months ago when he was hired to provide the National League’s oldest ballpark its first championship.

But on the eve of the big Wrigley party, reminders were everywhere Tuesday night of just how far Epstein has to go in this underfunded rebuilding project, with the last-place Cubs sending out a platoon lineup and this year’s flip-guy pitcher, Jason Hammel, to face the Arizona Diamondbacks — a 9-2 Cubs victory that gave them their first back-to-back wins since Sept.  10.

Barely two seasons, more than 200 losses and millions in budget cuts since taking over, Epstein’s fast-graying hair and stubble betray the burden of the task, if not the weight of the losses.

‘‘Nothing related to losing ever gets easier,’’ said Epstein, whose touted farm system doesn’t seem to lessen the sting much. ‘‘Losing sucks. When losing stops sucking, you should probably start another career.

‘‘But we’re trying to build a really healthy organization, and so there’s myriad challenges that present themselves daily. So you throw yourselves into those challenges and try to get better.’’

Meanwhile, the business side of the operation will throw its red Solo cup kegger Wednesday and bask in the glory of called shots, gloamin’ and goats.

Then the Cubs’ best pitcher, Jeff Samardzija, takes his 1.29 ERA to the mound for another audition for the July trading season, with as many as six other guys in the game expected to join him on the block in this summer’s annual Cubs selloff.

Epstein and much of his staff are spending a lot of their focus right now on the June draft, where the Cubs have an overall pick in the single digits for the fourth consecutive year (No. 4 this time).

But it might be tough, at least for a day, to avoid being reminded of just how immense the job of building a champion for this ballpark will be. An afternoon worth of Party Time will be spent on remembering the 100 years that went by without one.

‘‘I don’t think I really need that kind of reminder,’’ Epstein said. ‘‘That’s not what I’m thinking of when I think about [Wednesday]. When it comes to the 100th anniversary, for me, I think of how Wrigley is the epicenter of fans’ connections to the Cubs. Wrigley not only connects the fans to the team but also generations of fans to one another, fathers to sons, grandfathers to grandsons, mothers to daughters, mothers to sons. . . . There’s so much bonding and so many good times that have gone on here despite the losing.’’

All of which makes a nice Hallmark card. But it doesn’t inspire much to engrave on a ring.

‘‘Look, we all look forward to the day when the crowd and the energy of the ballpark is focused on that ninth-inning comeback the Cubs are going to have instead of the seventh-inning stretch,’’ Epstein said.

‘‘That’s kind of the way it was at Fenway once we started winning on a consistent basis. It’s going to be that way here, too. It’s going to be a lot better.’’

NOTE: Jake Arrieta (shoulder) said he’s ready to join the Cubs’ rotation after a 94-pitch rehab assignment for Class A Daytona on Monday, but manager Rick Renteria said Arrieta will get one more short-start tune-up first.

“The law of averages says, anything will happen that can, but the last time the Cubs won a National League Pennant was the year we dropped the bomb on Japan.” - Steve Goodman / A Dying Cubs Fan’s Last Request

Just FYI, that’s still true.

As much as I hate to admit it I’m starting to feel sorry for Epstein. It’s clear he had an actual plan and has been forced to watch as it slowly gets shredded by the corporate shenanigans that permeate Clark and Addison.

Here’s where they’re at for those keeping score;

  • They opted out of their TV deal with WGN and have found no takers, and little interest, from anyone else
  • Any attempt to do their own network, ala the Yankees & the Dodgers, will have to wait until 2020 when their contract runs out with Comcast
  • They have not spent a penny of the promised $500,000,000.00 on renovations and may not start next year, depending on the excuses they can generate
  • They spent less than $6,000,000.00 of their own money on their spring training facility but will reap the lion’s share of the profits. None of those profits appear to be slated for use by the major league club
  • They are the ones who strengthened the rooftop owners contract, not the other way around
  • Yes, the above statement is one of the stupidest business decisions in sports. It still doesn’t make it the rooftop owners’ fault
  • If they continue as projected by MLB insiders they could become the first team to lose 400 games in 4 years. Even the Pirates avoided that over 20 losing seasons
  • If they complete the trades listed above their wily veterans will be Rizzo and Castro. You may begin to openly weep now.

I could actually go on but you get the idea.

There is no money, there are no players and the future is currently in 1A & 2A.

Maybe.

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In Which We Enjoy the Sweet Smell of Success … or it May Just be Gas

There is a lady I see a few times a week at Union Station. I see her because my connecting train is usually late and I’m forced to hang around for a half hour or so. Anyway, the first time I met her she saw me walking down the street and asked “How did our guys do?” The Sox having happened to have just won that day I let her know that and she laughed. She said “I knew you were a good guy. You never even considered the Cubs.” Well she turned 80 this week, has seen the Sox play in 2 World Series, winning one, and has finally agreed to smoke light cigarettes because the filter-less ones were bad for her. Or so her doctor says. I bring all this up since, as I was watching the Hawks game on TV, the camera passed over her and she was sneaking a smoke at the game. No one caught it and I was laughing my ass off when I noticed it so my friends just thought I was having another one of those melt down thingies.

They happen you know.

Fortunately for all of Chicago the Hawks did not have a melt down thingie.

Well, except for the middle of the second period when they got pass happy and looked like a padded version of Ice Capades.  I had a big fear in my little brain that they were going to blow it but they got it back together and chalked up the win.

As Mark Lazerus points out, Cory Crawford, the most underrated championship goaltender in hockey, took the team on his broad shoulders and willed a win.

Crawford made a statement to his teammates and his coach by calling himself out after allowing goals late in Games 1 and 2, then losing in overtime. He made a bigger one on Monday by bouncing back with a 2-0 shutout of St. Louis in Game 3, making 34 saves and keeping the relentless Blues off the scoreboard in an excruciating third period. The Blackhawks now trail the first-round series 2-1, with Game 4 on Wednesday night at the United Center.

The Hawks needed every one of those saves, as Crawford made Jonathan Toews’ early soft goal on Ryan Miller stand up for more than 50 tense minutes until Marcus Kruger’s empty-netter with 20 seconds left allowed the 22,112 fans at the United Center to finally exhxale.

Michal Handzus called it the Hawks’ worst third period of the series, as the Blues camped out in the offensive zone and peppered Crawford with 11 shots. But they never beat him.

“They had the chances, we were kind of on our heels,” Handzus said. “But Crow played great and he stepped up, big-time.”

For those fans bemoaning the fate of Brent Seaabrook and his 3 game suspension, cut it out. Intentional or not that was a nasty hit and we’re all lucky that David Backes didn’t suffer severe head trauma or brain injury. I want the Hawks to win, not litter the ice with corpses.

The former does not require the latter no matter what the drunken yahoo brigade might say.

Screech actually. Controlled speech eludes them.

Tonight the Bulls take the floor against the Wizards. They will beat them. There is no way that Tibs tolerates another prima donna display like the one the Bulls put up in the third quarter two nights ago.

Speaking of prima donna displays, the Cubs put one on last night. Kind of. They fell back to the tried and true method of having their pitcher score all their runs. And, because they’re the Cubs, it worked.

Carrie Muskat has the story.

The Cubs have had a tough time scoring lately, so pitcher Travis Wood took matters into his own hands.

Wood belted a three-run homer, hit an RBI double, and struck out nine over seven innings to lead the Cubs to a 5-1 victory Monday night over the D-backs.

“He was a one-man wrecking crew,” Cubs manager Rick Renteria said of Wood.

The four RBIs matched Wood’s career high, set last May 30 against the White Sox when he hit a grand slam. The lefty seemed to do it all and may have even helped the grounds crew deal with the rain that washed out batting practice. First pitch was delayed one hour because of the precipitation. Maybe Wood took advantage of the extra time to take a few more swings in the cage.

How good was Wood? He had a chance at even more RBIs in the sixth when the Cubs loaded the bases with one out against Bronson Arroyo. Arizona manager Kirk Gibson pulled his starter in favor of J.J. Putz, who got Wood to hit into a 1-2-3 double play and end the inning.

“I can see where [Gibson] was looking at a guy who was swinging the bat today, and he probably felt he needed more velocity with [Putz’s] split,” Renteria said of the move. “Even on the fastballs that Putz threw to Woody, it seemed he was on them.”

Wood was upset about the double play. He did recall one time last season when an opposing team made a pitching change before his at-bat.

“It feels good that they respect you up there and you’re doing your job,” Wood said. “Anything I can do to help the team and help myself out there. I’m not just out there in the nine hole to fill a spot. You have to try to be as best you can.”

“That’s supposed to be the free out in the lineup,” Arroyo said of the pitcher’s spot, “and tonight it obviously wasn’t. He pushed across almost all their runs. He’s always been good at the plate, and that’s something you don’t want to let beat you, but that’s the way it went tonight.”

Starlin Castro continued his home hot streak with a single with one out in the Chicago second against Arroyo and scored one out later on Welington Castillo’s bloop single to right. Castro has a hit in every one of the Cubs’ 10 home games.

Ryan Kalish then singled to set up Wood’s first home run of the season off a 1-0 pitch from Arroyo. It was Wood’s seventh career homer; he hit three last season.

“That was a 1-0 curveball,” Arroyo said. “Travis is a good hitter. I played with him for a long time. He’s usually really aggressive, so I was trying to throw him some off-speed [pitches]. But he knows me pretty well, he’s kind of a thinker up there, a bit of a guesser, and it looks like he was looking for the breaking ball and I left it up in the zone.”

Wood does like to hit. In the sixth, he took three aggressive swings against Putz and it looked as if he was aiming for Waveland Avenue behind the left-field bleachers.

“I was,” Wood said. “I always do. It just didn’t happen.”

In the Chicago fourth, Kalish singled with two outs and Wood followed with his double past a diving Tony Campana in center. Last season, Wood hit one double among his 14 hits.

The lefty was 0-for-3 at the plate over his four previous starts, and began the game with a career .177 batting average.

“He can swing,” Castillo said of Wood. “Everybody knows it. He helped us a lot today.”

Wood also can pitch. He held the D-backs to six hits and matched his personal best with nine strikeouts, done twice before, including his second start of the season April 10 against the Pirates. The only blemish was Mark Trumbo’s homer with one out in the seventh.

“He’s a guy who’s kind of a steady Eddie, who goes out there and does his thing and has been getting better every year,” Renteria said. “It was a nice outing for him today.”

Wood had good fastball command, and Renteria said the only pitch that got away from the lefty was the ball Trumbo hit.

“I made a mistake with Trumbo, but otherwise it was pretty solid [outing],” Wood said. “It was supposed to be back door slider [to Trumbo] but it hung there and he did what he’s supposed to do.”

The last Cubs pitcher to collect two extra-base hits in a game was Carlos Zambrano on April 28, 2009, when he doubled and homered against the D-backs.

“He’s a competitor,” Castillo said of Wood. “He goes out every day, every outing and does the best he can, even if we’re not hitting when he pitches. He does the best he can and he tries to help us when he takes his [at-bats].”

Just a reminder, Samardzija, Wood, Castillo, Barney & Bonifacio are all actively being shopped and there are a couple of other guys are being looked at seriously by other teams. So, enjoy it while you can Cubs fans.

Now, Donny Doomsday aside, that was an impressive performance by Wood. It’s exactly what the Ricketts want to see to increase his trade value. And I assure you that he, and everyone else I’ve named, are playing for just that cause. They want to go to winners. Or, if nothing else, at least a team pretending to care.

On the South Side they came off an impressive win against the Rangers and walked into the lion’s den, if you’ll pardon the phrase, that houses the Tigers. This has not been a happy place for them for a while. While John Danks, the Sox starting pitcher, did not score four runs, since he didn’t bat at all, he still kept up his end of the bargain. Scott Merkin reports that that was all the Sox could ask and all that they needed.

When the ball initially left Rajai Davis’ bat in the ninth inning of Monday’s 3-1 White Sox victory over the Tigers at Comerica Park, it looked and sounded for a split-second that Detroit might have pulled off a gut-punching walk-off victory.

White Sox closer Matt Lindstrom (second save) knew differently immediately.

“I think he hit it off the end of the bat,” Lindstrom said. “When I saw the contact, I said, ‘That’s not going anywhere.’”

Davis’ fly ball, following Alex Avila’s one-out double and a walk to pinch-hitter J.D. Martinez, found the glove of left fielder Alejandro De Aza. Ian Kinsler’s ground ball to shortstop Alexei Ramirez finished off a second straight road victory for the White Sox (10-10).

Through the first six innings during this opener of a four-game set between American League Central rivals, the visitors had exactly three baserunners against starter Anibal Sanchez (0-2). Jordan Danks reached on an Austin Jackson error to start the game, De Aza walked with one out in the third and Marcus Semien started the fourth with a double.

Those meager fortunes all changed in the seventh.

The White Sox knocked Sanchez from the game with four hits and scored three times to erase a 1-0 lead, making a winner of John Danks (2-0). That rally also received a little boost from the replay system.

Conor Gillaspie started the seventh with a double to right and appeared to come around to score on Jose Abreu’s ground-rule double down the right-field line. Torii Hunter had a long way to go to get to the ball and his slide came up short, but Hunter immediately signaled that the ball landed foul.

Detroit manager Brad Ausmus challenged the play, but the umpires ruled that the call stood via replay. Dayan Viciedo doubled home the go-ahead run, and then scored on Ramirez’s single to left and a throwing error by Davis. But Viciedo was originally ruled out at home by umpire CB Bucknor, on a throw from Sanchez to Avila, as the White Sox right fielder stopped at third and then tried to advance on the wild throw.

Since White Sox manager Robin Ventura had lost his earlier challenge—on an infield single by Nick Castellanos in the fourth inning—he had to request for a crew chief review from Dan Iassogna. That review was granted and the out call was overturned.

“Kash is good. He got one,” said Ventura of White Sox pregame instructor Mike Kashirsky, who is also involved with replays. “We’re 50-50 tonight.”

“Everything happens so fast. I feel good today. I held the ball better than the last time,” said Sanchez, who fanned three and walked one over 6 1/3 innings. “The seventh inning, for me, was just a couple of mistakes, high balls. They were aggressive all night. They swing at a lot of first pitches. They found a hole.”

Danks worked 6 1/3 innings and 101 pitches, allowing one run on six hits. He walked three, including two in the second to load the bases with nobody out, but escaped that inning by giving up just one run. His changeup kept the Tigers (9-7) off balance, and he took advantage of the aggressiveness of Avila, Andrew Romine and Davis in that second, when he retired the three on seven pitches after loading the bases, with five of those pitches coming in Romine’s at-bat.

“Dodged a big bullet there,” said a smiling Danks of the second. “Obviously, two walks in that inning are not good. But to get out of that one with just one run, where we were at, I guess you’ve got to take that. Try to keep myself out of those situations as best I can.”

“He’s been a good pitcher for a while,” said Avila of Danks. “He’s had some struggles when he’s had his injuries and things like that. But for the most part, he has a really good changeup that he works along with his fastball.

Singles by Romine off of Danks and Davis off of Ronald Belisario put runners on first and third with one out in the seventh, but Kinsler hit the next pitch from Belisario for an inning-ending double play. Belisario worked a scoreless eighth before giving way to Lindstrom, who made things interesting before closing out the victory.

This win had a slightly bittersweet feel to it, with postgame news of White Sox ace Chris Sale going to the 15-day disabled list because of a flexor muscle strain in his left arm. But even that piece of news was encouraging when considering the worst-case scenario.

“I’m going to try to pick up the slack until then,” said Danks of the return of his friend and rotation mate. “After we were down 1-0, I knew if I could keep it within a run or so, we had a chance. This team doesn’t give up. This team plays hard and we really don’t feel like we’re out of any game.

“Sanchez threw the heck out of the ball today. It’s fun to watch when it’s not your offense out there. He did a great job and I’m glad we were able to hold them and those guys got some runs late.”

If you look at the AL Central you’ll note that, thus far, the teams have been beating the snot out of each other. If this continues it won’t be the best team winning but the last one standing. The same appears to be shaping up in the AL East. That means that this season could be fun to watch for lots of reasons.

In the meantime;

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In Which Series Were Lost

Dear Hawks:

You are not the Blues. Quit pretending to be something you’re not. They are a team of, beloved to be sure, bullies and hooligans. You are a team built on speed, puck handling and scoring. If you keep this up you’ll be watching the playoffs in a bar.

Dear Bulls:

You are not the Harlem Freaking Globetrotters. What the hell were you thinking of in that third quarter? Whatever it was don’t ever think that again.

I think that about sums it up. For the obligatory jokes about laying an egg on Easter, I send you to Elliot Harris. Some of them are kind of funny.

The thing of it is that both teams lost because they gave up doing what got them to the playoffs in the first place. Q & Tibs aren’t known for their lackadaisical approaches to things like that so I expect changes and I expect them now.

Speaking of changes, the Cubs stood poised to win their first series since September 11, 2013. It was the kind of game that would allow the team to start building on positives. What fans wanted to see was timely hitting, running the bases intelligently and the ability to keep a two out inning alive. And fans did see that.  Just not from the Cubs.

Carrie Muskat took a look at the damage done by the Little Red Machine.

Cubs manager Rick Renteria always finds the silver lining in a game, and Sunday, he was happy to see the Reds getting their closer, Jonathan Broxton, ready in the ninth even though they had a six-run lead.

“We kept pushing,” Renteria said. “We don’t want anybody to be comfortable in the end. I think we’re pushing everybody to be ready to do whatever they have to close it out against us because we’re not quitting.”

The Cubs stranded two in the ninth and lost, 8-2, once again failing to win a series. Zack Cozart drove in three runs, including a pair on his first home run, and Jay Bruce added a solo shot to back Homer Bailey and give Cincinnati its 19th win in 23 games at Wrigley Field since 2012. That’s the best mark of any visiting team at the ballpark.

“It wasn’t the prettiest game,” Reds manager Bryan Price said, “but we sure did swing the bats well.”

“They did [damage] throughout the lineup—even Bailey got an RBI knock,” Renteria said of the Reds, who scored seven of their eight runs with two outs. “All in all, I think we put together 11 or 12 hits, and ended up scoring a couple runs but we weren’t able to minimize the damage as much as we’d like to.”

The Cubs totaled 28 hits in the three-game series, and scored 11 runs, including eight Saturday in an 8-4 win. On Sunday, they had chances, stranding 14 baserunners, but went 3-for-15 with runners in scoring position.

“It’s baseball,” Chicago’s Mike Olt said of the struggles with runners on base. “There are going to be times when teams go through certain stints like this. I think we’re capable of coming through in spots. We might need one game, two games to get going and we’ll be on our way.”

And all that hitting with two outs by the Reds?

“That’s what wins ballgames, right there, is two-out hitting and doing the little things right and getting guys over,” Olt said. “Once we can start doing that—and we’ve had games when we’ve done that and those are games we’ve win. We have to continue to grind and we’ll figure it out.”

Carlos Villanueva took the loss, throwing a season-high 103 pitches over 4 2/3 innings. The right-hander, who was handed back-to-back losses in relief in the opening series against the Pirates, struck out seven, one shy of his personal high set last April 28 against the Marlins.

Villanueva may have one more start before he is switched to the bullpen and replaced by Jake Arrieta, who was scheduled to make a Minor League rehab start Monday and could be close to returning. Villanueva knows that, too.

“We all know what the plan is, it’s no major secret,” Villanueva said. “If I have to go down to the bullpen, I’ll keep working my butt off and try to help out there.

“I feel good and my stuff is coming out good now. I have to make a pitch and that’s all it comes down to.”

Renteria inserted left-handed hitters Ryan Sweeney, Anthony Rizzo and Nate Schierholtz at Nos. 2-3-4 in the lineup against Bailey in hopes of getting the offense going. Lefties were batting .538 against the Reds starter entering the game. The three Cubs went 2-for-7 against Bailey, who scattered six hits over six scoreless innings.

Emilio Bonifacio walked with one out in the third and thought he had stolen second but Price challenged the call and it was overturned after review. Bailey then hit Sweeney on the foot with a pitch and Rizzo walked, but Schierholtz struck out to end the inning.

The Reds tallied in the fourth on back-to-back RBI doubles by Devin Mesoraco and Cozart, and Bailey followed Cozart with a RBI single to make it 3-0. Villanueva threw 31 pitches that inning.

“It might seem like my stuff flattened out but I didn’t really feel tired,” he said. “Obviously, the stuff wasn’t as crisp. I thought I had good stuff and a lot better plan today. I was one pitch away in [the fourth and fifth] innings. ... They took advantage. They had runners in scoring position and drove them in and made me battle.”

Bruce and Todd Frazier hit consecutive doubles with two outs in the Reds’ fifth to open a 4-0 lead, and Ryan Ludwick added an RBI single to chase Villanueva. Renteria had hoped to get five innings out of the starter to give the bullpen a breather, but couldn’t.

The Reds’ home runs came off Jose Veras, who lost his job as the Cubs closer one week ago. Bruce led off the seventh with his third homer and Cozart connected on his first with one on and two outs.

“It was a good opportunity for him to get on the hill and try to work,” Renteria said of Veras. “He finished it with three runs but ended up eating up an inning.”

Sweeney and Schierholtz each hit RBI singles in the Chicago seventh off Manny Parra. Chicago threatened in the ninth against Sean Marshall, who was making his first appearance of the season. Rizzo and Schierholtz both singled off the lefty, and that’s when Broxton started to get loose.

“Today, as lopsided as the score might have been, we still had second and third in the ninth,” Renteria said. “From the seventh through the ninth, we ended up getting on base and swinging the bat. Obviously we didn’t score enough but it wasn’t like they quit.”

It is early in the season, Villanueva said.

“It’s been strange so far for me and the team,” Villanueva said. “Today’s April 20, so it does us no good hanging our heads or being negative. The numbers are there and the standings are there but it’s April 20. We have to work on some things and come out and put a good stretch in and that’s about it.

“We’re going through a rough patch,” he said. “People know what they can do—I know what I can do. As long as I feel good and healthy, I’ll find a way to help.”

Rough patch? This team could be one of the few teams in history to lose 300 games in 3 years. That’s not a patch that’s an abyss. The last team to do it, the 2002-2005 Detroit Tigers, had to spend their way out to compete again. Anyone see that happening on the North Side?

Does anyone see anything happening there?

Oh, and to add putrid salt to the festering wound, the Cubs appear primed to quash the one bright light they have on offense. I’ll let Seth Gruen at the Sun Times fill you in.

Emilio Bonifacio has looked every bit the part of a bona fide leadoff hitter. If he keeps it up, the Cubs could benefit come the trade deadline.

Bonifacio is hitting .366 after a 2-for-4 performance Sunday in an 8-2 loss to the Reds. He entered the weekend on a 0-for-13 skid but went 6-for-12 in the three-game series. He also has nine stolen bases for the season.

That puts Samardzija, Wood, Castillo, Barney & Bonifacio on the active trading block and two or three more they are listening to offers for. They could, literally, trade almost all their starters by July 31. In case anyone thinks that they are tying to accomplish anything prior to 2020.

Maybe.

On the South Side the Sox stood to be swept at Texas Stadium for the first time since 2007, a train wreck of a season.  And until the 5th inning it was a nail biter that could have gone either way. Then a funny thing happened. The offense just exploded.

Our old pal Scott Merkin has the whole story.

Walking the leadoff hitter in four straight innings certainly isn’t a conducive recipe for success on most afternoons or evenings at the ballpark.

But that exact formula worked for White Sox starter Erik Johnson (1-1) during a 16-2 victory over the Rangers in Sunday afternoon’s series finale at Globe Life Park. Johnson, Ronald Belisario, Andre Rienzo and Matt Lindstrom combined to actually two-hit the Rangers, despite six free passes issued and two Texas hit batsmen.

“Even though they had two hits, it seemed like they had a lot of action,” said White Sox manager Robin Ventura of his pitching against the Rangers. “You are either effectively wild or effectively lucky. Probably had a little bit of everything.

“There was a little Harry Houdini in there and being able to get out of it and get through it. Guys came through with a few runs and then some tack-on runs and put it away.”

Those tack-on runs totaled seven in the ninth inning off of reliever Hector Noesi, when 11 men came to the plate. By the time this frame was complete, Marcus Semien had a career-high four hits, while Jose Abreu, Tyler Flowers and Dayan Viciedo had three apiece.

It was quite an outburst for an offense that had scored just four runs in its previous three games.

“Today was the White Sox day,” Texas manager Ron Washington said. “They hit balls, they hit bags, they found holes. I think you’ve got to give them credit for putting the ball in play and making things happen.”

“We put together good at-bats,” said Semien, who moved to the leadoff spot with Adam Eaton out of the lineup. “We swung at strikes. We got pitches up and hit the ball the other way. If you hit the ball the other way, right field here, it can get in the jet stream and get out of the ballpark. I’m happy with how we played. I’m happy with how we played defense as well. It was a good overall team win.”

Johnson left after five innings and 87 pitches, of which only 44 were thrown for strikes.

Johnson walked Shin-Soo Choo in the first, but Choo was caught stealing by Flowers. He walked Prince Fielder in the second, but Mitch Moreland erased him with a double-play grounder. He walked Josh Wilson in the third, and Wilson scored on Choo’s sacrifice fly.

That run was set up by Leonys Martin’s single off Abreu’s glove, which stood up as the only hit off Johnson. There was then a walk to Elvis Andrus in the fourth with Andrus swiping second, moving to third on a Flowers’ throwing error and scoring on a wild pitch.

Even in the fifth, Johnson needed nine pitches to retire Wilson on a line out to Semien at second base on a 3-2 offering to open the frame. Johnson gave credit to Flowers’ game-calling to get him through on a day when he didn’t have top-of-the-line control.

“Five walks is a lot,” said Johnson, who did issue one intentionally and struck out two. “I gave them way too much for what they got and I’m just lucky [we] could turn a few double plays. It’s not the day I wanted, but I’ll take it.

“In the big situations, I thought Flow put down some good fingers and he called a good game for what I was working with. I did make some big pitches when I needed them.”

Jordan Danks started the White Sox scoring with a two-run homer in the third off Ross (1-1) and off the upper deck facing in right, scoring Flowers. The White Sox (9-10) added three runs in the fifth on Conor Gillaspie’s sacrifice fly and Abreu’s opposite field, 403-foot homer to right-center, his fifth. They put up three more in the sixth on Semien’s bases-clearing triple.

Texas (11-8) elected to walk Danks intentionally to load the bases with two outs in the sixth to get to Semien. But Semien made them pay by launching a 1-2 curve ball from Shawn Tolleson deep to left-center.

“I got to 0-2 quick, so it felt good to battle back and get those runs in,” Semien said. “I’ve been having a slow series here, so it was good to get that extra-base hit.”

Viciedo added his first homer, an opposite field shot to right in the seventh, before the ninth-inning outburst. About the only thing that didn’t go right for the White Sox was a sixth-inning challenge in an at-bat involving Alejandro De Aza.

With runners on first and third and nobody out, De Aza was potentially hit by a pitch and called out on a checked swing. The call on the field was that De Aza was not hit by a pitch.

Ventura challenged that ruling, but the ruling of De Aza not being hit stood. De Aza was out on a checked swing, leaving the White Sox 0-for-3 on challenges this season.

This moment of confusion didn’t prevent the White Sox from snapping a four-game losing streak as they embark on a four-game trip to Detroit.

“Any time you get runs, it’s good. Guys swung the bat today,” Ventura said. “The other stuff, just letting guys get on and it’s just an odd game.”

“I’m glad we put some runs on the board today. Tomorrow we’ll try and do the same thing,” Semien said. “You’re not always going to get that many hits, but put a good amount of hits up, a good amount of runs up and see what our pitchers can do.”

Coming out of Spring Training pitching looked to be a strong suit. All of the staff had learned a cutter and they all looked healthy. Except for Chris Sale, who will give you 7 solid innings even if he’s being shot at, the rest of the staff has been iffy at best.

I have no idea why that is.

Paulino is a good example. In ST he was a highlight gif on several web sites due to his cutter and splitter leaving hitters weak in the knees. Now he may as well be pitching batting practice.

If they can figure this out they certainly have an offense worthy of supporting them. And that could make this season very fun to watch.

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In which We Wish You a Happy Easter

If you want to read my blog about Easter that contains a link to the history of the holiday then CLICK HERE. Otherwise, just have a nice day.

In Which There’s No Sale

I get it. Everything costs something. The more spiritual among you might add that not all costs are financial. You would find me agreeing with them. Given the nature of the holiday this weekend it seems a good time to reflect on that. Our Jewish friends just celebrated Passover. That is a holiday that, at its core, celebrates freedom from bondage. The reason the Jews were in bondage was so they could supply cheap labor for their captors. So being Jewish carried a heavy price. And, obviously, were it not for 30 pieces of silver, there would be no Easter.

So everything has a cost.

But there comes a time then that aphorism tumbles into absurdity. Like when the Kristall Spa in Germany tried to celebrate one of the worst horrors in human history by offering a Kristallnacht spa package. Because nothing says “Hey, let’s kill innocent people who are different than us” better than laying around with cucumber slices on your eyes and some dude/chick named Inga giving you a full body massage.

What I’m saying is that some things are not well thought out.

Okay, I’ll lighten up now.

But the Cubs seem to be going out of their way to prove my point. Back on January 15th I noted that they had managed to screw up a Teddy Bear. The release was so ill timed as to be laughable. In one week they were announcing the highest ticket prices in baseball, welcoming Mashairo Tanaka to the Yankees and admitting they had no real plans to do any of the actual work on the stadium that they’d promised. Into this maelstrom they unveiled a mascot. One that they would rent for kiddy parties at $400 a pop. That’s a common rate, but you can see the disconnect.

Just FYI, if you do take your kids to meet Clark make sure they have waterproof shoes. Numerous reports state that the floor is awash in beer from drunken yahoos trying to get their pictures taken with the kid friendly darling.

In keeping with that theme they are celebrating 100 Years of Wrigley. Except that they’re not. The park was Weeghman Field from 1914 to 1926. Only then was it renamed Wrigley. And the Cubs didn’t play there until 1916. In other words, the Ricketts family pulled a random date out of some random ass and decided to sell the crap out of it. The anniversary they are celebrating, if I may completely abuse that word, is for a concrete edifice that has, at least not for two more years, nothing to do with the team. Because that seems to be working they are joining the high class world of soiled pantie sales and offering pre-worn, pseudo-antique, jerseys for sale from the upcoming “anniversary game” on April 23rd. When you read the press release, and - no - it was not written by The Onion, they do not actually list the game time. Just the cool stuff that will be available. Oh, and in keeping with their minor league vibe, all of the park staff will be wearing costumes.

Come on down and bring fucktons of cash.

In the meantime the Cubs are NOT promoting games on MLB.TV like every other major league club. Nope, they are promoting games on MiLB.TV. That would be the network for Minor League Baseball. I couldn’t make this stuff up if I tried.

Anyway, in keeping with the nostalgia theme being pimped by Clark and his passel o’ pimps, Gordon Wittenmyer hearkens back to the days of yore when the Cubs were an actual baseball team.

Alfonso Soriano spent much of his time in the Yankees’ clubhouse early Wednesday talking about his losing seasons with the Cubs and the trade to New York last summer that he thinks will give him a shot at reaching another World Series.

A few hours later, Masahiro Tanaka spent much of his postgame media time at the other end of the Yankees’ clubhouse trying to sidestep questions about what he thought of the Cubs — whether he’s glad he didn’t take their $120 million to pitch at Wrigley Field and how much better it is to play for a 27-time champion — after shutting them out.

All the while, off to the side sat left-hander CC Sabathia, a quiet reminder of a time — maybe the only time in the four decades of free agency — that the Cubs could compete with the Yankees as a top destination for big-time players with choices.

Now the Cubs don’t come close to competing with the Yankees at any level. They were shut out in both ends of a doubleheader Wednesday to fall to 4-10.

Sabathia doesn’t know how the Cubs went from penthouse to poorhouse in five years. But the top free-agent pitcher on the market in 2008-09 does know this: ‘‘I had interest in going [there], especially at that time, because they still had Derrek Lee and some of those good players. [Carlos] Zambrano was still there. It was a pretty good team.’’

Even better than the Yankees, who had just missed the playoffs and won eight fewer games than the Cubs in 2008. So much better in Sabathia’s mind that, according to team sources, he told Lee to let management know he wanted to sign with the Cubs.

Sabathia said he doesn’t remember all the details, ‘‘but I definitely talked to everybody I could. My agent did talk to the Cubs. I don’t know how far those talks went.’’

They went about as far as the Cubs’ budget, which is to say nowhere. As Sam Zell got closer to an agreement to sell the team to the Ricketts family, two years of ownership-mandated big spending on players was abruptly frozen.

That same winter, the Cubs were close to swinging a deal for San Diego Padres right-hander Jake Peavy, who had agreed to renegotiate the terms of his contract to fit the Cubs’ long-term projections and was so fired up to be coming to Chicago that he was seen singing ‘‘Go, Cubs, Go’’ in a bar near the winter meetings in Las Vegas the night before the money was frozen.

Sabathia went on to finish among the top four in Cy Young voting the next three seasons for the Yankees and helped them win the World Series in 2009.

The Cubs, meanwhile, haven’t had a winning season since 2009, and their most recent free-agent experiences include losing Tanaka to the Yankees and winding up with Edwin Jackson two winters ago after Anibal Sanchez used their pursuit as leverage to drive up interest from the Tigers.

As Sabathia sat in the Yankees’ clubhouse, he reflected on signing in New York.

‘‘If you say you want to be a winner, this is the place to come,’’ he said. ‘‘They do whatever they can every offseason to try to put the best team out on the field.’’

Which, strange to think now, describes how he once viewed the Cubs.

‘‘Yeah, at that time,’’ he said. ‘‘Picking a team as a free agent, you want to pick a place where you would think you have a chance to win for a long time. And, obviously, [Chicago] was one of the places I thought about.’’

These days, for players such as Sabathia — and, it seems, Soriano and Tanaka — the Cubs are little more than afterthoughts.

There is nothing I can add to that so let’s move on.

Last night saw the Sox send Chris Sale to the mound. He struck out 10. He had a no hitter going. And he got .... you knew this was coming .... no sale.

Our pal Scott Merkin managed not to spit lava all over his desk after the game.

Pinning the White Sox 3-1 loss to the Red Sox on Thursday night at U.S. Cellular Field on the South Siders’ bullpen would be both easy and convenient.

After all, it was Ronald Belisario (1-2) who gave up two runs in the ninth to allow Boston (7-9) to escape with a series victory.

But the way the White Sox (8-8) viewed the contest, which featured a classic pitchers’ battle between Chris Sale and Boston’s Jon Lester, it wasn’t so much a game they lost as much as the Red Sox won.

“We kept our heads high,” Sale said. “I don’t think we got outpitched or outhit. We got out-lucked.”

“Tonight, Lester was the reason,” said White Sox manager Robin Ventura of his team’s second straight loss. “We had chances and we just didn’t push them in. In the end, if you’re not going to score with that many chances, things like that happen.”

Sale and Lester matching up in this series finale pretty much dictated a low-scoring affair, not to mention more pitches within the strike zone as compared to the 15 walks issued by the White Sox in Wednesday’s setback. These aces didn’t disappoint, with Sale hurling 5 2/3 no-hit innings and retiring 17 of the first 19 batters he faced, and Lester (2-2) setting down the first 16 he faced to start the game.

Xander Bogaerts ended Sale’s no-hit bit with a 425-foot homer in the sixth, while Tyler Flowers’ single to shallow left broke up Lester’s bid for perfection.

“It’s hard to miss when you look up there and there’s nothing but zeros,” Sale said. “It’s kind of who is going to crack first. I think I lost that one by about 490 feet.”

“Oh, I mean, it’s cool, it’s fun. It’s a heavyweight bout tonight,” Lester said. “It’s kind of who was going to make the mistake first. He did, and then I gave it right back. If you don’t like that pitching, you don’t like baseball. That was a lot of fun tonight.”

Leury Garcia followed Flowers’ single with a ground-rule double, and Adam Eaton brought home Flowers with an infield single. The White Sox were set up at first and third with one out, but Marcus Semien became one of Lester’s nine strikeout victims, and Dayan Viciedo flew out to right.

Another White Sox scoring chance came in the seventh when Adam Dunn singled to right and two outs later tried to come home from first on Alejandro De Aza’s double to right. A relay throw from Daniel Nava to Dustin Pedroia to catcher David Ross nailed Dunn and kept the game tied.

“You have to take a chance right there, especially with the way Lester’s throwing,” said Ventura of sending Dunn. “Both of those guys were great tonight. Once the no-hitters were out of the way, we had some chances and we didn’t get it done. Jon was tough. He made it tough on everybody up there.”

There wasn’t exactly much let up from Sale either. He recorded a season-high 10 strikeouts, giving him 11 double-digit career strikeout efforts and tying him with Billy Pierce for fifth most in franchise history in that category. He also set a career high with 127 pitches, winning a battle with Ryan Roberts in the seventh by striking him out after walking Mike Napoli and Ross.

Even in just the fourth start of the season, Sale didn’t seem affected by the high pitch total.

“That’s what I’m supposed to do, especially after a night like last night,” Sale said. “We have the house throwing multiple innings. You got to pick up some slack right there and do what you can.”

“I was trying to calm him down a little bit. Mixing in a couple more changeups seems to always bring him back a little bit more under control,” said Flowers of Sale, who was visibly agitated after walking Ross but calmed down to escape the inning. “I felt that was a good move, and a lot of respect from the staff to leave him in there. He battled his butt off all game, and we weren’t able to get too many runs for him. Kind of leave the game in his hands and he did a great job.”

Boston’s ninth-inning rally was highlighted by Ross’ run-scoring double off of Belisario and Jonathan Herrera’s run-scoring bunt single off of Scott Downs. Alexei Ramirez singled in the ninth against Koji Uehara (third save) to set a new franchise record of hitting in 16 straight games to start a season, but the White Sox would get no closer.

They leave a 4-3 homestand for a seven-game road trip to Texas and Detroit, starting Friday. Their confidence is intact despite the two tough setbacks.

“We’ll continue in Texas and we’ll continue to do the same thing we do,” said Eaton, who robbed David Ortiz of a home run in the first. “That’s compete every pitch and put our best foot forward.”

“Like I said, this isn’t something we should hang our heads about,” Sale said. “We played three great games. We just got out-lucked.”

I understand what Sale is saying. And I admire him for his ability to admit that he enjoyed his part of the game. It was one hell of a pitchers’ duel.

That being said, the Sox’ starters have lost two games. The rest are no decisions. Of those no decisions 6 additional losses have come from the pen. I don’t want to play the “If we even had half of those back” game because it makes me crazy. But the loss dropped the Sox into 3rd from 1st (that kind of stuff happens early in the year) and is the kind of thing that can creep into a team’s psyche.

Right now they’re as mentally strong as I can remember. What else accounts for Adam Dunn trying to beat out a throw at home? Seriously Adam, stealing bases and pushing for an extra bag are not your gig. Although, I have to admit, it was fun as hell watching you try. Had it worked, for any reason, the city would be talking about nothing else.

And that does seem to be the team this year. A play here, a play there, and thus doth the game fall.

Still, I’d rather watch them than sit through the MiL.TV team that makes Limburger smell good.

Oh, by the way, get off the damn ledge. Hawks in 6.

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