In Which I’m Fundertastic!

I like to go to the library to write. It’s peaceful, the people are nice and I can focus. So, yesterday, I went to there to write. While I was relatively immersed in what I was doing I nevertheless felt something amiss. I turned around and found a lady reading over my shoulder. I looked at her and said “This has to be making no sense to you. It’s like walking in on the middle of a conversation.” She responded with “I’m sorry, I didn’t know people still wrote.” I replied with “Really? Where do you think all these books came from?” She, using her polite - I’m in a library voice, called me an asshole and left.

Yeah, that’s me. Making friends wherever I go.

Anyway, as I said, I was writing. Specifically I was working on a companion piece to a novel I wrote. It was meant to be a brief aside. Something fun for the kids at home, if you will. Although, given the amount of sex and violence in my writing, you may not actually want children to even see the cover. That said I happily cruised past the 50,000 word mark and still haven’t introduced all the characters. Something tells me that of the many adjectives available “brief” won’t be the one used to describe this thing.

Let’s move on.

In keeping with our theme of things not quite going according to plan, let’s chat about the Cubbies.

Team Theo continues to get paid big money to do nothing. I have to think that that’s gotta be frustrating to them. At some point I have to believe that they’d like to put a team on the field that wouldn’t embarrass a picnic league. As I reported back in January the business side took the $120 MIL that was slated to go to Tanaka over 6 years and prorated it into future budgets, So that’s $20 MIL a year for six years. Meanwhile the budget for payroll has gone down each year and next year the team will only have about $25 MIL on the books. Unless something changes drastically what that means is that the team will have a $45 MIL payroll in 2015 and only 4 players under contract.

I’m sure that will all go well.

Meanwhile, A. J. Pierzynski was back in Chicago. The bad news for Sox fans is that he was at Wrigley. The good news is that he playing against the Cubs. That whole “the enemy of my enemy is my friend” thing kind of comes into play in moments like this.

Jack Cassidy at the Sun Times says that everything worked out according to plan. As long you have nothing to do with the Cubs.

Once again, the Cardinals relied on Matt Adams’ clutch bat.

Adams drove in four runs, A.J. Pierzynski had three hits in his St. Louis debut and the Cardinals beat the Cubs 6-3 on Saturday at Wrigley Field to stop a four-game skid.

Adams doubled sharply in the first inning, a one-hopper that bounced past first baseman Anthony Rizzo and into right field to score two runs. Adams’ two-run triple with two outs in the seventh made it 5-2.

“He was our guy today,” Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said. “If you look at when we started to gain some traction in our division, it’s when Matt started to go. Not to put the pressure on him, but he was the guy at the time and he’s continued to do that, to step up big for us.”

Helping out Adams was the 37-year-old Pierzynski, who signed with the Cardinals on Saturday, 10 days after he was released by Boston. St. Louis had been looking for a steady presence behind the plate since All-Star catcher Yadier Molina tore a ligament in his right thumb July 9.

Molina had surgery two days later and is expected to miss eight to 12 weeks.

“That was pretty much a cram session for A.J. there,” Matheny said. “He did a nice job coming in, obviously making an impact with the bat, but I felt like he had a nice feel for what Shelby (Miller) was doing.”

Miller returned to the Cardinals’ rotation and pitched effectively into the sixth inning.

The young right-hander began the game with three perfect innings and retired 16 of his first 18 batters. In his first start since being removed from the rotation July 10, Miller allowed two runs and three hits in 5 2-3 innings. He had given up at least three runs in his previous five starts.

Randy Choate (2-2) got the last out of the sixth. Trevor Rosenthal worked around two hits in a scoreless ninth, earning his 31st save in 35 tries.

“When you get in a groove and you’re feeling pretty good, in a rhythm, you just keep going,” Miller said. “That’s kind of what I felt like I did today.”

Nate Schierholtz hit a solo shot for the Cubs in the sixth, tying it at 2. It was Schierholtz’s fourth career pinch-hit homer.

Rizzo drove in a run with a groundout in the fourth.

Cubs starter Jake Arrieta settled in after the two-run first inning, allowing just three baserunners the rest of the way. He thwarted Cardinals threats in the fourth and fifth, and a diving catch by left fielder Chris Coughlan helped Arrieta escape the sixth.

“He did it with not his best stuff, but he was still pretty effective,” Cubs manager Rick Renteria said. “That performance was probably indicative of how much he’s grown.”

With Arrieta out of the game, the Cardinals pulled back ahead in the seventh, scoring four runs against reliever James Russell (0-2). Jon Jay hit a leadoff single, advanced on a sacrifice and stole third before scoring the tiebreaking run on Matt Carpenter’s grounder.

Russell’s four earned runs allowed marked his worst outing since July 21, 2012, when he gave up six, also against the Cardinals.

Ryan Sweeney hit a leadoff homer against Pat Neshek in the eighth, his third home run of the season and second this series.

NOTES: Adams had only four RBIs in his previous 23 games against the Cubs. ... Pierzynski, who batted sixth for the Cardinals, was booed loudly by the Wrigley Field crowd during his first at-bat. Pierzynski played seven seasons on the south side of Chicago for the White Sox. ... The Cubs optioned RHP Neil Ramirez to Triple-A Iowa and recalled RHP Blake Parker. The 25-year-old Ramirez has a 0.96 ERA in 33 appearances this season. Renteria indicated the move was made to give Ramirez a rest and was not based on performance. ... Rizzo went 0 for 4, ending his 10-game hitting streak. ... Cardinals ace Adam Wainwright (12-5, 2.02 ERA) pitches the series finale Sunday against Kyle Hendricks (1-0, 2.77), who will make his third big league start.

The whole Ramirez demotion has me scratching my noggin. He hasn’t even seen 40 games, has an ERA near zero and they move him to 3A for rest? Am I missing something? Are the Cubs so loaded with pitching that guys like that are expendable? And, if so, where are those guys? They sure as hell weren’t on the mound yesterday. You don’t end up losing 6-3 due to stellar pitching.

Moving on.

The Sox have been having a rough year too. Short of a torn anus they have dealt with every injury imaginable.

Thanks to DUI Attorney for hipping me to that nightmare,

Anyway, they’ve been injured a lot. Then they came out of the All Star break and got bitch slapped by the Royals. Clearly they were on their way to a death spiral. But a funny thing happened on their way to trade Chris Sale. They shook off their KC Bar-B-Q overdose and went ice fishing.

Patrick Donnelly of MLB.com says that was exactly what the doctor ordered.

Chris Sale made quick work of the Twins on Saturday night—something the White Sox have done all weekend.

Sale struck out 12 and Alexei Ramirez led a 14-hit attack with a two-run homer to carry the White Sox to a 7-0 win over the Twins at Target Field. Chicago has taken the first three games of the series and hasn’t trailed in the 27 innings played so far. After losing two of three to the Royals at home earlier in the week, the White Sox have picked a great time to play some of their best baseball of the year.

“This team is very voracious in the desire to keep winning, and to keep getting better,” Sale said. “I think we’ve shown that on a nightly basis coming in here and working hard, and just never giving up. When things aren’t really going our way, we’re still playing and we still come to win.”

Sale over eight innings allowed five hits, walked two and tied his season high for strikeouts in a game. With his 15th career start of 10 or more strikeouts, Sale moved into a tie for second place with Juan Pizarro on the all-time franchise list, trailing only Ed Walsh, who did it 17 times.

“That’s cool stuff to talk about in the offseason and stuff, and for your family and friends to talk about,” Sale said. “For me personally, I just try to stay focused on what we have at hand. For me, I have a team here that needs me to help them win, and that’s my job.”

The Twins barely left a mark on Sale all night. They managed a minor threat in the second when Josh Willingham singled and Kurt Suzuki drew a two-out walk to put a runner in scoring position. Eduardo Nunez made a bid for a hit up the middle, but Sale speared it and flipped to Paul Konerko at first base to end the inning.

And that was about it. Minnesota didn’t get two runners on base in the same inning again until the eighth, and that came after Eduardo Escobar and Trevor Plouffe singled on balls that traveled about 40 feet combined.

“He was great. He seemed to have everything,” manager Robin Ventura said. “He was just working fast, too. I think this is probably the fastest I’ve seen him work, just getting the ball, not a lot of shaking off or anything like that. He was just throwing. And he was throwing everything, too.”

The White Sox struck first, stringing together a pair of two-out hits to get on the scoreboard in the second. Twins left-hander Logan Darnell, making his first Major League start, mowed down the first five Sox in order, including swinging strikeouts of Dayan Viciedo and Konerko to start the second.

But Conor Gillaspie rifled a pitch down the right-field line for a two-out double, and Tyler Flowers followed with a seeing-eye single to center field to drive in the run.

They doubled their lead in the third when Jose Abreu—who singled in the ninth to extend his hitting streak to 16 games—hit a sacrifice fly. They doubled it again in the fifth when Ramirez looped a fly ball down the left-field line and off the foul pole for his 10th home run of the season and a 4-0 White Sox lead.

According to Ventura, the key to his team’s offensive success on Saturday and over the past three days—in which the Sox have banged out 42 hits—is finding holes in the defense.

“Sometimes you get in a groove where you’re hitting the ball hard, and early on it just wasn’t going at anybody,” Ventura said. “Flowers had a nice hit up the middle, Alexei’s big home run to get us up by four, you feel pretty lucky—he had one earlier in the week that went foul, and now you get one that hits the foul pole.”

The offense provided the knockout punch on Darnell in the sixth when Konerko, Gillaspie, Flowers and Alejandro De Aza led off with consecutive hits. By the time Gordon Beckham capped the inning with a sacrifice fly, the Sox were up, 7-0.

That was more than enough for Sale, who lowered his ERA to 1.88 with the eight dominant frames. In his four starts this month, Sale is 3-0 with a 0.85 ERA and 38 strikeouts in 31 2/3 innings.

“He’s a really good pitcher,” Ventura said. “I think it gets proven every time he goes out there, that he’s one of the best pitchers in the league.”

One thing I’ve noticed since the break is that the whole staff is pitching faster. Almost - dare I say it? - Buehrle-esque.

Not to be confused with burlesque.

Teams that control the mound tend to win a large chunk more often than they lose. And the Sox have been controlling the mound.

Okay, enough of that.

Today, two legendary Chicago players are being inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame at 12:00 PM ET. Frank Thomas and Greg Maddux put up video game numbers for years and put booties in the seats because of it. You did not leave the room when either of them were on TV and you sure as hell didn’t take a potty break if you were at the game. More importantly they played the game the right way. They both serve as stellar examples of how to live your life between the white lines. They both have all the individual awards you could ask for and the one team award that is the only thing that matters in baseball.

I for one will park my slenderizing booty in front of a big screen TV and wish them well.

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In Which The Heat is On

As some of you know I have been dieting. Or, more accurately, learning a new way to live. All in all it’s been a positive experience. I have gone from a 56” waist to a 40”. My former blimp like frame which carried around 406lbs now is down to 235 and dropping. But there are moments where I think I’m pregnant. I get the oddest cravings. My doctor says that’s normal and that I should go ahead and give in to them. This explains why I went to the local gas station at 6:30 this morning to get a can of Hawaiian Punch. I have not had Hawaiian Punch since I was 5 but this morning I needed that more than I needed oxygen. So I bought a can, drank it in around 4 seconds and was happy. My doctor says that will happen as my body normalizes. So I guess that I needed Hawaiian Punch to normalize.

Not that I’m any threat to ever be normal, but there you have it.

Anyway, as I’m going through my changes our baseball teams are going through theirs.

My buddy, the scout, was sent to the dregs of humanity - also known as Phoenix - to scout the Cubs. He was not alone.

Gordon Wittenmyer says that it was a scouting orgy in Arizona last night.

A large group of scouts already had filled two tables in the dining room at Chase Field when four more walked through the door about an hour before the Cubs’ game Saturday against the Arizona Diamondbacks.

‘‘This is a big game,’’ one said with a smile.

Two teams that entered the series in last place in their divisions put what was left of their wares on display for three days in the same showroom.

It doesn’t get any bigger than that for would-be contenders in the two weeks between the All-Star Game and the non-waiver trade deadline July 31.

And the players in the Cubs’ clubhouse feel it as acutely as they do the 108-degree temperatures in Phoenix, even in the relative quiet since the blockbuster trade July 4 that sent their top two pitchers to the Oakland Athletics.

‘‘It wouldn’t surprise anybody if something else happened,’’ said second baseman Darwin Barney, who might be on the brink of Cubs extinction with second-base prospect Arismendy Alcantara already on the roster and Class AAA prospect Javy Baez recently moved to second. ‘‘There’s a lot of time left [before the deadline] and a lot of teams that still want to add, and we’re a team they could add from.’’

The San Francisco Giants are looking for a second baseman, and Barney’s Gold Glove and West Coast roots might make him a good fit there.

Lefty reliever James Russell has drawn the most interest among the Cubs on the sale shelf, and many expect him to be the next player traded. Lefty reliever Wesley Wright, right-hander Carlos Villanueva and outfielders Justin Ruggiano and Nate Schierholtz also are in play, and sources say several teams are interested in infielder Luis Valbuena.

‘‘All I know is what everybody else knows by [reading] trade rumors and what I see on TV,’’ Russell said. ‘‘I’d like to hang out here. I like it here. This is all I know. I’m comfortable here. That goes a long way. But if I do go, I hope it’s for the better of the team and the organization, and I’d like to at least go to a winning team.’’

The Cubs dealt their top two trade chips in the four-for-two swap with the Athletics that sent right-handers Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel to Oakland. The Cubs entered play Saturday 2-9 since making that deal.

Some of the most value the Cubs figure to get in trades the rest of the way will come in the form of roster flexibility for potential prospect promotions and salary savings to add to their spending ability in 2015.

If there’s a coup left to pull off, it would be finding an opportunity to trade right-hander Edwin Jackson and a chunk of the $26 million left on a contract that runs through 2016.

And a narrow window of opportunity might be open because of the pitching misfortune suffered by the New York Yankees, who have the financial muscle and are close enough to the top of the American League East to make a deal possible.

‘‘You’ve seen crazier things happen,’’ said Jackson, who has been traded six times in his career. ‘‘Anybody can be a candidate to be traded. . . . As a player, you can’t really worry about what you can’t control.’’

The Cubs were at the same ballpark when they traded right-hander Matt Garza and outfielder Alfonso Soriano in separate deals days apart last season.

‘‘Nothing surprises me,’’ manager Rick Renteria said. ‘‘You try to kind of prepare for everything. . . . But at this point in time, I don’t try to speculate.’’

Not that it matters in the grand scheme of things but the Cubs lost a nail biter 9-3. Also, according to several sources, any player you talk to on the Cubs echoes Russell. If they’re going to go please let them go to a winning team. Many of the players are rumored to keep travel bags near their lockers. I guess that makes sense. Why go all the way back to the hotel when you can just grab a cab and hit the airport? There’s no reason to hang around. It’s not like there’s a future for them here.

The White Sox recently sent Dylan Axelrod to Cincinnati for an Izzy’s 110 Reuben and a dessert of Graeter’s Ice Cream. They made this trade because none of their minor league affiliates would take the guy.  On the plus side, that Reuben can feed a family of four.

While the Cubs might be 2-9 since they dumped their pitchers the Sox are 2-0 since their deal. Brian Sandalow at the Sun Times has the whole story.

Paul Konerko was asked before the game Saturday about how different things would be for the White Sox if they hadn’t signed Jose Abreu last fall. Abreu was courted by many suitors, including the Astros, who were willing to invest tens of millions in a rookie who had never played pro baseball.

But, as Konerko pointed out, as great as Abreu’s impact has been, a team needs more than a high-impact slugger to win games. And the Sox’ 4-3 victory against the Astros proved that.

“There’s definitely been a lot of games he’s single-handedly put us in the driver’s seat or come up with a big home run,” Konerko said. “Having said that, there’s a lot of teams out there that want offense that don’t win. So you look at some of the teams we’ve had here over the years with Frank [Thomas] and Magglio [Ordonez], it’s kind of a known thing that that’s not enough. You need more than that.

“But there’s definitely a lot of games that I can think of with them where they factored in not only with the driving in of runs, but with getting on base and scoring the other ones.”

Abreu went 1-for-5, and his hit gave him at least one in 28 of the last 29 games and 10 in a row, but this wasn’t one of those nights when he carried the Sox. He remained stuck on 29 home runs, and his slugging percentage dipped slightly to .624, both categories he led the majors in entering play.

Instead, it was Tyler Flowers’ three hits, including a double in the fifth that gave the Sox the 4-3 lead, that carried the offense. Hector Noesi pitched six solid innings for his fourth win. And the much-maligned bullpen threw three more scoreless innings, including two from Ronald Belisario. Zach Putnam picked up a one-out save after striking out Jason Castro with runners on first and second to end the game.

“Awesome,” Noesi said of the bullpen.

That bullpen hasn’t been awesome, and even with those three hits, Flowers is hitting only .229. But the relievers and players such as Flowers will have to contribute on nights when Abreu is held in check for the Sox to stay in contention in the division and wild-card races.

That has happened in the first two games after the All-Star break, and the Sox have two victories to show for it.

“You never know what happens,” manager Robin Ventura said of Flowers, who has four hits in the first two games after the break. “I don’t know where he went over the break, but you can come back with renewed energy.”

Maybe that will be true of the entire team, which staggered into the break with four losses in its last five games to fall six below .500.

“Well, I don’t know if I’m quite locked in yet,’’ Flowers said. ‘‘Good to put some quality at-bats together. I got some pitches I was able to handle and got some good results out of it. Those could’ve been 0-for-3 with three good at-bats, but fortunately they found the holes and got the job done in those situations.

“Really nothing major, just trying to learn how to trust myself, those kind of things — the kind of things that slip away from hitters all the time. It just took a little while to get a grasp back on that.”

NOTE: The Sox optioned infielder Carlos Sanchez to Class AAA Charlotte after the game. They will make a corresponding move Sunday.

Avisail Garcia is getting set to go to a rehab assignment. Since he’s already swinging with one arm and is able to use it without pain most of the people I spoke with see him coming back in mid-August. That’s the same as a blockbuster trade and the Sox don’t have to give anything up.

The Sox knew going in that this was going to be a tough year. That’s if everything went well. The plague of locusts and rain made of frogs that beset them certainly didn’t help. That said I still like where this team is headed. If they can get some pitching before the deadline they might even make a run at it. The Central is not the impervious wall it has been in the past.

And my sources say that Hahn has similar thoughts.

Stick around, this could get fun sooner rather than later.

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In Which the Kids Can Play

It has been a busy week in B3 land. In the two weeks since my bank got bought it has been one adventure after another. The good news is that my new bank has a 24 hour help desk based in America. The bad news is that they need it. Thus far they have changed my online security questions twice. Without asking or telling me. I knew I was in trouble when my security question was “Who is your favorite sibling?” Being an only child that one was kind of tough for me to answer. While I’m a pretty open minded guy, becoming intimate with a help desk is not something I ever wanted to try.

Anyway, on a different note, June 1 came and went and not one person has tried to gay marry me. I almost wonder if I should be insulted.

Speaking of which, I was coming home on the train last night and during my layover at Union Station I spied these two young ladies holding hands. They were a cute couple. Anyway, as we were all walking to the train together they got separated by the throng. One girl reached to grab her friend’s hand and got mine instead. A few seconds later, without looking, she said “Stacy, doll, you really need a manicure.” Those of you who know me know that I have a deep, raspy, voice. So when I responded “Yes I do” the poor girl almost fainted. Not wanting to cause a scene I grabbed the other girl’s hand, put it in the first girl’s clasp, and said “There you go, all better now.”

While they clearly had no idea what to make of me that seemed to calm her down and they hustled quickly to their train. As for me I laughed all the way home.

Which seemed to unnerve some of the other passengers.

Oh well, whatcha gonna do?

Speaking of unnerving let’s talk about the Cubs. The ten year rebuilding plan, according to Dale Sveum, is now in its third year and seems to have its admirers. I’m not one of them but that really doesn’t matter. What matters, at least to the Cubs, is that they are developing a core fan base around their core players. The number of fans pales in comparison to the halcyon days of yore, but when you have no budget and no team you take what you can get.

After the All Star game is the time when teams traditionally look to the second half and what they need to do to improve. The Cubs are having nothing to do with that. And I can understand that. What the hell could they possibly say? So, instead, they had Teddy Cahill from MLB.com take a look at their prospects.

Javier Baez, Kris Bryant and Addison Russell, the Cubs’ top three prospects, all homered Thursday in a banner day for the club’s top two Minor League affiliates. Bryant and Baez went deep in Triple-A Iowa’s 7-0 victory at Round Rock, while Russell’s home run helped Double-A Tennessee defeat Huntsville, 4-1.

Baez and Bryant were playing their first game for Iowa in nearly a week after playing against each other in Sunday’s All-Star Futures Game and then getting a few days off for the Triple-A All-Star break. The rest didn’t seem to faze them.

Baez, ranked No. 6 on MLBPipeline.com’s Top 100 Prospects list, went 2-for-4 with a home run, a double and three RBIs. He extended his hitting streak to 10 games.

Bryant, No. 8 in the Top 100, finished the game 3-for-5 with a home run, a double and two runs. His home run was his 32nd of the season between Tennessee and Iowa, giving him sole possession of first place on the Minor League leaderboard. He had been tied with Rangers No. 2 prospect Joey Gallo.

While Baez and Bryant were putting on a show with Iowa, Russell, No. 11 on the Top 100, was doing the same for Tennessee. He went 2-for-4 with a home run, two runs and an RBI. It was his second home run of the season and first since he was traded to the Cubs as part of the deal that sent Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel to the A’s.

Baez, Bryant and Russell weren’t the only prominent Cubs prospects to homer Thursday. Tennessee outfielder Jorge Soler (Cubs’ No. 6, No. 41 overall), Class A Advanced Daytona first baseman Dan Vogelbach (Cubs’ No. 12) and Tennessee third baseman Christian Villanueva (Cubs’ No. 13) all hit long balls as well.

I never said he took a long look.

The Cubs do have some fine young talent. Just not enough to field a team. It takes 25 players to fill a roster. Four or five talented kids won’t get you anywhere. Plus, let’s be blunt, after Arrieta there isn’t a single pitcher on that team who commands respect from other teams. And while Theo “we can always buy pitching” Epstein may be living in a beautiful world filled with rainbows and unicorns, the one the rest of us live in belies that statement. And that means many more years of pain on the north side.

On the south side things aren’t much better. For a lot of good reasons they find themselves trying to dig their way out of last place. But Scott Merkin says that there may be a rainbow colored unicorn coming soon.

The first half of the 2014 season didn’t go exactly as planned for the White Sox.

Chicago has suffered too many key injuries, too many tough late losses and still too many defensive miscues that plagued the team last season through a tough campaign. While the season has not gone as planned so far, it’s certainly a considerable step in the right direction behind Jose Abreu, Chris Sale, Jose Quintana and Adam Eaton, to name a few, as they prepare for the second half.

“These guys play hard all the time, and for every at-bat, they are going up there and grinding and playing the whole game,” White Sox manager Robin Ventura said. “That’s all you can ask.

“We’ve had spurts where we play well and spurts where we didn’t play that well. We’ve had a lot of games that we could have won that we didn’t win. You wish you were in a better spot. Again, you just come back and clean that stuff up.”

Five key developments in the first half

1. Abreu’s stardom
Where would the White Sox be without their free-agent rookie slugger Jose Abreu from Cuba? Abreu missed 14 games due to a left ankle injury and still is on pace to match the single-season franchise home run record held by Albert Belle at 49. The first baseman is as professional as he is talented, and he has emerged as a quiet leader of the team.

2. Sale’s excellence
For one brief moment in Detroit in late April, it looked as if Chris Sale was another supremely talented hurler sidelined by arm issues. But he has flourished since missing six starts due to a flexor muscle strain, allowing 15 earned runs on 48 hits over 67 2/3 innings, while fanning 73. The three-time All-Star stands as a true ace.

3. Better than expected
The White Sox won only 63 games last season and they were every bit as bad as their record—so even 70 to 75 wins this year would be an improvement. But the emergence of Abreu, the arrival of Eaton and the excellence of Sale, coupled with American League parity, has fans excited before the projected 2015 and/or ‘16 contention plan.

4. Rotation depletion
Sale, Quintana and John Danks have proven to be overall frontline starters. The same cannot be said for Erik Johnson and Felipe Paulino. Ineffectiveness, including a velocity drop, sent Johnson back to Triple-A Charlotte, while Paulino also had problems with ineffectiveness as well as injuries. Hector Noesi and Scott Carroll have filled in the roles admirably.

5. Key injuries hamper progress
Avisail Garcia, a burgeoning middle-of-the-order presence, was basically lost for the season to a left shoulder injury while diving for a fly ball in right field at Coors Field on April 9. Nate Jones and Matt Lindstrom certainly could have quelled some of the late-inning relief struggles, while Sale, Abreu, Eaton and Conor Gillaspie all have lost significant time to the disabled list.

Five storylines to watch for in the second half

1. Will Rodon arrive?
Carlos Rodon, the White Sox top pick and the third selection overall in the 2014 First-Year Player Draft, could be on the fast track to the Majors after agreeing to a franchise-record $6.582 million bonus. Rodon, deemed the most big league ready of this year’s draftees, is playing for Class A Winston-Salem. Rodon could follow Sale’s development path, as Sale pitched out of the White Sox bullpen during the same Draft season. Rodon’s future remains as part of the rotation, and he will not be rushed.

2. Abreu, the record breaker
Abreu ended the first half with 82 games played and 29 homers. In the second half, he has a shot to match or pass Belle’s White Sox single-season record as well as Mark McGwire’s rookie home run record, which both sit at 49. Pitchers will continue to adjust to Abreu, but he certainly has been up to said challenge to date.

3. Buyer, seller or both?
General manager Rick Hahn talked back in Spring Training about having to decipher whether a successful 2014 season had real postseason possibilities or was “fool’s gold.” While the team is better than expected, they certainly won’t be adding two-month rental players. Veterans such as Gordon Beckham, Alexei Ramirez, Danks and Adam Dunn or a younger player such as Dayan Viciedo all could hold value to other more prime contenders and help Chicago’s ongoing reshaping process in return.

4. Konerko’s final curtain call
Paul Konerko is Chicago’s captain, team leader and one of the most accomplished players in franchise history. But his 16-year run on the South Side of Chicago comes to a close at the conclusion of this season. Even if the White Sox are not in contention, September should be memorable as Konerko wraps up his historic career.

5. Youth might be served?
Micah Johnson, Carlos Sanchez, Marcus Semien and Matt Davidson all figure to be part of the White Sox return to contention and then their sustained success over many years to come. Semien started the year with the team and Sanchez played the first half’s final game, but depending on the moves made by Hahn, the future of some of these players could begin soon.

My buddy, the scout, said what I was thinking, “I like where this team is headed.” They need a couple more arms and I can live with the rest as it develops. If that means trading Beckham, a player I really like, so be it. With everyone I know saying that Avisail Garcia is looking good and could be back early next month I’d wish Viciedo good luck in his new uniform as well.

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In Which It’s Sunday Fun Day

Yes, that’s our old pal Červená Fox showing off her new bar stool. I think it really highlights her hair, don’t you? It’s also a nice moment for me to remind you that this site does have some fun fans. In keeping with that theme I woke up today to find that Jake Peavy, yes - that one, is now following me on Twitter. I wonder what, if anything, that means. For the record he has never shown me his bar stool, so make of that what you will.

Now, with the important stuff out of the way, let’s move on to welcoming Pau Gasol to the Bulls. Joe Cowley thinks it’s a good move. So do many others. Certainly he’ll be a much better fit for their system than Anthony would have been. But probably not as good as James would have been. Oh well, and so it goes.

In other news the Bears have completely surrendered on trying to get Marc Trestman’s hair to look like it belongs on a human. They’re just going to claim it’s a Canadian fashion thing and move on.

Speaking of hair, that’s not really Červená’s natural color. I didn’t want you to feel cheated or anything. If you can get past that disappointment, and are in Europe any time soon, check out her performance group Pyrohex. Think Cirque du Soleil with flames and power tools. Kind of the way God intended if you ask me.

Where was I?

Oh yeah, baseball. The last time Chicago’s two maligned pitchers took the mound on the same day saw them each have wildly different results. The same held true yesterday. Which was bad news for Cubs fans.

Joe Popely says that what Edwin Jackson did yesterday should be illegal.

Edwin Jackson didn’t hold back when assessing his outing on Saturday.

Jackson surrendered nine earned runs on seven hits—including three home runs—in just 3 2/3 innings as the Braves pounded the Cubs, 11-6, at a humid Wrigley Field. The outing ballooned Jackson’s ERA to 5.64.

“It was just one of those games where it was just embarrassing, how horrendous—flat-out, no other way to put it,” he said. “The team does a great job of battling back, and you continuously go out and give up the lead—pretty much just unacceptable.

“It’s one of those games to put way back in the back of the memory bank.”

The game was up for grabs after three innings with the score tied at 3. Then came the fourth, in which the Braves sent 10 men to the plate, pounded two homers and hung a six-spot on the board.

Chris Johnson smacked a two-run homer to left two batters into the inning, but Jackson retired the next two on grounders. One out away from getting out of the inning down just two runs, Braves starter Mike Minor smacked a solo shot to left for just the second home run of his career.

Jackson then loaded the bases on walks to B.J. Upton and Freddie Freeman sandwiched around a single by Andrelton Simmons, and the starter was yanked. Carlos Villanueva came in and served up a three-run double to Justin Upton that put Atlanta ahead 9-3 and closed the book on Jackson.

“To me, today was just not his day,” manager Rick Renteria said of Jackson. “Both sides were kind of going back and forth with scoring runs on each other, and we just tried to help him out there a little bit, but it just wasn’t his day.”

The Cubs fought back with three runs in the fifth, when Arismendy Alcantara, Justin Ruggiano and Anthony Rizzo loaded the bases on singles. Alcantara scored on a passed ball and Chris Coghlan drove in two with a two-out double to left.

Chicago took a 2-0 lead in the first on Ruggiano’s RBI single and Coghlan’s two-out RBI double four batters later. The Braves responded in the second on Johnson’s first two-run homer, which came after a Jason Heyward one-out walk.

“Hopefully, that’s just another aspect of my game I’m trying to work on, that power stroke,” Johnson said. “But I’m not trying to hit home runs. I hit the first one pretty good. The second one was just a line drive and caught a good day in Wrigley.”

The Braves tallied a run in the third on a B.J. Upton double, and the Cubs tied it up in the bottom half. Ruggiano led off with a double and scored on Welington Castillo’s two-out double that Justin Upton misjudged in center, as the ball deflected off his glove while he was jumping.

The bright spots of the day came from Alcantara, Ruggiano and Coghlan, who combined to go 7-for-12 with four runs, four doubles and four RBIs.

Coghlan is hitting .429 with eight doubles, two homers and 10 RBIs in 12 July games, while Alcantara is 7-for-18 with three RBIs and five runs scored through his first four Major League games.

Jackson, meanwhile is tasked with figuring out what went wrong during a rough first half. His overall ERA is skewed by a 6.05 mark in 10 road starts, and prior to Saturday’s outing, he had a 3.86 ERA in eight home starts.

Either way, it hasn’t been pretty. Jackson fell to 13-27 with a 5.23 ERA since joining the Cubs last season.

“At the end of the day, you have two options. You can accept it and fold or take it as a slap in the face and turn around and do something about it,” Jackson said.

“We have a long second half. There’s definitely a lot of baseball left. I feel like I can definitely turn things around and have a better second half and have the whole first half forgotten about.

“But at the end of the day, those are pretty much the only options. There’s no in between.”

I think it’s very good that Jackson has figured it all out. Win or keep getting well paid to lose are his only options. I’ve noted before that I have no idea what happened to this guy. Since he joined the Cubs he’s completely forgotten how to pitch.

Chicago’s other maligned tosser is Scott Carroll. Since his little tête-à-tête with Don Cooper two weeks ago he’s been reborn. His arm angle is back to what it used to be, his slider actually slides and that cutter, which all Sox pitchers were taught this year, cuts like a razor.

Our good pal, and all around nice guy, Scott Merkin was there and enjoyed every minute of it.

The White Sox lost All-Star shortstop Alexei Ramirez and starting pitcher Scott Carroll to back stiffness during Saturday afternoon’s contest against the Indians at Progressive Field.

They had a call in the seventh overturned by a replay challenge that switched a shoestring catch made by left fielder Dayan Viciedo into an eventual run scored by the Indians. But in the bigger and more important picture, they didn’t lose the game.

Jose Abreu launched his Major League-leading 29th homer and Carroll’s nearly spotless five innings were supported by more than enough from the bullpen in a 6-2 White Sox victory. A three-game losing streak overall and a nine-game losing streak against the American League Central came to an end for the White Sox (45-50), who are six wins ahead of their pace set during a dismal 99-loss ‘13 campaign.

Carroll (4-5) yielded just two hits over five innings, striking out three and walking one—meaning he has allowed just three hits over the 11 2/3 scoreless innings he has pitched to complete the first half. Giving the bullpen 12 outs to record had the potential to become a precarious situation. But the relief quartet of Zach Putnam, Javy Guerra, Eric Surkamp and Jake Petricka bent but never broke.

As an example, Surkamp gave up a solo homer to Michael Brantley as the first batter he faced in the eighth to cut the lead to 3-2. He then retired Carlos Santana, Lonnie Chisenhall and Nick Swisher without issue. Guerra forced in a run by walking Jason Kipnis with the bases loaded in the seventh, after entering in relief of Putnam. But he struck out Asdrubal Cabrera to keep the White Sox in front.

“Overall, there are things we could have done better,” Guerra said. “I could have gone out there and challenged Kipnis a little bit better. Ball got away from me, but I can’t let them beat me in that situation.”

Cleveland starting pitcher Zach McAllister (3-5) didn’t allow a hit until the fourth inning, although he walked two—including Alexei Ramirez to lead off the frame. Ramirez was replaced by pinch-runner Moises Sierra after aggravating a pregame back problem on a swing, and Abreu followed on the next pitch with the White Sox first hit—a line shot into the right-field stands. The 2-0 advantage also represented Abreu hitting in 25 of his last 26 games.

“I am very proud of what I have accomplished this first half,” said Abreu through interpreter and White Sox manager of cultural development Lino Diaz, speaking of his .287 average, 29 homers and 73 RBIs. “I have to continue to work and do even more good things [in the days] ahead of the season. So I’m looking forward to the second half.”

“He’s a really good hitter,” said McAllister of Abreu. “You’ve got to be smart with your pitches and not leave stuff over the middle.”

Adam Dunn’s single off the right-field wall scored Alejandro De Aza in the sixth, and those three runs were more than enough for Carroll. He could have gone longer if not for his own back issue.

“Guys know I’m a sinkerball pitcher, and I’m going to continue to be aggressive with the sinkerball,” said Carroll of his recent excellence after throwing 78 pitches on Saturday. “When I’m able to throw my curveball and split-changeup for strikes, it keeps them off balance. You mix in a cutter, and it definitely gives them something to look at and be ready for.”

Putnam was charged with a run in the seventh, yielding a leadoff single to Chisenhall and then Yan Gomes’ line drive to Viciedo one out later. Viciedo threw the ball into second, even after the call was made that he made the catch, and Gordon Beckham stepped on second for what would have been a forceout. But the replay became a dead-ball situation, meaning the overturned call put runners on first and second.

A single by David Murphy loaded the bases, before Guerra entered the contest and kept his team in control. The White Sox added three runs in the ninth, including a two-run double by Beckham, giving Petricka a little more room to work with.

Petricka faced four batters in a loss to Boston on Wednesday, and couldn’t retire one of them. The talented young hurler had no such problem during a perfect ninth against the Indians (46-47).

“We’ve played in a lot of close games, and a lot nail-biters, a lot of heart-attack type of games,” Beckham said. “It was nice to get a hit to put us in a better position.”

Ever since Verlander’s famous “Yeah, won’t be doing that again” quote about trying to blow a knee high fastball past Abreu, which Abreu promptly parked in the bleachers, you wonder why any pitcher would even think about throwing this guy a fastball. Well, thank God that they keep on trying.

As to Petricka I know a lot of fans aren’t really sold on this kid. That’s their problem. This kid is the future and it’s a bright one. Forget about what he did in Boston. He had a bad day. Life goes on. This kid can hold down the closer’s role and make Bellisario a bad, and distant, memory. He can also win a lot more than he loses. That’s all anyone can ask.

As to Carroll and his sinkerball the correct term for it these days is ankle breaker.

I can live with that.

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In Which It’s Friday

I know the guy who dated the girl who once slept with the girl who dated the guy who had that one unfortunate evening with the drag queen who blew the janitor who worked for Howard Stern who has nothing to do with this thought but did hire the first lady I mentioned earlier to strip naked at a bar mitzvah. As you can see I am well qualified to discuss the current crop of NBA free agents. Therefore I can state with certainty that LeBron James is going to the Milwaukee Bucks and Carmelo Anthony is retiring to open a flower shop in Utah.

You read it here first.

Seriously, I can get better news off Pinterrest than I can on TV. I’m not sure when reporting devolved to rumor mongering but I’d really like reporting back.This site has always made a point of being as accurate as humanly possible. I actually talk to people and only put something up if it can be confirmed by multiple sources. It’s not that hard. If someone shares an interesting opinion I label it as such and let people comment. That’s how it’s supposed to work.

This week I met a nice guy I’ll call Bob, because that’s his name, who stalks this site. He was talking about how he gets better sports news here and better real news on Comedy Central than he does anywhere else. His reaction at finding out that I was, and still am, Big Bad Bill was funny as hell. After he bought me a drink I logged in to the site’s back end, which is where all this stuff gets written, and showed him around. You would have thought I’d given him the keys to heaven. I showed him how stuff gets formatted and a few other things. When his wife called a few minutes later to tell him to get his ass home for dinner I actually heard him whine “But, Honey, I just met B3 and he’s showing me his back end.”

He might wish to rephrase that eventually.

Anyway, now that Mayor Rahmstein and his store bought cronies have paved the way for Wrigleyville to get paved under I am pleased to note that we still have a court system which will record the ensuing hilarity and share it with us. Make no mistake about it, mayoral demands aside, this will end up in court and it will end badly. No matter which side wins the citizens of Lakeview are going to get screwed. If the rooftop owners win the Cubs will be forced to move and that will wipe out the major economic engine for the community. If the Cubs win the place will look like a whorehouse in Reno on acid.

Neither outcome is all that appealing.

Nevertheless the Cubs baseball team - you remember? The fun dudes in the blue uniforms? - are still getting paid to play baseball and there are, some might say unreasonable, expectations that they win once in a while. And despite Anthony Rizzo picking a fight with 25 guys in red uniforms, they went and did just that.

Our pal Gordon Wittenmyer has the whole story.

Just when it looked like the longest road trip of the season couldn’t pack any more emotion for the Cubs, along came a benches-clearing incident with the Cincinnati Reds and a postgame All-Star announcement Thursday.

With Anthony Rizzo at the center of both.

‘‘Just trying to be a good teammate, trying to stick up for my teammates,’’ said Rizzo, who dropped the gloves — well, his first baseman’s glove, anyway — and stalked toward the Reds’ dugout in the bottom of the ninth inning, triggering a flow of players onto the field from both benches.

No punches were thrown, and order eventually was restored without injury after some pushing and shoving. In fact, Reds starter Johnny Cueto — a noted on-field brawler — actually played peacekeeper.

The Cubs went on to snap a six-game losing streak by defeating the Reds 6-4 in 12 innings. Afterward, Rizzo was informed he had been voted into the final spot on the National League All-Star team.

‘‘It’s awesome,’’ said Rizzo, who joined shortstop Starlin Castro and since-traded right-hander Jeff Samardzija among three Cubs All-Stars. ‘‘To find out [after] a win couldn’t be better.’’

Of course, it wasn’t that easy. Nothing was for the Cubs on this high-emotion day.

‘‘This whole week,’’ said Rizzo, who joined teammates at the rail of the dugout to yell at Reds closer Aroldis Chapman for buzzing Cubs hitters Nate Schierholtz and John Baker up and in with 100 mph fastballs in the ninth, then staring down the Cubs’ dugout between
the at-bats.

‘‘That’s a dangerous proposition,’’ Cubs manager Rick Renteria said. ‘‘He of all people should know after taking a ball off the face with a line drive [this spring]. . . . Fortunately, nobody was hurt and we got through it.’’

Not before a few more fireworks to close an 11-game trip that already had featured a blockbuster trade July 4. And not before Rizzo and the Cubs threatened to fight back.

‘‘You hope that’s not intentional,’’ Rizzo said of Chapman’s high-and-tight approach, ‘‘because that’s someone’s life. Most people up here have families. But you never think someone’s trying to throw inside on purpose.’’

That didn’t stop the Cubs from getting riled — or the Reds from responding from the first-base dugout when Rizzo took his position in the bottom of the inning.

According to one witness, Reds right-hander Mat Latos triggered Rizzo’s reaction by yelling, ‘‘Shut up and play some [bleeping] ball,’’ at him.

That’s when Rizzo turned and dropped his glove, threw down his hat and marched toward the Reds’ dugout, where he was intercepted by right-hander Alfredo Simon.

Nobody was ejected. Eventually, Luis Valbuena tripled off Skip Schumaker’s glove near the wall in right field to drive home two runs in the 12th as the Cubs salvaged a 5-6 record on their three-city trip.

‘‘Tempers flared; it happens,’’ said Rizzo, who suggested some of the emotions resulted from frustration over a winless week after the trades of Samardzija and fellow right-hander Jason Hammel. ‘‘We’re all men competing at the highest level, and tempers are
going to flare sometimes.’’

Coincidentally, Chapman and Cueto are among four Reds who will be joining Rizzo and Castro for the All-Star Game on Tuesday in Minneapolis.

‘‘It’d be nice to be their teammates next week, and we can joke about it,’’ Rizzo said.

Is it cruel to note that the Cubs have now won as many games as Jeff Samardzija since the trade? Yeah, it probably is. Word is that the next player out the door will be Darwin Barney. As Evan Altman at Chicago Now notes that may be best for everyone involved.

While never the kind of player who turned heads with his bat, Barney was at least serviceable in his first two full seasons in Chicago. Over 299 games in that span, he hit .265 and had an OBP over .300 with an oWAR of 2.8. This mediocre offensive production was bolstered by spectacular defense, capped by a Gold Glove Award in 2012, which he earned by dethroning the Cincinnati Reds’ (for now anyway) Brandon Phillips.

It’s an interesting article. If you have a minute wander over and read his well thought out reasons why Barney would benefit by being surrounded by real baseball players.

That aside, congratulations to Castro & Rizzo for making the All Star squad. Former Cub Samardzija will also be there and will wear an NL jersey, sit on the AL bench and probably mention one more time HOW FUCKING GLAD HE IS TO BE OUT OF CHICAGO. His Oakland press conferences have been gems.

On the South Side the Sox, no danger to even visit a whorehouse let alone dress like one, did their best impression of s dyspeptic cat and coughed up their 13th hairball of the season. Or, if you prefer, like the afore-referenced whores, they got down on their knees and blew their 13th save of the season.

You just thought of a naked Adam Dunn wearing lipstick and rouge didn’t you? I’m so sorry about that.

Anyway, this next set of visuals won’t help matters. As Scott Merkin reports, the Sox lost their second winnable game in two days.

The tale of Boston’s 4-3 victory in 10 innings over the White Sox on Thursday at Fenway Park will center on another tough-luck no-decision for Jose Quintana and another heartbreaking loss for the South Siders.

Mike Carp’s pinch-hit single to left off of Ronald Belisario (3-6) scored Daniel Nava with the game-winner, erasing a ninth-inning comeback by the White Sox (44-49) against All-Star Koji Uehara that involved an Alexei Ramirez infield single—the result of a successful Robin Ventura challenge on an initial out call—and Conor Gillaspie’s ensuing pinch-hit homer.

But there were a bunch of little moments in the White Sox second straight defeat that added up to this setback.

Sixth-inning blues

Quintana retired the first 15 Red Sox hitters, striking out six, and then the game changed when that 16th hitter came to the plate in the form of Stephen Drew. Drew worked the count to 3-2 before barely getting a piece of a Quintana fastball that catcher Tyler Flowers couldn’t grab. The next pitch missed just outside the zone, seemingly rattling the left-hander momentarily.

Quintana went to 3-2 on David Ross before walking him on another close pitch, and then went 3-2 on Jackie Bradley Jr. before the outfielder singled to right to score Drew with the tying run. Just like that, the seven, eight and nine hitters for Boston had broken up the perfect game and the no-hitter while getting right back in the game.

“It was a good pitch. He called this pitch [a strike] all the game,” said Quintana, who allowed three runs on two hits over seven innings, while striking out seven, of the 3-2 pitch to Drew. “But I don’t have control over the umpire, and I needed to get out before this count. I didn’t feel comfortable after the first walk because it was the first time I was in the stretch in the game.”

Two ground balls put runners at second and third with two outs, and David Ortiz doubled to left-center to give the Red Sox a 3-1 advantage. Quintana caught too much of the plate on a 3-1 slider to Ortiz with first base open, as the White Sox elected not to intentionally walk the Red Sox’s most potent hitter.

“Lefty vs. lefty. I tried to throw good pitches, soft is better,” said Quintana of facing Ortiz. “He’s really a good hitter, and on 3-1, I tried to get the slider down. That’s my fault. I was behind in the count.”

“He could have [pitched around him]. Definitely don’t want to give him something out over the plate,” said Ventura of the Quintana/Ortiz matchup. “In the [4 p.m. first pitch] conditions, you want him to be able to go at it and not give him anything out over the plate.”

White Sox unable to find big hit

Boston starter Jon Lester allowed one run on seven hits, but struck out 12 and didn’t issue a walk over seven innings. The White Sox lone run came in the first when Adam Eaton singled and scored on Jose Abreu’s double to left.

Ventura’s crew finished with 10 hits. They also finished 0-for-10 with runners in scoring position, leaving eight on base. That total included runners left on second and third in the 10th when Ramirez grounded back to Andrew Miller (3-5).

“Facing Lester, runs don’t come as an easy task,” Eaton said. “It was nice to get one on the board early, but we didn’t add on there in the middle innings.”

“You look up there [during the game] and they had two hits and three runs,” Ventura said. “They took advantage of their opportunities.”

10th-inning sacrifice

Eaton singled to open the 10th and Gordon Beckham, mired in a 1-for-30 slump, laid down a sacrifice bunt against Miller to push Beckham to second. The Red Sox (41-51) intentionally walked Abreu, who has hit in 23 of his last 24 games, with first base open, but Dayan Viciedo and Ramirez couldn’t bring home the go-ahead run.

“We needed to get a guy in scoring position,” Ventura said. “They’re going to walk Abreu, but you’re going to have two shots at it to score a run.”

Drew’s 10th-inning walk

Belisario opened the 10th by walking Nava on a 3-2 pitch that looked like strike three. Home-plate umpire Marvin Hudson disagreed, with the White Sox taking quiet umbrage postgame at some of Hudson’s close calls.

Mookie Betts’ sacrifice pushed Nava to second, and the White Sox elected to intentionally walk Drew and his .128 average. Ventura knew a left-hander was hitting for Ross, and wanted to set up the double play. Belisario got the needed ground ball but not at the right spot, dropping the White Sox to 2-5 in extra innings, and 7-4 in walk-off endings.

Carp’s hit closed a game that started as a perfect pitching matchup between Lester and Quintana.

“Yeah, you obviously see it. It’s hard not to,” said Lester of Quintana’s perfection. “Especially with the Monster out in left field, you are sitting there staring at it. I knew what was going on and our guys were out there battling the best they could.”

0-10 with runners in scoring position is far more damning that letting Belisario pitch. Not much more, but still more.

I have no idea why but the Sox hitters swing for the fences when a runner’s on. That works so well so often that even T-balllers know not to do it.

Yet there it is.

Just in case you’re wondering how professional hitters can go 0-10 in those situations.

Still, can we end the Belisario experiment now. Pretty please?

Oh well, congratulations to Sale, Ramirez and Abreu for making the All Star team. The honor is well deserved for all of them. Sale was so amped when he got the news that he actually smiled and told a joke about kissing babies.

Fortunately there were real reporters there to record the event or no one would ever have believed it.

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