In Which All is Good in the World

Yesterday, the Cubs held their home opener and the Ricketts’ family saved money by working the turnstiles themselves. After all, they have spent over $10 million just on the urinals and some photos so one could certainly understand their motives. Also yesterday, the Sox dragged their gaudy ten game losing streak in Rogers Centre back to Rogers Centre (they spell it wrong because they’re Canadian) just to see if they could extend it. Well, that may not have been their actual motivation, but go with me here for a bit.

SPOILER ALERT!

For the first time this season both the Cubs and Sox have won on the same day. After suffering through multiple TV news broadcasts that dealt with how cool the new and improved Wrigley is and how committed the Ricketts are to winning and how cool the new and improved Wrigley is and how the team is going to turn everything around and just how cool the new and improved Wrigley is (they mentioned it more than once, so I can too), I was either ready for the Cubs to play or put a gun to my head.

Fortunately for all, it was an early game. Even so, they wouldn’t be the Cubs if, even in victory, something weird didn’t happen. As PAUL SULLIVAN at the Tribune reports, the team had their shrink in the locker room for opening day.

You know things are going to be different in 2010 when the team psychiatrist is standing in the tunnel after the game high-fiving Cubs players as they enter the clubhouse.

That was the scenario Monday afternoon after the Cubs beat the Brewers 9-5 in the home opener.

Xavier Nady, Jeff Baker and Aramis Ramirez homered to power the Cubs, and Ryan Dempster pitched 6 1/3 innings for his first victory.

“It was good to see the team swing the bats,” manager Lou Piniella said.

The Cubs came in with a National League worst .188 average with runners on base, wasting some good starting pitching and forcing the young bullpen to come through in pressure situations. They didn’t, leaving the Cubs 2-4 on the opening trip.

But it was smooth sailing Monday after Nady launched a three-run homer off Doug Davis in the third inning. Baker hit a two-run shot moments later, and the Cubs were able to relax and play their game.

“Every time you hit a three-run bomb, that’s three runs on one swing,” Ramirez said. “Then Baker followed with a two-run homer. That’s why you need power people in the lineup sometimes.”

The Cubs appear to be a one-dimensional flashback to the days of Sammy Sosa — all power and no speed. Nineteen of their 27 runs have come on 11 home runs.

Marlon Byrd went 3-for-5 with a double as the Cubs smacked a season-high 13 hits. Their starting lineup had five of the eight position players hitting .174 or less and another (Baker) hitting .200.

“We’ve been struggling,” Byrd said. “We’ve pressed a little bit. No one is going up there trying to do that. Everyone wants to drive in runs. Everyone wants to help this team win. If this had happened in the middle of the season, nobody would even know.”

That’s doubtful, but it will take a while before Byrd understands the manic-depressive tendencies of Cubs fans. Dempster knows. He has been through the final-week collapse of 2004, the last-place finish of ‘06, the 97-win season of ‘08 and back-to-back sweeps in the postseason in ‘07 and ‘08.

Byrd will learn why the Cubs hired a shrink instead of adding another batting cage soon enough. In the meantime, the Cubs’ got to fly the first home “W” of the new era in front of an enthusiastic crowd. Oh, and the 140 or so immediate members of the Ricketts’ family. What? are they freaking rabbits? 140 immediate family members? Forget the shrink, find someone from family planning.

On the Southside, the Sox wandered into the unusually hostile Rogers Centre to face the red hot Blue Jays. Why that team is red hot every year until June 1st and then fades faster than the colors on a $3.00 T-shirt will be the subject of one of those conspiracy shows on the History Channel. You know the ones I mean. The kind that could make the second coming seem boring.

Anyway, as JOE COWLEY at the Sun Times reports, Toronto fans took Guillen’s request to hate the White Sox and not him to heart.

There were no blowup dolls or chickens to sacrifice. Then again, Andruw Jones isn’t much into superstition.

Told on Sunday night that the White Sox had lost 10 in a row at the Rogers Centre going back to 2007, Jones all but guaranteed that he was the man to help break the North of the Border curse.

‘’I heard something like that last night on the bus, but I told them we’re going to change it,’’ Jones said.

And he came through, homering twice in the Sox’ 8-7 victory in 11 innings in the home opener for the Toronto Blue Jays.

Not that he didn’t get a little help along the way. Fellow newcomer Mark Teahen hit the game-tying homer in the ninth inning, then the go-ahead RBI triple in the 11th to help play hero.

‘’It’s been a long week, so it’s nice to contribute,’’ Teahen said. ‘’It was a nice team win, and it was nice to finally be a part of that.’’

Teahen and Jones combined for seven of the eight RBI, and the way starter Jake Peavy was struggling, the Sox (3-4) needed every one of them. Peavy had the lead in the early innings twice, only to give it back.

Jones, however, wasn’t about to allow an 11th consecutive loss in Toronto. His homer in the sixth inning moved him to 50th on the all-time career list.

‘’I want to do this for myself,’’ Jones said of his early-season resurgence. ‘’The last two years I had terrible years. I just want to go out here, have fun and do this for myself and my family because they know I can still play the game.’’

Lost in the heroics of Jones and Teahen was Alex Rios, who had three singles despite getting booed by the fans of his former team anytime he came to bat or caught a ball. That left Ozzie Guillen with an idea.

‘’Can Chicago people start booing Rios, please?’’ Guillen said. ‘’They boo him here, he got three hits. They were clapping for him in Chicago, he was hitting .180.’’

**sniff**, I miss the blow up dolls.

Nevertheless, while “Booing Alex Rios” may not become the HBO blockbuster that “Saving Private Ryan” was, I do kind of like the idea. Last night, as I was watching the game my wife kept imitating that kid from “League of Their Own” by singing “Sox are gonna lose, Sox are gonna lose.” Hey, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

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In Which It’s Shiny and New

Today is the first day of the official week, unless you belong to a religion or nationality that believes otherwise. Even so, before we get to the point of today’s little missive, I thought I would take a minute to bring you up to date on what else has been going on in Chicago sports. Yesterday I watched the entire Sox game until the bottom of the 8th when I had to go meet a friend. Things went bad slightly after that. I missed the exciting end to the game, my buddy drove over his cell phone with his bike so he couldn’t call me to tell me he was going to be late and the place we were supposed to meet was closed for reason or reasons unknown. So, not only did I miss the end of the game, I stood on a street corner like a loon waiting for a place to open that wasn’t going to open. Nevertheless, even without my divine guidance through the TV, the Sox pulled out a 5-4, come from behind, win over the Twins.

To make matters worse for me, I came home to discover that some Russian porn spammers had infiltrated our site over the weekend and screwed up darn near everything. After several hours of getting out most of the stuff I turned over the rest to the nice people at Hostgator who finished the job and cast the evil doers out.

So, that was my Sunday.

The Hawks fared about just as well. They played their last regular season game of the year with a chance to secure first place in their conference. Instead after a tough game they lost in overtime to the, octopus spewing, Detroit Redwings and secured the second seed. That means they will face the Nashville Predators, a team that has been on a wining streak of late and features a serious defensive minded team. It will certainly be an exciting first round.

GO HAWKS!

The other residents of the Madhouse on Madison fared a little better. The Bulls faced their mortal enemies, The Raptors, in an attempt to solidify the 8th seed of the NBA playoffs and win a chance to face the Cleveland Cavaliers. The Bulls did their part by stomping the snot out of the Raptors 104-88 and moved ahead of them in the playoff race. With only two games left, their season is truly in their hands.

GO BULLS!

Now, on to the important stuff. Today is the Chicago Cubs home opener and they have gotten a whole bunch of new stuff to play with, including a new dietitian and a shrink. But, above the obvious needs, the Cubs also have altered the batting cage so that fans can see into it, added new food choices that appear to have been made this century and some other amenities. Probably the only change they made that should show immediate benefits is the new work out area. No longer limited to a Thigh Master (TM) and squeeze toy. The idea is to help reduce injuries. That, for the record, is a very good idea.

However, as ELLIOTT HARRIS at the Sun Times reports, they still have not gone far enough.

DUGOUT STEPS: A SHAKY PITCH TO CUBS BOSS
In that Tom Ricketts is the Cubs chairman, it certainly seemed reasonable to approach him about adding a couple of chairs at Wrigley Field.

On the field—in foul territory—for the return of ballgirls. Or a reasonable facsimile.

After he and his family attended a recent Blackhawks game at the United Center, Quick Hits wondered:

Is there a chance of seeing the baseball equivalent of the Ice Crew at Wrigley dancing on the dugout or wandering through the stands?

‘’There are no plans to add any of that at the moment,’’ he told this column exclusively [because, face it, who in his right mind would ask such a question?].

Well, how about keeping that in the back of open minds for a possibility in the future?

‘’You can throw that in the suggestion box,’’ he said.

Gladly.

‘’It’s funny,’’ Ricketts said. ‘’I was in the Dominican Republic over the winter, and we went to one of the Dominican winter league games. And they have the girls that dance on the dugouts between innings. It’s well-received down there.’’

Can such entertainment make the transition and/or translation to Wrigley?

‘’I don’t ... ,’’ he said, his voice—and the conversation—tailing off.

An indication he undoubtedly was contemplating the possibility. No?

Astute baseball fans know that Baseball Cheerleaders are also popular in many other South American countries as well as many parts of Asia. While I doubt that Bud-Lite has the fortitude to close this, horrid, cultural gap, maybe maverick owners like the Ricketts can lead the way with their shining example.

Or, more specifically, their shiny and new example.

CLICK HERE TO SEE SOMETHING SHINY

In Which They’re All Tied Up

And just like that the Cubs and Sox have the exact same record. Oddly enough this development is good news for Cubs’ fans since it means they finally won a game. It is not such a good deal on the Southside where they lost a clunker to a pretty bad team. The only good news is that there are still 159 games left for both teams to get things on track.

Well, a different track than the one they’re on anyway.

As many readers of this blog know, those tracks traveling around the season can be either be a train track leading directly to Success Station or a roller coaster designed by a demented amusement park worker who is wanted in three states for crimes against humanity. The latter is not exactly conducive to tranquility.

PAUL SULLIVAN over at the Tribune takes a look at the Cubs’ start.

It looks like it’s going to be one of the years again.

The Cubs aren’t going to make anything look easy, no matter how many ulcer-inducing moments they provide.

After losing their first two games, the Cubs held on for a 2-0 victory Thursday night over the Braves behind the solid pitching of Randy Wells and home runs from Tyler Colvin and Marlon Byrd.

“It’s huge,” Byrd said. “It’s hard starting off slow. I want to get some hits out of the way before we get to Chicago, before I get booed.”

Byrd was kidding, but there was a real sense of urgency.

“There is always urgency,” Byrd said. “We said on Day One, ‘We need wins.’ The Cardinals aren’t going to be slowing down. Milwaukee is not going to be slowing down. We have to get ahead early.”

Before the game, Piniella conceded everything is magnified the first week.

“You’re 2-0, you’re on top of the world, 0-2 and you’re 6 feet under,” he said. “It’s early. We have to sort some things out here.”

After John Grabow’s bullpen failure Wednesday, Carlos Marmol pitched 1 1/3 innings of scoreless relief to post his first save. As usual, it was a nail-biter.

After stranding a pair of inherited base-runners to end the eighth, Marmol gave up a sharp hit to Yunel Escobar to start the ninth. Kosuke Fukudome cut off the ball in the gap, holding Escobar to a single. Piniella called it the “biggest play” of the night.

Marmol then struck out rookie phenom Jason Heyward before Nate McLouth walked. Eric Hinske flied out to deep center and Marmol struck out Melky Cabrera, pumping his fist in the air to punctuate the moment.

Memo to Marmol; it is perfectly acceptable to just strike them out or induce the occasional grounder. You are not being sponsored by an antacid company. There are those other 7 guys behind you who are paid very well to catch the ball and most of them can do that pretty well. Not all, I’ll grant, but enough that you shouldn’t worry.

On the Southside, the roller-coaster took a sudden, unnecessary, dip when the Sox horked up the game after 11 innings. What galled the most about this, besides everything, is that this is exactly the kind of game that naysayers predicted the Sox would have. JOE COWLEY at the Sun Times fills us in.

Ken Williams now may have a reason for concern.

Throughout most of the offseason, the White Sox’ general manager indicated he was ‘’uncomfortable’’ with the designated hitter-by-committee that manager Ozzie Guillen wanted to unveil this season, even carrying around a wish list of lefty hitters from around the league who interested him.

And while three games and a 1-2 record won’t make or break Williams’ decision, it’s obviously still a work in progress. Mark Kotsay went hitless through the first two games, while Juan Pierre did well in his start in the DH role on Thursday. Pierre went 2-for-5 with a walk. He also scored a run.

But the Sox’ bullpen failed again as the Indians rallied for a 5-3 victory in 11 innings.

Reliever J.J. Putz (0-1) took the loss after allowing an RBI single to Asdrubal Cabrera and an RBI double to Grady Sizemore in the 11th inning. Matt Thornton was tagged with a blown save after allowing the Indians to tie it in the eighth inning.

Besides the designated hitter situation, the other aspect of the team Williams wanted improved was the defense, and while it looked clean through the first two games, two errors in the series finale with Cleveland helped the Indians put three runs on the board.

On the plus side, there were no injuries. After that I got nothing. You might even say I’m tongue tied. Although I hope you won’t.

CLICK HERE TO UNRAVEL EACH TEAM

In Which We’re All Losers, Babay

First off, a quick memo to the Chicago Blackhawks. When your various marketing departments send out press releases talking about how exciting your games have become, they are not referring to almost coughing up a 5 goal lead. You can feel free to maintain those leads without fear of any corporate recriminations. I promise.

Oh well, yesterday the baseball season in Chicago resumed after a one day hiatus. The Cubs looked to redeem themselves after a nightmarish loss in Atlanta and the Sox looked to build on their success at home. To coin a phrase, both teams struck out. DAVE VAN DYCK at the Tribune takes a look at the attitude in the clubhouse after the Cubs pen blew a lead and lost their second game in a row.

Given recent history, here is what we have learned about the big-picture long season from the first two Cubs games: Nothing.

For perspective on Monday’s 16-5 debacle against the Braves and Wednesday’s 3-2 failure, let’s take a look … at 2006.

That’s when the Cubs did to the Reds on Opening Day what the Braves did to the Cubs. The final score was 16-7 and the Cubs went on to win four of their first five. But they lost 95 of their next 157 and their 66-96 record was bad enough for sixth place in the National League Central.

And let’s take a look … at 2008.

That’s when the Cubs posted the best record in the National league, but they lost the first two to the Brewers and three of their first four games of the season. They won 96 of their next 158 games.

So trying to make big-picture judgments from early snippets can be futile, despite manager Lou Piniella’s raging ire Wednesday night.

“It’s nice to get off to a fast start, but it doesn’t make or break your season,” Derrek Lee said. “But if you don’t, it doesn’t mean you’re going to have a bad season.”

Lee better hope so, because he is as 0-for-the-season in hits as his team is in victories.

Even Monday’s embarrassment actually didn’t mean all that much, unless Carlos Zambrano repeats his performance 30 more times.

It was Earl Weaver who said, “Momentum is tomorrow’s pitcher.”

And, although he didn’t say it, Weaver also had to believe tomorrow’s pitcher is the best way to overcome shaky middle relief. Six or seven strong innings can keep the long relievers sitting safely on their bullpen chairs.

“We have to do whatever we can as a team day-in and day-out and not have those two-week lulls,” said Wednesday’s starter Ryan Dempster, who certainly deserved better. “That’s where our job as starting pitchers is because we are capable of putting an end to a losing streak real fast.”

Dempster did his part Wednesday, throwing six very strong innings and leaving with a 2-1 lead before John Grabow gave it away in the eighth inning.

Of course, many teams are going to lose against what appears to be an exceptional Braves team, and a few even may be embarrassed.

In theory, things should get easier for the Cubs. When they play in Cincinnati Friday night, they begin a month-long stretch against teams that were below .500 last season, including the Brewers, Astros, Mets, Nationals, Diamondbacks and Pirates.

“I don’t place too much importance in that,” Piniella said. “At the beginning of the year, everybody’s good. Everybody is starting their season, they forgot about what happened last year and feel good about their chances.

“Everybody will play (hard), so for us to win games, we’re going to have to play good baseball no matter if we’re playing the better teams or lesser teams.”

Lou’s right. Deservedly or not, the Cubs are going to be one of those teams with a target on their backs. Teams with an 0-infinity record are still going to bust out their “A” game when the Cubbies come to town. Granted, 0-2 is not the end of the season, but it would be helpful if the pen wasn’t already scaring the hell out of everyone who bleeds blue. And no one is helping by reminding the team that they are tied for last place in their division only 2 games into the season.

On the Southside, self proclaimed ace and all around savior, Jake Peavy, went out and pitched 3 very good innings. Sadly, the games tend to last just a hair longer than that. However, as I noted to my Sox fan brethren this morning, Peavy has never actually pitched in cold weather. In case you hadn’t noticed, San Diego is not exactly the skiing capital of the world. Well, now that he has that out of his way we can all hope that he gets back to form in his next start. Even so, it was good that the team hid the scourging materials considering that Peavy was in serious self flagellation mode after the game. JOE COWLEY at the Sun Times was able to keep Peavy from cutting himself long enough to get the story.

As if the night couldn’t get any worse for the White Sox.

After the hype surrounding Jake Peavy’s season debut deflated in a five-inning no-decision Wednesday, and after the Sox’ offense totaled two hits and the bullpen coughed up two runs in an eventual 5-3 loss to the Cleveland Indians at U.S. Cellular Field, there was no hot water in the home clubhouse showers.

‘’The joke is on us, I guess,’’ first baseman Paul Konerko said.

Very few were laughing.

And with that, the excitement that had followed a dominating win in the season opener was replaced with disappointment and cliches such as, ‘’It’s a long season.’’

Peavy, whose three-run lead evaporated in the fourth inning, was kicking himself about it, but he made no excuses.

‘’You want to win on your fifth day. Not personally—you want the team to win,’’ he said. ‘’The bright side of things is you say, ‘You gave your team the chance to win,’ but that’s just not acceptable in my book when you go up 3-0. You’ve got to hold on to that, and I didn’t do that.’’

Still, the loss, which dropped the White Sox to 1-1, was a team loss, as only Konerko seemed to show up at the plate. He gave the Sox a 1-0 lead in the first inning with a sacrifice fly—scoring leadoff man Juan Pierre, who had stolen second and third after a walk—and then made it 3-0 in the third when he connected on his second home run of the season.

Peavy took the mound in the fourth and promptly gave up a broken-bat double, followed by a broken-bat single. After striking out Luis Valbuena and getting ahead of Mike Redmond 1-2 in the count, Peavy hit Redmond with an inside pitch and opened the floodgates.

That was the pitch Peavy regretting the most.

‘’That was a veteran move there [by Redmond],’’ he said. ‘’I wanted to face him there—that’s no disrespect to Mike Redmond.

‘’It was obvious what he was trying to do ... he was trying to get hit there. He’s not going to get out of the way. He’s a veteran guy. I was trying to get him to hit into the double-play ball there. Hitting him, that’s the biggest thing I would take back.’’

Catcher A.J. Pierzynski wasn’t wasn’t concerned about Peavy.

‘’He couldn’t put guys away, he had the high pitch count, but he had the one bad inning, basically,’’ Pierzynski said. ‘’[The Indians’ hitters] battled and did some things. He pitched OK, but at the same time, two hits aren’t going to win many games, so ... just a tough game.

‘’The big mistake was hitting Redmond on a 1-2 pitch. We just need to work on some put-away pitches. But his velocity was there, his intensity was there. Stuff happens.’’

An odd point in the game came when Hawk & Stony spent several minutes wondering aloud about Peavy pitching in the cold and then reminiscing to the good old days when players could use CAPSICUM to keep their skin warm. According to both, it was very effective. I wonder if there will be a jar of it in Peavy’s locker today? It is not illegal, just dangerous.

That sounds perfect for Peavy.

Nevertheless, the Sox find themselves in 2nd place after the Twins’ 4-2 win over the Angels. And thus the baseball season in Chicago has begun.

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In Which Cy Young Winners Speak

First off, I would be remiss if I did not mention President Obama’s interview at the National’s home opener where he revived a century old tradition of the president throwing out the first pitch. During the post-pitch interview he seemed to name Jerry Reisndorf as his favorite White Sox player, called the team “blue collared” and talked about his early days at Cominskey Field. Despite the fact that he got all the facts wrong (JR never played, the fans are blue collar and the field was called Comiskey Park), it was still fun to see a sitting president just be a fan. I have certainly seen others get mixed up when talking about their favorite team over the years. Our own mayor still gets the name of Soldier Field wrong. ESPN reporter, Curt Schilling, consistently refers to Wrigley Field as Wragley. But that might just be his accent. Don’t even get me started on the numerous errors made by our namesake.

Even so, here’s hoping that Jerry Reisndorf can send President Obama a little memo, and a basic history of some of the players on the Sox, to prevent something like this from happening again.

In that spirit of good will, I am going to forgo another recap of the season openers for Chicago’s baseball teams and, instead, take a peek forward.

CARRIE MUSKAT of MLB.com takes a look at the effect that, Cy Young winner, Greg Maddux has on the young pitchers on the Cubs.

Carlos Zambrano may want to call Greg Maddux.

Big Z had a rough start in the Cubs’ season opener on Monday, giving up eight runs over 1 1/3 innings in a 16-5 loss to the Braves. His trouble? Location. He fell behind in the count and left too many pitches over the middle of the plate.

Maddux has often said that the best pitch is a well-located fastball. The four-time Cy Young Award winner made that point to Chicago pitchers this spring in his new role as assistant to the general manager. The former Cubs and Braves pitcher dabbled in a variety of duties this spring, from watching pitchers to scouting to even throwing a little batting practice.

One day this past spring, Minor League catcher Chris Robinson was at Fitch Park, and the Cubs were short of coaches to throw batting practice. Maddux volunteered, threw a couple times to warm up, then asked Robinson what he wanted to work on. Maddux then pinpointed the pitches exactly where Robinson wanted.

It was the first time Maddux had thrown BP to someone other than a 12-year-old.

On a rainy day in February, Maddux was standing behind pitcher Jeff Stevens, who was throwing in the batting cages. Stevens’ assignment was to throw 20 pitches, rest, then throw another 20. After he began, Maddux made a suggestion.

“He’s pretty soft-spoken,” Stevens said. “He’d whisper one thing to you—you’re going to trust him. He said, ‘Throw a slider here.’ He would help me with sequence and gave me perspective.

“During the bullpen, you have a tendency to throw 10 fastballs in a row and 10 sliders,” Stevens said. “[Maddux] was saying, ‘When are you ever going to pitch like that?’ There’s no use in throwing 10 sliders, because you’re never going to do that [in a game].”

Maddux, who turns 44 on April 14, isn’t delivering a different message from that of pitching coach Larry Rothschild, but somehow, coming from a 355-game winner, it has more impact. Chicago pitchers consider Maddux to be a perfect complement to Rothschild.

“[Maddux] is here to help out, and I think he just wants to stay out of the way and stay in the shadows and kind of hang out and watch baseball,” pitcher Tom Gorzelanny said. “It’s been fun having him around because of the way he is and the guy he is. He’s a funny guy.”

During Gorzelanny’s final spring start, Maddux was in the dugout, and he talked to the lefty between innings.

“If I made a mistake, he’d look at me, and I’d say, ‘Yeah, I know,’ “ Gorzelanny said.

Should the Cubs have Maddux suited up for Gorzelanny’s starts?

“I’ve got Larry,” Gorzelanny said. “Larry’s paved the way for a lot of this. [During] the small amount of time I was here last year, what Larry and I talked about was almost like a light going on. The way [Rothschild] went about explaining things was a lot easier than some of the ways before. He just simplified it. He said, ‘You know what you have, you know what you can do, so just do it. Don’t try to nitpick.’ “

Gorzelanny, acquired last July from the Pirates, said he didn’t want to pester Rothschild too much or “he’d wring my neck.” So he bounced some things off Maddux this spring.

“This is the ideal situation for me, being on this team and being with Larry and having Greg come around every now and then,” Gorzelanny said. “It’s perfect.”

Carlos Silva feels the same way. The right-hander has one of Maddux’s No. 31 Cubs jerseys framed in his home, and it was there well before he joined the team in a December trade. Maddux’s number is one of six retired by the Cubs.

“This Spring Training for me is very special,” Silva said during camp. “To have Greg Maddux around, he’s my guy. ... I was asking him the other day, ‘How can I throw a backdoor sinker to a lefty?’ It’s unbelievable—you ask him something, and the way he answers is ... wow.”

While the fact that the pitching coach doesn’t want to talk about pitching to a pitcher may seem troublesome to some, it won’t matter if the tag team of Rothschild and Maddux can turn around the career of Carlos Silva and solidify the rest. That alone should get them in the HOF. Seriously, Big Z’s debacle aside, Cubs’ starters did look very good this spring. If they can get to the 7th on a regular basis and allow Lou to use the pen sparingly, then they should be okay. If not, they had better hope and pray that Jeff Samardzija’s 108.00 ERA drops dramatically, and soon.

On the Southside the lip that quips, Cy Young winner Jake Peavy, seems to be in mid season form when it comes to talking smack. The Sox are hoping that the same can be said for his pitching prowess. JOE COWLEY at the Sun Times took some time out of his busy day to talk to the Sox’ new hope.

If bravado earned a pitcher some sort of glimmering hardware, White Sox right-hander Jake Peavy already would have a 2010 trophy next to the 2007 Cy Young Award in his trophy case.

He has been a quote machine since January, turning phrases that have South Siders somewhere between excitement and frenzy.

Weeks before SoxFest, Peavy fired off this gem: ‘’I’m not in the gym every morning now for the Cy Young. I want what the boys did in 2005. I want that dog pile, that memory, that ring.’’

Early on in spring training, he said, ‘’We can be the favorite to win it or we can finish last, but I promise you this: The 25 guys we break camp with believe that we are the favorites. We never take the field feeling like an underdog.’’

Finally, late in spring, he shared his feelings about the opposition—any team: ‘’I hate every team we play, that’s all there is to it. From 2o’clock until 10 or 11 o’clock at night, I don’t want to be friends with the other side.’’

Starting tonight, it’s time to see if Peavy can walk the walk.

He makes his 2010 debut against the Cleveland Indians, and while he made three starts for the Sox last year after coming over from San Diego and finally getting healthy, this is different.

‘’A big difference from last year will be [that] last year we were out of playoff contention when I came in,’’ Peavy said. ‘’It was simply to make amends, so to speak, with the fans, with my teammates, just putting the uniform on and showing them, ‘Hey, this guy does play.’ I do play baseball. This year, there are so many expectations with this team. We want to win. We think we can win. Having a chance to be a part of that feeling and being an intricate part of that is huge for me.’’

It’s even bigger for the Sox.

Mark Buehrle is beloved because he’s an everyman. The left-hander would have trouble breaking glass with his fastball, and he’d rather talk deer hunting than pitching.

But Peavy is a pit bull let off the leash every fifth day—the swing-and-miss guy whom fans want to see overwhelm the opposition.

‘’He’s the dominating type that everyone wants to see out there,’’ Buehrle said. ‘’Fans want to see a [Justin] Verlander-Peavy matchup before they want to see me out there.’’

More than Peavy’s arm, there’s also his makeup. Since his arrival, manager Ozzie Guillen and pitching coach Don Cooper have raved about his leadership.

‘’I’m comfortable with whatever they put on me,’’ Peavy said. ‘’I’m going to lead in my own way. I’m certainly going to be vocal sometimes. I’m going to lead by example, the best way to lead. You can talk it all you want, but if you don’t go out and live it, play the game you know you can play, your leadership skills, I don’t care how much you talk, you aren’t going to be much.’’

Tonight against the Indians, Peavy will be weighed and measured. If he does what the Sox feel he’s capable of doing this year, and if along the way he helps lift the rest of the starting staff to another level, then all the talk of October baseball won’t be false swagger.

That’s a big “IF” in the first week of April, but it is good to note that Peavy felt that Buehrle’s game Monday only set the bar and now the rest of the starters have to surpass it. I have heard, too many times, “That was a great game ... we won’t be doing anything like that again ... I just want to go out, give my best and .....” Blah, blah, blah. Why not think that a shut out was the minimum? Sure that puts a lot of pressure on guys, but it also serves to remind them that their job is to keep runners in the dugout and not rounding the base paths. You might think that this bit of wisdom would be part of a pitchers’ DNA, but you would be wrong. So if the guys they are truly going to compete against are the other 4 starters, then this could be an interesting year.

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