Szwaja's Sports Blog

Sunday, July 10, 2005

There's only one way to sum up what happened to the Chicago baseball teams this weekend.

"What the hell?"

If I had, for some weird reason, missed the entire season up until this point, then watched both weekend series, I would have had two questions.

1) How big of a lead do the Cubs have in the Wild Card race? (Assuming of course the Cardinals would have been running away with the division, which they are.)

2) How many games behind the Twins are the White Sox?

Actually, I probably would have had a third question: Where the hell is Corey Patterson? But we'll get to that later.

In reality, I've watched more games than probably ever between the Cubs and White Sox combined this season, and I've seen baseball the way it should be played on the South Side. And the North Side? Wow, unlucky, ugly and uneventful, pick any or all of those cruel Us.

The White Sox, despite their troubles with the A's, have just been a joy to watch. (Good news, Sox fans, the Sox are done with the A's, perhaps until the first round of the playoffs. Wouldn't that be great? Or not.) It all started with the Carlos Lee trade. Sure, El Caballo is leading the NL in RBIs at the break, but aside from Luis Vizcaino, who has been the fool on the hill this season, that trade made the Sox into the best team in baseball.

Let's talk Scott Podsednik, whom I like to call Podzilla, or maybe we should call him Pod-Racer. Let's see, All Star break, 44 stolen bases. Yeah, enough said. Forty-four stolen bases in one season these days is almost unimaginable, yet Scotty's only about half done with his season. Amazing. I never thought I'd see a guy in the big leagues after Rickey Henderson quit -- he did quit now didn't he? -- that would steal second then third without even blinking an eye.

The effect Scotty has on opposing pitchers when he's on base is really one White Sox fans couldn't have predicted. A pitcher can be rolling along, but if Podsednik gets on, that same pitcher starts looking over his shoulder too much. Next thing you know, he's walking Tadahito. Here's the bottom line: If Podzilla gets on with less than two outs, it's a good bet he's going to score. You can't say that about Carlos Lee.

Then there were the other fruits of the trade, notably, Orlando El Duque Hernandez, AJ Pierzynski and Tadahito Iguchi, all of whom Kenny Williams couldn't have afforded with Carlos Lee in left field.

El Duque has been up and down, but he's historically been a second half/post season pitcher, and that won't change this year. El Duque will do something spectacular for these White Sox, just wait.

AJ Pierzynski has been a huge upgrade over Ben Davis, Miguel Olivo, Josh Paul, Mark Johnson, Jamie Burke and whoever else you can think of. I sometimes wonder if I'm the only one who likes how pissed off he gets when he strikes out, flies out, etc. To me, that shows he's passionate about winning, and that has to be contagious, which is what you want out of your catcher. Your catcher is your natural leader, and AJ hasn't shown any signs of that bad seed mentality we heard so much about when he was in San Fran.

Tadahito Iguchi, what took you so long? The Sox haven't had a second baseman like you since I've been watching White Sox baseball. That includes Ray Durham. I was never one to sign up for the Ray Durham fan club; I always felt he was extremely overrated. Tadahito plays better defense that Ray Ray, and his command at the plate is freakish, which makes him the perfect 2-hole hitter. When Scotty gets on to lead off an inning, you can push all your chips in and bet that after Tadahito's at-bat one of two things will happen: 1) Scotty scores on an Iguchi hit or 2) Scotty's standing on third after Tadahito's sacrifice ground out to the right side of the infield.

So, you see, that trade made the Sox a baseball team rather than a modern-day baseball bomb squad. True baseball teams will beat bomb squads to a pulp. Just ask this year's Texas Rangers, who belt home runs as much as they ground out to short, yet are only six games over .500 and will need a miracle to make the playoffs. But you need to pitch, too.

And the Sox can pitch. Jon Garland is finally the Jon Garland we've been hearing about for the last five years. The key: Jonny can throw a nasty change now. And his command of the zone has been much better. Ninety percent of Garland's pitches are around the plate, not necessarily strikes, but around the plate. In the past, he was content with trying to nip corners, too many strikes. Now, he just throws, and he's starting to learn that you can get hitters out when you go outside the strike zone, especially when you show them that change up. The hitters don't have to offer at that change, they just have to know it's there and it might be coming. It's been fun to watch Jon Garland transform himself this season.

Buerhle has been Buerhle. Eat up innings. Throw strikes. Get outs. Let's get out of here in two hours. Let's have a 10-3 record at the break. Let's throw in a 2.58 ERA. Let's start the All Star game. He can't do much better. Can you say Cy Young? It's early, but I can.

Freddy Garcia needs to get through the first two innings safe, because it's obvious he has some early game jitters. He has this nasty tendency to leave pitches up in the zone in the early innings. As soon as he gets his breaking stuff down, he's fine. Overall, Freddy's been great.

There's so much more to talk about, but that's it for now. How can Sox fans argue with being 28 games over at the break. That's just awesome.

The Cubs, on the other hand, have sucked, yet they're only one game under and still in the Wild Card race. And I firmly believe the stars will align for Kerry Wood and Mark Prior, which means I think the Cubs will make a serious run at the Wild Card.

I mentioned Corey Patterson earlier. Well, Corey, in short, is done with the Cubs. Between now and July 31 Jim Hendry will work his pants off trying to unload CP. It's just never going to happen in a Cubs uniform for Mr. Patterson.

CP's replacement at the top of the order, Jerry Hairston, as bad as this sounds, is the key to the Cubs revival. Well, they need another good arm in the bullpen, but Hairston must play well if the Cubs want to even sniff the playoffs. I watched Jerry lead off an inning today, and all I could think about was how much better off the Cubs are with him leading off.

During the at-bat, Hairston took a called strike, fouled off four pitches, looked at three balls and finally laced a double down the left field line. To ask Corey to do the same at the plate is like asking Sammy Sosa to hit the cut-off man. He can't do it. It's that simple. If Jerry gets on, the Cubs score more runs and they win more games.

Maybe I should say Derrek Lee will drive more runs in, which is scary because he currently has 71 RBIs. Makes you wonder where that total would be if Jerry had been leading off all season? Makes you wonder where the Cubs would be in the standings?

Maybe you're sensing what I haven't come out and said yet. The Cubs are better off without Corey Patterson. Maybe that sounds obvious, but I'm talking being totally gone. Not in the dugout. Not in the minors. Not in Chicago. Send him away, Mr. Hendry, so the Cubs can forget about his inability to play baseball. If he makes it somewhere else, then so be it, because he'll never make it as a Cub. It's over. And I think a lot of people are going to be awestruck at how much Corey being gone is going to affect the Cubs. You saw a glimpse of it this weekend. Corey leaves, the Cubs sweep a real good Marlins team. That's what we expected of these Cubs, and I don't think it's too late for the team. The Cubs might have dug themselves too deep of a hole, but they'll make some noise in the Wild Card chase. I'm not saying they'll win it, but they'll be there at the end.

Speaking of the end, this All Star break blog needs to end. I have so much more to say, but I'll save it for later dates. Besides, I had very little to say about Derrek Lee, and he deserves better. Derrek's time will come. For now, this blog's time to end has come. Thanks for reading! We'll talk more later.


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