Reading the crosstown compass
While the Cubs continue to look lost, Dayan Viciedo could help the South Side rise
CHICAGO -- With Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and other world dignitaries taking time out of their busy schedule to watch Koyie Hill swing some lumber, I was tempted to ask them when NATO was meeting to decide the fate of the Chicago Cubs.
My advice: Send in the armed drones!
On second thought, forget government intervention. Cubs fans should emulate the rabble-rousers protesting around the city during the NATO summit.
"What do we want? Wins! When do we want them? Before Theo is done rebuilding the farm system in 2015!"
Now, the Cubs have been fun to watch at times this season, with Tony Campana slapping and stealing and Bryan LaHair hitting bombs, but with their record at 15-25 after their 7-4 loss to the Chicago White Sox on Saturday night, maybe team president Theo Epstein should ask team chairman Tom Ricketts for a Super PAC of his own: the Start Spending Fund. Or better yet, The People To Bring Up Anthony Rizzo Foundation.
Now money doesn't solve everything, but it would help shore up a bullpen that belongs in Iowa and supplement a roster that saw Reed Johnson, Jeff Baker, Joe Mather and Hill wedged into a right-handed lineup to face lefty John Danks on Saturday night.
The Dale Sveum Plan to defeat Danks went over about as well as the prospective "Ricketts Plan" to defeat the president's re-election campaign. Coming into the game, the Cubs were hitting .229 and slugging .300 against left-handers.
"Yeah, he went through us pretty easy," Sveum said. "Obviously, four innings of perfect ball. We've been making it pretty easy on some pitchers that have been coming in struggling. We're making them look pretty good."
Despite appearances suggesting otherwise, Sveum had to play the percentages, especially considering Danks' struggles this season.
But the Cubs were a cure-all for Danks, who came into the game with a 6.46 ERA. He retired the first 13 batters before leaving in the seventh. Press box wags cynical of the Cubs' chances were talking perfect game after the first. Alas, Alfonso Soriano ruined the fun with a double in the fifth. Soriano also erased the shutout in the ninth with a two-run homer off Zach Stewart.
While Paul Konerko sat out with a severely swollen eye thanks to an errant Jeff Samardzija splitter the day before, Dayan Viciedo hit cleanup and continued his red-hot run with a two-run homer off Ryan Dempster in the third. A.J. Pierzynski followed with a solo shot. Both pokes would be considered "summer weather-aided," but they helped Danks focus.
I believe the White Sox's magic number to win the BP Cup is now one. A BP Cup fan asked Jake Peavy after the game if he was ready to win the Cup, which goes to the White Sox with three wins. It's up for debate, because it hasn't happened and no one wants it, but I believe the previous year's winner gets the Cup in case of a tie. This is the product, I'm sure, of exhaustive two-party negotiations that would make NATO leaders cry.
"I'm going to try," Peavy said. "I'm going to give it my absolute best."
I like his moxie. If I'm the Sox, I'm setting up the plastic tarps in the visitors locker room and reserving the party room at the Houndstooth Saloon.
With so much on the line, White Sox manager Robin Ventura pulled Danks with one out in the seventh, despite throwing only 83 pitches. Danks gave up three hits and struck out four and looked like he sweated out the body weight of Viciedo. Ventura said he thought Danks looked fried.
"I don't know, I just work here," Danks said. "Robin made the right call. We got out of it. Hopefully this will be what I need to kick-start my season."
The White Sox could use some kick-starting themselves as they try to win four in a row for the third time this season. After an off day Monday, the Sox (20-21) have six straight at home against Minnesota and Cleveland. Veteran infielder Orlando Hudson will reportedly join the team as well.
BP Cup success aside, I'm reserving judgment on this team until I see how it does next week. The Sox are 7-12 at home and 10-10 against the AL Central. That's not going to cut it. Last year they were 36-45 at the Cell en route to a 79-83 season.
What do they need to do differently at home? It's simple.
"Win," Pierzynski said. "We've got to play better at home. It's been frustrating. You're supposed to win your home games."
Pierzynski is rightfully hated by the faithful at Wrigley Field, but he loves the energy of the park and both he and Adam Dunn said the lively, bipartisan environment has been conducive to their play the last two days. Conversely, the average crowd at the Cell is 20,295, down 1,755 from this point last year.
It's a perfect circle of failure. The Sox can't play well enough to draw at home and they can't play well in a half-empty stadium. Pierzynski isn't ready to blame the fans for not coming out, though.
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"It has nothing to do with that, we just need to play better," Pierzynski said. "People will come. If we win, they'll come. They've come in the past. With the expectations being a little lowered this year, not from the team itself but from people on the outside, people are waiting to see. They're taking a wait-and-see approach. If we continue to win and play the way we've played the last couple days, we'll be fine."
Viciedo could help draw a few fans. The guy they call "Tank" is 11-for-23 with four homers and 10 RBIs in his last six games. The Sox have been waiting for him to mature since Kenny Williams signed him three years ago. He's the wild card to the season. His hot streak has him hitting .248 and slugging .432, both numbers illustrating his slow start. Viciedo has seven home runs and 15 RBIs. Could he be ready to explode?
"He's a pretty confident kid," Dunn said. "He never gets down on himself. He knows what he's capable of doing. When he's swinging the bat like he's swinging it now, it's fun to watch."
Pierzynski got a chuckle out of the postgame scrum around Viciedo's locker, noting that his translator, Jackson Miranda, finally had to work.
"Jackson has to work," Pierzynski yelled in a sing-song manner as the team's director of cultural development tried to translate Viciedo's words into boring one-sentence answers.
"Who's Jackson?" pitching coach Don Cooper asked.
If the Sox want to compete this season, Miranda might have to be a household name. At least in his own clubhouse.