Thursday, April 30, 2009

Chicago Cubs Should Keep Milton Bradley On Short Leash

by Tyler Franz

The Chicago Cubs knew exactly what they were getting into when they signed OF Milton Bradley to a three-year deal: The arguments with umpires, countless injuries, and absolute quotable gems that Bradley gives out like food stamps to the media.

For the Cubs, Bradley's performance on the field was enough to cause them to overlook these less-than-favorable characteristics, but the time is coming (if it hasn't already) when Bradley will inevitably cross the line.

Thus far, Bradley has had two injury stints, an ejection, and has rapidly developed an extremely negative relationship with the Chicago media. Recently, there have been reports that Bradley is a negative influence in the clubhouse (shocker). In other news, he is also batting .042 with one RBI and .281 OBP.

As a Cubs fan, I was gung-ho about signing Bradley and truly wanted to believe that the old Bradley was gone and that he had changed. Even after his ejection, I was quick to praise Bradley for his competitive fire and genuine desire to win.

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Milton Bradley a hit in return to Chicago Cubs' lineup

By Paul Sullivan

The day before the season began in Houston, coming off a red hot spring, Milton Bradley said he was ready to show Cubs fans what he was all about.

"Hopefully they can realize the kind of player I am, and realize I'm worth every penny I'm making," he said.

Nearly one month later, Bradley now is hoping first impressions aren't lasting.

The $30 million outfielder returned again from his lingering groin injury Tuesday night at Chase Field, trying to prove his first month as a Cub was just a mirage.

Bradley had a promising return, going 2-for-4 in the Cubs 11-3 victory over Arizona.

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Chicago Cubs' Inconsistency Is Leading to a Dissapointing Season

by Joe Willett

The Chicago Cubs came into this season with the expectation of at least contending for a World Series title.

However, they have struggled mightily this season, and they have been unable to live up to the high expectations that accompanied a seemingly unstoppable pitching rotation and batting order.

As of late, the Cubs have been even worse, as they have gone 3-5 in the month of May. What the problem has been for the Cubs is an inability to be consistently strong.

When they have great offensive days, they have been accompanied with great pitching days, and bad offensive days have been accompanied with dismal pitching.

In the Cubs' three wins this month, they have scored seven, 10, and 11 runs in each game, but in their five losses, they scored zero, one, three, two, and two runs. Compare that to the two, three, and three runs allowed in the three wins, and the three, seven, four, eight, and seven runs in the losses.

The Cubs need to be able to put together more wins, and that starts with both sides of the ball being held responsible when both sides are dismal in the same game.

One of the main reasons for the Cubs' woes so far this season is the awful offensive production by players who were looked at as people who needed to contribute for the Cubs to be strong.

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Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Cubs give more than $1 million in grants

By Carrie Muskat

CHICAGO -- The Cubs and the McCormick Foundation on Tuesday announced $1.06 million in grants through Cubs Care, a fund of the McCormick Foundation, to non-profit organizations serving the Chicago area.

Since 1991, the team has distributed more than $14 million to Chicago non-profit organizations. Cubs pitcher Sean Marshall helped present the grants at Tuesday's luncheon to representatives of non-profit organizations which aid children with special needs, provide youth sports programs, assist victims of domestic violence and serve the Lake View community.

"We are so proud of these 41 agencies and the tremendous work they do to help those in need in our community," said Mike Lufrano, Cubs senior vice president of community affairs. "Today's grants highlight the Cubs' ongoing partnership with organizations making a difference in the lives of people throughout Chicago."

Lufrano noted that in its first year, Cubs Care donated $65,000 but has been able to distribute more than $1 million each of the past four years.

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Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Obama disses Cubs

Gromer Jeffers

I realize that Barack Obama is a White Sox fan. It happens when you move to Chicago's South Side and start a political career.

But is it right for President Obama to use his office to promote the White Sox, Chicago's least favorite professional sports franchise, by allowing members of the team to visit the White House?

The trip is set for today, when the team should be preparing for an upcoming series with Baltimore.

I hope Obama remembers the challenge I made to him after an interview last year.

I asked him if he would invite the Cubs to the White House, when they won the World Series.

He responded that he would be long gone from the White House by the time the Cubs won it all.

We'll see, Sox fan.


What we know about Chicago Cubs after 11 games

Bullpen starting to take shape; Lee, Fukudome making strides at the plate

By Dave van Dyck

After the first two weeks of the season—11 games for the Cubs—what do we know about the two-time defending Central Division champions as they prepare to play host to Dusty Baker's Cincinnati Reds?

"It's going to take us a little longer [to know]," manager Lou Piniella said. "I've got 40 percent turnover on this team. That's a lot."

Technically, Piniella is correct, but most of his core lineup and starting rotation is the same as last summer.

So to help Piniella, here's what we know so far:

The bullpen ... is not nearly as jumbled as many believe and is sorting itself out quickly, with Aaron Heilman the bridge to Carlos Marmol and Kevin Gregg.

But the future of David Patton is in doubt and the annual problem with left-handers is surfacing early.

Like Will Ohman two years ago and Scott Eyre a year ago—both gone at season's end—Neal Cotts is quickly working his way into the manager's doghouse.

Piniella does like lefty Sean Marshall, who is in the rotation—for now. But with Jeff Samardzija starting and doing well in Iowa, could he be promoted and Marshall returned to his bullpen role that Piniella favored last year?

Milton Bradley is ... well, what is he?

Is he a question mark because of the small sampling? Or just what was expected, given his tight lower body and history of leg problems?

Forget about the infamous temper, Bradley's physical status could become an on-going saga.

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Chicago Cubs have decisions to make regarding Jeff Samardzija, Milton Bradley and Jake Fox

By Paul Sullivan
Jeff Samardzija

Samardzija pitched six one-hit innings on Saturday, and appears to be back to the old Samardzija after a rough spring in Arizona. If Neal Cotts continues to struggle, the Cubs could bring up Samardzija as a starter and make Sean Marshall the left-hander in the bullpen, though nothing appears imminent.

"Jeff is stretching out fine and working on his other pitches," Hendry said. "That was really encouraging. You can always go from starting back to the pen. We’re just going to try and keep him really tuned up and get him a little better, and whenever we need him, in whichever role we need, we’ll get him up here."

Marshall has made only one start and hasn’t gotten a chance to prove himself as a starter. But the Cubs know Marshall will do whatever’s best for the team, even if it means going back to the bullpen for a while. It’s all up to Cotts at this point. He’s looked nervous on the mound ever since manager Lou Piniella sent Larry Rothschild out to yank him in Milwaukee, claiming he wanted to “change the karma.”

Milton Bradley

While Bradley awaits word from Major League Baseball on when he’ll get his hearing on his two-day suspension for making contact with umpire Larry Vanover, the Cubs are being extra cautious with his groin injury.

Recall that this originally was termed a "mild" strain that would force Bradley out for only 3-5 days. It’s already eight days, and counting, though Bradley may play on Tuesday night against Cincinnati.

"He’s a well built guy and has an extremely muscular lower half," Hendry said. "He’s susceptible to some tweaks and pulls. I think he’s OK. We’re being real cautious. I’m sure if it were late in the year he could’ve played this week. I’m certainly counting on him hitting in that four-hole most of the year."

Hendry also is unconcerned about Bradley’s slow start, and his infamous temper that was on display last Thursday.

"Nobody knows what people are like unless you actually play with him or work with him," he said. "And all those people involved are certainly glad he’s here."

Jake Fox

The converted catcher already is hitting .478 with seven home runs and 22 RBIs at Triple-A Iowa while playing first base and right field. The Cubs haven’t used fifth outfielder Joey Gathright much in the early going, but Gathright doesn’t seem to be in danger of being sent down to make better use of Fox’s hot bat.

Sooner or later though, Fox will get a chance with the Cubs if he continues to hit like this.

"Jake is swinging the bat well, which he could always do," Hendry said. "We knew all along we’re not going to win with the 25 (players) we have now. It’s going to take a collective effort.

"At least four or five other pitchers will be here during the year, and I’m sure it’ll be the same for (position) players. You just try to keep the guys as sharp as you can, and when we need somebody, we know who to get."

Monday, April 20, 2009

Cubs/Cardinals Game Postponed

The Chicago Cubs and St. Louis Cardinals at Wrigley Field has been postponed due to the forecast for inclement weather throughout the evening.

The game has been rescheduled for Sunday, July 12 at 12:05 p.m. as part of a day-night, separate admission doubleheader. The regularly scheduled game will follow at 7:05 p.m.

Fans are encouraged to retain their tickets from tonight’s game until further information is available regarding ticket policies for the make-up game.

Information regarding ticket policies for the make-up game will be posted on as soon as it is available.


It's a great time to be a Chicago sports fan

by Dan McGrath

The Blackhawks and Bulls are back at it in the playoffs Monday night, the Hawks in Calgary, the Bulls in Boston.

The Cubs are off Monday, resting up for a Tuesday night reunion with Dusty Baker, after Sunday's series finale with St. Louis was washed out.

The White Sox, after flexing their muscles against Tampa Bay, are in Washington to visit the new home of an old friend.

The trip to the White House residence of First Sox Fan Barack Obama is unrelated to the small piece of history the team helped make Saturday. That history might be insignificant in the big picture, but it sure provided a feel-good moment for world-weary Chicago sports fans.

In order, the Bulls, Cubs, White Sox and Blackhawks won their Saturday games, the Bulls and Hawks in the playoffs, the Cubs and Sox over significant rivals, ancient and recent.

A lot of Chicago fans grow up believing they'll never see such a day in their lifetimes, even though it's not nearly as unusual as, say, a Chicagoan getting elected to the White House.

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Thursday, April 16, 2009

14-pitch at-bat flustered Chicago Cubs' Rich Harden

Starter lost concentration after striking out first 4

Rich Harden started out like he was going to match Kerry Wood's 20-strikeout game in 1998, fanning the first four Colorado batters.

But Harden struggled with his control in the second inning Wednesday, falling behind hitters and running up his pitch count.

Manager Lou Piniella didn't seem to blame Harden for the outing, which was his first loss in Wrigley Field.

"It was a cold, blustery day," Piniella said. "His stuff was good. The results weren't."

Harden had eight strikeouts in only three innings but wasn't sharp otherwise. A 14-pitch at-bat by Garrett Atkins in the second, when Atkins fouled off eight straight before striking out, was the start of the downfall.

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Cubs find a warm embrace in the Friendly Confines

On a cold, wet opening day at Wrigley, the faithful show up early to drink and will their team to succeed. 'This just might be the year' is said without a trace of humor

by Chris Erskine

There's a lot to like about this year's version of the Chicago Cubs, last spotted curdling like milk against the looser, more-confident Dodgers (last fall). To counter right-handed pitching, the Cubs have added the leftist Milton Bradley, a stabilizing influence to any organization.

Of course, here at Guthries Tavern in Chicago's Wrigleyville, they've got a pool going on who will throw the first dugout punch -- Carlos Zambrano or Bradley. The smart money is on Uncle Milty. Stay tuned. Footage at 11.

Meanwhile, they are having a certain amount of buyer's remorse over this 2016 Olympics, which they stole fair and square from L.A. two years ago. The conventional wisdom seems to be that only Mayor Daley and his cronies will benefit from acquiring the summer event from international rivals.

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Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Chicago Cubs relievers learning Lou Piniella life lessons

Basically, throw strikes or face his wrath

By Paul Sullivan

When the season began in Houston, Lou Piniella repeatedly said it will take some time to learn his bullpen and how he will use it this season.

Carlos Marmol is the only reliever who was with the team at this time last year. Neal Cotts became a mainstay by mid-summer, and Angel Guzman returned from the minors in September.

Kevin Gregg, Aaron Heilman, Luis Vizcaino and David Patton are all newcomers with diverse résumés, though all but Patton—a Rule 5 pickup—are veterans.

While Piniella is learning his relievers, his relievers are busy learning him.

Just seven games into the season, they already have learned he likes to walk backward to the mound, rants at his pitching coach in the dugout, drops more profanities than Eminem, believes in karma, doesn't always remember your name and doesn't shave every day.

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Jackson Ready for Challenge

By Steve Holley

Chicago Cubs pitching prospect Jay Jackson knows that pitching in Double-A will be a challenge. As if he needed proof, Jackson learned that lesson on Sunday when the Jacksonville Suns struck for six runs and seven hits in four innings in his first start for the Tennessee Smokies.

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Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Memories all fond for Garciaparra

Nomar Garciaparra and Orlando Cabrera, forever linked in Red Sox history, finally met as teammates this winter. Both of them wearing Oakland A's uniforms in spring training, Garciaparra approached Cabrera. "It's about time we get to play together," he told him.

Garciaparra left Boston, of course, when the Red Sox landed Cabrera in the trade that sent Garciaparra to the Chicago Cubs and out of Boston for the first time in his career. It has been 4 1/2 years since Garciaparra played for the Sox. He played against them for the first time last night, batting fifth against the team that drafted him and with which he became one of baseball's best players.

Garciaparra went 1 for 4 with a solo home run to left off Jon Lester in the fifth inning, his first homer of the season. Jason Varitek reported that Garciaparra "said it was weird," to be facing the Red Sox.

Garciaparra signed a one-year contract with Oakland in early March, ending his three-season tenure with the Los Angeles Dodgers. He said if his career continues, he would welcome playing for Boston again.

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Completion of Cubs sale could drag on past May

By Ben Klayman

CHICAGO, April 13 (Reuters) - The sale of the Chicago Cubs baseball team could drag on past May as the Ricketts family arranges financing for its $900 million bid and works for Major League Baseball's approval.

Officials with Tribune Co, which is selling the team, its storied home park of Wrigley Field and a 25 percent stake in a local sports TV network, had originally hoped to have the deal done in May.

"They are being optimistic, frankly, despite good intentions all the way around," said a person with knowledge of the sale who was not authorized to speak on the matter.

Cubs Chairman Crane Kenney declined to speculate on when a sale might be completed. The Cubs were scheduled to play their first home game on Monday against the Colorado Rockies.

But others were more optimistic about the timetable.

"I still think we're going to get it done in May. I don't see why we're not," said a second source familiar with the sales process who asked not to be identified.

Tom Ricketts, the Chicago-based chief executive of Incapital LLC and the son of the founder of TD Ameritrade Holding Corp (AMTD.O: Quote, Profile, Research), is leading his family's bid for the Cubs.

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Monday, April 6, 2009

Chicago Cubs look forward to ownership change

Cubs excited as new family ownership poised to take over

By Paul Sullivan

The Cubs begin a new era in 2009, reverting to being a family-owned ballclub for the first time since Tribune Co. purchased the team for $20.5 million in 1981.

The deal to sell to the Ricketts family is not expected to be finalized for a month or so, but players and management are already looking forward to the change.

"I'm excited, once it goes through," Ryan Dempster said. "I think it'll be pretty nice to shake someone's hand and know who your boss is."

The Cubs have yet to meet the new boss, but many of them are hoping he'll be the same as the old boss, at least when it comes to spending money.

"I'd like to see what kind of plans they have, but I'm pretty sure they'll be good," Aramis Ramirez said. "They're Cubs fans, and they know we've got a good team. Everything they do is going to be for the team."

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Chicago Cubs release pitcher Chad Gaudin

When the Cubs decided to tender Chad Gaudin a contract in December, they did so with the idea that he could easily be traded if he didn't make the roster.

But an ugly 10.26 ERA this spring ruined any chance of that, and general manager Jim Hendry bit the bullet Sunday and released the veteran in favor of keeping Rule 5 pick David Patton.

Angel Guzman also made the final cut. Jeff Samardzija and Chad Fox were optioned to Triple-A Iowa. All are right-handers.

Hendry ultimately decided that eating $1.6 million of Gaudin's $2 million contract was preferable to watching him drive manager Lou Piniella crazy with inconsistency.

"Truthfully, Gaudin didn't pitch well," Hendry said. "I think we did the right thing. The facts of the matter are the other guys just outpitched him."

Patton, 24, was low-key about the news, though he was bursting with pride inside. "This is what you devote all your time to and what I've wanted since I was a little kid," he said. "I'm excited about this, but this is just the beginning. I want to do something special."

Hendry credited the Cubs' scouts for noticing a prospect who had been overlooked in the Colorado organization.

"I applaud our scouts that stuck their necks out on a kid that was in A ball in the Cal League," Hendry said. "It was a long shot when he got here, and the kid deserves all the credit in the world for pitching himself [onto the roster]."

Zambrano backtracks: Carlos Zambrano denied saying he wished Chicago would build the Cubs a new ballpark, as he was quoted Saturday by the Associated Press. Many fans were livid over the comment, but Zambrano said they shouldn't be upset with him.

"Why? They don't have to be mad," he said. "I didn't say they have to build a new stadium. If the Cubs do, we will be much better and more comfortable as a player.

"It's my opinion, and sometimes when fans say something about a player, you have to respect it. But I didn't say we should move. I love Wrigley Field. Don't get me wrong. It's a nice ballpark, but if the Cubs think sometime, 10 or 20 years from now, if they think about [building] a new ballpark, it should be good."

The quote: Milton Bradley on his first Opening Day, with Montreal at Wrigley Field: "It was like 25 degrees and freezing, but guys had on no shirts and were talking about my mom. They were telling me I was going to be back at [Triple-A] Ottawa in a couple of weeks, and they weren't too far off. I let it get to me, but I know now it's going to be a different experience, being a Cub."

Extra innings: Samardzija will begin in Iowa's bullpen to stretch out and will go into the rotation after an outing or two. ... The Cubs are 73-58-2 all time on Opening Day.


Baseball enters 2009 with an eye on the economy

Phillies one of the few clubs to see a rise in season tickets

When the defending World Series champion Philadelphia Phillies opened their title defence against the Atlanta Braves Sunday night, it marked the opening of a season fraught with uncertainty for the sport.

While the New York Yankees have been acting as though there is no economic downturn by spending $423.5 million US on free-agent signings while also opening a new $1-billion ballpark, the rest of baseball is simply hoping to get through the 2009 season relatively unscathed.

Teams have started to realize their financial situations need to be consistently monitored as the season progresses.

"The decisions that I would have made — or that we as an organization would have made — in October were different from the ones we would have made in November, and those were clearly different from the ones we would have made in January," Paul Beeston, the interim president of the Toronto Blue Jays, told the National Post on the weekend.

"It [the economy] just kept getting worse and worse. And not only didn't we hit the bottom, we didn't see the bottom," he said.

With the San Diego Padres leading the way by slashing about $40 million US from last year's payroll, 13 teams are coming into this year spending less, including Toronto.

Team Marketing Report — a leading on-line marketing service — released its annual survey of baseball on Thursday and listed the average price of a Yankees home ticket at a major league-high $72.97 US, a 76.3 per cent increase from last year's $41.40.

The major-league average is listed as $26.64, with Arizona possessing the league-low of $14.31.

Yankee Stadium not sold out

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Can Anyone Challenge the Chicago Cubs in the NL Central?

Come to Think of It: Can Anyone Challenge the Chicago Cubs in the NL Central?

by Bob Warja

I was asked to appear on a national overnight sports radio program last night, and was asked to dissect the NL Central division.

Of course, on paper, the Cubs are the obvious favorites. But we all know that titles aren't won on paper. Yet if you look at what the other teams in the division have done this offseason, you certainly have to like the Cubbies chances to three-peat this year.

Now, I recently wrote an NL Central preview for this site, so I won't go into detail. But in reviewing the challengers to the Cubs throne, two candidates emerge above the others.

And it may surprise you to learn that the Milwaukee Brewers are NOT one of them.

Oh sure, the Brewers have a talented lineup. Their offense is powerful and should be able to score runs in bunches.

And yes, I realize they won the wild card last season. But the subtraction of CC Sabathia is a huge loss for this team.

What he did in the later half of the season, and especially down the stretch is difficult to put into words. He was simply amazing, and they did not even try to replace him, though that would have been a difficult task.

The Brewers also lost Ben Sheets, and the end result is not enough starting pitching to seriously contend with the Cubs, assuming good health for the northsiders.

Meanwhile, starting pitching looks to be the key for two of the Cubs potential challengers in 2009. The St. Louis Cardinals are always tough—it's a great rivalry as well as a very well coached team. Tony LaRussa and his pitching coach, Dave Duncan, do more with talent than almost anyone in the league.

Their key for this season has to be the re-emergance of former ace Chris Carpenter, who has looked terrific this spring.

If Carpenter is healthy and productive, and Motte can close effectively, LaRussa's Cards could emerge as our main threat in the Central.

Likewise, there are a lot of "if's" for the Cincinnati Reds. But if (there's that word again) that rotation produces as well as it looks on paper, and their young players continue to develop, they could be a dark-horse sleeper in the division.

The Reds have talented youngsters like Joey Votto and Jay Bruce in their lineup. But it's the starting staff that looks most impressive. With Micah Owings named as fifth starter today, the starting five of Austin Harang, Edinson Volquez, Bronson Arroyo, Johnny Cueto, and Owings has the potential to be very good.

Arroyo is battling carpal tunnel syndrome, but another youngster, Homer Bailey, who lost the battle to Owings, looked good in the spring and appears ready if Arroyo can't go. Arroyo has never missed a start due to injury.

The Houston Astros could conceivably contend, but a lot would have to go right for them. The Pirates seem to be heading in the right direction, but .500 is still a more realistic goal for them in 2009.

Speaking of the health of Carpenter, health could be a huge factor for our Cubbies this season as well. We all know that Milton Bradley can hit when healthy, but that's the problem. Keeping him on the field is a major question mark.

And Rich Harden needs constant monitoring as well. So, while the Cubs are the best team on paper, paper is fragile and can tear easily.

Let's hope we're made of construction paper this season, come to think of it, or the Cardinals and Reds may be knocking at the door.


Chicago Cubs set Opening Day roster

Cubs option right-handed pitcher Jeff Samardzija to Triple-A Iowa, release right-handed pitcher Chad Gaudin

The Chicago Cubs today set their Opening Day 25-man roster in advance of their 2009 season opener tomorrow against the Houston Astros at Minute Maid Park.

The Cubs optioned right-handed pitcher Jeff Samardzija to Triple-A Iowa and released right-handed pitcher Chad Gaudin.

The 2009 Opening Day roster includes 12 pitchers, two catchers, six infielders and five outfielders.

The Cubs open their 134th National League season tomorrow 6:05 p.m. against the Houston Astros to kick off a six-game road trip. After three with the Astros (April 6-8), Chicago heads to Milwaukee for three games with the Brewers (April 10-12) before returning home for their Wrigley Field opener Monday, April 13 vs. the Colorado Rockies.


Ace Zambrano Wants Cubs To Abandon Wrigley Field

Standing in the plush visitors' clubhouse of Yankee Stadium, Carlos Zambrano made a plea for Chicago to replace Wrigley Field.

"You come into a ballpark like this and you see great things," the Cubs ace told the Associated Press before his team's 10-1 exhibition loss at new Yankee Stadium. "You wish that Chicago would build a new stadium for the Cubs," he said.

In 2008, their 100th season without a World Series title, the Cubs drew a Wrigley record of 3,300,200 fans, and thousands more peered into the field from rooftops near the neighborhood park.

"People are used to Wrigley Field," he said. "As a fan it's hard to think of a new ballpark."

Cubs manager Lou Piniella couldn't agree less with his Opening Day starter. The former Yankees outfielder and manager was enchanted by the new ballpark in the Bronx, but can't wait to return to Chicago for the first home game on April 13.

"I don't see why," Piniella said when asked if the Cubs need a new stadium. "Wrigley's got its own uniqueness. There's no question the facilities need to be redone but that's going to happen. My favorite time of year is when the ivy turns green. It's really a great environment to play a ballgame," he said.

-- RED SOX: Boston optioned right-handed starting pitcher Clay Buchholz to Class AAA Pawtucket and placed five players -- including regulars John Smoltz, Julio Lugo and Mark Kotsay -- on the 15-day disabled list. Just hours later, the Red Sox finished off a 9-3 rout of the Mets at new Citi Field, scoring six runs off Mets' starter Oliver Perez in the first inning -- four on a grand slam by shortstop Jed Lowrie -- and getting four shutout innings from starting pitcher Daisuke Matsuzaka.

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Thursday, April 2, 2009

Chicago Cubs eager for real games to begin

Long spring training leaves club rarin' to go

After seven weeks of near-perfect weather in the Valley of the Sun, the Cubs will say adios to Phoenix on Thursday after their Cactus League finale against Cleveland at HoHoKam Park.

"Arizona is a wonderful state," manager Lou Piniella said. "We've enjoyed it, but it's time to get back to the Midwest and start our season."

Or the Southwest because the Cubs open up Monday in Houston after a pair of exhibitions Friday and Saturday in New York to open the new Yankee Stadium.

Either way, Piniella and his players have had quite enough of playing meaningless games—36 to date, including one against Team Japan. The longest spring training in history is almost over, and everyone is ready to see whether the Cubs can live up to their advance billing as a World Series contender.

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Chicago Cubs have questions, but not with Geovany Soto

It's a strong club, but issues could develop

Geovany Soto knew something good was coming.

He was feeling better day by day as Opening Day approached, ready to turn the page on a great 2008 and get 2009 started. His timing at the plate wasn't there but it was coming.

On Wednesday, it got there.

Soto, who had been without a home run in his 21 at-bats for the Cubs this spring, hit a pair of long homers against the Oakland Athletics, the first of which was a grand slam. But when the game was over, it wasn't either of the blasts that had him smiling. It was his first of three plate appearances, when he walked.

Dallas Braden, scheduled to pitch Opening Day for Oakland, started him out one ball, two strikes, but Soto wound up drawing a walk. That told him a lot about his confidence.

"Today was good," Soto said. "I was squaring balls up, having good at-bats. The first time up I was down 1-2 and got a walk. It's really good to have those kind of at-bats, good at-bats."

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New Chicago Cubs closer Kevin Gregg strikes out side in 9th

Trade of Gaudin or Guzman is possible before the opener

Working the ninth inning for the first time since winning the job of Cubs closer, Kevin Gregg struck out the side against the Los Angeles Angels on Tuesday at HoHoKam Park.

"Not bad," he said. "Can't complain."

Now that Gregg has sealed that role, the only question is what to do with the final two bullpen spots. Chad Gaudin, David Patton, Angel Guzman and Jeff Samardzija are in the running.

General manager Jim Hendry is working on trading Gaudin or Guzman, and the final roster call could come down to Saturday's exhibition at Yankee Stadium. Samardzija can be sent down if he doesn't make the final cut. But Gaudin, Guzman and Patton are trade possibilities because they have no options left and would have to clear waivers to be sent down.

The Cubs would like to keep Patton, a Rule 5 pick who has compiled an 0.73 ERA despite never pitching above Class A.

Gaudin vs. Guzman: If Patton makes it, that could leave one spot for Gaudin, who makes $2 million, or Guzman, who was once the Cubs' top pitching prospect before injuries stunted his career.

"There will either be a trade, an option ... anything but [putting one of them through] waivers," manager Lou Piniella said. "We're just going to pitch everybody and see what happens. We have some depth."

The final roster doesn't have to be turned in until Sunday.

Extra innings: With one home game left, the Cubs set a Cactus League attendance record Tuesday with 195,172 in 18 games. The old record was 193,993 in 15 games, set by the '05 Cubs. … Rookie Mitch Atkins might be brought to New York to pitch. With rain expected Friday night, Ted Lilly may be left in Arizona to get his innings in. … Sean Marshall could switch with Rich Harden in the rotation the second week, with Marshall facing Colorado on April 15 and Harden getting an extra day's rest and starting April 16 against St. Louis. … Under Armour paid its tab for advertising on the outfield doors at Wrigley Field and will continue its deal with the Cubs.


Former Chicago Cubs manager Herman Franks dies at 95

By Dan McGrath

In some ways, Herman Franks personified the term "baseball lifer," spending 20-plus years as a scout, coach, manager and general manager after failing to distinguish himself as a player, a good-field/no-hit catcher who managed a .199 batting average and three home runs in six major league seasons.

He was no stranger to the salty language and coarse humor of a baseball clubhouse. But Franks was also a smart, worldly man with a knack for managing people and an eye for business, turning his modest baseball earnings into millions through shrewd investments.

Franks, who managed the Cubs for three seasons in the late 1970s but was best known for his work with the late 1960s San Francisco Giants, died Monday at his home in Salt Lake City. He was 95. The cause of death was congestive organ failure.

"Every day was an adventure for him," his son Dan Franks said.

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