Cubs

First Pitch: Buehrle seeks Opening Day redemption

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First Pitch: Buehrle seeks Opening Day redemption

Friday, April 1, 2011
9:03 a.m.

By Brett Ballantini
CSNChicago.com

CLEVELAND The good news is that Mark Buehrle has been aces in his Opening Day starts. The bad news? The one exception came three seasons ago, here at Progressive Field.

The last time he started Opening Day in Cleveland, oh, it was an ugly one, Guillen said. Ill ask Mark: Please dont do that again.

Hopefully Ill do better than I did the last time we started in Cleveland, Buehrle smiled. Because that was 1 23 innings, and that was rough.

In that 2008 game, Buehrle gave up seven earned runs but escaped with a no-decision, as the White Sox drove Indians starter CC Sabathia out of the box early in an eventual 10-8 loss.

Buehrle is 3-1 lifetime with a 3.39 ERA in eight Opening Day starts. Remove 2008 from his opener resume, and the lefthanders Opening Day ERA falls to 2.08.

His Opening Day, 6-0 shutout of Cleveland a year ago both set a team record for most Opening Day starts and saw the two-time Gold Glove winner author the most spectacular fielding play of his career, a hockey kick-save, football-hike assist on a Lou Marson slap through the box.

Buehrle has had some big highlights vs. Cleveland in his career, but overall has scuffled some, going 13-15 with a 4.64 ERA, .804 OPS, 2.14 BB and 1.38 WHIP. Hes a touch better in his career at Progressive Field, Buehrle is 6-7 with a 4.13 ERA, .739 OPS, 2.29 KBB and 1.29 WHIP.

Heres how the Wahoos will line up vs. Buehrle:

1. Michael Brantley, center field (2-9, .444 OPS, two strikeouts career vs. Buehrle)
2. Asdrubal Cabrera, shortstop (6-29, .523 OPS, three walks, five GIDP)
3. Shin-Soo Choo, right field (10-26, 1.064 OPS)
4. Carlos Santana, catcher
5. Travis Hafner, designated hitter (14-60, .761 OPS, 15 Ks, six HBP)
6. Orlando Cabrera, second base (17-49, .866 OPS, home run)
7. Matt LaPorta, first base (3-16, .485 OPS)
8. Austin Kearns, left field (3-6, 1.167 OPS)
9. Jack Hannahan, third base (2-6, 1.095 OPS)

Pick to click? What's new, its Choo.

Fausto Carmona takes the bump vs. the White Sox, bringing a career record of 7-3 vs. the South Siders, with a 4.36 ERA, .729 OPS, 1.32 KBB and 1.39 WHIP. In his career at Progressive Field, Carmona is 24-28 with a 4.15 ERA, .720 OPS, 1.58 KBB and 1.40 WHIP.

Heres how the White Sox will attack the righthander:

1. Juan Pierre, left field (1-8, .347 OPS career vs. Carmona)
2. Gordon Beckham, second base (1-6, .611 OPS, three walks)
3. Adam Dunn, designated hitter (0-8, four Ks)
4. Paul Konerko, first base (4-11, two HR, six RBI, five walks, 1.465 OPS)
5. Alex Rios, center field (3-18, .417 OPS)
6. Carlos Quentin, right field (0-2, walk)
7. A.J. Pierzynski, catcher (6-21, .699 OPS, two GIDP)
8. Alexei Ramirez, shortstop (2-9, .522 OPS)
9. Brent Morel, third base (1-2, HR)

Outside of Konerko, the White Sox offense could scuffleunless Morel wants to spin some sophomore magic and take Carmona deep again.

Brett Ballantini is CSNChicago.com's White Sox Insider. Follow him @CSNChi_Beatnik on Twitter for up-to-the-minute Sox information.

Would trading Kyle Schwarber begin to solve pitching issues that run much deeper than Chris Bosio?

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USA TODAY

Would trading Kyle Schwarber begin to solve pitching issues that run much deeper than Chris Bosio?

The Cubs now apparently believe they are a stronger organization without Chris Bosio, firing a pitching coach known for his strong convictions, brutal honesty and bottom-line results in a move that doesn’t seem like an actual solution.

Hiring Jim Hickey – who has a good reputation from his years with the Tampa Bay Rays, a close friendship with Joe Maddon and what looks like a slam-dunk interview lined up for Monday – might make the manager feel more comfortable and less isolated.

But the new-voice/different-direction spin doesn’t fundamentally address the pitching issues facing a team that needs to replace 40 percent of the rotation and find an established closer and has zero expectations those answers will come from within the farm system.

This is an operation that won a seven-game World Series last year without a homegrown player throwing a single pitch.     

If the Cubs can say thanks for the memories and dump “Boz,” what about “Schwarbs?”

Advancing to the National League Championship Series in three straight seasons doesn’t happen without Bosio or Kyle Schwarber. But the fastest way for the Cubs to dramatically improve their pitching staff isn’t finding someone else who thinks it’s important to throw strikes. It could mean breaking up The Core and severing another emotional attachment.   

Theo Epstein saw Schwarber play for Indiana University and used the Fenway Park frame of reference, envisioning him as a combination of David Ortiz and Dustin Pedroia with his left-handed power and energizer personality.

Epstein wasn’t the only Cubs official to develop a man-crush on Schwarber, but he’s the only one with ultimate control over baseball operations. Epstein’s style isn’t pounding the table as much as the ability to frame questions in the draft room, gather as many opinions as possible before the trade deadline and at the winter meetings, trying to form a consensus.

“I will say that it’s really an organization-wide evaluation of this player, but I’m not skirting responsibility,” Epstein said. “I’ll happily endorse him as the type of player that we want to win with here at the Cubs, and have won with. I don’t know, the fact that he hit 30 bombs in a bad year is a good start.

“But power is not everything. I think he fell into this year becoming more of a slugger and less of a hitter than he really is. It’s important for him to get his identity back as a dangerous hitter. Honestly, I think we feel he has the potential to be an all-around hitter on the level of an Anthony Rizzo. When he reaches his prime, that’s what he could be.”

Where will that be? As a designated hitter in the American League? That’s obvious speculation, but Schwarber has improved as an outfield defender – his strong throw at Dodger Stadium led to another NLCS Maddon Moment where the manager compared the Buster Posey Rule to the Chicago soda tax.      

A 43-45 record at the All-Star break also exposed some of the weaknesses in the clubhouse and downsides to Maddon’s methods. The Cubs flipped a switch in the second half, got hot in September and had the guts to beat the Washington Nationals in the playoffs. But that doesn’t completely wipe away the concerns about a group that at times seemed too casual and unfocused and didn’t play with enough edge. For better or worse, Schwarber approaches the game like a blitzing linebacker.

“He’s got a certain toughness and certain leadership qualities that are hard to find,” Epstein said, “and that we don’t necessarily have in surplus, in abundance, running around in this clubhouse, in this organization.

“A certain energy and grit and ability to bring people together – that’s important and we rely on it. But the biggest thing is his bat. We think he’s the type of offensive player that you build around, along with a couple other guys like him.”

Maddon would never admit it, but was the Schwarber leadoff experiment a mistake?

“I’ll judge that one based on the results and say yeah,” Epstein said. “I think we can talk about the process that went into it. Or in an alternate universe: Does it pan out? But those are just words. It didn’t work.

“Everything that went into Kyle’s really surprising and difficult first half of the season, we should look to correct, because that shouldn’t happen. He’s a way better hitter than that. What he did after coming back from Iowa proves it.”

In the same way that Maddon should own what happens with the next pitching coach, Epstein will ultimately have to decide Schwarber’s future.

Schwarber didn’t complain or pout when he got sent down to Triple-A Iowa this summer, finishing with 30 homers, a .782 OPS, a .211 batting average and a 30.9 strikeout percentage.    

Trading Schwarber would mean selling lower and take another team having the same gut instincts the Cubs did in the 2014 draft – and offering the talented, controllable starting pitcher that sometimes seems like a unicorn.

Is Schwarber still the legend from last year’s World Series? An all-or-nothing platoon guy? An intriguing trade chip? A franchise player? Eventually, the Cubs are going to find out.

“We have to look to do everything we can,” Epstein said, “and more importantly he has to look to do everything he can to get him to a point where he’s consistently the quality hitter and tough out and dangerous bat in the middle of the lineup that we know he can be.

“He wasn’t for the first half of this year – and he knows it and he feels awful about it. He worked his tail off to get back to having a pretty darn good second half and getting some big hits for us down the stretch.”

And then the offseason was only hours old by the time the Cubs showed they will be keeping an open mind about everything this winter, not afraid to make big changes.

Jake Arrieta shaved his beard again and he keeps looking younger

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USA TODAY

Jake Arrieta shaved his beard again and he keeps looking younger

It's become a tradition that Jake Arrieta shaves his beard after the season ends.

The 31-year-old did it again days after the Cubs were eliminated from the 2017 postseason, and it's still a sight we'll never be used to seeing.

Check it out:

Weird, right?

Here's how he looked following the Cubs' World Series win in 2016:

And again in 2015:

It's crazy how much younger he looks.