Monday, August 31, 2009

The end of an era?

Greetings, Chicago fans. Welcome to Baseball Armageddon.

It feels pretty hopeless around here, doesn't it? The last few weeks have seemed like months as the Cubs and White Sox both circle the drain. I knew the Sox season was OVAH! on Friday when Joe Cowley told WSCR's Bernstein and Holmes that Jose Contreras would be starting Saturday's game. And tonight, as the deadline for playoff eligibility approached and the Sox lost another game in that goddamn Metrodome, Contreras and classy clubber Jim Thome were given the best gift of all: a new address.

Contreras is going to Colorado, where the Rockies are tied with the San Francisco Giants for the NL Wild Card. Both teams are chasing their division rivals, the Los Angeles Dodgers, who will now have Thome to pinch-hit in late innings -- and to play DH in the World Series, presumably. The Dodgers also acquired former Sox starter Jon Garland from the Diamondbacks.

On the North Side, Lou Piniella looks like his brain is already resting comfortably on a sandy beach somewhere, while his high-priced left-handed slugger is too busy getting his feelings hurt to play a decent game. The Cubs were supposed to be in the World Series hunt this year, but instead have a realistic chance to finish 10-plus games out of first.

This final baseball season of the first decade of the 21st Century is starting to feel like the end of an era in Chicago, an era in which both sides of town had real expectations of glory. (And of course, in 2005, actual glory down south.)

On paper, the Cubs still look like a pretty incredible baseball team, but they just aren't, are they. Next year, they'll still be saddled with Alfonso Soriano's awful play in the outfield, Carlos Zambrano's loose screws, and Aramis Ramirez's disappearing act. One thing they might have is a new manager -- I think we'd all love to see Bob Brenly in the dugout, but why the hell would he want to inherit this mess?

The White Sox are waving the white flag tonight, admitting defeat in a season that depended on just too many flukes and what-ifs. Even if the pitching hadn't imploded in the last month, do you really think the Sox could have beaten anybody in the first round?

2010 leaves us with a lot of questions on the South Side:

Will Scott Podsednik continue to be valuable? Uhh ... no.

Can A.J. Pierzynski be a top-ten hitter again? Maybe, but what does it matter if he can't throw anybody out or drive anybody in?

Will Jake Peavy be the ace we need him to be? I can't say I'm too optimistic, and even if he does, can we count on Mark Buehrle anymore?

Will Gordon Beckham fulfill the prophecy and become Baseball Jesus? Let us pray.

I'm not too excited about next summer. Those Wrigley crowds might get smaller, sooner, if things continue like this. U.S. Cellular Field had already been emptying out this year, and I don't expect that trend to reverse.

It was one hell of a decade for baseball in this town. I'll always remember Mark Buehrle's accomplishments (no-hitter, perfect game, World Series save), Kerry Wood's dominating performance against Atlanta in the '03 playoffs, Thome's exuberant celebration with the crowd in the one-game playoff in '08, and of course the World Series title that no one expected. But I'll also remember Steve Bartman, the Ligue boys, the Cub meltdowns (both personal and organizational), and the parade of bad pitching in U.S. Cellular.

So, when's that first Bears game?

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