Q: At what point will most of the sportswriter hierarchy realize that no one really gets all goose-pimply at the thought of the Yankees and Red Sox? Have any of your colleagues looked at the White Sox this year?
— John Daresh, El Paso, Texas
A: Those are two separate issues you raise, John, but I'm guessing you're more interested in the latter. Even in their hometown, the Sox play second-fiddle to the Cubs — no matter where both teams are in the standings. It's just one of those things.
But I don't think the Sox have been ignored by national writing media (national television networks are another matter, of course), and I do believe they are in the playoff chase to stay.
As for the AL Central race, seven remaining games against the Tigers will be critical. But the last of those comes Sept. 13, and the Tigers do have the advantage of playing their final four series against the Twins and Royals, while the Sox get a tougher draw with the Indians (seven games), Rays (four) and Angels (three).
As for the wild card spots, the Sox are in very solid position. Their remaining schedule is easier than contenders in the other two divisions, who won't get the benefit of playing intra-division games against three also-rans in the Indians, Twins and Royals.
How have the Sox gotten here after being picked by virtually everybody this spring to be a non-contender? I've enumerated the reasons on a couple of occasions already this season in this space, and they're still holding up as we reach mid-August:
Now, the potential problem sources down the stretch:
Q: So far, the general managers of the Rockies and Marlins are on the hot seat, and they likely won't be the only ones. But both have track records, and have put good teams together in the past. How can all the problems be laid on the general manager?
— Lorenzo, Ocean Beach, Calif.
A: You bring up two of the most-bizarrely run organizations in the game, Lorenzo. I've been around the Rockies since their second season back in 1994, have seen everything since the pre-humidor/Blake Street Bomber days, so I'll start with them.
You mention track records — I think it's fair to say Dan O'Dowd could have been fired a couple of times in his 12+ seasons. In that time, there have been only four winning seasons (and one of those was 82-80), the 2007 National League pennant and 2009 playoff appearance.
With ownership's full approval, the Mike Hampton-Denny Neagle signings occurred on O'Dowd's watch, the aftermath of which was a total rebuilding job that started in 2002. That culminated with the 2007 success — but let's keep in mind that team stood at 77-70 in mid-September, on the verge of playoff elimination, before going on that once-in-a-generation 21-of-22 run to the pennant.
The nation grieved for those hurt, killed and affected by the Boston Marathon bombings. After one of the suspects was caught on Friday — following a day-long lockdown and manhunt — sports returned to Boston over the weekend.
Granted, injuries to key players Troy Tulowitzki, Jhoulys Chacin, Juan Nicasio and Jorge De La Rosa have been costly. But the stop-gap off-season acquisitions of Casey Blake, Jamie Moyer, Jeremy Guthrie, etc., didn't work out, and there wasn't enough depth — especially pitching depth — to prevent a complete collapse.
Strangely, all this hasn't left O'Dowd in serious jeopardy, as owner Dick Monfort — for reasons known only to himself — called O'Dowd the best general manager in the game earlier this season, and has no plan to fire him. Instead, O'Dowd and assistant Bill Geivett have swapped some areas of responsibility — and we'll see how much change of direction that brings.
They can try their two-tiered rotation experiment (four starters backed by three 'piggy-back starters'), and yes, it really is tougher to pitch at mile-high altitude. But there's no hiding the fact that there isn't enough talent being produced within the organization — and that goes back to the front office and development people.
So it's going to take at least until 2014 for the younger arms — Drew Pomeranz, Alex White, Christian Friedrich, Rex Brothers, etc. — to develop into pitchers who can lead a team into contention.
As for the Marlins' Larry Beinfest — finally given an opportunity to spend money, he failed miserably. The Jose Reyes signing has worked out for the time being, but it led to Hanley Ramirez's departure. Mark Buehrle has been mediocre, and Heath Bell has been a disaster.
The Marlins could have been this bad by doing things their old way, which had owner Jeffrey Loria pocketing revenue sharing money while pinching pennies with a sub-$50-million payroll. And remember, the Marlins have only one second-place finish, and haven't been back to the playoffs since their 2003 World Series title, so Beinfest's track record hasn't been that great, either.
Q: With Theo Epstein cleaning house in Chicago, how much longer do us Cubs fans have to wait to see a good team?
— Joshua Mann, St. Louis
A: A Cubs fan in St. Louis … interesting. The simple answer is it's going to be awhile, Joshua — probably not before 2015.
The good news is Epstein and general manager Jed Hoyer have shed almost all of the big contracts — Carlos Zambrano, Aramis Ramirez, Carlos Pena, Ryan Dempster — that had been clogging up the payroll, and has reduced it from a high of about $144 million in 2010 to about $110 million this season.
Still left is Alfonso Soriano ($40 million over the next two seasons), and if the Cubs are willing to eat much of that deal — as they did with Zambrano, to whom they are paying $16 million of his $19-million salary this season — they might find a taker for Soriano this winter.
While I'm one of many who believe Epstein received too much credit for the Red Sox's success in their 2004-2007 run, these are the right first steps. Along with it must be a financial commitment to developing from within, or acquiring young, building-block talent such as Anthony Rizzo. Check on that point, too.
So you're beginning to see the nucleus in place — Rizzo, Darwin Barney and Starlin Castro, joined eventually by either third baseman Josh Vitters or either Javier Baez or Junior Lake at shortstop, necessitating a position switch or trade for Castro. Outfielder Brett Jackson could be a regular as soon as next season.
What's missing are elite pitching prospects, and that's one reason why I think the Cubs will hang onto Matt Garza, and build a rotation around him, Jeff Samardzija, and possibly Arodys Vizcaino, acquired from the Braves in the Paul Maholm-Reed Johnson deal.
But if they think the rebuilding will take longer than Garza's peak effectiveness will last, they can deal him for pitching prospects next year — a trade along the lines of Ubaldo Jimenez-for-Drew Pomeranz and Alex White.
Where Epstein and Co. go in free agency this off-season also will be very interesting to watch. The Cubs do have flexibility, but they clearly are a few major building blocks short of being contenders at this point.
Taking a look at some of the greatest catchers off all time.