Friday, March 11, 2011Posted: 7:30 PM
By Patrick Mooney
GLENDALE, Ariz. In nine words, Ryan Dempster summed up the entire Cubs-White Sox experience: Was that for the BP Unleaded Cup or something?
Dempsters young son was running around the clubhouse while his father spoke to the media. Outside, Carlos Pena slammed what looked like an oversized medicine ball into the ground, working out his abdominals. By the time Pena was done, he looked like he just got out of a swimming pool.
All this happened during Fridays 4-3 win over the White Sox, before the outcome was decided in front of 11,599 fans at Camelback Ranch.
The Cubs are three weeks away from Opening Day. Its more than three months until they play the White Sox in a game that matters. These two teams compete for eyeballs, advertising money and your entertainment dollar, not to mention the fights in the stands.
I heard this is like a real hard-core type of rivalry, Pena said. Its cool. As long as its all in fun, rivalries are a blast.
This winter the White Sox pushed their major-league payroll toward 125 million. They brought back World Series heroes Paul Konerko and A.J. Pierzynski. They signed Adam Dunn. They remade their bullpen. They declared peace between Ozzie Guillen and Kenny Williams.
While the White Sox made waves of headlines, the Cubs slowly, quietly shopped on a budget, addressing their three offseason needs. The Cubs have committed around 133 million for 2011, which roughly represents a 10 percent drop from the year before.
These are the three big ideas that could help bring the buzz back to the North Side.
Rebuilding Carlos Pena
In January Pena flew to Dallas to work with hitting coach Rudy Jaramillo and put last seasons .196 average in the past. Penas now up to .200 this spring after hitting his first homer on Friday off left-hander Mark Buehrle, a good sign for a player who might have a tendency to over-analyze things.
As hitters, we have to be very careful with the way we evaluate ourselves, Pena said. That can really harm us if we focus on the wrong thing. Instead, I like to think about: How did I execute my approach? If thats a check mark and Im happy with it, then I have to pat myself on the back and build from it.
Since coming over from Tampa Bay, Pena has won over teammates with his leadership, something Derrek Lee showed more behind-the-scenes. The Cubs prioritized defense, which is the only knock on Dunn, and for one year they will take a long look at Pena.
He plays a really, really good first base, Dempster said. He talks a lot over there, lets you know where hes at. Hes just a great energy (guy) to have around the (clubhouse). He works extremely hard. Hes going to be a big addition for us. We lose one Gold Glover, but we get another one back.
Channeling Matt Garzas adrenaline
Matt Garza got so hyped up during Wednesdays meaningless exhibition game that Pena felt compelled to come over and try to calm him down. So imagine what Garza will be like before his first start against the White Sox this summer.
Because Garza is working on his fastball location, he doesnt put much stock in his 14.85 ERA thus far. The Cubs were impressed by the toughness he showed last week after absorbing a line drive and continuing to pitch.
The Cubs could be open to a long-term extension with Garza, who is comfortable here and building his relationship with pitching coach Mark Riggins.
Its still a learning curve, Garza said. Three starts (Riggins is) not going to be able to break you down right then and there. Its going to take a couple months. Its just like when you guys got your first job: Yeah, you get comfortable in three weeks, but youre not going to know everybody the first month.
Right now were just kind of feeling each other out. Im more open and I like to talk and I like to find out whats going on. Id like to hear his opinion and he knows that.
Reinventing Kerry Wood
The Cubs tell themselves that one of Ron Santos final gifts was bringing Kerry Wood back home to Chicago, a reunion that began at a funeral.
Growing up in Texas, Andrew Cashner and James Russell idolized Wood. As advertised, he has been a resource to the young pitchers, and a feel-good story for Cubs fans. But the dude can still pitch.
Its kind of like golf when you havent played for awhile, Wood said. You go out and the first front nine you shoot great, your swings great. (Then) you try to add a little bit to it and it falls apart. I hope the latter part doesnt happen, but its kind of been like that coming out of the gate. (Its) just throwing strikes and hitting spots, (trying) to calm (things) down and stay smooth.
Wood, who will turn 34 in June, has struck out eight hitters through his first four innings. Hes shown some nasty breaking stuff and unveiled a relatively new pitch.
The addition of the cutter and a damn good one, manager Mike Quade said. Wow.
Wood seems to enjoy not being the absolute center of attention anymore, on a team thats happy to let the White Sox manage runaway preseason expectations.
PatrickMooney is CSNChicago.com's Cubs beat writer. FollowPatrick on Twitter @CSNMooneyfor up-to-the-minute Cubs news and views.