Sox Drawer: Look out for the Indians

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Sox Drawer: Look out for the Indians

Monday, April 18, 2011
Posted: 3:16 p.m.

By Chuck Garfien
CSNChicago.com

We interrupt the White Sox recent slide, and current panic on the South Side, to examine a rare phenomenon taking place in the Central Division.

It involves the Cleveland Indians and Kansas City Royals, two teams normally buried in the basement of the division along with dust, termites, mothballs, and Perry Como records, that have suddenly sprung into orbit in April, breathing the fresh spring air at the mountain top, looking down on everyone else, sitting in first and second place.

Considering the elevation, weve been waiting for both teams to suffer from altitude sickness. Three weeks into the season, were still waiting.

And in the case of Cleveland, Im afraid its not going to happen. Yes, I said it:

The Cleveland Indians are for real.

READ: Ozzie no bull on the 'pen

I realize this is the same team the White Sox outscored 14-0 in the first four innings of the season, but look where both teams have gone since.

Sunday, the Tribe, who finished 69-93 last year, beat the Baltimore Orioles to run their record to 11-4. Its their best start since 2002. A win Monday, and itll tie the 1999 squad that began 12-4 and won 97 games.

Cleveland is playing well, Ozzie Guillen observed Sunday. I said that in Cleveland when we left. People laughed at mewhen I say something, people think it's a bunch of crap.

This isnt.

So how and why are the Indians winning?

I can talk about their pitching staff, the youngest in baseball, that is heeding the advice of pitching coach Tim Belcher, by throwing lots and lots of strikes.

Is it that easy?

I can talk about their lights-out bullpen, the comebacks of Travis Hafner and Grady Sizemore (who homered and doubled in his first game on Sunday), the defense of new third baseman and Joe Crede look-a-like Jack Hannahan, and the emergence of shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera.

But the real reason for the Indians sudden rise can be traced to another Cabrera, a single player who has the personality of a porcupine, and once upon a time called Chicago home for one brief, but memorable season.

Ladies and Gentlemen, let me re-introduce you to Orlando Cabrera.

Say what you will about the former White Sox shortstop, but if there is one thing that Cabrera has proven he can do, and quite possibly better than anyone in the game right now, it is this:

He can win.

Everywhere and anywhere.

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Its a remarkable run that cannot be overlooked.

Lets start with the classic case of 2004. Cabrera gets traded from the Montreal Expos to the Boston Red Sox on July 31. The Red Sox were 56-46 and 8.5 games out of first place. Cabrera arrives, he hits a home run in his very first at-bat, the Red Sox go 42-19, finish the regular season 98-64, and snatch the AL Wildcard.

We all know what happens next. The Red Sox win the World Series, Bostons first in 86 years. History is made.

At the time, it probably seemed like an isolated incident. But the Curious Case of Orlando Cabrera was just beginning.

The next season Cabrera signs as a free agent with the Angels. They win 95 games plus the AL West, but lose to the White Sox in the ALCS.

I guess you cant mess with destiny.

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The Angels average 92 wins in the three years that Cabrera plays there. Theyre competitive every year. Orlando wouldnt have it any other way.

In 2008, Cabrera is traded to the White Sox, who just finished that utterly forgettable season of 2007, when they went 72-90. That White Sox team was just too nice. Had no edge. They needed some fire.

Bring in Cabrera.

He gives the Sox a dependable leadoff hitter, rock solid defense, and a flood of competitive juices that had dried up since the World Series of 2005.

On the field, the Sox win 89 games and the AL Central. But in the clubhouse, Cabrera doesnt win many (or any) friends. He openly criticizes his teammates, calling some of them clowns. On at least two occasions he calls the press box to dispute an error. He rankles everyone along the way, including Ozzie Guillen.

Heres an interview I did with Cabrera in Tampa that season, while Orlando was in the middle of one of his controversies, complaining that Guillen and his teammates didnt have his back.

Long story short, Cabrera was not brought back. But you cant deny the results: the White Sox won with him, and didnt the season after he left.

So in 2009, Orlando signs with the As. Its the one blemish in Cabreras career. The As are a mess. They arent going anywhere. Even O.C. cant save them. But he would soon overcome it. At the trade deadline, Oakland trades him to Minnesota.

Guess what happens next?

READ: Former White Sox third baseman Joe Crede on Ozzie, Morel

After being mired in mediocrity at 52-51, the Twins find their mojo. They go 35-25 the rest of the way, winning the division, beating the Tigers by a game.

What and who was the difference? Cabrera.

But just like the Red Sox, Angels, and White Sox, the Twins choose not to bring him back when his contract ran out. Cabrera would go through the entire winter unsigned. His reputation as a malcontent overshadowing what he and everyone is here to do: to win.

Finally, in February of 2010, just two weeks before spring training is set to begin, he signs with the Cincinnati Reds, a team without a winning record in a decade.

Hes a leader and a winner, said Reds GM Walt Jocketty at the Cabrera press conference. To me that says it all.

And true to form, what do the Reds do in 2010? They win.

They finish 91-71, capturing the NL Central, making their first trip to the post-season in 15 seasons. Cabrera doesnt know of such droughts. It was his 4th straight trip to the playoffs with his 4th different team. No small feat.

After the season, do the Reds decide to bring him back? Of course not. Cincinnati declines his 4 million option, choosing to go with the younger and cheaper Paul Janish instead.

So once again, Cabrera sits through another winter unsigned. Nobody wants him.

Finally on February 10, just nine days before theyre set to report for spring training, the Indians belly up to the bar and sign Cabrera to a one-year, 1 million contract with incentives, and they dont even guarantee him a starting position. Cabrera has to compete for the Indians second base job, a position he had played only 30 times in his major league career, compared with 1,791 games at shortstop.

No matter. Cabrera wins the job. No surprise.

The Indians lose the first two games of the season to the White Sox. They look completely overmatched. They seem destined to be destitute once again. But in the third game, with the Sox leading 1-0 in the 6th, Cabrera drills a two-run homer off John Danks, giving the Indians their first lead of the season.

The Tribe dugout explodes. Everyones jacked. They add two more runs in the 7th, three more in the 8th, they end up blowing out the Sox 7-1, and proceed to win seven more games in a row after that, including a sweep of the Red Sox.

The Orlando Cabrera factor strikes again.

He wont bat .300. He wont hit 20 home runs. Hell probably piss off half, if not all of his teammates along the way, but he will get the most out of himself and his team. And they will win. Its what he does.

I think we have what it takes, Cabrera said on Sunday.

To do what?

To win, he said. I dont like to compete. I like to win.

And so far, no team has won more games in the American League than the Indians.

Are they going to win 90 games and the division? I wont go that far. But theyre going to be there all season, being a pain in the rear for everyone, thanks to their maniacal leader.

Charlie Sheen says he knows all about winning. Forget about it. Hes a fraud. You want a winner? Its Orlando Cabrera. The Indians have him. By the end of the year, youre going to be sick of him. Maybe the Indians too.

But I promise you this: Theyll win. I guarantee it.

Chuck Garfien hosts White Sox Pregame and Postgame Live on Comcast SportsNet with former Sox Bill Melton. Follow Chuck @ChuckGarfien on Twitter for up-to-the-minute Sox news and views.

Yoan Moncada 'relieved' to get first White Sox hit out of way

Yoan Moncada 'relieved' to get first White Sox hit out of way

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Yoan Moncada can’t complain much about his first hit with the White Sox.

Given all the elements, it rates about a 9 1/ 2 out of 10. Only a homer would have been better.

Baseball’s top prospect continues to look comfortable at the plate and in the field. Two days after he made his team debut, Moncada earned his first hit when he ripped a two-out, bases-loaded triple early in Friday night’s 7-6 loss to the Kansas City Royals. Moncada finished 1-for-4 with four RBIs.

“Once I got that first hit, I felt relieved,” Moncada said through an interpreter. “First, because it was the first one. And second because of the situation. It was a three RBIs triple. It was a very big moment of the game. I think that from now on I’m going to feel more relaxed and comfortable.”

Moncada has put together a series of good plate appearances in his first two games. He’s looked at ease while in the box and hasn’t panicked even when he gets behind in the count. Moncada said he felt even more comfortable when he stepped in to face Royals starter Ian Kennedy in the third inning. Not only was it his second time facing Kennedy, but Moncada sat in the on-deck circle as Matt Davidson drew a 10-pitch walk to load the bases with two outs.

Hitting left-handed, Moncada fell behind 0-2 in the count but Kennedy hung a 78-mph knuckle curve and the rookie lined it deep into the left-center field gap to clear the bases. Moncada not only showed his power, he also showed off his wheels: his 11.24 seconds from home to third was the fastest time by a White Sox player this season, according to MLB Statcast.

“He's seeing the ball,” manager Rick Renteria said. “He seems pretty calm, composed out there. It's just a couple of days, but in terms of how he's carrying himself, his body language, he seems to be transitioning pretty well up to this point, first couple of days.”

Moncada said Friday was much calmer than his Wednesday debut against the Los Angeles Dodgers when he drew a walk and went 0-for-2. The switch-hitting second baseman had an RBI groundout in his first at-bat Friday to give the White Sox a 1-0 lead. Then he stood in and tracked Kennedy with Davidson at the plate.

All in all, Moncada’s happy with how he’s executed his plan at the plate thus far. He said he choked up on the 0-2 pitch and put a good swing on it.

“That at-bat gave me more time to see in real life his pitches,” Moncada said. “I’ve been feeling very comfortable. In Chicago, that first game, it was a little bit nervous. But overall I feel very comfortable hitting and with my defense.”

Is it time for the White Sox to call up Reynaldo Lopez?

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USA TODAY

Is it time for the White Sox to call up Reynaldo Lopez?

With Yoan Moncada now with the White Sox and making an early impact, White Sox fans may be wondering which highly-touted prospect is next to join the big league roster.

Reynaldo Lopez is certainly making a strong case for himself in Triple-A Charlotte. Lopez, one of the pitchers the Sox received from the Washington Nationals in the Adam Eaton trade, gave up one run in six innings for the Knights on Friday night. That was the latest in a string of five strong starts for the 23-year-old.

In Friday's 2-1 loss against the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Railriders, Lopez struck out six and allowed just two hits and one walk. That's five straight starts for Lopez in which he has allowed two or fewer runs while pitching six or more innings.

Here's his last five starts:

June 29 vs. Columbus: 6 2/3 innings, 1 run, 11 strikeouts, 1 walk, 6 hits

July 4 at Durham: 6 innings, 1 run, 6 strikeouts, 1 walk, 5 hits

July 9 at Louisville: 6 innings, 2 runs, 4 strikeouts, 1 walk, 7 hits

July 16 vs. Gwinnett: 7 innings, 1 run, 12 strikeouts, 2 walks, 2 hist

Tonight at Scranton/Wilkes-Barre: 6 innings, 1 run, 6 strikeouts, 1 walk, 2 hits

Loepz has a 3.65 ERA on the season with 107 strikeouts in 106 innings against 40 walks and 90 hits. In a short stint in the majors last season, Lopez had a 4.91 ERA in 44 innings in six starts and five relief appearances for the Nationals.

Does Guaranteed Rate Field await the Dominican right-hander?