It’s extremely early in the baseball season and I have no doubt that both local teams have many frustrating moments in store for us over the next six months.
But the sun is out and we’re finally experiencing some seasonal temperatures, so I’m in an optimistic mood and ready to accentuate the positive today.
Here’s an early reason for hope on each side of town:
CUBS MANAGER RICK RENTERIA
Sure, his tenure is barely a week old and there’s always a chance he will make a boneheaded decision to turn me off. But this time I believe that president Theo Epstein and GM Jed Hoyer may have found the right guy to lead the team’s turnaround.
It’s not so much strategy because it’s difficult to look good when your hitters are having trouble producing in the clutch and the back end of your bullpen struggles to throw strikes. Renteria has impressed me with his words and tone. He obviously knows the game and I believe he has the communication skills to articulate his vision to the players and fans.
I particularly like the way he reacted to Starlin Castro’s slow start. Quietly, without much fanfare, the manager moved Castro from second to sixth in the batting order. What difference does that make? Well, Renteria explained it in a way that I never considered:
When you take someone struggling at the top of the lineup and move him down in the order, he gets to sit back and watch at the start of the game and doesn’t begin under the gun. If there’s no success in the first inning, then he gets to come back with a clean slate in the second inning. If there is success in the first, he gets to bat when his team has some momentum.
The move is basically to get the player to stop pressing and Castro responded with a pair of home runs on Tuesday. He’ll eventually go back to the top of the order, but the temporary move was a nice ploy.
I also like the fact that Renteria has shown some fire and stood up for his players. He and the Cubs were frustrated in Tuesday’s loss to the Pittsburgh Pirates because they repeatedly didn’t get close pitches. The manager let the home plate umpire know his feelings and earned the first ejection of his career in the process.
WHITE SOX SLUGGER JOSE ABREU
I was a bit stunned when the White Sox shelled out $65 million on a contract for the unproven former Cuban star in the offseason. The frugal South Siders rarely make such a free-agent splash. But after watching Abreu’s raw talent, I understand why.
He broke out on Tuesday by belting a couple of home runs in the Sox’s lopsided win in Colorado. More impressive than the homers was the fact that Abreu battled through a 10-pitch at-bat before hitting the
Besides raw power, he has a good approach at the plate and appears to be someone who’ll hit for average as well. He should be an RBI machine in the middle of the lineup.
The one area of Abreu’s game that hasn’t impressed me is his footwork around first base. He doesn’t receive the ball from the infielders smoothly and often is off-balance. Throws in the dirt also have been an issue because he doesn’t come up with as many as a major league first baseman should.
The Sox coaches can work with Abreu to improve his technique around the bag. What can’t be taught is his natural ability with the bat.
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