Your Morning Phil: Sweeney, Ventura, Sale

Chicago Cubs manager Dale Sveum on dealing with another slow start.

Talking baseball while wondering if LeBron James and his kingsmen are taking the Bulls seriously.

1. When the Cubs get around to trading Alfonso Soriano, it would be ideal to have a homegrown replacement ready. There are none in sight, however, as Brett Jackson remains stalled on the entrance ramp, hitting .219 for Triple-A Iowa.

The situation is better than you might think, however.

There was no one to take Soriano’s place if he had been traded last July. Tom Ricketts even made that point when I talked to him leading into the deadline. But the situation is much better with Scott Hairston on the roster and Ryan Sweeney expected Monday night from Triple-A Iowa.

In the right-handed-hitting Hairston and the left-handed-hitting Sweeney, the Cubs should have an excellent platoon that could do a nice job replacing Soriano’s production in left field.

The 32-year-old Hairston quietly hit 20 home run for the Mets a year ago, no easy feat based at pitcher-friendly Citi Field. He’s hit 41 points higher vs. lefties (.270) than right-handers in his career.

Sweeney, 28, is a well-matched bookend. He’s hit 68 points higher vs. right-handers (.293) than left-handers in his career. They seem well suited to covering the position until Jackson or someone like Matt Szczur is deemed big-league ready, or at least until next winter when another batch of inexpensive veterans will hit the market.

2. Sweeney is expected in uniform for Monday night’s game against the Rangers, replacing the .178-hitting Dave Sappelt. I don’t think the Cubs are giving up on Sappelt. They just want him to go to Iowa and start hitting again with the idea that he can play a role balancing out an outfield that currently tilts heavily toward left-handed hitters (David DeJesus, Nate Schierholtz, Julio Borbon and Sweeney). Sweeney, a major piece of the White Sox's trade for Nick Swisher before 2008, can hit good pitching. He's shown that with a .280 career average (and .338 career on-base percentage) but frustrated the A's and Red Sox by never developing the power that was projected for him when he was coming up in the White Sox system. He has hit six homers at Iowa, however, so maybe he's made an adjustment that will make him more dangerous.

Sweeney was taken out of the second game of Iowa's Sunday doubleheader and told he'd be coming to Chicago. Said Sweeney to the Des Moines Register: “It’s a good feeling. I put in some hard work down here and hopefully, I’ll go up there and transfer it over.” Sweeney was released by the Red Sox on March 30 and signed a minor-league deal with the Cubs a few days later. This is the first time he’s been acquired by Theo Epstein, however, as the Red Sox got him from Oakland in the Andrew Bailey traded after Epstein had joined the Cubs.

3.Robin Ventura was a big part of the Mets when they went to the World Series in 2000. He returns to Queens as a big-league manager Tuesday and will enjoy seeing old friends around Citi Field (which I’m sure he’ll find to be a nice upgrade on beautiful Shea Stadium). But first things first. Today’s game in Kansas City is a big one, as the White Sox have lost nine of their last 14 and need to turn things around fast. Chris Sale beat James Shields 1-0 on Opening Day. That’s the kind of effort that is needed in today’s makeup game.

Shields has owned Adam Dunn (1-for-13, 6 strikeouts) and Paul Konerko (4-for-28, no homers), which isn’t a good sign. The one guy that does hit him is Alexei Ramirez (11-for-26, 2 homers). Somebody needs to step up as the White Sox can’t afford to into a National League park Tuesday – limiting the use of Dunn and weakening an already thin lineup – after a three-game, four-day sweep in Kansas City. It’s only May but this week counts as a significant test. The White Sox come home against the Angels when they leave New York. They’ve gone 5-11 against them the last two years. There’s also the question of Jake Peavy’s stiff back hanging over the Sox. They’re dead in the water if they can’t get 28-32 starts from Peavy. Their best chance of hanging around the Tigers and Royals is for Sale and Peavy to improve off their strong 2012 seasons. Sale’s work counts double while Peavy’s out.

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