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Recently, we had a chance to catch up with George Castle, host of 2wenty Sports' upcoming internet series highlighting the biggest issues with our beloved Chicago Cubs and the Chicago White Sox. We touched on a variety of topics and, as usual, George gave us the typical award-winning insight that we have come to expect from him.

2wenty Sports: So George, how can Carlos Zambrano cut down on the number of pitches he throws, which takes a toll on his shoulder?

George Castle: Pitching coach Larry Rothschild has long wanted Zambrano, who is smarter than he shows with his emotional side, to stop trying to finesse hitters. Just go after ???em with his good stuff ??? strike one, strike two, etc. Big Z often throws 120 pitches in less than 7 innings, and issues too many walks. That???s bound to catch up with him, and did in 2008 with shoulder problems. Someone has to shake him up and let him know his career is at stake. Big Z talks a good game about cutting down pitch counts, but it???s a different story on the mound. He has to alter his style ??? now! (as soon as he comes back off the DL!)

2wenty: Why does Dempster have sudden, and sometimes fatal, lapses of control? He seemed to cure this problem from his 2006-07 closer???s days until that disastrous NLDS loss to the Dodgers.

GC: Dempster described a 2008 mid-season control lapse as a ???brain fart.??? He???s worked so hard to build up his endurance as a starter that it would be a shame to lose the momentum due to control lapses. I think he???s the real deal because of his overall dedication. Dempster has a good fastball and should use it on days when his breaking pitches are wandering all over the place. Pitchers sometimes get infatuated with a tricky slider or whatever ??? hello, Carlos Marmol ??? that they forget they can get hitters out with a well-located fastball. That???s the last thing Dempster must accomplish in his transition to an effective starter.

2wenty: Who would you say is the true ???ACE??? of the Cubs pitching staff?

GC: It???s Big Z ??? but see above. No reason why Zambrano can???t win 18 to 20 games every year with one of the best, hardest sinking fastballs in baseball.

2wenty: Why didn???t Hendry do more with the bullpen in the off-season ??? and why did he totally turn over the relief corps to the point Marmol is the only bullpen performer who opened the 2008 season?

GC: Hendry did make moves, trading for closer Kevin Gregg and setup man Aaron Heilman. But it was the loss of Kerry Wood due to salary considerations that thinned the bullpen ranks. In an ideal world, you???d have Wood, Gregg, Heilman AND Carlos Marmol. Gregg would be a setup man. It???s apparent Hendry also overrated Neal Cotts??? ability to return to 2005 White Sox World Series team form. The GM needed to find another lefty and not put all the southpaw bullpen work in Cotts??? basket. Now, he???ll have to scour all rosters for a lefty. Too bad none is coming up through the farm system. Sean Marshall would have been a good No. 1 bullpen southpaw, but he???s needed in the rotation now.

2wenty: How much do the Cubs miss Kerry Wood on and off the field ??? his fortitude on the mound and the respect he commanded in the clubhouse?

GC: Wood is missed A LOT. He was the most respected man in the clubhouse for his seniority, his personality and always trying to come back from his assortment of elbow and shoulder injuries. He was the most loyal Cub of modern times. On the mound he was fearless like his friend Joe Borowski. He may not be the perfect closer ??? he tended to keep rallies going once they started. But you never could question Wood???s stones, and such players are in short supply in the majors.

2wenty: If the Cubs were going to trade DeRosa, why didn???t they get a major-league-ready player for him? Were the 3 minor-league pitchers they received really targeted to flip to the Padres in a trade for Jake Peavy that never happened?

GC: This was an unusual deal for Jim Hendry in that he did not get a major-league-ready player back. He usually has traded prospects for veterans in the ongoing attempt to fuel a Cubs contender. If Hendry was going to lessen the roster versatility by subtracting DeRosa ??? and he did just that given subsequent events ??? he needed to plug another hole in the deal. He did not. Jeff Stevens, considered the nearest to big-league ready of any of the three Cleveland minor leaguers, is pitching well at Iowa and could get the bullpen call now that Jeff Samardzija is back working on his secondary pitches in the Triple-A rotation. To be sure, DeRosa was worth a lot more than three minor-leaguers given the Cubs weren???t in a non-contender, mid-July clearance sale situation.

2wenty: Isn???t Fontenot better in his role of 2008 ??? a part-time second baseman getting 350 at-bats? Is he being over-exposed?

GC: : I get the feeling Fontenot was in a perfect gig in 2008. I just don???t see him as a 550-at-bat player. This is where DeRosa comes in. Playing middle infield is a physically-demanding job. You need 3-4 players to rotate in and out of second base and shortstop. Fontenot seems the kind of player who might get worn down from overuse after the All-Star break and would fall victim to top pitchers. He might be best playing 3-4 games per week, and then coming in for double switches at other times.

2wenty: Was it vital for Bradley to get off to a good start to win over the fans and avoid the tension that has erupted?

GC: Yes. Adjusting to the eccentric playing conditions at Wrigley Field, on top of the usual holdover winter weather in April, is always tough for newcomers. Just ask night-owl, party-hearty Moises Alou. Derrek Lee had trouble getting to sleep early enough at night for day games his first Cubs season in 2004 ??? he was used to the 4-midnight life of a ballplayer. Plus the increasingly-demanding Cubs fans have little patience anymore for failure. Bradley was just the kind of player who would not respond well to boos. Plus there is a lunatic fringe who have hurled racist invective at the likes of Don Baylor, Dusty Baker, LaTroy Hawkins and Jacque Jones over the past decade. That???s the last thing the emotional Bradley needs to experience. For his sake, Bradley needs to catch fire and have a repeat of his fine 2008 season to enjoy the best Wrigley Field has to offer from the fans.

2wenty: Will the still-uncompleted ownership change hurt the Cubs?

GC: Yes. It already has. The Cubs could not significantly increase their payroll over the winter amid the ownership flux. That led to the departures of Kerry Wood, Mark DeRosa and Jason Marquis, which have impacted this season already. The Cubs had to move money around to sign Milton Bradley. Also, they could not aggressively pursue a trade for Jake Peavy and the $63 million remaining on his contract.

2wenty: Do you like the idea of a fan like Tom Ricketts taking over as owner?

GC: Yes. For the first time in 77 years, a legit Cubs fan will be the owner if Ricketts completes the deal. The team has suffered from the baseball-ignorance and meddlesome nature of P.K. Wrigley and either lack of passion or baseball acumen from various Tribune Co. overseers. A fan will invest his heart and soul in the team in an attempt to win, and so much about baseball is motivation and emotion. Ricketts needs to survey other top baseball organizations to see how to model the Cubs on their operations.

2wenty: Aren???t the coaches over-rated in their contributions if the parent organizations don???t set the tempo with a philosophy of fundamentals, speed, pitching and good character ??? the elements that made Atlanta so consistent over the years and now are a trademark of the Twins??? piranhas?

GC: Yes, too much focus is put on the coaches, unless the team is so fundamentally-challenged, as the Cubs were in the latter part of Dusty Baker???s managerial regime. More weight should be given to management philosophies ??? is there a ???Cubs Way??? or ???Sox Way??? of doing things, and can the coaches carry out that style?

Thanks George for your thoughts. We will be back next time with more topics and more thoughtful insight from host, George Castle. As always, we would appreciate reader feedback and comments. Let us know what you think of George's point of view. This is your chance to argue or tell George how much you agree with his views.

Til next time.....

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