Last month when the Cubs played the White Sox, I exchanged "Five Questions" with my SportsBLOGS colleague The Cheat over at South Side Sox.
With the other Sox team coming to town tomorrow, I have done the same with Randy Booth of Over The Monster.
First, my answers to Randy's Five Questions:
Q: Are you optimistic going into the Red Sox series? How do you think it will play out?
A: I'm very optimistic, despite losing two of three (and looking bad) to Toronto. The Cubs have still won 18 of their last 27 games, and currently are the NL wild-card leader. I like the pitching matchups, though Wade Miller has give the Cubs fits for years while he was with Houston.
Q: How has the injury to former Red Sox, and current Cub, Nomar Garciaparra affected the team as a whole?
A: Surprisingly, I'm going to say it hasn't affected the team very much at all, at least performance-wise. Neifi! (we Cub fans put that ! there first as sort of a joke, now it's because of his amazing performance) Perez has played out of his mind for two months, and we all fear what'll happen when he reverts to career norms, but he's pretty much putting up similar numbers to what Nomar might have.
Nomar's veteran leadership, the Cubs miss. I saw him play in spring training and he seemed like a man possessed -- to come back and have a big year. It's really a shame what happened to him.
Q: Which Red Sox hitters do you fear the most? Which Red Sox pitchers do you fear facing? (FYI to Randy: his original question read "Sox" -- I had to change it to "Red Sox", because when Cub fans hear "Sox", we think of that other Chicago team. Cub fans don't hate the Red Sox! -- or, at least, I don't.)
A: As I said above, Wade Miller used to drive us nuts while he was with the Astros. Curt Schilling -- well, if healthy, he'd be the toughest Red Sox pitcher to face. I'm glad we don't have to face Matt Clement, with the start he's off to.
You're going to be surprised when I tell you which Red Sox hitter I fear the most. Believe it or not, it's Kevin Millar. He used to absolutely kill the Cubs when he was a member of the Marlins. I know he's not off to a very good start, but he's probably licking his chops thinking about hitting in Wrigley Field. David Ortiz and Manny Ramirez -- of course. Every team fears them.
You should know that Cub fans have warm memories of Bill Mueller, who is a class guy in every way. I'm sure he'll get a nice round of applause when he's announced.
Q: Where do you think the Cubs will finish in the standings when the season is all said and done?
A: Wow, put me on the spot, why don't you?
Well, the Cubs still do have fourteen games left with the Cardinals (don't face them again till after the All-Star break), so don't discount the possibility that the Cubs could get hot and win the division.
I still believe they are well-positioned to win at least the Wild Card. Mark Prior and Kerry Wood will be back soon, they have gotten good production out of people who have replaced injured players, Nomar may also return around August 1, and at last they have solved the closer problem -- Ryan Dempster has been terrific. No one has stood out from the pack yet -- so why not the Cubs?
Q: If you could take any player from the Red Sox system and put him on the Cubs, who would it be?
A: This one put me on the spot again, as I haven't been that familiar with other clubs' farm systems. But taking a look at the Red Sox' minor league rosters, one name stands out -- Cla Meredith. I know Red Sox fans thought he probably shouldn't have been brought up so soon, and perhaps needs another year at Triple-A. But at age 22, to have both the control (so few walks) and strike zone judgment (so many strikeouts!) -- this guy appears to be the real deal. I presume he's a closer-in-waiting.
Now, here are Randy's answers to my Five Questions:
Q: As a Red Sox fan, how do you view this series, and interleague play in general? Is it a big deal? Or do you not care?
A: With the way the Red Sox are struggling right now, the series is pretty important. Every series is important when you are only five games above .500. It being the Cubs, though, makes it interesting because of the history of both of these teams. It could be a lot more interesting, though, if Nomar Garciaparra were healthy and playing.
Q: What's been the biggest surprise to you about the Red Sox season so far, either positive or negative?
A:The biggest surprise is Curt Schilling. I figured at the time of his return from the disabled list that he wasn't ready, but I wouldn't think that he would have to go back on the DL and spend months because of his ankle. I believe it was a bad choice coming back so early, but how can you stop a guy with the determination Schilling has? You can't. And now it has cost him. We wouldn't be five games over .500 if Schilling were healthy -- that's for sure.
Q: Who is the best acquisition the Red Sox have made in the offseason? The worst? Who do you miss most from the World Championship team who's no longer there (you can count Curt Schilling if you want)?
A: The best acquistion in the offseason has been Matt Clement, the former Cub himself. Clement has been solid all season long and has only struggled a few times, the most in his last outing. The player I miss the most wasn't even a starter or anything, it was Gabe Kapler. I was never a real big fan of Kapler, I liked him and all like most of the Sox, but losing his presence in the clubhouse has hurt this season. Players have mentioned him by name and may be the reason for some of the struggles. If he means that much to these guys, then I wish we still had him.
Q: Which Cub hitters do you fear the most? Which Cub pitchers do you fear facing? Which Cub pitchers do you lick your chops about facing?
A: I fear Derrek Lee the most. How can you not fear the man that is single-handedly destroying the National League? I'm not looking to face Carlos Zambrano. The man is a pure-power pitcher that may just be able to dominate us this week. He's one of the best pitchers in the National League, and I really don't want him to prove it to us. I'll lick my chops as long as it's not Zambrano, Greg Maddux, Mark Prior, or Kerry Wood, despite the last two being on the disabled list.
Q: As a Red Sox fan, I know you must be happy that the Yankees are floundering. Does their performance so far surprise you? Or were they set for a fall?
A: I think they were set-up for a fall, but they'll rebound somewhat. They may go on a huge tear and win 10+ games in a row, or they may just string together some wins. But they'll get out of this funk at some point. They may not go to the playoffs, but they'll improve.