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TODAY

Tuesday, November 12

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Airbags

Cubs in Five

A Black Hole of Suck
by Jeff Webber

One: Greg Maddux and Todd Walker Swapped for a Bag of Magic Beans
Maddux and Walker got dealt at the trade deadline yesterday and all the Cubs managed in return was a no-hit shortstop coming off a serious injury with $10 million left on his contract through '08, and a 19-year-old with a 5.09 ERA in rookie ball. Oh yeah, and we sent LA one million dollars. Joe Ceda, picked up for Walker, does have a good arm, but it'll be years before we see how good. Cesar Izturis, picked up for Maddux, is sterling defensively, but has a career on-base percentage of .295. It could be interesting though, as Dusty is inevitably going to bench Ronny Cedeno to play both Izturis and Neifi at the same time. This should provide Cubs fans the opportunity to see possibly the finest North side defensive middle infield ever. Also, it'll open up a black hole of suck in the Cubs' lineup so powerful, it could potentially suck Wrigley Field and all of the Old Style chugging boobirds in it into a parallel dimension, never to be seen again.

Two: So, Um, What the Hell Is "The Trade Deadline" Anyway? Does This Mean No More Trades This Year?
Until July 31st, teams can more or less trade whichever players they want whenever they want to whoever they want. After that date, trades can still be made until August 31st, but only if all players involved "clear waivers." What this means is that if two teams wanted to make a trade, they still could, but every other team with a worse record (starting with the team in the basement and working up) could block the trade by placing a waiver claim on one or more of the players involved. Once this claim is placed, the team trying to trade the player in question can either: a) find a way to trade the disputed player(s) to the team making the claim, b) let the team assume the guy's salary and just give him away, or c) forget the whole thing. As a result, after July 31st, you generally only see very minor trades or dumps of huge, unpalatable salaries. What does this mean for the Cubs? Their chances of unloading any more guys during the season are just about nil from here on out.

Three: Hendry Says Baker's Job Is Safe for the Rest of the Season
Also, he hates you and wants you to be unhappy. Then he spit and insulted your mom. I'm hoping this is all a ploy to bide our time until we can steal Bobby Valentine away from Japan.

Four: A Four Game Sweep of the Cardinals?!?!?!
Why do the Cubs insist on occasionally impersonating a major league baseball team? Don't they know it only makes this season harder on us? Really, seriously: victories don't really help much at this point, as we're guaranteed at this point not only to miss the playoffs by a wide margin but to finish below .500, no matter what else happens. Winning the occasional impressive series mostly only serves to rub in what might have been. Really, at this point, I'd send Neifi running around the infield dumping out buckets that look like they're filled with water, but wait! It's glitter. You know, Globetrotters-style. But then the Globetrotters are undefeated, so they can clown like that.

Five: Looking for Your Lost Shaker of Salt?
Is this going to go down as the big Cubs moment of the last coupla years? Some people think there's a Hendry to blame, but I know it's Dusty's damned fault.

Sox in Five

A Bit Better Is Still a Far Cry From Good
by Steve Gozdecki

The Chicago White Sox swept at home by the Minnesota Twins by a cumulative score of 18-10? The haters pegged expectations for that series just right. A near-sweep at the Baltimore Orioles? Until Bobby Jenks lost Sunday's game in the ninth inning, the all-feeling, low-thinking lovers were about to leap with joy before choosing the cliff and the rocks below instead.

On that cheerless note, here's a depressive cycle version of Sox in Five.

One: A Mirage in Maryland
As in football, there are times in baseball that a team can play like crap and still put up more points than the opposition and thus win the game. Such was the case this weekend in Baltimore, as the Sox played poorly enough to lose all three games yet managed to win two of them. Outside of TV guy Hawk Harrelson's joyfully tearful little "I'm so happy" after Ross Gload's ninth-inning grand slam Friday made the Sox 6-4 winners, not much else about the weekend made for happy viewing. Saturday's game was like watching a sloppy game of keg softball, with everyone looking like they'd stopped and enjoyed the frothy brew at second base a little too much — a win, certainly, but not one to savor. Sunday the team again was reliant on late-inning heroics in the form of an eighth-inning home run by Jermaine Dye, but a taxed Jenks — who hasn't really pitched all that well since the All Star Break — failed to nail down the victory.

Two: Standing Pat at the Deadline
We all assumed the White Sox GM was in Krafty Kenny mode this past weekend as he issued denial after denial regarding any and all trade talks, claiming his work for the stretch run was done. We were wrong, as Williams chose to abandon his customary "win now at all costs" mentality to preserve the future of the franchise — prospects like current third sacker/future outfielder Josh Fields, outfielder Ryan Sweeney and starting pitcher Lance Broadway, as well as youngsters like pitcher Brandon McCarthy and outfielder Brian Anderson. This is curious in light of the additions made by the Wild Card-race front-running New York Yankees, who added outfielder Bobby Abreu and pitcher Cory Lidle to put the pressure on the Sox Red and White. With a weak rotation and poor production from two of the three outfield slots, it's a bit disheartening that Williams didn't acquire an outfielder with some thump. (Among those who moved on the cheap, Xavier Nady might've looked decent in left field.) Does Williams think these Sox are going to rally and overtake the Yankees? As always, I must remark that hope is not a strategy despite my hopeful disposition.

Three: The Week Ahead
If there's a team besides Baltimore that is capable of making the Sox and their fans feel better about themselves, it's the foe we start this week against, them Royals of Kansas City. The Royals, who continue to sell today in order to win tomorrow, smartly picked up first baseman Ryan Shealy from the Colorado Rockies in a deal yesterday afternoon. Despite last night's 8-4 win, the Sox finish July with their first losing month of the season via a Cub-like 10-15 record. Sweeping the Royals shouldn't be an impossible task, but then it's off to Toronto for a three-game set over the week before the team heads home for 11 games in 11 days, a stretch that may well make or break the Sox's chances of making the playoffs this season.

Four: Though He Frequently Walks Out to the Middle of the Outfield and Gamely Staggers After Flyballs and Line Drives, Rob Mackowiak Is Not a Centerfielder
Seriously, we might as well give Mackowiak a boxing glove and a pair of clown shoes for all the acumen he displays in centerfield. Woof.

Five: Reunited, 'Cuz It Feels So Good
Ah, so now we know why the Sox traded for Sandy Alomar, Jr.: because struggling pitcher Mark Buehrle needs his own personal catcher. While it's certainly true that the two worked together during the left hander's formative years, there's no real reason to think that throwing to A.J. Pierzynski has had anything to do with Buehrle's current career-worst pitching slump. While many suspect that some undisclosed injury lies at the heart of Buehrle's crummy pitching over the past month, here's hoping that Alomar has the cure to whatever is ailing the longtime fan favorite.

Fire in Five

All Star Break and We're Not Quite Last Place
by Steve Gillies

One: Seems like I Picked the Best Possible Game to Miss
I'm going to have to hold my hand up and admit to shirking my duties as a columnist. I didn't actually attend Saturday night's game against the Columbus Crew. I had hoped to fake it by going to the MLS's excellent website and checking out video of the match highlights. Unfortunately, there aren't any highlights available on the site. After reading a few match reports, I've concluded this wasn't some technical foul-up from the MLS web guys. It's because the game didn't actually feature any highlights. 0-0 between the last place and second to last place (that's us thanks to the tie!) teams in the league and it took 75 minutes for anyone to take a shot on goal. Plus, it was really hot. Plus it was Christian Rock night — I guess you have to give the Fire some credit for counter-programming the Pitchfork Festival. This will have to go down as one of the few times I'm not sorry I missed a soccer game.

Two: The Justin Mapp Question, Part II
With Logan Pause serving a suspension for his silliness last week, I thought Dave Sarachan would give Justin Mapp one more chance to prove that he really wants to be in the starting lineup. Instead, Sarachan continued with his mostly defensive five-man midfield, opting to play a surprisingly uninjured Tony Sanneh. A lot of people that saw the game have pointed out that it was no coincidence that the Fire didn't manage a shot until late in the game, just a couple of minutes after Mapp came on. While I could see the formation making sense tactically against DC, it certainly doesn't against the Columbus Crew, who are the type of team that's going to focus on staying back and trying not to get broken down defensively. Putting out a lineup short on creative players like Mapp just made it easier for the Crew to leave Bridgeview with a point and 11,000 people to leave Bridgeview very, very bored. Also, on principal you have to wonder about a coach that can't find a role in the starting lineup for his most talented player.

Three: Hey, There's a Game on Wednesday
The Fire start their US Open Cup campaign Wednesday night against the Kansas City Wizards. What's the US Open Cup? It's a lot like the FA Cup in England: a knockout soccer tournament that any amateur or professional team can enter. It's pretty awesome seeing minor league and semi-pro teams take on MLS teams. I'm a little sad that Kansas City managed to squeak by the Menace as it would have been cool to see a team from Des Moines playing in Toyota Park. I should also mention that this is one of the oldest tournaments of any sport in the country (started in 1914 for all you guys that think soccer didn't exist until 1994). It's a unique sports championship in this country and sadly it's been poorly marketed and under-utilized by MLS teams. The Chicago Fire, to their credit, have always taken it seriously, fielded full-strength teams and done very well in it. You certainly won't see the amount of talent on display that you will on Saturday's All Stars vs. Chelsea game, but since it's a knockout game it will definitely be a lot more competitive. Also, the tickets won't cost $55 for the cheap seats. In fact, it looks like the Fire are selling all tickets, other than the superswank club seats, for $15.

Four: Which Team is the One with All Stars?
As I mentioned above, there's a little event called the All Star Game going on in Bridgeview this weekend. A selection of MLS All Stars will play against English Premiere League Champions Chelsea. For those of you not familiar with Chelsea, basically what happened is this Russian oil billionaire got bored, decided to buy a soccer team in the fashionable part of London, and then spent outrageous amounts of money signing the top players from all over the world. (Which is pretty much exactly what I'd do if I had billions of dollars.) It's preseason for Chelsea, and most of their stars are coming off a grueling World Cup, so they won't be firing on all cylinders. Still, the excitement of seeing players like John Terry, Frank Lampard, Arjen Robben, Andrei Shevchenko and company will definitely overshadow the chance to see a team featuring Landon Donovan, Jaime Moreno and Eddie Johnson. All Star Coach Peter Nowak was smart to pick a core of DC United players with his votes. It's pretty hard to put a real team together in two practices and the MLS guys are going to need to gel quickly to put on a respectable performance. In reality, I wish the MLS would scrap the All Star gimmick altogether and take a week or two off so each team could play an exhibition against a European powerhouse, like last season's game between the Fire and AC Milan. I think the results would actually be a lot more impressive for the MLS than most people think (remember, these teams are in preseason) and the games would definitely look a lot more like soccer.

Five: Will We See Any Fire Players on Saturday?
The Fire got blanked by the fan votes, but Peter Nowak threw his old club a bone and selected Nate Jaqua as one of his picks. Nate's got to be thrilled to play against a team of that caliber, especially since he was sidelined for the AC Milan game last year. It'll be great to see Jaqua go against one of the best central defenders in the world, John Terry. Hopefully the stadium won't be totally overrun by anglophiles and he'll get a massive cheer from the hometown crowd when he scores the winning goal. What? It could happen.

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About the Author(s)

Jeff Webber spends hours and hours every day taking in every printed, spoken, and broadcast word he can find about the Chicago Cubs, and each week till the end of the season he's boiling them down into five simple crib notes you can use to stay on top of any watercooler or corner bar Cubs discussion. Send comments to cubs@gapersblock.com.

Steve Gozdecki has been a White Sox fan his entire life, with the exception of an ill-advised flirtation with the 1984 Cubs in the days when his town wasn't wired for cable. Because he swears by the work of the "baseball outsiders," who believe that statistical analysis trumps old truisms like subjective evaluation and team chemistry, he found himself pleasantly surprised when the Sox won it all last year. Each week through the 2006 season, Steve will bring you five crucial talking points you can use the next time someone says, "Hey, how 'bout them Sox?" Send comments to sox@gapersblock.com.

Steve Gillies watches too much soccer to be completely healthy. He's been a Fire fan since he stood in a torrential downpour while the Fire beat New England 6-0 and he realized watching American soccer games in person was a lot better than watching European football matches on television. Each week he'll give you five things to talk about if you happen to get cornered by one of those soccer people at a party. Send comments to fire@gapersblock.com

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