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Thursday, July 18

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Cubs in Five

A Temporary Moratorium on Jacque Hate
by Jeff Webber

One: Mutant Math
So on the one hand, the Cubs just inked Carlos Zambrano to a well-below-market five-year $91.5 million extension. On the free agent market, he'd have gotten seven years easily and with Barry Zito getting $18 mil a year, the younger, more reliable Zambrano could very well have netted $20 mil annually. On the other hand, he'd only asked for $80 million over five years this spring, so dragging their feet cost Cubs brass $11.5 million. On the third, mutant, partially-formed hand, they might easily have given up and traded him during his early-season funk.

Two: Jacque of No Trades
Now that it's been more than a year since Cubs in Five began publicly petitioning for outfielder Jacque Jones to be traded, all to no avail, I may as well mix it up a bit by calling him one of the bright spots of the second half. Jones, who put up an abysmal .233/.294/.335 (BA/OBP/SLG) line during the first half of the season, has hit .348/.402/.530 since the All-Star Break. Do I really think he's suddenly turned into Bobby Abreu? Meh, probably not. But I love a hot streak as much as anyone and, bad as Jones's luck was the first half of '07, here's hoping the good luck keeps up for the latter half.

Three: Comparable Collapse?
Baseball Reference has this nifty little feature where they make note for each player of which other player's career arc his most resembles. With Derrek Lee showing a curious power outage this year, you might ask who his top comparable is. The answer is former Twin Kent Hrbek, who was only sporadically useful after age 31 (Lee's current age) and had stumbled into an early retirement by age 35. That would make my Derrek Lee jersey so much less awesome-seeming.

Four: Case Study in How to Read a Stat Line, or Conclusive Proof That Scott Eyre Still Bites
Since the All-Star Break, beleaguered reliever Scott Eyre has put up a seemingly impressive 1.93 ERA, with just eight hits in 9 1/3 innings. Why aren't we impressed? That would be because during the same span, Eyre has allowed an appalling 10 walks, giving him an average of nearly two baserunners per inning. Some of the slower-witted dinosaurs calling big league games might let the ERA get them giddy, but the walks tell the true story: Eyre has been horrid.

Five: Braun-y Is the Quicker Picker-Upper
The Brewers may stink since the Break, but with rookie Ryan Braun manning the hot corner, you can't count them out yet. How good is Braun? The 23-year-old has 24 homers in only 309 at-bats (six better than top Cub sluggers Ramirez and Soriano have managed in 63 and 135 more at-bats, respectively). He lacks only the requisite plate appearances to lead the NL in batting average (.343) and slugging average (.663). Heck, his batting average, slugging percentage and on-base percentages are all higher than those of Alex Rodriguez, the highest-paid player in the game (who isn't exactly having an off year). This is more than just a great rookie season, this is one that ranks up there with Albert Pujols, Joe DiMaggio, and Ted Williams. Watch for him in the upcoming Cubs-Brewers series.

Sox in Five

You Just Might Be a Last Place Team If...
by Steve Gozdecki

First off, congratulations to White Sox closer Bobby Jenks, who set an American League record and tied the major league record by retiring 41 batters in a row over the past month or so. Jenks' accomplishment, and Mark Buehrle's no hitter against the Texas Ranger back on April 18, will give us a pair of fond memories of an otherwise crappy season.

And now, back to our regularly scheduled complaining. You might be a last place team if you...

One: ...Just Came Back from an 0-6 West Coast Trip
Even in years when the team is playing well, it's a wonder that the Chicago White Sox bother to travel out west, especially to Oakland, where it seems like the Sox haven't won a game since Britt Burns beat the A's 7-1 back on June 24, 1985. As if it wasn't bad enough to lose a pair of one-run games on the way to being swept by Oakland, the Sox then went on to get swept in Seattle, giving up 23 runs in three games while only plating 14.

Two: ...Have Fooled Yourself into Believing That One or Two Free Agents Are All It Will Take to Return to Competitiveness
Sez General Manager Kenny Williams, "I'll let you know when we're in a rebuilding mode. We still have far too many pieces that I consider championship pieces for us to go in that direction," he told the Sun-Times last week. Kenny, we love you, but your inability to differentiate between "guys who have won a championship" with "championship pieces" is what got the team into the mess known as the 2007 season in the first place. You've got holes at three of four positions up the middle, no leftfielder worth mentioning, a few questions in the rotations and a whole lot of worry in the bullpen. Even if you can sign the two best free agents out there this offseason — and assuming one of them is Alex Rodriguez to play shortstop and the other is Torii Hunter for centerfield — you're still just supplementing a team that has played losing ball for nearly an entire season and a half.

Three: ...Tie Up a Big Chunk of Your Payroll in a Declining Veteran
Jermaine Dye. Nice guy. Long fly. Makes me wanna cry. The Sox signed their rightfielder to a contract extension — two years, $21 million — last week, which is cause for celebration in the Dye household but not the best use of the team's money in this scribe's opinion. But I've run down Dye enough in this space over the course of the season, so I'll just mention again that he's become a defensive liability and is becoming a one-dimensional slugger who will likely never hit above .280 again. For a team that continually cries poverty, I count more than half a dozen players — Dye, first baseman Paul Konerko, designated hitter Jim Thome, and starting pitchers Mark Buehrle, Javier Vazquez, Jon Garland and Jose Contreras — making in the neighborhood of $10 million each per season, accounting for nearly two-thirds of the team's projected payroll over the next few years despite nary a superstar among them. This is good how?

Four: ...Only Have Two Reliable Starting Pitchers
Remember when Jon Garland looked like the best pitcher on the Sox? The guy who won 18 games each of the past two seasons? Since summer's official beginning, Garland has seen his ERA rise from 3.51 to 4.63. Never the most elusive of pitchers, Garland is suffering this year from a loss of control (he's already walked more hitters this year than he did in either of the last two) and his usual high hit rate (greater than one per inning). His struggles serve to magnify the troubles experienced of late by rookie lefty John Danks and the season-long crumminess of Opening Day starter Jose Contreras. In honor of "Spahn and Sain and pray for rain," the 2007 White Sox bring you Vazquez and Buehrle and three guys who hit the showers early!

Five: ...Pretend to Be Surprised by the Debacle That Has Unfolded Over the Course of the Season
"When we left spring training, everyone in Chicago was looking up at this team, and nobody thought we would have a summer like we had," Ozzie Guillen was quoted as saying in yesterday's Sun-Times. "It's a shock to me, as the manager of the ballclub, to run where we are running right now." Hey Ozzie, did you happen to check out what the wags outside of Chicago expected from your team? No? Well, that's your problem right there. All 10 of espn.com MLB experts predicted either a third- or fourth-place finish (though only three predicted a losing record), Sports Illustrated called for the Sox to finish in third place, the Baseball Prospectus PECOTA system projected a then-controversial 72-90 record, etc. Maybe Ozzie was just too focused on Chicagoist, which predicted that the Sox would come in second in the AL Central with an 88-74 tally?

Fire in Five

More Help On the Way, and An Amazing Goal
by Steve Gillies

One: The Latest In The International Revolving Door
After significantly strengthening their attack by acquiring Paulo Wanchope, this week the Fire brought in Columbian defender Wilman Conde. Like Wanchope, new coach Jose Osorio is familiar with the player, having coached him at his previous club Millonarios. This means we have one Senior International too many, so Thiago will likely go the way of Pascal Bedrossian. It's too bad, because the little Brazilian lit it up occasionally and scored my favorite goal that I've seen in person (his chip to himself against Chivas USA back in '05). But he's been plagued by inconsistency and, since Blanco's arrival, hasn't seen enough playing time to warrant one of the Senior International spots. If/when Thiago goes, he'll have some company on the road out of Chicago, as the Fire have waived fellow Brazilian, Willian Oliveira.

Conde, for his part, will at the very least bring depth to a backline that is looking pretty thin beyond the starting three of CJ Brown, Gonzalo Segares, and Dasan Robinson (who just posted their third consecutive shutout). Reports say he should bring more than just depth though, as he's very highly regarded in Columbia, only 25, and has the skills to immediately improve the team's ability to start plays out of the back. It's funny, because the guy that did that so well for us last season, Tony Sanneh, just resurfaced in Colorado, looking solid in a 3-0 win over the Revolution. What did we end up getting for trading away his rights? A draft pick. Make that a fourth round draft pick. In 2009. Talk about a player to be named later.

Two: The Golazo
Speaking of my favorite goals, Blanco's goal on Saturday night against Real Salt Lake instantly qualifies as one of them. If you enjoy things that are awesome, check out the juggle and volley over at the MLS highlights page. If you enjoy doing the right thing, you should vote for it as Goal of the Week (not that it needs any help). It's funny, for all the talk from marquee players like Claudio Reyna and David Beckham about playing on FieldTurf, based on Blanco's performances against Toronto and Salt Lake, he doesn't seems to actually like it. It probably has nothing to do with the FieldTurf though, since Toronto and Salt Lake just aren't very good at soccer.

Three: A Sterner Test
It's been a pretty rosy month for the Fire. Blanco's certainly lived up to expectations. Paulo Wanchope may not look anything close to 100% but he already found the goal against Salt Lake. After three undefeated and unscored upon games, the playoff picture isn't looking as completely hopeless as it was for most of the season. It has to be said, though, that this run has came against teams that are also struggling in the standings. Two games against Kansas City this week should give a much clearer picture of where the team is heading. Six points could put us up with the pack jockeying for playoff seeds, while less than three and the Fire will still be in a pretty big hole.

Four: Didn't They Move To LA or New York or Something?
It was weird to see a story about MLS on Pitchfork this week, but it seems the marketing gurus have wrangled together a bunch of bands with local ties write anthems for their city's MLS teams. You can hear them all, including OK Go's song for the Fire here. Peter Wilt, you know the guy they fired, came up with this idea six or seven years ago when he commissioned actual Chicago Fire fans, Deals Gone Bad, to record a version of one of the Section 8 songs. (I also have it on good authority that Wilt once lost his cell phone in a mosh pit at a Deals Gone Bad show). As for the current crop of songs, let's just say I'd prefer it if the league didn't try to convince people how "cool" and "hip" it is. Plus, it feels like some kind of weird bizarro universe when Bad Brains are playing jock jams.

Five: A Really Silly Non-Fire Related Note
This Thursday the Primetime ESPN2 game will be the big LA-Chivas USA local derby. The game has made for some compelling television in the past and I'm sure ESPN executives were excited about promoting the Spiceboy's first appearance in one. The problem is that, Beckham, along with Landon Donovan, will be playing for their national team in Europe. This is what happens when you ignore the international soccer calendar. With LA's playoff hopes in critical condition, the current plan is for Becks and Donovan to play their games on Wednesday, then fly home and play in LA on Thursday. I think we should all take a second to think about how insane that is. Nobody, as far as I can tell, has ever played back-to-back professional soccer games. Coaches rightly complain about wear and tear when teams play two games in a week. Now take this one impossible feat and add to that a flight from Europe to LA. Both players have had question marks about their characters before (though nobody's ever questioned either person's desire to be on TV in front of a national audience). They should be commended for being willing to put themselves through this, but they shouldn't have to. Possibly, just for health and safety reasons, they shouldn't be allowed to.

Sky in Five

End of the Road
by Anne Elizabeth Moore

One: The Big Gross Out
"I don't know what she was goin' for, because the ball was here," center-forward Chastity Melvin nodded at the ground to her right after the Sky's last home game at the UIC Pavilion on August 14. The 6'3" eight-year vet was averaging 6.7 rebounds, 10-plus points and an assist per game when her season effectively ended with 4:58 left in the first quarter. The New York Liberty's Shameka Christon had fumbled a steal, but bad. "It was like her whole hand went in my eye. All four fingers. It was scary and disgusting. My whole eyeball was out and I just felt it on my cheek. The whole white part. I could feel it. I mean, it was out. I couldn't see anything out of my left eye."

You must have been scared for your vision, one reporter asked.

"Yeah," she answered. "I was just praying, like . . . but then I was like, 'well, I still got my right eye.'"

And how are you feeling now? another reporter queried. Melvin was wearing dark glasses, and was animated, but the injury had so disgusted Armintie "The Athlete" Price from her spot on the bench that she couldn't play for half the game.

"I'm feeling good," Melvin replied. "I mean, because her fingers went in my eye I have like three scratches on my cornea but it's not anything really serious. And I can still play. Hopefully it'll calm down a lot before Thursday and I can get back in the game. I'm sure Georgia, my trainer, will make me wear goggles, but I don't mind lookin' like a freak."

But, the first reporter prompted, you were pretty shooken up.

"Yeah, my brother and his wife were here and his wife's gonna stay the night with me," Melvin admitted. "I feel like I'm gonna have nightmares. I mean, I really felt my eyeball coming out. I felt it sitting outside of my face. It's gonna take some time to get over this."

Two: Still, a Victory
After Sky minority owner and Destiny's Child Michelle Williams belted out the National Anthem at the Tuesday game in front of a record crowd of 5,443 fans, Jia "Jia" Perkins made the 200th assist of her career, Dominique "The Beast" Canty made her 700th rebound, the Sky kept the Liberty to a record low number of points in a quarter (7 in the 3rd), and Chicago trounced the Liberty roundly in a 77 to 65 victory.

Unfortunately, the losses of the game still tallied up, even beyond the injury suffered by Melvin. At halftime, the crowd and head coach Bo Overton found out that the Washington Mystics had won their game. Which meant: no matter the outcome of this game, the Liberty would go on to the playoffs while the Sky could not. Overton, however, "didn't tell 'em. They were having too good a time."

A reporter clarified: so they did not know the Mystics had won during the entire game?

"No," Overton said. Still, he asserted, they were "amazing." After all, Chas was out with her injury, and The Athlete was terribly shaken up. And on top of that, he explained, "Katye [Christenson] was out and Carla [Thomas] was out. How Candice ["The Gum Chewer" Dupree] and Brooke [Wyckoff] and Liz [Moeggenberg] fought that team, it was just amazing."

Three: A Final Win of the Season
A handy away victory by the Sky (81 over the Houston Comets' 70) despite a field goal success rate of only 39 percent was boosted in part by a 94.7 percent free-throw rate. This number has been in flux all season, though, so it's been difficult to count on our girls when called to the pity line. They improved overall shooting, however, with Canty, Dupree, Dales, Wyckoff and Perkins each bringing in greater than 10 points. The biggest scorer of the game, however, was Tina Thompson, a 32-year-old, 6'2" forward whose superstitious beliefs force her to wear lipstick at every game — WTF, I know — who singlehandedly scored 33 points for almost half her team's total.

Four: And a Final Game of the Season
Even with a seven-point lead in the fourth quarter, Chicago was unable to bring home a victory in their final game in New York, which ended with the Liberty's 58 over the Sky's 51, and closed out the season leaving Chicago in last place in the Eastern conference with a 14-20 record, and stuck at home watching the Detroit Shock, the Indiana Fever (AKA Tan White), the Connecticut Sun and the New York Liberty (the only team in the playoffs with more losses than wins — 16-18) battle it out starting Wednesday on ESPN 87, or whatever channel they show the games on.

Over in the slightly less aggressive Western conference, Phoenix, San Antonio, Sacramento and Seattle (this last with only a .500 win average themselves) will vie for the title, with Houston, Los Angeles, and Minnesota sitting it out on the sidelines.

Five: The Future Looks Bright, So Melvin's Wearing Shades
Had the Sky even gone on to the playoffs, the future looked bright for The Athlete's Rookie of the Year spot, Jia's Sixth Woman nomination and Bo Overton's Coach of the Year bid. Still, despite Overton's merits, the first two remain attainable. Even playoff team Connecticut Sun Coach Mike Thibault is an Athlete fan: "She's one of the greatest kids I've ever met, by far," he told Ned Griffen of theday.com, an online Connecticut paper. "I could adopt her. She could live in my house. ... She's the real deal. If Chicago ever wants to change their mind, I'll be at the front of the line [to trade for her]."

(Proving his mettle, Overton kindly listed what exactly it would take to trade the Athlete away from Chicago: "Katie [Douglas], Asjha [Jones] ... we can just keep going. No, for our young franchise, to have a young player like that to go along with Candice, she's just a great kid.")

And as to Jia's Sixth Woman bid, your fondest sports reporter was overcome with shyness when confronted with the awesomeness of the 11.7-point-averaging, 3.3-rebound-gettin', three-year pro single mom, and found she could only mutter the insipid, "So, uh, Sixth Woman, huh?"

To which Jia — clearly more concerned about Chastity Melvin than the competition — could only respond, "I think there's some good players who are up for it, so I'm just happy to have my name mentioned."

So, with my team officially shut out of the playoffs (which start up Thursday August 23rd), and with only my ESPN 74 and two — count 'em! Two! — Sky Guy bobbleheads on which to practice my voodoo incantations, your humble sports reporter goes back to her regular duties of writing books about global economics, editing ones about comics and blogging about these and all other matters in an irregular, misspelled kind of way. But, like Hunter S. Thompson and Gabriel Garcia Marquez before her, rest assured that your humble sports reporter will never forget her true love: nationally organized athletic competition.

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Comments

anne elizabeth moore / August 22, 2007 10:21 AM

Photographer Jennifer Brandel suggested the following new slogan for the Chicago Sky (to replace this year's Stand Tall and last year's even dumber Touch the Sky): Where Women Fucking Yank Out Other Women's Fucking Eye Balls. She was also kind enough to accompany me to a recent game and post some photos of the experience on Flickr here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/newneonunion/sets/72157601380174988/.

Please enjoy them responsibly.

Andrew / August 22, 2007 3:39 PM

I almost want to see a photo of this frightening site, but I think I'd be too grossed out.

Sad that the Sky didn't make it to the playoffs, but what a vast improvement over their first season. (They had nowhere to go but up, but still.)

 

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 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 has 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.

Anne Elizabeth Moore didn't go to professional blogging school or anything like some of these sports writers today, but she's been nominated for more comics awards. That's gotta mean something. Send comments to sky@gapersblock.com.

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