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Tuesday, December 10

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Cubs in Five

Another Helping of Gloom and Doom
by Jeff Webber

Cripes, this is turning into a thankless job. I feel like I volunteered to write the family newsletter only to have grandma break a hip, Aunt Sylvie's cancer metastasize again, and Cousin Bill get 20-to-life in Sing Sing. Is it any wonder I'm cheating on the Cubs, watching more Sox games than Cubs games this past month?

One: Kerry Wood Has Partial Tear in His Rotator Cuff; No, Cubs in Five Is Not a Re-Run This Week
This is a new injury and yup, it's a bad one. As in "possibly career-ending" bad. As in "best-case scenario has him contributing as a reliever late next season." The really depressing part is the hints that Wood's injury may have either: a) been caused or exacerbated in some way by the shoulder surgery he had last August; b) existed at the time of said surgery and was inexplicably missed; or c) had been the actual cause of his troubles last year instead of the alleged shoulder injury. Pity he couldn't have kept it together for another week or so until we'd have been able to unload him.

Two: Mark Prior Has a Strained Left Oblique Muscle; No, Seriously, This Is Not a Re-Run
You know at this point, Prior and Wood have proven to have such freakishly bad luck when it comes to physical injury, I can hardly believe their teammates consent to ride on the same plane. Prior may or may not be replaced in the rotation for a while by Rich Hill. That way, if Carlos Marmol isn't walking enough dudes for you, Hill can help you get your fix. Don't look to be cashing in that Wade Miller insurance policy we bought during the off-season, either. The former Astros star has been unable to get his fastball over 84 in rehab and we're likely to cut him loose soon.

Three: As Dan Savage Says, DTMFA
For those of you who don't read the weekly syndicated sex column "Savage Love," DTMFA stands for "dump the mother f---er already." It's Savage's stock answer to people clearly in crap relationships. We've been saying as much about Dusty Baker here at Cubs in Five for over a year, but the difference is, now it looks like it's finally going to happen. General Manager Jim Hendry said he will be "evaluating the status" of Baker and his staff during the All-Star break. With the Cubs heading into the All-Star Break with more losses than any season in the last 40 years, it's hard to imagine Baker making it into August. Reached for comment by Cubs in Five, Baker stroked our hair and responded, "But baby, you know I can change. You remember how good it was three years ago. I'm just going through a lot of stress right now, but I'm going to do better, baby. You'll see."

Four: Garciaparra Leads NL in Hitting; Patterson Leads AL in Stolen Bases
Cubs lead the majors in crazy bad, career-stalling juju. You know, when you start to see evidence that players are healthier and more productive playing for any manager other than yours, you really should consider dumping the mother — oh, yeah, we already covered that already this week.

Five: Digging Deep to Close Out with Good News; or, Hope Floats in West Tennessee
According to stathead publication The Hardball Times, four of the most productive players in the Double A Southern League come from the Cubs' system. (That's the good news? Well, what did you expect? That I'd know about a dozen or two Cubs victories that somehow escaped media attention?) 24-year-old Chris Shaver has put up an ERA of 2.20 with 85 strikeouts in 94 innings. J.R. Mathes, also 24, has an ERA of 3.22 with 73 K's and just 19 walks in just over 103 innings pitched. One-time prospect Nic Jackson, 26, is hitting well for the Diamond Jaxx, but he's a bit old for this to be exciting. More interesting is that Cubs in Five favorite Scotty Moore, only 22, also makes the list of the best hitters in the league, hitting .276 with 14 homers. If/when the Cubs blow up the team, it'll be Moore fielding hard liners and Ron Santo comparisons at third base.

Here's hoping we have a new skipper to get excited about next week. This season is killing me.

Sox in Five

Halfway to the Wild Card?
by Steve Gozdecki

Hoping to avert their first series loss in quite some time, the Chicago White Sox forced the Boston Red Sox to play a doubleheader on Sunday. Unfortunately, the 19-inning affair only counted as a single game (a White Sox winner!), and so the White Sox did indeed lose a series for the first time since June 2-4 against Texas.

Speaking (sorta) of playing two, wouldn't it be awesome if the Sox could just play those Detroit Tigers right now? A quick three-game sweep, and the Sox would no longer be trying to catch them Tigers by the tail. Guess we'll have to wait a week for that possibility to present itself. As for this week, well, let's do us some Sox in Five.

One: The Worst .648 Team in Baseball
It's amazing what two losses to one of the best teams in baseball can do to the fan base. I mean, just when you thought the memories of last season's late near-collapse were buried by happier happenings like one of the most impressively dominating post-season performances of all time, Sox fans were freakin' hard this weekend on the talk radio and all throughout Blogistan. Frankie says relax, don't do it, when you wanna go to it, people. The Sox are winning games at a great clip, albeit in a somewhat different fashion from last year's team. I've got faith, at least as far as this team's ability to get into the playoffs — after that, it's in the hands of a higher power.

Two: Is There a Cure for This Staff Infection?
And yet and yet and yet... there's a curious conundrum in baseball centered on the fact that across an entire season, hitting performances are more predictable than pitching performances, but the teams that win have consistent pitching that helps to get them through the inevitable offensive slumps that will come. There's no doubt that the 2005 World Champion Chicago White Sox had consistently good pitching and an average offense, and that that model has flipped somewhat this season, especially over the past month or so. The offensive improvement was certainly by design with the acquisition of Jim Thome, but the fact that only Jose Contreras, Mark Buerhle, Bobby Jenks and (arguably) Brandon McCarthy are pitching as well as expected is distressing as thoughts turn to the offense-suppressing effects of October weather. The Jon Garland collapse isn't such a surprise; history was not on his side (an argument one can also make to explain Cliff Politte's crappiness). But Freddy Garcia? Javy Vazquez? What has gotten into these guys? And what will it take to get them back to pitching in line with their career norms? And will one of them be involved in a deal for Jason Schmidt of the San Francisco Giants?

Three: Wanted: A Reserve Outfielder (or Even a Starting Outfielder) Who Can Hit
One item that should be high on Kenny Williams' trade list is a fourth outfielder type who can rake. (In theory, that's what Rob Mackowiak is, but the center field platoon he's involved with has taken him out of that role.) With both Brian Anderson and Scott Podsednik starting in the outfield, you have a lineup with two guys who beg to be pinch-hit for in key situations. With Ross Gload apparently not allowed to wield a fielder's glove and Pablo Ozuna posting a .413 batting average that would drop to .250 in about a week of full-time duty (and a single major league home run in his career), the team needs someone. Thinking small, a look around at the non-contending teams reveals a few useful vets they may have to offer — Reggie Sanders from Kansas City for a mid-level prospect? Dreaming a little, Kenny could make a call down to Tampa Bay to see what it would take to get Carl Crawford, who does everything Pods is supposed to be and much, much more? Or Rocco Baldelli, who has talent somewhere between Crawford and Pods? (Tampa's a nice target because they have a glut of outfield prospects.) Team management probably disagrees with me on this one, but another good outfielder would help this team enormously if it's going to continue to participate in so many slugfests.

Four: Also Wanted: A Relief Pitcher Who Can Provide Some Relief
When Dustin Hermanson went down with a back injury in spring training, the Sox lost the one guy most suited to the setup role that they haven't entirely filled through half a season. And while talk now is that Hermanson may return soon (he's currently on a rehab assignment in AAA), his balky back is likely to make him unsuited to pitching in consecutive games, which will still leave the team with a void where the setup man should be. Enter... who? Roberto Hernandez from the Pittsburgh Pirates? Chris Britton or Kurt Birkins from Baltimore? Bobby Howry from Clark and Addison? Elmer Dessens from Kansas City? Anyone? Bueller? Anyone?

Five: Down on the Farm
If the Sox don't manage to make any deals, they will almost certainly look to add some reinforcements from the minor leagues. While the usual half dozen or so guys will be rewarded with September callups when the active rosters expand to 40 for the final month, there are a few players we might see before then. Back from nearly falling into the abyss that swallows up most college football stars who try to make a living at baseball is third baseman Josh Fields down at AAA Charlotte. After a fairly uninspiring 2005, Fields has come on strong this year, raking at a .329 clip with 13 home runs. Just as importantly, his OBP is over .400, evidence that he's learning the strike zone. While his path to the majors would appear to be blocked by Joe Crede, don't rule out the possibility of a switch to a corner outfield spot for Fields ala Carlos Lee. (As always, of course, this could just be one of my crazy schemes to get rid of Scott Podsdnik.) There's not much else to get excited at down in AAA, where retreads and AAAA types like Ernie Young, Casey Rogowski and Ruben Rivera are getting a whole lot of at bats.

Fire in Five

The World Cup that Broke Soccer's Heart
by Steve Gillies

One: What an Awful Way to End a Career
The scene had been perfectly set for Zinadine Zidane, the best player of his generation, playing in his last game before retirement, to go out as a hero. The game had gone to overtime, and with both sides tiring the 33-year-old, who had virtually carried his team to the final, pushed his aging legs with his last burst of energy to surge into the penalty area and head his teammate's pinpoint cross powerfully towards the Italian goal and forever enshrine himself alongside World Cup legends like Pele and Maradona. Except the goalie saved it. Five minutes later, Zidane aimed an equally powerful header into the sternum of Italian defender Marco Materazzi. Except the ball was nowhere in sight; Zidane had inexplicably lashed out in response to something Materazzi said and head-butted him. So the player everyone who wasn't Italian wanted to see end his career as a hero, went out as a villain. And tragically, an incredible fifteen year career will be forgotten next to that one incredible moment of stupidity.

Two: What on Earth did that Guy Say to Him?
After the match, Zidane disappeared without collecting his 2nd place trophy or consoling any of his defeated team mates. As of press time, Zidane hasn't talked to anyone about what set him off, which has certainly given everyone a good day or two of wild speculation.

The London Times enlisted the help of a forensic lip reader and an Italian translator and came up with this transcription: "Hold on, wait, that one's not for a n****r like you," while Materazzi performed the nipple twist. Then as the players walked forward, Materazzi allegedly said, "We all know you are the son of a terrorist whore." Then, just before the headbutt, he was seen saying, "So just f**k off." Materazzi, who has quite a reputation as a dirty player, wasn't exactly convincing in his denial of the comments "It's absolutely not true, I did not call him a terrorist. I'm ignorant. I don't even know what the word means." He then went on to add, "The whole world saw what happened," as if that shed any light on matters. Zidane might have been especially sensitive to the comment made about his mother, as according to the Daily Mail, French players told journalists that his mother was seriously ill and had been checked into a hospital that morning.

I should stress that all of this (other than the Materazzi denial quote) is speculation from newspapers and crazy Internet people. Zidane's agent has said that Zidane will speak to the media in a few days once he's calmed down.

Three: What an Awful Way to Pick a Champion
OK, we're on point three and I've barely mentioned that Italy are World Champions. For anyone who's not Italian, their victory has become an afterthought in the wake of the whole Zidane circus. It's a shame, too. Italy have been unlucky or outright cheated (that game against Korea in 2002 in which two legitimate goals were disallowed springs to mind) in World Cups for the last 16 years. Now that they've finally won, in a way they've still been cheated out of their time in the spotlight. But in truth, it's hard to make the argument for Italy as deserving champions. After going through a rather easy run through the knock-out stages (Germany were their only real quality opposition and they just edged them in a classic), they were thoroughly outplayed in the final by a French team that had to get through Spain, Brazil and Portugal. The victory came in the penalty shootout, which has only marginally more to do with soccer than the previous tie-breaking method in soccer, the coin toss. Sure, there's a nice bit of redemption for Italy in that they had agonizingly lost three World Cups in a row due to the penalty shootout, but FIFA's got to come up with a better way of breaking ties even if it's just for the final. It's just no way to pick a champion.

Four: What an Awful World Cup to Have to Remember
Sure, there were a few great goals in this World Cup: Joe Cole against Sweden, Maxi Rodriguez against Mexico, the entire Argentinian team against Serbia. There were few classic games, but Germany vs. Italy and Brazil vs. France have to rank up there. But it's fitting that the Zidane incident will be the lasting image of a World Cup filled with so many ugly incidents. This was a tournament that saw the previous record for yellow and red cards broken before the second round had even finished. Think about the elbow to Brian McBride's face, Peter Crouch pulling the hair of a Trinidadian player so he could beat him to a header, the Argentinian team assaulting the German team for having the gall to beat them in a penalty shootout, Holland not giving the ball back to a Portuguese team that had stopped the game for an injury, the numerous dives, hacks and cheap shots. I don't want to get onto this whole fair play, sportsmanship bandwagon. I don't expect professional athletes to be saints. I expect them to compete as hard as possible to win games. But this isn't being competitive. It's being childish. So yeah, it's fitting that the lasting image of the World Cup is two grown men fighting over someone insulting someone's mother.

Five: At Least There's Still the Fire
Maybe the saving grace of the MLS continuing their season throughout the World Cup is that we won't have wait until the fall to wash the bad taste of that final out of our mouths. And thanks to new stadium scheduling, there will be a Fire game to go to in Bridgeview almost every week for the rest of the summer. I have to say, after all the ugliness in the Cup final, it might be refreshing to go see a league that's mostly populated by kids that have just gotten out of college, aren't making a fortune, but just happy to be playing soccer for a living instead of selling insurance or answering technical support phones lines or something. I'm also very much looking forward to the opportunity to boo Landon Donovan.

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Comments

Ramsin / July 11, 2006 6:13 PM

I love ya Steve, but you gotta be kidding. Italy came out of this WC's "Group of Death," and although they got the Aussies (who played surprisingly well), they manhandled Ukraine and played a perfect match against Germany, who seemed unbeatable up to that game.

Italy also played some of the best soccer of the entire world cup, blending their infamous defense (allowing only two goals--an own goal and a PK) with surprisingly imaginative counter-attacks and runs.

I think Italy absolutely deserved this, especially of the teams left standing as of the quarterfinals (Argentina being another team that played beautifully in group play).

I agree that a WC Final ending with PKs is unfortunate, though.

steve / July 12, 2006 10:21 AM

I'll admit I didn't see a lot out of Italy during group play since I was either going to or coming from the US games. They were obviously pretty underwhelming in the game I saw against the US, but I think everyone would agree that was an off game for them.

Can't argue with the Germany game being a great game, but to me that was the only time I really saw the Italians play well. I thought they were extremely fortunate to get by the Aussies, and besides Shevchenko, I don't really rate the Ukraine too highly (it wasn't the first time someone manhandled them in the tournament). Italy certainly didn't look better than the French in the final, and playing one good game doesn't rate a world championship in my book.

It's true though, if they could figure out a real way to break ties there wouldn't be any room for this debate.

Kevin / July 12, 2006 2:41 PM

Italy was in no way the best team. They owed victory in the final to Zidane's meltdown. Had that not happened, it still would have gone to penalties, but France would have been confident starting the penalties, instead of looking lost. Buffon doesn't have a very good record in penalty shootouts, and didn't guess right on any of the kicks that did get taken. When Trezugeut's kick was hitting the bar, Buffon was on the ground on the other side of the goal.

And that penalty against Australia was in no way shape or form a penalty.

France was, in my opinion, the best team. It appears that they scraped by in the group stage, but Viera also had what should have been a goal against South Korea, simply not called a goal. If that goal was called, they would have won 2 of 3 matches in the group stage, then gone on to beat Spain (the sharpest first round team), Brazil AND Portuagal. With that Viera goal, I think you could judge their performance a little different.

Ozzie / July 12, 2006 4:30 PM

I always suspected that the GB readership was a bunch of Mariottis, but all this soccer talk seems to bring the point on home...

 

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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