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Saturday, December 9

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Cubs in Five

At Least They're Not the Royals
by Jeff Webber

One: Wood-Prior Injury Showdown 2006 Continues!
Mark Prior's injury rehab has been slowed again, this time by an unidentified malady the pitcher could only describe as "Flu or food poisoning... one or the other." No truth to the rumor that Kerry Wood is planning to one-up him by contracting bird flu. Wood actually looked pretty sharp Sunday pitching in a minor league rehab start, notching 12 strikeouts over five innings using only 70 pitches. You could get excited about that type of progress, but you'd be a sucker setting yourself up for a fall. There's a word for that, you know... we're called Cubs fans.

Two: Angel Having a Devil of a Time
Yeah, so maybe I got a mite overexcited about prodigal prospect Angel Guzman. Turns out that while he really is completely healthy and he really does sport five magnificent-looking pitches, he also has a disturbing tendency to miss low in the zone with everything that isn't a fastball, making him disturbingly hittable despite the promising strikeout totals he's been posting. He's the leading candidate to lose his job in a week or so if Wood gets called up the big club.

Three: New Cub of the Week, Ryan Theriot
The Cubs called up AAA Iowa infielder Ryan Theriot (pronounced Terry-Oh) this week in an effort to shake up their offensively underwhelming second base tandem of Jerry Hairston and Neifi! Perez. Theriot is a slick fielding guy who runs the bases well, hits for a decent average, and knows how to draw a walk here and there. But he's already 26 so he isn't much of a prospect, he strikes out too much, and he has no power of any kind. This info may not be much to get excited over, but it does continue Cubs in Five's proud tradition of making sure our readers are among the rare few who can answer when the guy down the bar says, "Who the hell is that?"

Four: Come Back, Derrek
The Cubs have been trying out different clean-up hitters nearly every other day, using Ramirez, Walker and Barrett within the last week. With the purported acquisition of a stopgap 1B yet to materialize, you can expect to see this to continue. It would be a real, real nice time for Aramis to start hitting again, by the way. At this point, I'd like to remind you that at least you don't root for the Royals, who are still looking for their eighth win of the season. Ow.

Five: Bonds Chases Ty Cobb for Cherished Record
And in other baseball news, to hell with that home run hullabaloo... Check out Four Sheets to the Wind's take on Bonds pursuit of an altogether different record.

Sox in Five

Five Weeks Without a Roster Move, and Then Suddenly...
by Steve Gozdecki

There your Chicago White Sox were, innocently compiling the best record in baseball (only nine losses through five weeks — sweet!), when all of a sudden some minor maladies started to befall the team. Learn more about them in this installment of Sox in Five!

One: No Way Jose!
Reports are still somewhat sketchy as I type this Monday night, but word over the airwaves and chatter on the internets indicate that White Sox ace Jose Contreras — fresh off of being named the American League Pitcher of the Month for April — has an injured hip and/or back and may well be heading to the 15-day disabled list. The pitcher reportedly experienced pain after doing his side work over the weekend. Manager Ozzie Guillen and pitching coach Don Cooper are expected to meet with Contreras early Tuesday to discuss his condition and make a go/no-go decision at that point.

Two: Nyuk Nyuk Nyuk
While the smart money has been on Brandon McCarthy serving as the club's minuteman, ready to step into the rotation at the first whisper of injury or other need, reports indicate that if Contreras does miss his start against the Angels on Wednesday the Sox will call up knuckleballer Charlie Haeger from AAA Charlotte and keep McCarthy in the 'pen. Tim Wakefield of the Boston Red Sox is the only knuckleball pitcher getting regular work in the majors these days, while the last White Sox pitcher to throw it was the great Charlie Hough back in 1991 and 1992. While Haeger struggled in spring training, he has dominated in the minors this season, with a 0.68 ERA through 40 innings pitched despite 20 walks, a side effect of that unpredictable flutterball. Something tells me that catcher A.J. Pierzynski is hoping that Contreras is healthy.

Three: Dye's Ouchies
In the course of his major league career, veteran White Sox right fielder Jermaine Dye has spent time on the disabled list due to a variety of maladies ranging from a severely broken leg to, um, severe spider bites. His latest ailment, a tight left calf muscle, has already sidelined him twice this season. Outside of a pinch-hitting appearance on May 2, this latest occurrence has sidelined the slugger since May 1, and if he isn't back on the field in the next game or two a trip to the DL can't be entirely ruled out.

Four: Damn Rookie
One question the Moneyball crew hasn't answered yet is just how much crappy hitting a team can reasonably tolerate from an outstanding defender who plays a key position. Judging by the lineups he's trotted out recently, Ozzie seems to be indicating that rookie centerfielder Brian Anderson's phenomenal glove work still isn't good enough to make up for his .167 batting average (and .566 OPS), as the rookie has only started four of the team's last seven games. While Anderson remains upbeat and positive, he's clearly overmatched at the plate right now, striking out in exactly one-third of his at-bats. Informed speculation says that if he doesn't turn things around by the start of the next homestand, the rook may be sent back down to the minors, which will make for a whole lot of Rob Mackowiak — himself hitting a mere .182 — on the field. With the minor league cupboard rather bare in terms of potential offense from center field (AAA outfielders Jerry Owens and Ryan Sweeney have as much pop in their bats as Scott Podsednik, which is not a good thing), the decision by Kenny Williams to trade away both Aaron Rowand and Chris Young during the off-season isn't looking so good. My take? Keep the kid in; he'll straighten things out eventually.

Five: A Veteran Option for the Bullpen
In an eyebrow-raising move, the Sox signed veteran right-handed relief pitcher Jeff Nelson to a minor league deal while the club was out in Seattle last week. On the surface, this move would seem to indicate that a struggling young reliever like Boone Logan could be sent down to the minors, but Ozzie leaves us with some strong words for those expecting a swift call-up for Nelson: "Right now, we don't need him. He has to show how he pitches in the minor-league system. We have to know how consistent he is. We signed him in case something happens to one of the guys. But we didn't sign him because my bullpen is struggling." As always, keep an eye on this developing situation.

Fire in Five

Tactics, Luck and When Sponsors Collide
by Steve Gillies

A few updates from last week's column: Thiago's goal rightly won the Goal of the Week competition, and no Fire players were selected for the World Cup team — although Chris Armas and Chris Rolfe have been named alternates, putting them in the awkward position of hoping for an injury to one of their colleagues this month. Also, Zach Thornton... well, this one deserves its own header:

One: My Apology To Zach Thornton
Last week, while describing his improved performance of late, I made a little fun of Fire goalkeeper's rotund figure. I likened him to a competitive eater (which doesn't even really make sense as an insult since the top competitive eaters are tiny and Asian). Thornton's response this week was to put on one of the most impressive displays of goalkeeping anyone will see this season. Thornton made five or six amazing saves, including stopping a perfectly placed penalty and then scrambling to his feet in time to block the rebound shot from point blank. After witnessing this performance, I'd just like to say Zach, I'm sorry. You can grow to twice the size you are now if you can still move like that. I also wonder if defender CJ Brown has apologized to Thornton for falling asleep while Zach was making yet another diving save, allowing Eddie Johnson to walk in, tap in the rebound and spoil Zach's shutout.

Two: "Sometimes You're the Cat, Sometimes You're the Mouse"
At halftime coach Dave Sarachan made the above comment about cats and mice. While acknowledging the poor play of his team, he was also pointing to results earlier in the season that didn't go the Fire's way despite strong performances. It was certainly a true sentiment, we'd played much better games than this and ended up losing. This week's performance was fairly alarming though, since if it weren't for Thornton being mad at my comments from last week, the score could easily have been 5-1. One thing I've noticed is the Fire struggles against teams playing a 4-3-3 (four defenders, three midfielders and three strikers instead than the usual two). FC Dallas changed to this formation in the second half on opening day and sparked their comeback. Kansas City played it this weekend and managed to get behind our outside fullbacks at will. With a lot of coaches in the league employing some form of the 4-3-3, the Fire are going to have to come up with a better way of dealing with that extra attacking player.

Three: What's With Subbing Rolfe Off?
And while we're talking tactics here, I have to ask one question. Why in the world is Chris Rolfe getting subbed off in the 60th minute for Jaqua? It's happened two weeks in a row, and while getting Jaqua on the field makes sense, I can't for the life of me see why it's at the expense of Chris Rolfe rather than Chad Barrett. For one thing, Rolfe right now is just a better player than Barrett. Other than set plays and Thiago's moment of magic, Rolfe has scored or set up every Fire goal this season. It's more puzzling when you consider Barrett doesn't have the fitness to go 90 minutes. Last week he had leg cramps and had to be subbed out. Barrett didn't make the full 90 this week either, coming off for Sanneh. So why are we taking a guy off who isn't going to burn up a substitute while leaving someone who will on the field? Not to mention that Rolfe and Jaqua proved they had great chemistry as a striking duo last season; why not play them together at every opportunity? I guess this is something that you'd have to be in the locker room to make sense of.

Four: Short-handed Teams
Despite the poor performance, getting a tie against first place Kansas City was a great result and while we're not winning much on the road, we're certainly proving hard to beat. Hopefully, this is where things start to get a little easier for the Fire. They'll be playing the Wizards again in a month, yet it will be a very different team, missing Eddie Johnson, Josh Wolf and Jimmy Conrad to the World Cup. They'll also face Houston without Brian Ching, New England without Clint Dempsey, Real Salt Lake without Eddie Pope, and DC United without Ben Olsen.

Five: The Stadium Might Have a Name But Who's Paying for the Uniforms?
Sharp-eyed Tribune readers noticed a full page ad for All-Star Game tickets this week. The game was advertised as being played at "Toyota Stadium." Not the best way to make an announcement, but barring the deal falling through I guess we know who's getting the stadium naming rights. Although I'm kind of holding out hope for the "Toyota Firehouse," at least the Toyota Stadium beats Pizza Hut Park. It will be interesting if/when the deal goes through to see how the uniform sponsors feel about it. Something tells me we aren't going to be going to Toyota Stadium to see a team with this on the back of their jerseys. (In case you didn't feel like clicking, it says Honda on the back of the Fire jerseys right now).

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About the Author(s)

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

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

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

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