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Cubs in Five

Dirty Jokes and Minor Leaguers
by Jeff Webber

One: Dick Pole Says Maddux's Junk Is Straight
Cardinals outfielder Jim Edmonds asked the umpire to check Maddux's balls Sunday. He felt maybe they were dirty. Dusty stood by his man, though. "You don't see him touching all parts of his body," Baker said. Cubs bench coach Dick Pole had simply explained to him, "This guy has learned how to put different pressure points on the ball and make the ball move." Eventually, it was decided that Maddux was handling his balls to everyone's satisfaction.

Two: Heckling Through the Power of Limerick
Thanks to Derek Smart over at Cub Town, you can now express your disdain for Jacque Jones in limerick form. My favorite:

Jacque has a beef with the fandom.
He feels that their booing is random.
If Corey were here,
Then Jacque needn't fear,
But sadly for Jones, the Cubs canned 'im.

Three: Derrek Lee Breaks His Wrist, or, Jesus Hates Your Team, Part LVII
As if it weren't enough that Rafael Furcal ruined the Cubs' offseason by signing with the Dodgers, he had to go out and break D-Lee's wrist. We need to talk to the guys at the Billy Goat Tavern and see if we can get some kind of curse cooked up there. You'll be seeing some combination of Todd Walker, John Mabry and AAA call-up Michael Restovich in the meantime. The difference should only be apparent on offense and defense, though. And also, none of the new first basemen are ginormous black dudes.

Four: Another Week Completed Without Rushing Felix Pie to the Majors
With Jacque Jones flailing horribly, top Cub prospect Felix Pie is all the talk on Chicago sports pages. For the time being, the Cubs are leaving Pie where he belongs: working on his game in AAA Iowa. Don't expect that to last much past the All-Star Break.

Five: Calling on Angel
Pitcher Angel Guzman was called up Sunday to replace struggling Jerome Williams. Good news: Guzman is immediately the finest arm on the active roster not attached to Carlos Zambrano's right shoulder. Over his last 82-1/3 innings, Guzman has struck out 100 batters, walking just eight. Bad news: those innings stretch back to the start of '04. I realize getting another hyperfragile twentysomething starter to fret over may not be what you were hoping for. But Guzman's stuff is superstar-level nasty. His injury problems have made him nearly a forgotten man, but if Guzman can manage even 15 starts this year without having his arm fall off, we could be looking at the Rookie of the Year. He gets the ball on Wednesday against the Marlins. Expect Guzman to work the Marlins' rookie-studded roster over mercilessly.

Sox in Five

Wake Me Up When It's October
by Steve Gozdecki

Oh the sorrow and the pity — with last night's loss, the Sox had yet another eight-game winning streak snapped. Oddly, while they pull these eight-in-a-row numbers off with fair regularity, the club hasn't won nine consecutive games in 29 years.

That's your history lesson for the week; now here's Sox in Five.

One: If the Playoffs Started Today, I Might Have Something to Write About
Three weeks into the season, and last season's two World Series teams have the best records in baseball, as the White Sox and Houston Astros are laying waste to all who stand in their way by posting 13-6 records. Déjà vu all over again! Yes, these are the kinds of thoughts that flow from your fingers when the Sox are cruising along. No injury news, no roster moves, no hot trade rumors to talk about, no minor leaguers knocking on the big-league door... I tell you, my bud Jeff has it too easy over on the Cubs beat.

Two: Rotation, All I Ever Wanted
Perhaps the biggest story of the past week Sox-wise has been the performance of the starting pitchers, several of whom made a few fans nervous with some lousy performances earlier this year. While the haters will tell you that Jon Garland and/or Freddy Garcia is not all that he's cracked up to be, against the Blue Jays, Royals and Twins the Sox rotation was mighty, with the starting pitchers earning the victory for eight straight games, beginning with Mark Buerhle and working through to Garcia, Jose Contreras, Garland and Javier Vazquez before cycling back to Buerhle, Garcia and Contreras while the bullpen — despite having a pretty easy workload — threw the occasional scare at us. The strong starting pitching continued into last night, when Garland didn't look like he had his best stuff but scuffled and fought to go eight innings in an eventual extra-inning 4-3 loss to Seattle.

Three: Three Dog Night (+322)
Last Friday night, the Sox kept the spirit of Bill Veeck alive with one of the team's more interesting annual promotions, "Dog Day." Sure, it used to be held in August (the dog days of summer) during a day game, but the price of the club's recent success and popularity requires that the Sox repurpose some of the old gimmicks that it used to employ to get people in the park. In any case, 325 or so dog owners got to bring their pooches to the game for a pre-game parade on the field and a nice evening at the park. Special touch: out of concern for the dogs and their sensitive ears, the exploding scoreboard was fireworks-free for the eve. The dogs and 31,287 fans enjoyed a crisp White Sox victory, with Mark Buerhle besting Sox nemesis Johan Santana in Game 1 of an eventual series sweep that made it clear that the Twins may have to settle for fourth place this season.

Four: Headed West
Gone are the good old days of two-division, pre-Wild Card baseball, when the two or three annual trips out West were drawn-out, two-week affairs that usually found the Sox winning just one game for every two or three that they lost against the Angels, A's and Mariners. Last night the team began the 21st Century version of the West Coast trip, which sees them playing three games each in Seattle and Anaheim before continuing the westward swing with a pair of games in, um, Cleveland. The Sox pretty much owned the Mariners last year, winning each of the trio of three-game sets against them, while the Angels were actually one of the few clubs your 2005 Chicago White Sox had a losing record against during the regular season. (Of course, the Sox delivered the big payback in the ALCS.) These games are must-see baseball despite the 9pm local starts, if only to get a look-see at the two most exciting right fielders in baseball, Ichiro and Vlad, in action.

Five: Checking in on Ryan Sweeney
The smart guys at Baseball America produce a top 10 prospects list for each major league club during Hot Stove time. Since the top two Sox prospects on this year's list — Bobby Jenks and Brian Anderson — are up with the big club, let's take a peek at how the team's third-best prospect, Ryan Sweeney, is doing so far on the young season. And the answer is... not all that great! In his first season in AAA, Sweeney — who has been assigned a level higher than his age would typically dictate ever since his hot hot hot performance in spring training 2004 — is hitting .225 through Sunday night's action, with a .525 OPS. That's Pablo Ozuna bad, folks. While Sweeney is a mere pup at age 21, opinion is split as to whether he will ever develop the type of power he'll need to make it in the big leagues, with the naysayers pointing to the fact that he has only hit 10 home runs in more than 1,000 professional at-bats and Jerry Krause pointing out that Sweeney's mother has big hands or something that indicate he will come to swing a bigger stick as he matures. Basically, the crystal ball isn't sure if Sweeney will turn out like Sean Burroughs (guy who never developed power) or Rafael Palmeiro (guy who didn't hit for much power in the minors or his first few years in the bigs), but the smarter money is probably on the former, much as it pains me to say.

Fire in Five

Another Week Without Losing
by Steve Gillies

The Fire had a bye this week. I'm not quite sure why exactly, since there is an even number of teams in the league, but I gave up trying to figure out how they schedule things the first time the MLS played right through a World Cup back in 1998. Despite the lack of a game, there are still a few things to talk about.

One: The All-Star Game will be Played Here
The long-rumored All Star game was finally announced, and it will be played August 5th in Bridgeview. The opponent for the MLS All Stars will be English Premiere League champions, Chelsea. Three years ago Chelsea went from a fashionable yet underachieving London team to a world soccer powerhouse when Russian oil billionaire Roman Abramovich bought them out and then spent a fortune bringing in superstar players. Expect to see superstars Frank Lampard, Joe Cole, Hernan Crespo, John Terry and Arjen Robben play in Bridgeview. Expect cantankerous manager, Jose Mourinho, to give a few funny quotes to the local media. What you shouldn't expect is any of them taking things too seriously as they'll be recovering from a grueling season followed by a World Cup. Sure, they might talk about how the trip provides them with good preseason competition, but what they're really doing here is trying to be competitive with the likes of Liverpool, Arsenal and Manchester United when it comes to selling merchandise to Americans. The MLS All Stars, for their part, will have to balance the desire to prove themselves against world class opposition with the need to keep injury-free for the second half of the MLS season.

Two: Will Any Fire Players be Playing in the All-Star Game?
That's a tough call. Chris Rolfe looks the most likely to make the team, but there is a lot of competition at the striker position. I'm guessing that maybe Justin Mapp, Ivan Guerrero, Gonzalo Segares, Nate Jaqua or Chris Armas could be in the mix by then, but it's entirely possible that there won't be any Fire players suiting up for the All Stars. It also looks extremely likely that no Fire players will be making the trip to Germany for the World Cup in June. Does that mean our players aren't any good? Not really. We've got a group of young players in Mapp, Rolfe, and Jaqua who are future national team players and All-Stars. We've got guys like Chris Armas and Tony Sanneh who've been there. We just don't have anybody that's quite there right now. I'm guessing we'll see at least one or two token Fire players on the All-Star team, if not based on fan votes, then possibly a coach's or commissioner's pick.

Three: The Rumor Out of Poland
A Polish newspaper has reported that the Fire have made contact with midfielder Sebastien Mila, currently playing his club soccer in Austria. I don't know much about Mila, but the Fire has a couple of spots open for foreign players with Samuel Cabellero and Ivan Reiter having left the team. Their failures, plus the lack of return coming out of suspended Costa Rican striker Andy Herron, mean the Fire haven't gotten very much out of their foreign players over the past couple of seasons. They have had good luck with Polish midfielders in the past, however, and while they were smart to keep the nucleus of their team together last year, they could certainly benefit from getting a top class international talent to add a little spark.

Four: Hopefully With This Bye We Can Get Some People Healthy
Fire captain Chris Armas should be close to recovering from his ACL tear last season. He was reportedly chomping at the bit on the substitute's bench last week. Hopefully, with two more weeks of training he should be ready to play. Nate Jaqua's shoulder injury should be short term, so we might see him on the bench by next week. Still no word on the status of Tony Sanneh or John Thorrington, but hopefully this bye weekend wasn't the one week out of the year they seem to be healthy.

Five: Maybe Next Week We Can Get Out of Last Place
With the Columbus Crew's surprise win over LA coupled with the Fire's bye, we've moved into last place. Certainly this early in the season it's nothing to panic about. With the stadium opening and the fact that a number of other teams will be missing top players due to World Cup duty, we should be able to make up a lot of ground in June. But the Fire need to pick up a few points soon so they don't bury themselves in too deep a hole.

Bulls in Five

Fun While It Lasted
by Jason Maslanka

It really was a great try. The winning streak, playoff push, exciting comebacks were all a lot of fun. It's almost May, however, and that's when the real contenders start their NBA season. As we've seen with the first two games of the series, teams like the Bulls can come close. They can make the fans sweat, Pat Riley prance, and keep you tuned in. They just don't have what it takes to win yet. The Heat are more experienced. They have the biggest force to ever play in the league and one of the best new superstars. Plainly, they're a better team. None of this is negative, however. It doesn't mean the Bulls didn't play well in front of the White Hot Crowd. It's just a reminder of how difficult this serious would have been to win.

One: But It's Only 2-0
The Bulls beat up on the Wizards last year and went up 2-0. But Jason, you say, then the Wizards won four straight. So, yes, it's certainly possible for the Bulls to win this series. They only have to win one game on the road as it stands now. Being realistic, it's just not going to happen. It never really was going to happen, but as fans, we need to believe it's possible. Dwayne Wade is nearly unstoppable. Shaq seems to have an extra jump in his step. The team filled with head cases and bad attitudes is functioning as a team and will probably roll straight into the Eastern Conference Finals at Detroit. The last reason this series is over: watch Wade play defense at the end of the game. If he doesn't want you to score... you won't.

Two: Moral Victories
Everyone hates the idea of moral victories, but there's truth to the cliché. I said a few weeks back that making the playoffs would be a good thing no matter what happened. They'd get a feel for playoff intensity. They'd learn what makes up a real contender. Despite the frustration of losing two close games, this is coming to fruition as we watch. If Ben Gordon, Kirk Hinrich, Luol Deng and Andres Nocioni are the future of this team, then the youngsters are way ahead of much of the NBA youth already. Deng can barely buy alcohol and he's played in eight playoff games. You can't substitute anything for experience in the NBA playoffs and the young Bulls are getting just that.

Threeeeee: 12 Total Points
It's been a close two games. Close games usually mean that two teams are evenly matched. That just isn't the case here, however. In both Games One and Two, the Heat surged to leads in every quarter. Leads of 10, 14, and even 19 points highlighted some Heat scoring runs. In both games combined, the Bulls haven't lead for more than a minute. What happened is that the Bulls played their very best at points, and the Heat did just enough to hold them off. The individual performances of the Bulls were admirable in the same light. Hinrich and Nocioni had a combined 59 points in Game Two. Gordon had 35 in Game One. The stellar individual performances also reveal the alarming truth about the team's lack of a superstar, however. In Game One, Hinrich had 19. In Game Two, Gordon had only 13. All-Stars bring it every night. Wade won't have a 13 point game all playoffs. Subtle differences? Yes, but they make the biggest deal in the NBA.

Four: NOCH!
For two games at least, it seems like that consistency is coming from an unlikely source. Andres Nocioni looks like the second player every team dreams of. He's hitting his jumper, scoring, rebounding, playing defense, and generally hurting the opposition. He's an enforcer and difference-maker. More than anything, he's a different player than a year ago because he's a leader. He's the one talking as they come out of the huddle. He's the excitement that Tyson Chandler was supposed to be all year. His best quality might be one that doesn't show up in the box score, however. He's a little bit crazy. He has no regard for his body... he screams at himself out loud, and because of it he plays like he's 5 inches taller. This is a player that I thought wouldn't amount to much more than a role player on a good team. Today, he's someone who could find himself in a few All-Star Games, and maybe sooner than anyone thinks.

Five: Games Three Through Seven?
We probably won't see Game Seven, and might not even see Six, but it's important to see Game Five. Yes, there are moral victories abound in playing the Heat tough and individual scoring achievements, but a sweep won't feel good no matter how close each loss was. Game Three would be a perfect game to win, giving the young Bulls a chance to feel "in" the series. It would energize the fans at home, and give the team that winning feeling. Again, it won't do much towards winning in the 2006 Playoffs, but will make a whole lot of difference in the 2007 version and beyond.

Games Three and Four will be played at the United Center this Thursday at 7pm and Sunday at noon.

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Comments

Jason / April 25, 2006 7:36 PM

Wow, I'm like a major paper columnist now as there's factual misinformation in my piece. Luol Deng was hurt and didn't play in the playoffs last year, so he's only played 2 games, not six.

Bah.

 

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 sox@gapersblock.com.

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 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

Jason Maslanka began his fandom of the Chicago Bulls in June of 1991, conveniently coinciding with the franchise's first championship. The years since the championships tested his fandom, but it never faltered. He believes that the NBA is more than dunks and hip hop, and that the NBA dress code is a good thing. He thinks most fans don't really understand basketball, and if they did, they'd love it even more. He knows that there are certain players who do the little things for no praise, and stat-mongers who don't really do anything to help their team win. Every week, he plans to execute a beautifully crafted column containing five points you should be thinking about and discussing as a Bulls and NBA fan. Send comments, questions and arguments to bulls@gapersblock.com.

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