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Wednesday, December 11

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Cubs in Five

Don't Drink the Kool-Aid
by Jeff Webber

One: I'm Sorry, Who Are We Talking About Again?
There's a lot of hand-wringing lately about how — now that it's too late — the Cubs have finally started playing winning baseball. Analysts ask whether it's enough to save Dusty's job, Derrek Lee laments that it hasn't been happening all year, and fans gripe that it's too little too late. I hear all of this and I wonder: are y'all watching a different team than I am? Because my Cubs are 5 and 6 in their last 11 games (including four losses in a row at one point) and only 9-8 in their last 17 games. And you know, I'm a very, very bitter Cubs fan, but not so bitter as to pretend they're a good team now just so I can bitch all over again about how bad they were in the first four months of the season. Don't drink the Kool-Aid; we've sucked all year long and we still suck now. If nothing else, we're consistent.

Two: No Neifi No More
Apparently, now that the Cubs have acquired slick-fielding, no-hit shortshop/second sacker Cesar Izturis, they felt they could finally part with the magic that is slick-fielding, no-hit shortshop/second sacker Neifi "I'll Always Remember" Perez, sending him to the Detroit Tigers for a minor league catcher. Which catcher? Eh, he's 22, can't hit, and plays in single A. I wouldn't get worked up over it. Main thing is, We took the sharp Neifi knife out of Dusty's hands and put it out of his reach so he can't hurt himself with it anymore. Although it looks like we promoted Freddie "Reaching Base Is for Suckers" Bynum to take his place, so let's not celebrate just yet.

Three: This Week in Pitching
Juan Mateo lost but looked good on Sunday, recovering from a rough four-run first inning to go seven strong against the Cards (to no avail, natch)... Zambrano looked great Saturday, only to have ersatz Cubs closer Bobby Howry blow a save, his predecessor Ryan Dempster blow another save chance right after, and Mike Wuertz of all people bail them out... Carlos Marmol stunk it up and got injured Friday, David "I Love Alphabetical Order" Aardsma takes his place... Rookie Ryan O'Malley was all zeroes in his major league debut, blanking the 'Stros for eight innings. Should you get excited? Well, he's 26 and a rookie and no one's ever heard of him. Give him two more turns around the league and then decide... Everybody pitched in Sunday's 18 inning marathon, but it was Rich Hill who impressed. Talk about your strange game... And, in the minors, Wade Miller is looking semi-respectable in AAA rehab, and West Tenn's Sean Gallagher allowed three hits over seven scoreless innings to win Sunday, giving him a 2.44 ERA, since moving up to Double A.

Four: All's Wells in Chicago for 2007?
Former Toronto assistant GM Keith Law says star Blue Jays centerfielder Vernon Wells could hit the trading block soon, as he is unhappy in the Great White North and has sworn he will never re-sign there — Wells and Jays GM J.P. Ricciardi both vehemently deny the story. But with Ricciardi calling Wells out in the press for a perceived lack of production earlier this year and crazy-as-a-craphouse-rat manager John Gibbons regularly challenging his players to fistfights, it isn't that farflung a notion. Could Jim Hendry target the five-tool Wells to give Chicago the kind of young, dynamic player it needs to complement Derrek Lee? Nah, he'll probably burn his budget resigning Juan Pierre. Enjoy your $6 Old Style, sucka.

Five: Stealin', Stealin'
In a move so logical as to be baffling to regular observers of the Cubs, management decided to further a prospect's development by bringing in former Cub basepath demon Bobby Dernier to coach speedy Felix Pie in improving his baserunning. The results? Pie, who was 0-for-5 in stolen base attempts in May, is 9-for-11 in July and August. Now, do we have anyone who has heard of the base on balls? Those are real fine, too, I hear.

Sox in Five

The Quotable, Portable Ozzie Guillen
by Steve Gozdecki

Well, this has been a simply sucktastic week for your World Champion Chicago White Sox, hasn't it? A split in a four-game series against the resurgent Kansas City Royals (hey, they just split a series against the Oakland A's as well, so these Royals are indeed "resurgent"), this past weekend's series loss against the Wild Card contending Minnesota Twins, and now last night's loss against the Detroit Tigers has smoke coming out of my ears. (How else to justify the tears in my eyes?)

I could rant, I could rave, I could turn into a mini-Ditka. Or I can build upon a good larf the wife and I had when I read her a wonderfully daft Ozzie Guillen quote in Saturday morning's papers by sharing my favorite Ozzie quotes of the season to date. So brace yourself for a very special, very short all-Ozzie edition of Sox in Five!

One: I'll Gladly Take Some Controversy for the Next Six Weeks, Please
"OK, I need to say something controversial. I need to stir it up. My team plays better when I'm on ESPN every night because of something I said."
mid-July, as repeated on baseballprospectus.com

Two: So That's What Set the Tigers Off
"I don't think [Jim Leyland] is a good manager. He's not. He finished last in Colorado. I think he's got a good ballclub."
early June, as repeated on baseballprospectus.com

Three: So Maybe I'm Wrong, and Puerto Rican-born Alex Cintron Won't Be the Starting Shortstop for the Sox Next Year
"Puerto Rico has a lot of bad shortstops... I mean bad... When Alex Cintron and Alex Cora can play shortstop on your team [as they did for Puerto Rico in the World Baseball Classic], that's not a good shortstop country. They can borrow one from Venezuela."
from the August 11 Northwest Herald

Four: Ah, So That's What the Bench Coach Does
"If Mariano Duncan thinks being a manager is making out the lineup and changing pitchers, he is real wrong."
from the June 26 Chicago Tribune

Five: Ain't That the Truth
"When you get guys out, you're big. When you don't get guys out, you're fat."
from the May 1 Sports Illustrated, commenting on relief pitcher Big Bobby Jenks and his early struggles this season before that all-McGriddles diet skinnied him up good

Bonus: The Quote That Cracked Up the Wife and Me Saturday Morning
"They [briefly feuding catchers AJ Pierzynski and Sandy Alomar, Jr.] are men. When you drink and you have babies, you are grown men."
from the August 19 Chicago Tribune

Share your favorite Ozzie-isms old and new in comments below!

Fire in Five

Maybe We Aren't So Bad at Soccer?
by Steve Gillies

You know how I was kind of down on the team last week? Well they've won three games since then, have made it to the quarterfinals of the US Open Cup and are sitting in second place in the Eastern Conference.

One: We're in Second Place Now? How'd that Happen?
I guess I've been so busy complaining about how inconsistent and mediocre the Fire have been this season that I hadn't noticed that everyone that's not DC has also been inconsistent and mediocre. With wins against New England and KC, the Fire managed to leapfrog up the table to a tie for second place. So is this a full fledged revival, or just a lucky blip? It's hard to tell. We blew Kansas City out twice, but Kansas City seems to have their own problems right now. The second half against New England got a little scary, with the Revs totally dominating play and missing tons of chances. If I were being generous, I'd say that maybe three games in a week had taken its toll on the Fire and they were justified in sitting on their lead and riding their luck a little. But we've seen them try to sit on leads way too often this season and it looks like maybe they just haven't learned their lesson yet. Still, their stagnant lineup got shuffled around a bit, and the results have been positive, at least this week.

Two: The Justin Mapp Question Answered?
Well, lineup changes were pretty inevitable for a team that hadn't won in forever, but the one that made the most impact came as the result of an injury. Dave Sarachan took Thiago's hamstring injury as an opportunity to provide his own answer to what I've been calling the Justin Mapp Question. Mapp got moved into the free role in the center of the midfield vacated by Thiago. Even though he's been thought of as a winger forever, playing in the middle of a five man midfield makes sense for Mapp. It means less defensive responsibility and more time on the ball, plus with two guys in a holding role behind him he can drift out to the left or right whenever he wants. Mapp responded with a dominant performance, scoring a goal and notching two assists against Kansas City. In typical fashion, he then had a quiet game in the position against New England, but he still looked good enough for Thiago to start getting nervous about losing his place. Now call me a crazy, maverick hell-bent on seeing teams try to win soccer games, but would it be impossible to put the two of them in the middle of the field at the same time when Thiago's hamstring heals?

Three: Nate Jaqua, Tallest Little Winger in the League
You know how every good team has that little guy with tons of dribbling tricks they put out on the wing to just run at players all game long? You know how we really haven't had one of those guys on our team in like forever? Well, meet Nate Jaqua. In the second part of the big lineup shakeup, Sarachan has moved Nate Jaqua out to the troublesome right midfield spot, reprising his role from 2004. The move makes room for Chad Barrett, who's been very impressive lately, to get a starting spot up front. And with Jaqua still on the field it means we've got one more player that knows where the goal's located than we used to. When the Fire have control of the game, the position plays to one of Jaqua's main strengths. He's very good when he's got the ball facing goal and he's running at players. He's got the stepovers, dribbling tricks, and just general skill on the ball of a man half his size. Still, I have a few worries about him there, mainly that the right side of the field now consists of (wait for it)...

Four: "Three of the Slowest Players in the League"
That was New England Revolution coach Steve Nichol's assessment of what his team was facing during a sideline interview in the first half of Sunday's game. Greg Lalas, the Revolution's color commentator (and Alexi's slow-witted, lispy brother), spent what seemed like 20 minutes trying to figure out who Nichol was talking about. It's pretty likely that Nichol was referring to Jaqua on the right, CJ Brown playing the right side of the backline, and Tonny Sanneh (still not hurt, and playing pretty well now) sweeping behind them. Accomplished players as they are, that's a group of guys that are never going to win a relay race. I'm pretty scared that now that the league has seen Jaqua on the right a few times, some coach is going to put a super-fast left winger up against him and we'll get torched by it. Nichol seemed to try it with the equally tall, slightly faster Khano Smith in the second half, but by that time we had the speedy Calen Carr subbed on to cover for Nate. I'm worried about the lack of pace, but for right now Jaqua on the right has worked and it's probably the best thing to do with the roster we've got.

Five: How Do You Win Three Games in a Week? Depth
With a makeup game in the US Open Cup against the Wizards on Monday, a league game against the Wizards on Wednesday and another league game on Sunday, the Fire faced a schedule that went beyond grueling this week. Both teams fielded reserve lineups for the Open Cup game, but watching a Fire "reserve" team that consisted of the likes of Chad Barrett, Logan Pause, CJ Brown, Jim Curtin and Andy Herron made me realize just how deep a roster the Fire has. You could say we've got the MLS version of the "Chelsea model" of having two world class players in each position, except of course the right mid. Easy Eurosnobs, I said the MLS version — I'm not calling Logan Pause world class or anything. I'm just saying he's not a bad guy to have on the bench in an MLS game. Anyway, that depth is going to be crucial down the stretch, with the Open Cup and a lot of midweek games crowded into the schedule.

Hockey in Five?

Cold Steel on Ice
by You?

Anybody out there a hockey fan? Gapers Block is looking for a columnist to write Blackhawks (and possibly Wolves) in Five. Email your application with a couple sample items to ah@gapersblock.com.

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Comments

amy / August 22, 2006 8:58 AM

Ozzie quote - did you see the Ozzie doc on Sunday? My personal favorite,

"I think my wife would say that I am a passionate lover"

Steve / August 22, 2006 10:17 AM

So after Ozzie drinks, he gets his baby-maker on. Excellent!

Jeff Webber / August 22, 2006 12:29 PM

Random nerdery:

BaseballProspectus issues a daily report "compiled by running a Monte Carlo simulation of the rest of the season one million times." It gives the approximate odds of a team making the postseason based on runs allowed, runs scored, strength of remaining opponents, etc. The results?

In only 0.02% of simulations did the Cubs make the postseason.

3.98% of all sims had the Sox winning the AL Central. (The Tigers grab it 91.28% of the time.) 38% had them winning the wild card. (Total postseason%: 41.98)

The Twins, based on their performance to date and the comparative difficulty of their remaining schedule more frequently attained both the AL Central crown and the AL Wild Card. In simulations, anyway.

Intangibles, team spirit, chemistry, blah blah, caveat this and that, though.

Jeff Webber / August 22, 2006 12:30 PM

Link:

BPro's Postseason Odds Report

 

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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