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Sunday, December 15

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Airbags

Cubs in Five
by Jeff Webber

One: 2005's Finest Fluke, or, Carlos Zambrano Outhits Half the Team
Cubs pitcher Carlos Zambrano outhit many of his position playing peers this year, clocking in with a .303 batting average and a .474 slugging percentage, the best by a Cubs starting pitcher since Mike Krukow's .314 in 1979. Maybe he could set aside some time to work with Corey Patterson...

Two: Next Year's Dempster/Williamson? or, Indefensible Lunatic Idea of the Week
Over the last few years, the Cubs have taken chances on a number of former star pitchers coming off of serious arm trouble, hoping they could, with some patience and coaching, bring them back to form. The 2004 signing of Ryan Dempster has been a smashing success and this year's model, Scott Williamson, has looked promising as well. Who then for 2006? How about the Dodgers' Darren Dreifort? Blessed with nasty stuff that once netted him a $55 million contract, Dreifort spent most of 2005 in doctor's offices, but could prove a boon if he could pull a Dempster-like comeback.

Three: VORP Is Not a Form of Trail Mix
BaseballProspectus.com tracks a stat called VORP, or "Value Over Replacement Player." The idea is to show how many runs a player contributed beyond what you'd get from the average guy replacing him. Not surprisingly, Derrek Lee leads baseball with an astounding 99.7 runs better than replacement-level. Todd Hollandsworth ranks a 0.0, meaning he is no better or worse than the average yahoo we could have shoved in his place. And finally, Cubs in Five whipping boy Corey Patterson leads the team in sheer suckitude, ranking a -6.3.

Four: 15x18, or, The Scant Few Reasons Left to watch the Cubs Play in 2005
Greg Maddux needs to win just twice more to reach 15 wins for the 18th straight season, extending his own record. Problem is, he has exactly two starts left in which to do that. As long as the Cubs don't fall apart in a mess of undisciplined hitting and miserable luck, he should do just fine. In other words: crap. Also watch to see whether Jeromy Burnitz can reach 300 career home runs (he needs two) and if Derrek Lee can edge out Albert Pujols for the NL batting crown (currently he's up by a scant .001).

Five: Fun Player to Root for this Week: Any Member of the White Sox
I'm as bitter as the next disappointed Cub fan (are there any other kind?) but I'm still gonna support my city and root like hell for the White Sox. Here's hoping the South Siders pull out of their two month funk and win the whole shebang. Hell, I hope they win it all. Maybe the humiliation of seeing baseball's other famous curses broken in successive years will spur our boys to success in 2006, finally bringing an end to generations of suffering. Yeah, and maybe I'm a Chinese jet pilot.

Sox in Five
by Steve Gozdecki

"Where are the songs of Spring? Ay, where are they? Think not of them, thou hast thy music too."
-- John Keats, "To Autumn"

As far as we know, John Keats was not a White Sox fan, what with the whole dying-years-before-baseball-was-first-played thing and all. Yet his autumnal ode resonates with Sox fans everywhere at present, as we sigh wistfully in recollection of a team that came flying out of the gate and laid waste to all teams in its path only to come staggering down the stretch to a downright funereal tune. And so, wistfully, I sigh once more, as the Sox magic number shrinks at a painfully slow rate.

But now, with the eerily unbeatable team from the Lake Erie area gone from our city for the moment, it's time to do this thing, Sox in Five style.

One: OK Guys, You Can Stop Kidding Around Now
Bad is losing two out of three against the Kansas City Royals. Worse is coming home afterwards and dropping a like number against the team that, golem-like, is constantly gaining ground, the Indians of Cleveland. Games one and two of the series had a playoff atmosphere, both teams wound rather tightly and mixing dumb miscues with instances of sheer brilliance in a pair of close games, Monday's 7-5 Indians victory and Tuesday's 7-6, 10-inning Sox win. Game three was shaping up similarly (not that anyone trying to watch would know, what with Comcast somehow losing the signal for the first six-plus innings) before Sox starter Jon Garland served up a meatball that Travis "Bean Me in the Head and I Will Only Come Back Stronger" Hafner took out of the park to get the rout going in earnest, giving Cleveland a major case of the feel-goods on their way out of town with an 8-0 slaughter of the Sox. That 9-3 record the Sox had posted against the Indians through last week is now 10-5, which just doesn't seem as dominating. But then, I may just be suffering from Hafner-induced head trauma.

Two: Bullpen BS
Somewhat unnoticed with all the hoopla about the crumminess of the Sox rotation in recent weeks is the bad stink emanating from the bullpen in some key situations over that same time frame. It starts with erstwhile closer Dustin Hermanson, who due to his bad back and some bad pitching — which may or may not be related — apparently ceded his closing duties to the tandem of Damaso "Hey, Didn't Ozzie Just Say I Was Done for the Year?" Marte and fan favorite Bobby "Spud" Jenks, the kid who throws triple-digit heat. Results so far have been decidedly mixed, with the Damaso and Spud Show blowing a lead against the Indians on Monday and Jenks doing so again during Tuesday's extra-inning affair, in which the win went to Hermanson after he pitched a scoreless tenth inning. Lost in the shuffle have been the team's most effective lefty, young Neal Cotts, and the extremely good Cliff Politte, both of whom have been stuck in middle relief despite having ERA and WHIP numbers just as good as those of Hermanson and Jenks. The constant kvetching about this seems to have been heard at last by manager Ozzie Guillen, who now says, "Between Politte, Cotts and Jenks, the one that throws the ball the best [will close]. As long as they tell me they're fine and ready to go, they're going to be in the same situation because I have faith in them." So stay tuned, folks: here comes the dreaded Closer by Committee, which made for a very interesting ninth inning last night as Marte and Politte each walked a man, bringing Cotts on to record the final out of the frame.

Three: I Hate Johan Santana.
Last night, reigning American League Cy Young award winner Johan Santana took the hill for the Minnesota Twins against our White Sox, against whom he was 4-0 this season coming into the game. And once again he was dominant, throwing eight innings of one-run ball but not factoring into the decision of the extra-inning contest, as Sox rookie Brandon McCarthy matched him pitch-for-pitch. Exactly why the left-handed Santana owns the predominantly right-handed-hitting Sox is a bit of a mystery, especially considering the relative success the rest of the league has had against him this year, with Santana posting a 10-7 record against teams other than the White Sox.

Four: Hot or Not
A quick look at the numbers for September makes the White Sox hitters look a bit better than you might expect, led by Joe Crede (hitting .412 with three homers since coming off the DL), the resurgent Juan Uribe (.353 with six jacks), Paul Konerko (.301 with five dingers), and Scott Podsednik (hitting a power-free .301, and please don't ask him to steal a base, which he has successfully done only once out of six tries this month). Players hitting a little closer to what you'd expect include Jermaine Dye (.262, 3 HRs), Tadahito Iguchi (.262 with a surprising 15 RBIs), A.J. Pierzynski (.259, 1 HR) and Aaron Rowand (.257, 1 HR). Of the regulars, only Jurassic Carl Everett has failed to pull his weight this month — his all-or-nothing approach to hitting has yielded a .169 average this month, with all of three homers for his big hacks. Overall, the team has scored 90 runs in 20 September games, putting them at a respectable 4.5 per game — unfortunately, the pitching staff has given up 89 runs over that same span, accounting for our barely break-even 11-9 record on the month. (Note: all numbers are through Wednesday night's game.)

Five: Kenny's Criticisms
So, White Sox general manager Kenny Williams, what do you think of your team's hitting lately? "We are not in an offensive rhythm," Williams said after Wednesday night's game. "We are not executing and swinging the bats well, and we do not have a good offensive approach at the plate right now. It's just that simple." But while Kenny can (and will) complain, the fact is that the Sox offense has been inconsistent all year long, with season-long sub par performances out of left field, center field, third base and shortstop. The Sox are fourth in the American League in homers while playing in one of the homer-friendliest parks in the AL, and mired in the muck otherwise: ninth in runs scored, twelfth in on-base percentage, and eighth in slugging percentage even with all those dingers. This is simply not a very good lineup you put together, Kenny. It's just that simple.

Where Can I Catch the Sox in the Coming Week?
Because the White Sox are baseball Bedouins, with their TV broadcasts wandering up and down the dial, each week this column lets you know where you can catch them on the tube, as well as any promotions going on for those who want to catch a game in person. All games are also on WMVP AM 1000.

• Friday Sept. 23 - vs. Minnesota, 7:05 pm, Comcast Sports Net Chicago (post-game fireworks)
• Saturday Sept. 24 - vs. Minnesota, 6:05 pm, WGN Channel 9 (post-game fireworks)
• Sunday Sept. 25 - vs. Minnesota, 2:05 pm, Comcast Sports Net Chicago (Fan Appreciation Day)
• Monday Sept. 26 - at Detroit, 6:05 pm, WCIU Channel 26
• Tuesday Sept. 27 - at Detroit, 6:05 pm, Comcast Sports Net Chicago
• Wednesday Sept. 28 - at Detroit, 6:05 pm, Comcast Sports Net Chicago
• Thursday Sept. 29 - at Detroit, 12:05 pm, Comcast Sports Net Chicago

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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. Because he swears by the work of the "baseball outsiders," who believe that statistic analysis trumps things like subjective evaluations and team chemistry, he finds himself baffled by the success his team is having in this 2005 season. Each week through the end of the Sox's playoff run — which will hopefully end around Halloween — 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.

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