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Wednesday, November 14

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Cubs in Five

Five First Half All-Stars
by Jeff Webber

As we take a breather from the regular season to enjoy the spectacle of the All-Star Game, let's also take a break between the relentless seesaw of wounded pessimism/forced optimism that is Cubs in Five's stock in trade. This week, let's just talk facts. The following five Cubs are just plain good. They're having great years, and whether the Cubs continue their recent winning ways (that's 19 wins in their last 28 games) or return to their early season funk, it'd be hard to find fault with these players. First up...

One: The Fonz
Yes, Alfonso Soriano started miserably slow (just one RBI for the entire month of April). But everybody has their bad months, and when you can follow a poor April with a rock solid May (.862 OPS, four homers, 11 RBI, and six steals) and a positively scorching June (the NL's Player of the Month racked up a Bonds-ian 1.076 OPS and 11 home runs), well, those bad months have a way of fading into memory. Is he on his way to a 40-40 campaign this year? Nah. But 30-30 seems more and more likely.

Two: The Demp Truck
Yeah, that's a pitiful nickname. Chris Berman, I'm not. Anyway, despite a disturbing tendency to suck epically in non-save situations, Cub closer Ryan Dempster has gone 16 for 18 in save opportunities this year, proving that, while he may not be a "lights out" closer in the Rivera/Hoffman mold, he is, more often than not, an excellent choice when you've got a lead to protect in the ninth inning. While there are days when Dempster's not-exactly-awe-inspiring stuff leaves me fantasizing about Carlos Marmol's nasty sinker racking up the final out to the strains of AC/DC tunes, Dempster has been getting the job done. Or did, anyway, until he hit the disabled list. Which bring us to...

Three: Marmol-Aid
With the well-documented rookie fetish here at Cubs in Five, it's inevitable that we'd give one of these five slots to a kid who's still wet behind the ears. Reliever and current substitute closer Carlos Marmol is our pick. Marmol has been scored on only twice this entire season, allowing just 23 baserunners and clocking a positively insane 34 strikeouts during that same span. Is he going to seize the opportunity afforded him by Dempster's injury to pull a Bobby Jenks and seize the job for good? We shall see.

Four: The Marquis de Sod
That's sod as in grass, as in "ground ball outs." Big Z gets all of the press, but much maligned Cardinals castoff Jason Marquis has actually an increasingly reliable starter this season for the Cubs, racking up seven quality starts — six of them in his last seven starts. It's not always pretty, and it rarely comes with an eye-popping K total or any Maddux-like efficiency, but like his one-time Cards teammate Jeff Suppan, Jason Marquis is developing a reputation as a guy who eats innings (just over 100 so far) and keeps his team in the game. I was appalled at his contract when it was signed, but it's hard to argue at this point: the Cubs are getting their money's worth... and then some. Zambrano will, as ever, end up putting up the numbers, but with him having been nigh-on useless for the first two months of the year, I'm going to go the contrarian route and give Marquis the nod.

Five: A-Ram
Who'd've thought when we picked Aramis Ramirez up in 2003 that he'd quickly entrench himself as one of the Cubs' most dependable stars and the single best Cubbie third sacker since Ron Santo? But that's exactly what Ramirez has done. This year, he's clocked a sterling .929 OPS along with 15 home runs and 49 RBI. It may be D-Lee who's heading to the All-Star Game, but with our normally slugging first baseman serving up a paltry, Mark Grace-like six homers in the first half, I'm giving the final slot to Ramirez instead.

Next week: Yet Another Cubs in Five Trade Special!

Sox in Five

Like Eating Glass
by Steve Gozdecki

One: About Last Night
The season in a nutshell, last night's loss to the Baltimore Orioles was. Well, except for the part where the White Sox scored some runs off of a left-handed starting pitcher. (Naturally, it's the one who is on two of my fantasy teams.) The rest of the usual ingredients were in place: the Sox starting pitcher does a good job and exits with a lead, the Sox pen coughs up the lead, and the other team's bullpen shuts the Sox bats down. How a team can so often snatch defeat from the jaws of victory is God's own mystery.

Two: Schoolyard Bullies
So, a four-game sweep at the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, a 2-1 series win over the Kansas City Royals, and then that, sadly, that loss at home last night against the lowly Orioles. In a world where your Chicago White Sox never played good teams, the skies would be bluer and there would be an extra bounce in my step. But this past week of winning baseball against losing clubs doesn't change the fact that this Sox team falls somewhere between bad and not very good, and at their current trajectories them Royals and D-Rays may well have better 2008 seasons than the Sox.

Three: Perhaps the Chairman Would Like Buehrle to Mow His Lawn, Too
While there's a chance that history may prove me wrong, as of Monday evening I'm calling shenanigans on the White Sox for their failure to deal in good faith with left-handed starting pitcher Mark Buehrle, aka Mr. White Sox. Quick: name a good White Sox player of the Reinsdorf era who has played his entire career in a White Sox uniform. Can't do it, can ya? And we won't be able to with Buehrle, either, despite more than a week's worth of gossipy fun that has seen discussion of Buehrle agreeing to a below-market-value contract (four years, $56 million seems to be the consensus), the Sox acting like they're violating every sacred principle in their moral code by offering a fourth year to a pitcher (ever since the team was dumb enough to sign Jaime Navarro to a four-year deal more than a decade ago, the Sox have had a weirdly arbitrary rule about not going past three years with a pitcher), speculation that the players' association would be pissed at Buehrle for taking a below-market value contract... and now it all appears set to break down because the Sox don't want to give Buehrle full no-trade protection.

Bull. Shit. Were Buehrle to remain in a Sox uniform through the first few months of the 2010 season, he would earn no-trade protection as a five-and-ten-year guy (five years with any one particular team, and 10 years of total major league service time) anyway. Do the Sox really have designs on re-signing him only to trade him in the next year or two? How many teams would take such a deal knowing that Buehrle could invoke his right to demand a trade after being traded in the middle of a multiyear contract? Smoke, meet mirrors. The Sox are playing dirty pool in this one. Chances of Buehrle remaining in a Sox uniform through the end of this month are pretty much nil, and while I wasn't opposed to dealing him a week ago, this whole pageant of fakery is bringing back the class warrior in me. No matter how hard it may be to choose sides when billionaires are fighting millionaires, I'm going with labor once again.

Four: All That Grinding Wears a Man Down Eventually
Strike three for Grinderball has been blown past the White Sox trifecta of gritty, gutsy low-talents with the latest injury to leftfielder Scott Podsednik. First Pablo Ozuna went down for the year, then the inevitable Erstad-swings-so-hard-it-hurts happened (though he did play an inning between stints on the disabled list), and now Podsednik is returning to the comfy confines of his second home, the DL. In the race to be the newest grinder, former minor league shortstop Andy Gonzalez, aka Ozzie's fourth son, has been receiving a ridiculous amount of playing time in the outfield in lieu of calling up Ryan Sweeney from AAA. Yeah, I think Ozzie's just the man to lead this team through the near-inevitable rebuilding process. [/sarcasm]

Five: The Bitterest Pill
White Sox players in the All-Star Game: One, closer Bobby Jenks, who may not have made the team were it not for the requirement that every team have an All Star representative. Current White Sox outfielders worth a damn: Zero. Former White Sox outfielders in the All Star Game: three. More specifically, the entire starting 2004 outfield of Carlos Lee, Aaron Rowand and Magglio Ordonez. Ouch. Ouch. And ouch again.

Fire in Five

Interesting Times (Except on the Field)
by Steve Gillies

One: For Sale?
It started with a casual mention by Shep Messing on a radio show that the Fire could be sold within the week. Then New Jersey-based soccer writer Ives Galarcep claimed there were two competing groups looking to buy the team. Now Luis Arroyave of the Tribune has a source saying Frank Klopas (who went from possibly interviewing with John Guppy for a coaching job last week, to possibly taking Guppy's job this week) and former Fire marketing director Steve Pastorino are part of an investment group looking to buy the Fire. But they are worried by being outbid by another group, possibly a European club.

It's all still in the realm of rumor, but it certainly all makes sense. AEG, the company that currently owns the Fire, once owned the majority of teams in MLS. As the league has stabilized, they've been selling teams off (including Colorado, DC and New York in the past two years). If you look at the recent moves they've made with the Fire, they're clearly concentrating on making the club more attractive for investors, if not fans. They replaced a popular, fan-friendly charismatic GM with someone who (in theory) was stronger with corporate sponsorships and selling luxury box seats. They opted for a Designated Player who may or may not make the team better, but will certainly give them an attendance boost (when he eventually shows up). And they've left the jersey sponsorship question open, something that might be appealing to a company that might want to use that space for their own products as seen with Red Bull in New York. I'm hoping the local ownership group will win out because they have a history and understanding of the club and the league's wonky player rules. Also they probably care more about soccer in Chicago than some giant club looking to "extend its brand." But, like the coaching situation, whatever happens needs to happen soon, as the cloud of uncertainty surrounding the team is clearly damaging.

Two: Good News, Bad News
Cuahtemoc Blanco and Justin Mapp were called up for their prospective national teams to play in the Copa America, South America's version of the Gold Cup. This week it's meant big-time matches against big-time opponents like Argentina and Brazil for the two. It also meant ifyou bought tickets in advance for the July 1st game hoping to see Blanco's first game, or welcome Justin Mapp back from the Gold Cup, then you were probably disappointed. Also, Chris Rolfe was obviously misdiagnosed when we were told he had a mild ankle sprain. He's now listed as being out for another 5-6 weeks. It's a devastating blow, both for the Fire who are struggling to find goals without him, and for Chris, who really needs an extended run of injury-free games to take his career to the next level. On the bright side, Sunday's game did see a return to action for Chris Armas, Thiago, Diego Gutierrez and Logan... Pause.

Three: Oh Yeah, the Game
If I forgot to mention this weekend's game until point three, it might be because it featured some of the most forgetable, boring soccer I've seen since the last time I saw the Fire play. The Fire couldn't put three passes together to save their lives and they only managed a 0-0 draw because their opponent, Colorado (0-5 in their last five games), were just as hapless as they were. Interim coach Denis Hamlett didn't show a wildly different in-game attitude than Dave Sarachan, made most apparent when he made the substitution of Chris Armas for Willian Oliveira. Nothing against Armas, but a defensive midfielder for an attacking one while you're tied at home? It's at the point now where I don't care about results. I just want to see a team that at least tries to play something resembling attacking soccer.

Four: Hello, Au Revoir
Hamlett has done one thing Sarachan never quite managed to do. This week the Fire brought in Bruno Marques Menezes as a Youth International. I don't know anything about him, other than he's Brazilian (which is good) and that he can play play right wing or right back (which is fantastic). To be fair to Sarachan, Bruno (I'm just going to call him Bruno — Brazilian soccer players should only have one name) had been training with the team for some time, so I'm sure he would have been signed under Dave as soon as terms were worked out, or they cleared out some roster space. They did just that this week with a move that shocked nobody, releasing Pascal Bedrossian. It was always a questionable/risky signing and it just never panned out. Au revoir, Frenchie. We never really got to know you.

Five: Careful, He Bites
I have an appeal to make to Fire fans. On July 7 the Fire will be playing Toronto FC. Earlier this season Toronto Striker Danny Dichio bit Fire midfielder Diego Gutierrez. Bit him. If Dichio touches the ball one time at Toyota Park without being roundly booed by the entire stadium (or at least Section 8) I'll be sorely disappointed.

Bonus Shoutout: To Chris Armas, who obviously reads this column and proved it by re-shaving his head like I asked two weeks ago. Looking good, Chris. Looking good.

Sky in Five

Rising Profile
by Anne Elizabeth Moore

One: Sweet, Sweet Overtime
The Sky entered the July 1 game against the LA Sparks with a 7-8 record, fourth in the conference, and left it with another overtime win, now 8-8; still fourth in the conference but now more than ever the team everyone's talking about. That's right, everyone: the drugstore near my house recently started carrying, among the other more traditional sports outfits (Cubs hats, Bulls jerseys, Bears flags), Sky basketball trousers. You know, the ones that go down to about the knees on the average Chicago male? No better sign of universal adoration than homage pants, IMHO.

The 74-71 score allowed for a career-high 24 game points by Candice "The Gum Chewer" Dupree, who also brought in 11 rebounds and her fifth double-double of the season. The Sky expressed exhaustion during the game but somehow turned it into a trouncing over the now-fifth-in-the-Western-Conference Sparks, despite that it was a return to the court for the Sparks forward Taj McWilliams-Franklin — leading rebounder, tied for leading scorer and exactly my age, which is kind of old for a basketball player. (Possibly the victory was due to Chastity "Look Under the Washington Mystics" Melvin and Jia Perkins, who spent their time on the bench yelling "We want it more" at the other team.)

Two: Being an Adult
Single mom of a toddler and Sky guard Jia Perkins led the team in a double-overtime victory over the Sacramento Monarchs Friday, June 29, and scored a career-high 39 points (not to mention a handy 10 assists). With a nick-of-time three-pointer at 4.9 seconds remaining in regulation play, Perkins and her teammates brought the game to a tie and headed into overtime, finally sealing the deal with 92 points over the Monarch's 84. It was the Sky's first victory over the California team, and Perkins' contributions were not overlooked. Monarch forward Adrian Williams commented jealously to the AP, "That's pretty much called being an adult. She probably could have turned around and threw the ball up and it would have gone in."

"I think I did try to take over the game," Perkins told the AP. Not, it must be noted, that anyone minded. Except maybe Adrian Williams.

Three: It's a Game of Economics
Admittedly, times have changed for the WNBA in the 11 years since the league was founded. The ladies no longer have to find jobs in the off-season (overseas play, which can bring in a six-figure salary, notwithstanding), and several have netted the crazy endorsement deals that healthily supplement incomes and contribute to the player-recognition quality that makes NBA players and other sports stars so present in our media landscape. This, of course, is a double-edged sword: Do multi-gazillion-dollar shoe-wearing contracts really provide urban youth role models? I doubt it. As an anarchist, I suspect the whole magilla might be bunk.

Yet as a feminist, I'm forced to compare the WNBA to the NBA, and sadly acknowledge that there remains a discrepancy in recognition of the women's sport as compared to the men's. The average WNBA salaries remain around $50,000; the average NBA is closer to $4.5 Million. A full accounting can be found here, but what's important to note is that I've been looking at jobs that take in about as much of a salary as a three-year WNBA vet, and I know no one values what I do. I'm an independent publisher and a critic of corporate culture. These things just don't pay big money. In fact, they are sort of against money.

And then again, there's the unpaid and unacknowledged labor that must go into the WNBA. In the eyes of many, it's still something of a failing project, and players must promote the league, and games, simply to ensure a career future. How on Earth they also manage to practice playing basketball is totally beyond me.

Four: Insert Weather Joke Here
The June 26 Sky/Storm matchup ended in the second loss for the Chicago team this season against the Pacific Northwesterners, primarily at the hands of tall blonde Aussie and occasional naked model Lauren Jackson. Of course, she's also the best player in the league, as partially evidenced by the 76-94 final score, and the sad passing of the Sky's third consecutive loss. It was that tricky third quarter again, too, which saw 32 points pass by with none of our Chicago girls doing a thing about it.

Yet the game gave Jia Perkins some time to warm up to her starring role. After starting in place of Dominique "The Beast" Canty — out with a sprained ankle — Perkins headed off to the locker room that night with 19 points and seven rebounds. She passed the 500 point milestone in the game, and surpassed All-Star/Gum Chewer's 18 points and tied her in rebounds. It was an excellent time for Perkins to come to the fore, as Jackson — and the rest of the world — apparently caught on to the excellent offensive strategy of guarding the shit outta gum chewin' Dupree.

Five: Jia "TV-Watchin" Perkins Just Doesn't Sound Right
Saturday will find the Sky at home again facing Melvin's former team, the not-so-good-but-can-still-beat-us Washington Mystics. Hopefully sometime between now and then I can come up with a decent nickname for Jia Perkins, who seems really awesome and everything but claims that when she's not on the basketball court she prefers to hang around on the couch watchin' TV. What's a sportswriter supposed to do with that?

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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 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 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 has 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.

Anne Elizabeth Moore didn't go to professional blogging school or anything like some of these sports writers today, but she's been nominated for more comics awards. That's gotta mean something.

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