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Wednesday, November 14

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Cubs in Five

Fonzie Says Ay
by Jeff Webber

One: Sorianofriggingway
So you know what would really kill the Cubs' momentum right now? How about Alfonso Soriano tearing his quad and heading onto the DL. If this injury sounds familiar, it should... this is the same thing that caused Aramis Ramirez to miss five weeks a few seasons ago. Initial reports had the Fonz missing just two-to-four weeks, but now team officials are admitting publicly that it's more likely to be four-to-six weeks. Which brings us to...

Two: Who Fills the Seventeen Million Dollar Shoes?
So far, it's second baseman/outfielder Eric Patterson, kid brother to original Cubs in Five whipping boy Corey Patterson. EP has been taking care of business in AAA Iowa to the tune of .299 with 14 homers and 14 steals this season. Most tellingly, though, Patterson has actually drawn walks in a mildly impressive 10 percent of his plate appearances, while keeping his strikeouts to acceptable (if still slightly high) levels. In other words, he's miles removed from his undisciplined older brother. Patterson figures to come off the bench for now, but could end up platooning in right field with either Matt Murton or Mark DeRosa. Unless...

Three: The Cubs Trade For Outfield Help?
Seems an odd move with uberprospect Felix Pie knocking the everloving snot out of the ball in AAA. Still, word is, Cubs GM Jim Hendry is burning up the phones looking for veteran help to take Soriano's place. What names are being bandied about? Well, according to AM 670, the names being discussed are: Tigers OF Craig Munroe (imagine a right-handed Jacque Jones... yeah I know), former Cub and accomplished lefty-masher Matt Stairs, Jeff "AARP" Conine and — dare to dream — Adam Dunn. Munroe and Conine give us pause because they, well, suck. Dunn would be a huge addition (both physically and figuratively) but would cost the moon. Stairs would be a good low-cost option, but is unlikely to clear waivers. Waivers, you ask?

Four: How Post-Deadline trades Work, a Refresher Course
After July 31st, players can be placed on waivers; teams get the opportunity to make claims on said players starting with the team with the worst record first and then working up from there. After this, it works as follows: if a player is claimed, the team putting him on waivers can just pull him back (making him then ineligible to be placed on waivers for 30 days); OR the team placing the player on waivers and the team making the waiver claim have 47 hours to put together a trade; OR if no one claims him the player can be traded without restriction to anyone; OR, the team holding the player in question can just dump him on the team making the claim. Mostly only non-impact players and grossly overpaid players pass through waivers cleanly. And so, for all intents and purposes, two teams can make a post-July 31st trade only if every team with an inferior win-loss record first declines to make a claim on any of the players involved in the deal. Oh, and virtually every player in baseball is placed on waivers just to obscure those players who might really be on the move. Got that? There'll be a quiz. And finally...

Five: Congratulations to Tom Glavine
Sure, him beating the Cubs today cost the Cubs a half game in the standings during a pennant race. But if you love baseball, you have to applaud great players and great people achieving great things (the second criteria explains why we aren't making a fuss over a certain home run record). And 300 wins is a true milestone, something we may never see again. Pitcher use patterns being as they are, it's hard to imagine who could honestly hope to approach that number. Carlos Zambrano, for instance, projects as having just a 19.8 percent chance. So here's to Tom Glavine and his 300 wins. And may the Mets never, ever beat again for the entire rest of the pennant race.

Sox in Five

Oh, Inverted World!
by Steve Gozdecki

One: Caring Is Creepy
It's interesting... a Chicago White Sox team that hasn't done much of anything all year goes and sweeps the Tigers of Detroit on the road, and suddenly all kinds of crazy talk wells up about how this team is back in the race. Let's see... there are eight weeks left to go in the season. The White Sox are 52-59, 10 games behind the division-leading Cleveland Indians. And Detroit and the Minnesota Twins also sit between the Sox and this illusory goal. But what of the Wild Card? In that race, the Sox are 10 games behind the Tigers, with six other American League teams ahead of them in the race. Meanwhile, you've still got Ozzie rolling out the Sunday lineup of scrubs more than once a week, a pitching rotation that includes a floundering John Garland, a tired-looking John Danks and the Ghost of Jose Contreras. (Full disclosure: Contreras may/may not still be a member of the rotation. Or alive.) And a still-troubling bullpen, though Ryan Bukvich looks like a keeper for middle relief. To win 90 games, which would appear to be the price of possible admission to the post-season, this Sox team needs to go 38-13 — that is, win three out of every four games. If they do it, I owe you each a Coke.

Two: Still in the Cellar
Also, perhaps somewhat surprisingly, the White Sox offense continues to be bad even though it seems like every time you look up, Jim Thome or Jermaine Dye or Paul Konerko is sending one over the fence. But their production is offset by the suckitude from the Grinder Twins, the catcher, the since-departed second baseman and (egads!) the shortstop. The Sox still rank dead last in the American League in a number of key categories, including on-base percentage (it would be good to have more men on base), doubles (it would be good to clear the bases without having to clear the fence now and then) and total bases (need to touch four of them to score a run), and second to last in a few others, including runs scored and slugging percentage.

Three: Danny Richar Controls the Universe
Who, exactly, is Danny Richar? Acquired from the Arizona Diamondbacks a few months back for outfield prospect Aaron Cunningham, Richar was anonymous enough that he didn't even rate coverage in this year's edition of Baseball Prospectus. But the Sox scouting staff saw something they liked in the minor league middle infielder after he worked on shortening his stroke, and the Tadahito Iguchi trade cleared up space for him on the big league roster. The numbers aren't dazzling through his first seven games, but Richar seems to be able to control the bat well and have a good eye (four walks, one strikeout in 25 plate appearances) and decent speed. His defense also looks to be pretty good, and he may well end up as the 2008 starting second baseman and second-place hitter.

Four: Bye Bye, Robby Mac
Well, that didn't work as well as we'd hoped. As part of Operation Repeat World Championship, the Sox dealt left-handed reliever Damaso "Ozzie Hates Me" Marte to the Pittsburgh Pirates in exchange for hometown boy Rob Mackowiak, who was expected to bring some power off the bench and versatility to the infield (his career includes major league appearances everywhere but catcher, shortstop and pitcher). Oddly, he was used almost exclusively in the outfield during his 10 months of Sox service time, and he proved to be very streaky at the plate. At age 31, Mackowiak didn't look like a good use of salary for the $3 million or so that he's going to get next year (his upside is Ryan Sweeney's downside), so the Sox shipped him off to San Diego for nondescript minor league relief pitcher John Link, who trails a composer, an anti-establishment artist and a cancer researcher of the same name in Google hits.

Five: Oye, Me Duele La Muñeca!
Speaking of Sweeney, both he and fellow AAA outfielder Brian Anderson are currently out of service due to wrist injuries. Anderson is almost certainly out for the remainder of the season, while Sweeney may yet get back onto the playing field. Talk is that both will be asked to play winter ball down South of the Border to make up for their lost development time this year.

Fire in Five

Patience
by Steve Gillies

One: Our First Look at a Fully Operational Strikeforce
There has been a tangible buzz about the Fire this week. With Blanco looking like he's for real, Chris Rolfe finally recovering from that ankle injury and Paulo Wanchope joining the team the Fire's offensive problems looked to be a thing of the past. It wouldn't be going to far to say that for Saturday night's game against Columbus, a crowd of over 20,000 showed up expecting to see history made, as the Fire had a real shot at toppling the scoring record set by Australia when they put 32 past American Samoa in World Cup Qualifying. OK, that actually would be going too far. But people were hoping for goals. They got a 0-0 tie. In truth, it was a good performance by the Fire and it's a reminder that there aren't any miracle cures in MLS and it takes a little time for players new to each other to gel.

Two: Will We Run Out of Time This Season?
The question is will the Fire get that time? They dug quite a hole for themselves early in the season, and if we're going to get to the playoffs, Columbus is the closest of the teams in the standings that the Fire need to leapfrog to finish in the top eight and earn a playoff spot. Beating Columbus would have put the Fire within three points (one win) of the post-season, with an extra game to play. As it stands now, the Fire are six points (two wins) out and still looking at quite an uphill climb. There is plenty of soccer left to be played, and things should get better as Wanchope shakes off what looks to be considerable rust, Rolfe gets match-fit, and everybody develops a better understanding of each other. But if the Fire falls short this season, they might be looking at August 4th as a missed opportunity.

Three: Get Used To It, Blanco
Cuahtemoc Blanco got suffered from a very physical approach from Columbus. How physical? He got fouled 11 times. I've seen plenty of games where whole teams haven't been fouled that much. I just checked the stats, and Blanco's shot up to number seven on the team for fouls drawn. After two games. To his credit, he kept his head, and while he wasn't able to influence the game to the degree he did in Toronto, he still played well. Clearly Blanco will get more of this treatment as the season goes on and it's key that the Fire find a way to capitalize on all the set plays he's drawing.

Four: The Defense
All this talk about the new-look strikers, and one thing has been overlooked: the Fire has defended very well over the past few games. CJ Brown is marshaling a backline of quicker, younger, energetic defenders in Dasan Robinson and Gonzalo Segares has looked solid. Robinson, in particular, has looked like a beast since being moved back into the center of defense. Props should also go to Matt Pickens, who some people were ridiculously blaming for the amount of unstoppable shots he wasn't saving earlier in the season. He came up big a couple of times on Saturday night, including stopping a point-blank shot with what my special ladyfriend refers to as his handsome, handsome face.

Five: Why 20,000 People Are More Fun Than 10
Zero-zero games are boring. I know this because I'm constantly being reminded of it by sports writers who have never been to one. So I was kind of surprised that I actually had a lot of fun at the game on Saturday night. Maybe checking out the pre-game concert featuring a pale-white, tracksuit-wearing guy rapping in Polish managed to erase my memory of the standard 20-minute wait for the box office to figure out how to redeem my season ticket vouchers. Maybe the fact that I didn't drive meant I didn't that post-game parking lot disaster hanging over my head. But mostly it was the jam-packed and for once really noisy crowd that made it feel like a real soccer game. There was a lively contest over which language to use when yelling rude things at opposing team's goalkeeper (Spanish eventually won), Blanco got a huge roar every time he went near the ball and Chris Rolfe got a standing ovation when he subbed on after his long injury layoff. Despite the lack of goals there were plenty of controversies, chances on goals, and pretty intense play to keep the crowd involved in the game rather than just entertaining themselves with silly things like the wave, except for the idiot that threw a vision-impairing, security-enraging smoke bomb behind the goal while the Fire was defending a free kick.

Sky in Five

by Anne Elizabeth Moore

...is off this week.

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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.

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