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Cubs in Five

In Capitalist Chicago, Cubs Tickets Scalp You
by Jeff Webber

One: Dusty Drama Doesn't Die Down
"You should've been judging me on the last 13-14 years versus these last three or four months," says Cubs manager Dusty Baker. "That's how I look at it. My track record means something." He's right, you know. Try not to think of Dusty as merely the skipper of the star-crossed, underperforming '06 Cubs team. Try to think of him as the manager of the last three star-crossed, underperforming Cubs teams. And then wave goodbye politely. Maybe on the way out, you could ask him about whether he helped Bonds cover up his steroid use. The Mitchell probe's investigators sure will.

Two: Scalp Cubs Tickets? In Capitalist Chicago, Cubs Tickets Scalp You
The Illinois Ticket Scalping Act makes it illegal to sell tickets for sporting events at more than their face value. The Illinois Court of Appeals ruled it legal for the Chicago Cubs, through their own brokerage agency, to sell exorbitantly marked-up tickets that were never released to the general public. Given that the ITSA came about with the backing of vendors like the Cubs, this is a bit like the D.A.R.E. program being given permission to hawk doobies on public school playgrounds.

Three: Aramis Nin Ramirez Driving Up His Price
On the one hand, it's nice to see a Cubs player who started off slow stepping up his game. Aramis Ramirez, who had batted only .259 with an .801 OPS before the All-Star break, has hit .327 since then, with a mind-boggling 1.125 OPS during that span. On the other hand, this means he has almost certainly driven his price up for the offseason. Ramirez, you may recall, has a clause in his contract that allows him to renogotiate his deal (or even opt for free agency) at the end of this season. So while these homers are great, but they're gonna cost us. And yes, his middle name really is "Nin." No word on whether he has a sister named "Anais."

Four: The M & M Boys Are Serving Up the Hits!
Now if that were Mantle and Maris we were talking about, somehow restored to their youth and batting third and fourth for the Cubs, this would be great news. Since I'm talking about rookie Cubs pitchers Carlos Marmol and Sean Marshall, and the hits they're serving up are to the guys in the visitors' dugout, this is not so much a good thing. Marmol gave up an appalling eight walks and six runs through five innings Saturday against Colorado. You'd rather see him challenging hitters in the thin Denver air and losing, giving up homers than chickening out, nibbling the plate and giving up so many free passes. He may lose his starting gig when/if Sean Marshall returns, though the five walks Marshall yielded in his most recent rehab start are scarcely more appealing. Third "M" Juan Mateo, up from Double A, will continue to hold a spot for now, though Angel Guzman is apt to lose his any day now.

Five: Cubscast.com Brings Cubs Chatter to Your iPod
The first, most regularly updated, and best Cubs podcast is closing in on its 200th episode, a milestone they should reach before the end of the season. Though the analysis isn't always any more inspired than that of the regular Cubs broadcasts, it's seldom any worse, and its portability makes for a new outlet for Cubs obsessives. One complaint though: who the hell told that guy to call himself "Sneetch"?

Sox in Five

Just Win, Baby!
by Steve Gozdecki

So far so good on this gut.check.time of a homestand, with the annoying loss to the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim in a one-game makeup series and a near-come-from-behind victory in the middle game of the series against the New York Yankees representing the sole strikes against your Chicago White Sox so far. And really, can't we overlook these faults after a sweet sweep of those no good Tigers of Detroit?

Sadly, no. Seven weeks left. Every game is key. Winning the division gives the Sox their best chance to repeat as world champs, and that's the goal. And right now, the team is 5-1/2 games behind the Tigers, who stand between them and a date with destiny. With that, let's get to this week's Sox in Five.

One: The White Sox Are Law, the Detroit Tigers Are Crime
Defensive lapses? Impatience at the plate? Blaming the umps for your troubles? Inability to execute in key offensive situations? Overreliance on the long ball? Sounds like the recent trials and tribulations of the Sox, but it's actually what happened to those Amazin' Tigers this past weekend as they came to the Cell and took a well-deserved beating that left the Sox standing tall in head-to-head games against them with a 9-3 record. While Detroit still sits on a comfortable cushion, the cracks are beginning to show in that team, which is relying heavily on a very young pitching staff (except for its two fading vets, starter Kenny Rogers and closer Todd Jones) and isn't getting many men on base (a .331 on-base percentage, tenth in the American League).

Two: A Titanic Trio
Last year's White Sox had an effective strategy that worked well day in and day out: get six strong innings out of the starting pitcher, then turn the game over to the best bullpen in baseball. This strategy hasn't worked this year due to weaknesses on both ends of that equation, but it is becoming clear that any game the Sox lead after seven should go down as a White Sox winner thanks to the powerful arms of setup men Mike MacDougal and Matt Thornton ahead of closer Bobby Jenks. While Kenny Williams has a habit of overpaying in trades in order to ensure he'll get his man, the acumen he has shown in acquiring this trio over the past year and a half (Jenks was a freebie after being released by the Angels, Thornton came from the Seattle Mariners for since-released outfielder Joe Borchard, and MacDougal was picked up from the Royals in exchange for a pair of good-but-not-great pitching prospects) is a reminder that he is one of the best in the business.

Three: It Wouldn't Be a Sox in Five Without Me Bitching About at Least One Starting Pitcher, Would It?
Mark Buehrle? Looking better in two of his last three starts, but not yet back to being the pitcher we Sox fans enjoyed watching during his first five seasons. Javier Vazquez? Looked great last time out, and possibly the beneficiary of some mechanical fixes — let's see how he does tonight and in his next start before passing judgment. Jose Contreras? Lights out last time out, and by far the most consistent Sox starter all season. Freddy Garcia? Still learning to get by on guile instead of power, and keeping us all a bit nervous when he takes the ball each fifth day. Jon Garland? Talk to me when his ERA drops more than .02 points below 5. The unifying theme here? For now, the starting pitchers are still pretty much "Jose and then pray," and that's the biggest worry the good-hit, good-field Sox have got heading down the stretch.

Four: Absolut Cintron
While Juan Uribe isn't Wally Pipp and Alex Cintron definitely isn't the second coming of Lou Gehrig, the Sox didn't lose a beat over the past week with Cintron subbing for Uribe, who missed all but two games with a back injury. While the numbers Cintron put up over that period were not in and of themselves all that awe-inspiring — a .250 batting average over six games (including a start on Sunday to spell Tadahito Iguchi at second base), each of the hits he managed on his way to six RBIs seemed to come at an opportune moment. Just three years ago, Cintron looked like a comer at shortstop for the Arizona Diamondbacks before a prolonged slump cost him his starting job, leaving him stuck ever since with the dreaded utility infielder label. Might Uribe be moved in the offseason to open up the starting job at short for Cintron? Stranger things have happened.

Five: September Boys
While there doesn't seem to be much chatter about a waiver deal to help the Sox out during the stretch run, September should see the usual half-dozen or so guys earning promotions and potentially playing a fairly significant role over the season's final month. Third baseman Josh Fields has already started his crash course in left field down at AAA Charlotte, and both he and outfielder Ryan Sweeney could see action out there next month in place of the oft-slumping Scott Podsednik. Another outfielder, speedy Jerry Owens, could also see some time with the big club, though it's likely he'll mainly be used as a pinch runner and defensive replacement. Catcher Chris Stewart also seems a good candidate for a promotion, if only to give the Sox additional flexibility as a third catcher. Among those who may be throwing to Stewart are a pair of relievers who have already seen some time in the majors this year, Sean Tracey (who has been starting down at Charlotte) and young Boone Logan, as well as knuckleballer Charlie Haeger, who seems as good a candidate as any to start the hangover game the day or evening after the Sox clinch their playoff slot.

Fire in Five

We're Just Not Very Good at Soccer
by Steve Gillies

One: Another Home Game that Felt Like an Away Game
Just like the Club America game and the All-Star Game, this weekend's game again featured an away team being cheered as much as the home team. The difference this time was that the away team was another MLS team, Club Deportivo Chivas USA. The team has the same owner as its sister team Chivas in Mexico, features two Mexican National team stars, and markets itself heavily to the Hispanic-American audience. Their visit drew a larger than average crowd of 17,000 out to Toyota Park and created a pretty great atmosphere for the game, with two sets of fans trying to outcheer each other. The competition brought more involvement than usual from the casual Fire fans that sit on the sidelines, but in the end I would say the Chivas USA fans made more noise, most likely because they had a lot more the cheer about.

Two: Should There Be Only One Team in MLS for Mexican-Americans to Cheer?
I don't want to be too critical of anything that draws fans to MLS games and creates an enjoyable soccer atmosphere. That said, as much as I enjoyed being in a very loud, near-capacity Toyota Park this weekend, there was a little voice in my head saying, "Yeah, but this is how it should be every week." I think the idea of one "Hispanic-oriented" MLS team is a very short-term solution to the problem of drawing from the Hispanic fan base that has largely ignored MLS for the past decade. There shouldn't be just one team for Hispanics to cheer for, there should be 12. I hope MLS execs can take a long-term view and use the relationship with Chivas Guadalajara to learn about attracting Mexican-American and Latino fans and creating the kind of passion and loyalty Chivas gets and spread that around the rest of the league. I fear that MLS execs are missing the point, though, as there have been rumors that they've been in negotiations with another leading Mexican team, Club America, to add an MLS version their club. I hope it falls through, if for no other reason than I can't think of a stupider name for a soccer team than Club America USA.

Three: We Fear Change
All this talk about Chivas USA shouldn't take anything away from the fact that the Fire are having a miserable season. During the off season very few roster changes took place and with Tuesday's transfer deadline looming, it's looking like we won't bring in any new players. Looking at the performances on the field, this is clearly a stagnant group. I think there's enough talent in the squad that one or two additions to the team and maybe a change in formation could really provide a spark and possibly turn things around. It doesn't look like that's going to happen, as Sarachan keeps trotting out the same old (in some cases very old) players, and seems stuck on a formation that demands a very left-footed player plays on the right side of midfield. Other teams with similar point totals have made some fairly big player changes with guys like Santino Quaranta and Todd Dunivant being traded. Even more tellingly, New York, LA, and Kansas City, all teams with a higher points total than the Fire, have made the biggest change of all: they've fired their manager.

Four: This Fire Sarachan Thing is Really Gaining Momentum
After the recent run of poor performances, even the most middle of the road, wait and see, fence-sitting Fire supporters (like yours truly) have begun to call for coach Dave Sarachan's head. His name drew boos during the opening announcements and the Jumbotron focused on someone wearing a "Fire Sarachan" t-shirt during the game. He further annoyed fans by blaming this week's loss on the referee. True, the ref made a very bad penalty call in the 90th minute, but missed two clear penalties for Chivas USA earlier in the game and the whole complaint was pretty ludicrous given how thoroughly Chivas USA outplayed the Fire. At this point, dropping Sarachan seems like a pretty easy choice to make, even for an organization as reluctant to make choices as the Fire has been lately (how long did it take them to name their stadium?).

Five: Did Anything Good Happen This Week?
Like I said a couple of weeks ago, I don't want to turn into some bitter sports fan that secretly hates his own team. So I'm going to try to focus on the positives. Chris Rolfe scored a very nice goal. It's definitely in the running for goal of the week. More importantly, it's great to see Rolfe get back on track after a scoring slump that was partly due to a concussion, partly due to being more tightly marked than his rookie year, and partly due to having very little attacking support from his teammates. Other good things? Let's see... Well at least we get to play the Wizards twice this week. They've been in the doldrums too and — What? They fired their manager? And they beat the Crew this weekend by how much?

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Comments

Steve Gillies / August 15, 2006 11:06 AM

In other positive news, the Fire managed a 2-0 win last night in the Open Cup against the Wizards. With a league game on Wednesday night, both teams basically played reserve teams, and I can safely say our reserves are pretty good at soccer.

Michelle / August 15, 2006 1:43 PM

For those of you scoring at home, Borchard was claimed off waivers by the Florida Marlins, joining another Sox castoff (who also took a tour through Seattle), Miguel Olivo.

MC High Life / August 15, 2006 2:24 PM

It is now legal for anyone to sell tickets above face value in Illinois, provided they are sold through online auctions like eBay. The law changed right before the World Series last year.

Jeff Webber / August 15, 2006 2:27 PM

You are the champagne of fact-checkers, MC High Life.

Still... doesn't change the general scumbaggery of scalping your own tickets.

MC High Life / August 15, 2006 4:47 PM

Jeff: True dat. I can't believe the Cubs got away with that.

Steve / August 16, 2006 2:57 PM

Wowza, fun factoid just picked up from the Cubs broadcast: through 110+ games, no Cub pitcher has thrown a complete game this season. Not that complete games mean much, but that's a heck of a thing to ponder, especially with Dusty's rep as a whipman who treads pitchers like rented mules.

drella / August 17, 2006 1:02 PM

Jose Uribe?

Andrew / August 17, 2006 1:29 PM

Whoops! Good catch, drella. It's fixed.

Steve / August 17, 2006 11:18 PM

See, I'm so far down on Juan Uribe lately that I'm wishing we had former Giant Jose Uribe and his .614 career OPS at short....

 

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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