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Wednesday, November 14

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Cubs in Five

Lock-Step Losing
by Jeff Webber

One: Things Go on Clearance for a Reason
Reportedly, the Cubs have made a number of claims on players moving through waivers, even trying to work out deals for Scott Podsednik and Shannon Stewart. Why they'd want to give up anyone for either defensively challenged washed-up former leadoff hitter is beyond me. I mean, sure, if they'd take Scott Eyre or Jacque Jones off our hands, that'd be something... but to actually give up real value to acquire someone else's burden? Reportedly, Sox GM Kenny Williams actually asked for Sean Gallagher for Pods. Because sure, Pods has been mostly useless for a year and a half, but he's had a good August, so he's worth a top prospect now. Uh huh. And this, Sox fans, is why the South Siders completely failed to unload dead weight at the trade deadline.

Two: Cy Young Watch? In Wrigley? Believe It!
Don't look now, but one prediction system has Cubs Ted Lilly and Carlos Zambrano running 6th and 7th respectively in their chances for the NL's 2007 Cy Young Award. There's a lot of stat nerdery involved, but the gist of it is this: they've won a lot of games, they've struck out a bunch of guys, they have nice ERAs and their team is in the playoff hunt. Break down the last several decades of Cy Young balloting and those are exactly what voters are looking for. Funny thing is, if I could travel back in time four years and tell you two Cub hurlers would be among the most heralded in the league, you'd believe me without hesitation. "Wood and Prior," you'd say. "Right?" And then I'd weep for the pain the next four years would bring you.

Three: Fun With Numbers Starring Jason Kendall!
Don't look now, but our new Cub catcher is partying like it's 1999, er, 2000 anyway. That's the last season Kendall got on base 40 percent of the time while putting up an OPS of .800 or more. He's doing both as a Cubbie, though, clocking a .410 OBP and an .813 OPS. Given that his sterling 2000 campaign was seven years ago and given that he's spent all but two of the seven subsequent seasons on a fearless journey to uncover new kinds of suck, we can probably call this a miracle made possible by the wonders of small sample sizes. For now, though, it's lightning in a bottle, maybe even of a Gary Gaetti-ian caliber.

Four: Matt Murton Is Finally Playing Everyday. Matt Murton Is Hitting.
May I be so bold as to suggest that the two items are related? Why trade for also-rans like Stewart when a low-salaried up-and-comer like Murton can slug three homers in his first four games playing every day?

Five: Losing Hurts, But Losing In Lock-Step Tandem With Your Only Plausible Division Rival Hurts Considerably Less
Yeah, the Cubs may have a 4-8 record this month. But the division-leading Brewers (enjoy that title while you can, kids) have gone just 4-7 during the same span, so we haven't lost much, if any, real ground. All of this can change quickly come the 28th, when the two clubs lock horns for a three-game series. Mark your calendars now.

Sox in Five

by Steve Gozdecki

Sox in Five is off having a bad baseball day. Back next week.

Fire in Five

A Bye Week
by Steve Gillies

With the Fire not playing again until August 18th, Paulo Wanchope has a chance to work some rust off and I have a chance to quickly run over a few things I haven't talked about yet this season. We'll lead up with the one that the league wants everyone to talk about...

One: That Beckham Guy and Bobby Boswell
Now that he's finally stepped on the field in an MLS game, I'll mention that Beckham's been bringing out the stupid in a way that only a celebrity can. We've gotten the usual cranks talking about how Americans don't like soccer. We've had people getting mad at Beckham for rightly not risking a sprained ankle on FieldTurf. Really they should be mad at teams that have charged extra or pressured people into buying multiple game tickets based on Beckham's appearance when you can never guarantee an athlete's fitness. But worst of all, we've had broadcasts featuring a camera that follows Beckham around all game, multiple shots of Beckham tying his shoes or talking to teammates on the bench, and four commentators talking at once about Beckham instead of the action on the field. This was going to lead into a whole rant about how ESPN and the league were missing their chance by gushing over Beckham's fame, rather than using it to promote the league. But DC United defender Bobby Boswell beat me to it in the Washington Post (starts about halfway down). A sample for those too lazy to click:

"It's not fun for the guys playing, it's not fun for the people watching... I don't care about him taking his shoe off. I am absolutely baffled how (commentator) Eric Wynalda — guys that have played the game — are just riding this thing like they don't give a damn. It just baffles me. It's a shame, man. That's not going to do soccer any good in this country, to have stuff like that."

There's a lot more where that came from and I'm sure Boswell's saying what a lot of other players are thinking.

Two: Something I'd Like To Hear At Games
The English Premiere League, the league that made Becks so famous in the first place, kicked off this weekend. One of the biggest teams in England, Liverpool, has fans who for some reason sing "You'll Never Walk Alone" from the musical Carousel as their anthem. I enjoy Section 8 tremendously, and while they're sometimes criticized for only singing songs that contain variations of the words "Chicago" and "Fire," it's always been part of a conscious effort to make everything easy for people to join in on. It's a sound strategy, but I definitely think having a well-known song as an anthem could achieve the same effect and sound a lot cooler. I'm picturing crowd of people singing Johnny Cash's "Ring of Fire" (singing bah-bah-bahs for the horn parts). It would help if they still played the song before games, rather than that Muzak-programmed contemporary pop stuff they're going with now.

Three: Something I Like Seeing At Games
I certainly don't want to turn this into another gripe session about various aspects of the "Toyota Park experience" though, and I've really been meaning to mention something they've got absolutely right for a while. The videos they play on the screen before the game, showing highlights (and lowlights) of the season so far, are incredibly well put together. Then they cut to the players waiting in the tunnel, wearing game faces, preparing to be called onto the field, it really adds to the drama and anticipation of the game.

Four: Is Chicago The Most Spoiled Soccer City in the Country?
Not too long ago I shot my mouth off about the failure of the international friendlies like the Chicago Trophy or the Celtic game to draw much fan interest after the amazing sold out US-Mexico final to the Gold Cup. A rematch to that game was planned in Mexico City for September 9th but fell through for financial reasons. So now the US is replacing that game with a friendly match against five-time World Cup Champions, Brazil. At. Soldier. Field. Sure, it's a friendly, so who knows if the full armada of Brazilian stars playing for teams in Europe will make the trip over, but it's a scientific impossibility to find 11 Brazilians who can't play amazing, beautiful soccer. They better not ruin it by leaving the football lines up.

Five: A Question For You
Anyone know any bars or restaurants that draw big crowds for Mexican soccer games, particularly Club America games? I want to check out next week's away game in a crowd of people who may not be on-board with MLS, but are interested because of Blanco. A good burrito and a Tecate wouldn't hurt either. Email me at fire@gapersblock.com or leave a comment.

Sky in Five

Playoff Unbound
by Anne Elizabeth Moore

One: Dissipating Playoff Hopes
At this moment, once again, we're the last-ranked team in the Eastern Conference, with 12 victories and 18 losses under our belts. The Detroit Shock, Indiana Fever and Connecticut Sun have all clinched playoff berths and the fourth slot is open but slated for our old girl Monique Currie's new team, the Washington Mystics. Over in the Western Conference, Phoenix (with a 21-11 record), San Antonio, Sacramento and Seattle are all going to the playoffs together, leaving Houston, Los Angeles and Minnesota out in the cold. With us. It's a step up from the 2006 season, when the Chicago Sky's primary distinguishing characteristics were: a coach who hated women's basketball, a mascot better suited to inspire little boys to play little league, and the worst sports record of all time, ever, in the history of all sports. A step up, OK, but not a big one.

Two: The Rookie
Still, The Athlete remains steady in her vie for Rookie of the Year. Most of the excitement about Armintie Price is rooted in her power, her elasticity, and her gol' dang clean-souled sticktoitiveness. The last few games have given her the chance for perfect lay-ups ending in a jump so close to a dunk you can taste it. She can dunk, too, she told a fan in a recent online chat: "I can dunk a tennis ball, but I can't dunk a basketball because I can't palm it. If you ask if I can dunk, I have to know what ball I'm playing with."

When asked about the playoffs, she's right with me on that point: "It would mean a lot because everyone counted Chicago out. It reminds me of college at Ole Miss my freshman year, they didn't think we would make it to the tournament and we did. It would mean a lot to the organization, the fans and us as players. You always want to do things that people say you can't do." And, true fact: Price was a major factor in getting Ole Miss to the tournament. Can she do it for us again in Chicago?

Three: Connecticut Loss
Everyone blames the Saturday August 11th dismal home loss against the Connecticut Sun (88-66) on a few major Sky stumbles in the first quarter from which the team never recovered. Kayte "Sunshine" Christensen and Carla Thomas were both out with minor injuries, but it seems Candice "The Gum Chewer" Dupree's meager team-high 18 points — 0.6 points above her game average — in combination with Stacy "Moral Center" Dales' 11 and Brooke Wykoff's 10 points just weren't cutting it against the Sun's 54.2-percent field goal and 70-percent three-pointer success rates. Scary tall Pole Margo Dydek matched the Gum Chewer's 18 points and Lindsey Whalen contributed seven assists. Upside being: The Sky's free throw percentage is out of the toilet, with an 87.5 percent success rate. If only those didn't rely on our being fouled on first.

Four: Indiana Fever Double OT
The August 7 game against second-ranked Indiana Fever ended in a double overtime that had the largest UIC Pavilion crowd of the year completely beside themselves, even when they weren't just clamoring for t-shirts and tiny basketballs. It was a hard-fought, tightly contested game. With 21.2 seconds to go in the first overtime, the Gum Chewer's potentially decisive pass was intercepted by Tammy Sutton-Brown. Seconds later, scary Tan White cut to the basket, but her shot failed to sink as time ran out, forcing a second overtime. Points were matched nearly two-to-two when late in the second OT Dales stole the ball but couldn't get to the basket, and fouls put the Fever's fate in the hands of veteran free thrower Tully Bevilaqua, who gave the Fever a 73-70 lead and eventually won them the game. Sky center Chasity Melvin brought home her sixth double-double of the season with 26 points and 10 rebounds.

Five: We Want It More
"I do think our team can win our last five games of the season because we know we need to win to make the playoffs," The Athlete told another fan in her August 7 online chat, before the two losses described above. "We just need to play hard. It's going to come down to who wants it most. Who is going to go out and dive for loose balls and play the hardest."

Our hopes may be dashed for this year, but perhaps we can just plan on wanting it the most in '08?

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