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Saturday, December 9

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Cubs in Five

May Zombies Eat Gary Bennett's Soul
by Jeff Webber

One: Baserunners Are Like Cholesterol, See
Actual quote from Cubs manager Dusty Baker: "On-base percentage is great if you can score runs and do something with that on-base percentage. On-base percentage just to clog up the bases isn't that great to me." Yes, kids, the manager of a professional baseball franchise is irritated by those pesky walks. Damn you, baserunners! Damn you all to hell! Strike out like a man, why don'tcha?

Two: And in the Desert, There Arose a New Hope
No, not a jedi, idiot. I'm talking about the seven kids the Cubs are sending to play in the Arizona Fall League. The AFL is an extremely competitive offseason league where prospects on the cusp of the big time (say a year or two away) test their skills against one another. Keeping track of who's going gives a sneak peek at who's in the plans for next year. This year's names are: Jake Fox (C), Lincoln Holdzkom (RHP), Grant Johnson (RHP), Scott Moore (3B), Eric Patterson (2B), Carmen Pignatiello (LHP) and Clay Rapada (LHP). It's interesting to see Cubs in Five fave Scotty Moore getting the nod, as well as Corey "I Personally Took Five Years Off the Average Cub Fan's Life Expectancy" Patterson's brother, Eric. I'm telling you again: learn Moore's name. If Aramis becomes a free agent and skips town, Scotty's your new third baseman.

Three: So Many Names, So Few Worth Knowing
Rookie hurler Les Walrond made his debut Sunday, and got his ass handed to him. There'd been talk Jerome Williams might be called up, but his stuff has been looking worse and worse in AAA Iowa... Juan Mateo lost, but looked sharp against Roger Clemens last week... Pitcher Ryan O'Malley went on the DL with a strained elbow; Jae Kuk Ryu (yes, the Osprey killin' kid) replaced him... Utility man Buck Coats was called up to replace the injured Cesar Izturis on the roster, despite being markedly less productive than AAA teammates Michael Restovich and Mike Fontenot. He leads both players, however, in "fabulousness of given name." He's 0-for-3 with 2 strikeouts thus far, but hey, at least he's not clogging up the basepaths with walks.

Four: Is Dusty a Lame Duck? All Signs Point to Yes.
According to ESPN, Dusty Baker "sometimes" feels he has a future with the team, and "sometimes" does not. Cubs in Five followed up with a phone call to his Dustiness, whereupon, when asked if he'd be managing the Cubs next year, he replied, "Reply hazy, try again." Pardon? we asked. "Um, 'Outlook not so good'? ... Uh...'Very doubtful.' Or, um...'Ask again later'? Damn you Magic Eight Ball..."

Five: I'm Not Urging Real-Life Violence Against Gary Bennett, But When I Close My Eyes, I Do Fantasize About Zombies Swallowing His Soul
So there's this. And then there's this. My heart ached Sunday night when I saw Cards catcher Gary Bennett hit his second consecutive walk-off game winner, this one a walk-off grand slam. It ached from the humiliation of back-to-back defeats, snatched screaming from the jaws of victory. It ached to see a winning team awash in real late inning heroics, even as my own Cubs continued to languish. But most of all, it ached to realize that, despite nearly a century's worth of evidence of the futility of it all, I still somehow care. And this, my friends, is what we call being a Cub fan.

Sox in Five

More Mild Than Wild
by Steve Gozdecki

Another uninspiring, borderline craptastic week of 2006 Chicago White Sox baseball has gone by, and we begin to wonder if team chairman Jerry Reinsdorf had it right back in the days when he forbade anything longer than a three-year contract for his starting pitchers. Woof.

Let's hope yesterday's day off — the club's first in three weeks — proved to be restful and sees the boys come out with a bit of renewed vigor.

One: Big Hate for the Little Piranhas
As former Texas Rangers manager Doug "Winning Ugly" Rader can tell you, if you can't beat 'em you might as well be known for giving your rival a new slogan or nickname to embrace. And so it is that fans of the Twins of Minnesota are loving on their new "little piranhas" moniker, which Sox manager Ozzie Guillen admiringly bestowed upon the never-say-die club from up North last week, noting that, "They don't have big names or big stars, but the way they go about their business is awesome. That's why I call them little piranhas. I'd rather have a three-run homer beat me in the ninth than those guys bite you little by little and then you're dead." But after losing two of three games — and the AL Wild Card lead — this past weekend to the petite chompers, it's clear that Guillen's plan to "bring some poison from Venezuela for those piranhas" didn't work.

Two: A Reborn Buehrle, Can't Count on Contreras and a Garland Around His Neck
Hard to believe, but it's true: if the playoffs started today, and the White Sox were playing in them, the likely starting rotation would find frequent Sox in Five whipping boy Jon Garland pitching the opening game. While I'll always disparage Garland for inducing far too few strikeouts for a guy with his stuff and velocity, his sparkling 2.12 ERA over his past four starts and 15 wins on the season help distinguish him as the current staff ace. Of course, the ugly post-All Star break collapse of Jose Contreras helps make Garland look all the better, though the recent improvement shown by Mark Buehrle may yet vault him ahead of young Jon. With Freddy Garcia still struggling to get his fastball over 90, the ongoing soap opera that is Javier Vazquez after the fifth inning and the troubling inability of Contreras to throw a decent breaking ball, either Buehrle or Garland — both of whom leave little margin for error with their pitches, as shown by the awful slump each has weathered this season — will lead the way into October. Assuming they can pitch us into the playoffs in the first place, of course...

Three: JD, MVP?
It isn't supposed to happen. Nope, players who debut in the majors at the tender young age of 22 are not supposed to take a decade to reach their peak. But that's exactly what White Sox right fielder Jermaine Dye has done. Sure, we got a taste of the possibilities when he came just two home runs shy of his career high last year and was named the Most Valuable Player in last year's World Series, but anyone who claims to have seen JD's incredible 2006 season (.326 with 38 home runs and 102 RBIs) coming is a big fat liar. Whether it's hitting behind Jim Thome and Paul Konerko, playing half his games in teeny little U.S. Cellular Field, a newfound propensity to go with the pitch and drive many a home run out to the opposite field or a combination of the three, if the White Sox make the playoffs Dye may well get enough notice to take home the American League MVP award this year. Anyone still missing Magglio Ordonez?

Four: Thome v. Thomas
It turned into a nice win-win, once all the name-calling stopped and the bitterness ebbed. The White Sox have benefited immensely from the addition of slugger Jim Thome, though you'd like to think that a guy who doesn't play in the field could stay healthier. (While he's avoided the disabled list this season, Thome is now in the midst of his third not-playing-due-to-ouchie spell of the season, after previous nagging injuries kept him out of three games against Texas in early June and four games in late June/early July.) He's purported to be the nicest guy in all of baseball, and goodness knows his bat has fit into the Sox lineup quite nicely. But so also have the Oakland A's been happy to take in Sox refugee Frank Thomas, who very much resembles the player he was in his final few Sox seasons, trading some batting average away for home runs and continuing to draw a ton of walks. The remarkable thing is that Thomas has been fairly healthy, with a single stint on the DL and the usual nagging injuries only costing him 20 or so games this season. Talk now is that the A's want him back next year but Thomas wants a multiyear contract — it should be an interesting game of chicken the two parties play this off-season. Thomas is also talking about playing another five years or so; should he reach this goal he could easily surpass 600 homers before calling it a day, which would put him in some truly rarified company.

Five: It's Never Too Early to Start Thinking About Who Should Play Left Field Next Season
With the recent spate of DNPCDs next to Scott Podsednik's name in the box score, it has become resoundingly clear that Pods doesn't have much of a future with the White Sox. When you're sitting in favor of Pablo Ozuna and being replaced on defense by Rob Mackowiak, you may just not be worthy of being called a starting major league left fielder, though Kenny Williams no doubt hopes some team out there may think that they're just a Podsednik away from winning it all next year. The writing is on the wall; by the time April rolls around we'll be saying "he gone!" after a pair of contrasting seasons. My early read on who will most likely see the most starts in left field for the 2007 White Sox goes like so:
• Josh Fields (currently in AAA; will have to switch from third base ala Carlos Lee)
• Ryan Sweeney (currently in AAA; has re-emerged as a solid prospect with his recent power spike)
• Mr. X (currently playing for a team that might want one of the White Sox starting pitchers and/or Pods in a trade this off-season)
• Ross Gload (stranger things have happened!)

Fire in Five

I'm In Danger of Becoming Optimistic
by Steve Gillies

Well, the winning streak has continued, with the Fire beating a full strength New England 2-1 in the Open Cup and then Colorado 1-0 in the regular league play. That brings it to five straight wins, after going winless in six. I'm trying really hard to just enjoy it while it lasts rather than get my hopes up.

One: "Managing the Game"
The most frustrating thing for fans during Saturday's 1-0 win over Colorado had to be Chicago's inability to convert one of their many chances into an insurance goal. However, for Dave Sarachan, who looked more animated than usual on the bench, it seemed to be his team's desire to get that second goal that was frustrating. In the post-game press conference, Sarachan criticized his team for making life a bit too difficult on themselves by pressing forward for the second goal, rather than holding onto the ball and "managing the game." By my unofficial count, Sarachan's used that phrase 9,325 times this season and I think it points to the troubling thing about his philosophy as a coach. For him a game is something to just get through or "manage," rather than, you know, something you play.

Two: In Praise of Tony Sanneh
Sure, I've ridden him kind of hard over the course of the season, saying he's overpaid, over aged and injury prone. But it's hard not to notice that the recent upturn in the Fire's fortunes have coincided with Tony Sanneh finally being healthy and in the starting lineup. He's certainly added a lot of organization to the backline playing as a sweeper, but he's also helping the entire team with his composure on the ball and great passing out of the back. Other than the likelihood of him getting injured again, my main worry is that the way he's playing now he'll to continue to prove everyone that wrote him off as too old wrong, and lead the Fire to the MLS Cup Final only to headbutt someone in overtime before the Fire loses on penalty kicks.

Three: Andy Herron Sleeps Around
I don't have a hot scoop about the Costa Rican's personal life, but those are the words to the funniest song coming out of Section 8 these days. Fans have had plenty of opportunity to sing it in the past few weeks as we've seen both the best and worst sides of the Costa Rican striker. He got himself involved in a running argument with the Revolution's Jay Heaps during Wednesday's US Open Cup game that lead to several silly shoving contests. He also scored both goals in the game. He missed many chances against Colorado (by my count he could have had a hat trick), but it looks like he's figured out how to get behind MLS defenses at will. If he starts to put away a few more of the chances he's creating for himself he could still turn into the international class striker we thought we were signing three years ago. I also have to ask, what's with all the players I've been making fun of all season suddenly turning out to be the best players on our team?

Four: We Signed Another Left Footed Midfielder
This week the Fire used their last Senior International spot to sign Pascal Bedrossian. Bedrossian, 31, has spent his career in the first and second divisions of France, as well as playing for the French youth national teams before getting some full international caps with Armenia. Seems like a decent pedigree, but he comes with a few question marks. First of all, he hasn't played since the 2004-2005 season, so there's doubt as to whether he can get himself match-fit in time to make an impact during the playoff crunch. Secondly, we've already got a wealth of left-sided midfielders, including one of our other Senior Internationals, Ivan Guerrero. I don't follow the French Second Division or the Armenian National Team enough to have actually seen this guy play so I can't really say if this will turn out to be a good signing or a bad one. Also, I think the last two points have proven that it's entirely possible that I totally don't know what I'm talking about anyway.

Five: Attendance Seems to Have Picked Up
Other than only drawing crowds of around 5,000 to US Open Cup games, which are on weeknights and part of a tournament that's poorly promoted throughout the country, the attendance at Toyota Park seems to be climbing up to the originally expected levels. While getting 17,000 for the Chivas USA game wasn't a big surprise, 14- to 15,000 for games against Kansas City and Colorado seems pretty encouraging after some disappointing crowds early on. I'm still not excited about how hard the place is to get to, but it seems like a few more people have figured out where it is. And being in a three-quarters full Toyota Park feels more like being at a soccer game than being in a one-quarter full Soldier Field.

Hockey in Five?

Cold Steel on Ice
by You?

Anybody out there a hockey fan? Gapers Block is looking for a columnist to write Blackhawks (and possibly Wolves) in Five. Email your application with a couple sample items to

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Steve / August 29, 2006 12:44 AM

Sez Dusty, "Enough is enough! I have had it with these motherf@&king runners on the motherf@&king bases!"

Pete / August 29, 2006 10:14 AM

If Dusty honestly believes that about baserunners, this alone is grounds for his firing. What an idiot. Dusty, you might have had the luxury of ignoring OBP with the Giants when you had Bonds homering every eight at-bats or whatever, but with this banjo-hitting bunch you need as many runners on as you can get.

Kevin / August 29, 2006 12:12 PM

I still can't understand why they haven't fired his ass. Why not have a new manager come in (Lou Pinella, say), and evaluate the "talent" that is here, and see who's even worth keeping. I reach for the tums every time I see Aramis start his home run trot if the ball is more than three feet off the ground.

Steve / August 29, 2006 7:51 PM

As Ozzie proves, no one would give a rat's bum about what ig'nance the manager was spouting if his team was winning.

And now I must go help Brian Anderson figure out whether he wants to be a speed guy or a power guy, as Ozzie wants him to do....


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

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

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

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