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Pucks in Five

On to the Finals
by Jeremy Piniak

One: Game 4
With Game 4 crucial to the momentum of the rest of the series, the Wolves used two goals apiece from centers Andre Deveaux and Jason Krog to propel Chicago to a 6-1 victory against the Iowa Stars and extend the series lead to 3-1. Despite only 12 shots through the first two periods, the Wolves entered the third period with a 3-1 lead in a tightly contested battle. Chicago came out firing in the third, scoring two goals in the first 89 seconds, leading to Iowa goalie Dan Ellis getting the hook with only nine saves on 14 shots. Krog added his second tally on a nifty tip-in off a flying puck for the final margin. Game 4 was typical of the Wolves postseason thus far. The team has rarely been dominant, despite some of the lopsided scores, but has used an efficient offense scoring timely goals and a respectable defense that limits opponent chances to earn victories.

Two: A Slight Misstep
Thanks to the victory in Game 4, what happened in Game 5 was of less consequence then it could have been, as Iowa scored 8 seconds into the game and never looked back on a roll to a 5-1 victory. The Wolves had multiple scoring opportunities, tallying 37 shots on net, but Stars goalie Dan Ellis was spectacular a game after being pulled. The vaunted Wolves offense also fizzled, going 0-10 on the powerplay. On the brink of elimination, Iowa played with intensity in front of its home crowd, and took advantage of Chicago's lack of discipline and miscues, scoring two of their goals on 5-on-3 advantages in the second period, and added a third powerplay goal and a shorthanded breakaway on 41 shots on goal. Michael Garnett played decently, making 27 saves, but was replaced by Fred Brathwaite to start the third. With the Wolves taking two of three from Iowa in Des Moines and returning home with a 3-2 series lead, one bad game should not be much cause for alarm. However, the team needed to cut down on the penalties or it could let Iowa pull back into the thick of things.

Three: Sewing up the series in Game 6
Returning to the environs of the Allstate Arena gave the Wolves comfort after a rousing defeat in Game 5, as their home playoff record was 3-1 entering Game 6. Things started similar as Iowa notched a 1-0 lead only 2:08 into the game, but the Wolves countered with five unanswered goals to win Game 6 by a score of 5-1, earning the series win 4-2. Jason Krog tied the game for Chicago with 50 seconds left in the first period, and after the intermission, Jordan LaVallee staked the Wolves to a 2-1 lead with a goal 6 seconds into the second. With a third goal by Darren Haydar at the 3:36 mark, the Wolves began to pull away, and closed out the scoring with a pair of power play goals from AHL Rookie of the Year Brett Sterling and defenseman Nathan Oystrick.

While the Wolves offense continued to put shots on net at a frenetic pace, tallying 34 for the game, the difference-maker was the defense limiting Iowa to 18 shots and only three powerplays after their breakdown the game before. Entering the postseason, the defense was the biggest question mark, but both Garnett and the blueline corps have stepped up their play and propelled the Wolves into the Western Conference finals. The old adage is that defense wins championships, and the Wolves are currently have the second best goals-against average in the playoffs at 2.20, while averaging an AHL-best 4.1 goals per game. With both units playing strongly, the Wolves are firing on all cylinders and poised to continue their postseason run.

Four: Who's Next?
Following Saturday's win, the Wolves were left to wait for an opponent, as the Hamilton Bulldogs and Manitoba Moose were locked in a 2-2 deadlock. However, the Bulldogs won Game 5 Sunday 3-1, and battled back from a 2-0 deficit with to force overtime last night, and notched the game-winner to earn a 4-2 series win and a Conference Final date with the Wolves. Chicago will have home-ice advantage for the third straight series, and the franchise is 17-1 all-time in series with home ice, a mark they are looking to continue despite a subpar regular season home record. The Wolves only beat the Bulldogs once this season, posting a 1-2-1-0 regular season record against the Canadian affiliate. Games 1 and 2 will be Friday and Sunday at Allstate Arena, before shifting to Ontario for the next three games. Given that two of the four games between the teams went to overtime, the series promises to be tightly contested and could extend the full seven games.

Five: Terrific Toews
Besides the NHL and AHL playoffs, championship hockey is also being played in Russia the past few weeks, where the IIHF World Championship has been taking place. As noted previously, Blackhawks prospect Jonathon Toews earned a roster spot on Team Canada, giving the University of North Dakota sophomore a chance to show he can play at the NHL level. Toews stepped up to the challenge, notching seven points in nine games, and earned a gold medal for his efforts as Canada beat the Blackhawks' Tuomo Ruutu and Finland 4-2 Sunday in the championship game. Ruutu had three goals and three assists in the tourney to help lead Finland to the silver. Toews was the Hawks' number three pick in 2006, and while other top picks last year made impacts in the NHL, including second pick and Team Canada teammate Jordan Staal, Toews opted to stay at North Dakota for another year, where his Fighting Sioux advanced to the Frozen Four. Toews is expected to sign with the Hawks and enter training camp with a great chance to make the team, and with his performance in the Worlds, the 19-year-old has shown he can play at an elite level. Given Chicago's need for talented centers, the sight of Toews in an Indianhead sweater would be a welcome one.

Bulls in Five

Stayin' Alive
by Jason Maslanka

One: That Was Ugly
The first two games of this Eastern Conference semifinal matchup with the Pistons were an abomination, an embarrassment to the team and its fans. Game 3 started differently. It featured a 19 point lead in the second half. Then, things got back to normal. Something even more embarrassing than the first two games happened, and the Bulls found a way to lose that game, too. To make things worse, it was a home game. That was the nail in the coffin, the Wayne Larrivee "dagger," from whence no team should ever come back. The 3-0 deficit has only been overcome three times in all of sports, two of which have come in hockey (which, of course, is only borderline as a sport; no offense Jeremy). Not only were the Bulls in the insurmountable hole, but they looked bad getting there.

Two: Avoiding the Brooms
In the midst of their plight, Mother's Day featured a time to reminisce about the good ole' days in the Miami series. Not only did the Bulls win, but they looked good doing it. Some may argue that the Pistons took a day off, and they'd have a point, but the end result is the same, these Bulls learned that they can beat the Pistons. It won't happen this year, and maybe not next, but the guard will change, and Sunday may be one of the cogs that helps change it. The rest of this series should just be looked at as fun and a growing experience. If the Bulls win another game or two, it'll really get Detroit sweating. If they get blown out tomorrow, it will hardly have mattered.

Threeeeee:Where Are They?
In the first round sweep of Miami, the Bulls shot 40 percent from behind the arc, and buried key three-pointers at opportune times. In the second round, the team is shooting 26 percent and has missed nearly every important long range shot they've taken. Is the change simply that the Pistons are taller and longer at the guard position than the Heat? It's certainly possible, but seems like a cop out. This team plays like a college mid-major dancing in the tournament and needs the three as an equalizer. When you couple miserable three-point shooting with an equally paltry 38 percent from the floor in all, it's no wonder this is a 3-1 Pistons lead.

Four: Gordon's Worth
Ben Gordon has simply disappeared in the second round. He's averaging under 14 points per game and shooting 30, yes 30, percent from the floor. He's nowhere near as good as he has been or needs to be for this team to succeed. Right now he looks a lot more like Randy Brown than he does Allen Iverson, and while he'll never be Iverson, he's going to have to get closer. Gordon's proven to be nearly worthless defensively against a bigger guard and that probably won't change throughout his career. If he can't play absolutely invaluable offense, he doesn't have a place on this team. It's a tough line to live up to as a player, but it's what happens to all one-dimensional talents, even those who hit the most amazing of shots.

Five: Possibilities
When the Bulls went down 2-0, everyone cited the stat that showed that NBA teams who win the first two games win 85 percent of series. Many gave up then. When the Pistons won Game 3, everyone was made fully aware that no team in the history of the league had ever come back to win in that situation. Those stats mean nothing other than a demonstration of how incredibly difficult it is to win under those circumstances. This very year, the Jazz went down 2-0 to the Rockets. I didn't see the wild parties across Utah (don't laugh) when the Jazz won that series and joined the 15 percent club. Baseball had a hundred years of precedent before the Red Sox came back from 3-0 to beat the Yankees. It's not impossible. It'll happen someday... just probably not in this series.

Cubs in Five

Your Staff Ace, Jason Marquis
by Jeff Webber

One: How Good Has Jason Marquis Been? Pretty Damned Good.
Five wins, one loss, a 1.70 ERA, just 0.9 baserunners per inning. Those numbers are just sick, kids. Can he keep it up? Well, no, obviously. But consider this: if Marquis pitches his customary 200 innings and, from this moment on, produces at his much more pedestrian career levels, his first seven starts have given him such a headstart that he'd still end up with 16 wins, a 3.78 ERA, and just 1.29 baserunners per inning.

Two: Redhead Cesar
Sounds like some kind of horrible Campari/tequila concoction, but actually, we're talking about Matt Murton and shortstop Cesar Izturis, all of a sudden the two most productive Cubs at the plate. Any Cub hitting at all is good news, but the net effect of each player's hot streak may vary. For Murton, it's likely to buy him some of the playing time he should have been enjoying anyway. And while it's hard to complain about Izturis finally producing, the last thing we need is for a few hot weeks here or there to give Piniella the crazy idea that the banjo-hitting waif should be part of his longer term plans.

Three: Oh, Holy/Unholy, Angel Pagan Is Back!
—snip—A giant mass of puns mercifully omitted here.—snip—

Four: And This Is Why You Don't Give Out Bullpen Slots Based on Salary
Yup, Bobby Howry and Scott Eyre are our highest paid bullpen arms. But nope, they won't be headlining in the 7th and 8th innings anymore. Lou Piniella, vato loco that he is, has decided to start giving late inning setup work to guys who are actually producing, i.e., Rocky Cherry and Mike Wuertz. Cherry has only appeared in a shade over eight innings so far, but has acquitted himself admirably. But Wuertz... ah yes, Wuertz. Decent in '04, good in '05, outstanding in '06, and flat-out sick in '07, Wuertz has finally worked his way into pitching when it counts. And there's one stat you'll love best of all. Know how many of the baserunners Wuertz inherited this year who he allowed to score? That would be zero. Another few quiet months like this and he may be taking the ball in the ninth inning.

Five: Baseball Mogul Rules My World
Do you play your baseball video games one swing/pitch/catch at a time, or do you play GM, swinging trades, drafting rookies, setting rosters and simulating season after season? If you're in the latter category, may I recommend Baseball Mogul. Wish you could see how the 2006 Cubs would have done if they'd pulled the trigger on the Miguel Tejada trade? Want to go back in time and keep Maddux from ever leaving for Atlanta? Now's your chance. The demo is free.

Sox in Five

No Offense, But...
by Steve Gozdecki

How is it that a team that includes a jerk like A.J. Pierzynski and is led by a shoot-from-the-hip guy like Ozzie Guillen can manage to be so un-offensive for a quarter of a season? With such feeble hitting from your 2007 Chicago White Sox, I'm reminded of the time that shell-shocked former Sox manager (1986-1988) Jim Fregosi replied to a reporter's question about his team's inability to score runs by muttering "We've hit and hit and hit and hit and hit [in batting practice]..." in a depressed monotone for what felt like five minutes. So while the pitching staff has, for the most part, been anywhere from solid to damn good and the defense is performing well, the Sox continue to play some so-so break-even ball thanks to the worst offense in the major leagues.

One: How Bad Are They?
Through Sunday's games, the White Sox are dead last in major league baseball with a .220 batting average, a full .014 behind the next-worst team. How is this possible in the league where the pitchers don't hit? Lineups featuring the likes of Brian Anderson and Pablo Ozuna at designated hitter make you wish they'd let Jon "I Homered in Interleague Play Last Year" Garland bat for himself, and perhaps for some of the other pitchers as well. Also sucky? A .299 on-base percentage! And 131 runs scored, good for 27th place out of 30 teams. But thanks in part to playing in the Midwest's version of the pre-humidor version of Coors Field, the Sox have managed to amass the 28th-best slugging percentage in baseball at .360. And home runs, these Sox hit 'em — 37, tied for tenth in baseball but behind big-home-ballpark teams like the Atlanta Braves, Florida Marlins and Detroit Tigers.

Two: And a Grinder Shall (Fail to) Lead Them
OK, so you're the only team in baseball getting on base at less than a 30 percent clip. So who ya gonna hit leadoff? Why not a guy with a .297 on-base percentage? While the team's broadcasters and a disturbing number of beat reporters and columnists continue to sing his praises, the raw numbers reveal that Darin Erstad shouldn't be a starting outfielder, let alone your leadoff hitter. With a table-setter who can't set the table, it's no wonder this offense is so starved for runs.

Three: Severe Power Outage
In defense of Erstad, he's supposed to be bad. But whither the likes of Paul Konerko, Jermaine Dye and Joe Crede, aka the Big Three of the World Series championship squad of two years ago? Why is Konerko, who projects out to 31 home runs and 102 RBIs per 162-game season over his career, moving along at a 16-homer, 76-RBI clip? Is Jermaine Dye, who seems to be aging and calcifying before our very eyes, really only 33 years old? Is Joe Crede out of shape and achey of back? Do I wish I had the ability to break down a hitter's swing and talk about what he's doing wrong? Sure I do, but I would like it even more if there was a coach on this staff who could do so, and then help the player correct the situation. Jim Thome can't come back from his injury rehab soon enough, though prudence dictates that he skip the DH-free Cubs series at Wrigley and come back instead against Oakland on the 21st.

Four: When Is a Slide Not a Slide?
I don't know about you, but I'm still trying to get over Friday night's full-body heave by Pablo Ozuna during a 2-1 Sox victory over the Kansas City Royals. Nursing a 2-0 lead in the eighth inning, Pablo singled and stole second base, advancing to third when catcher John Buck's throw sailed into center field. Then the ugliness struck, as Ozuna tagged up on a Konerko fly out and got thrown out by a good 20 feet. So out was he that the catcher positioned himself four feet up the third base line and completely blocked the plate, forcing Ozuna to do a very strange pop-up slide that sort of resembled the horrifying dance that Elaine did on that one episode of Seinfeld. Except it wasn't funny, since I'm a Sox fan and Pablo's slide didn't move Buck so much as a micrometer, thus turning a one-out, man-on-third situation into an inning-ending double play. Uh oh, Pablo!

Five: Crosstown What Now?
While I don't go as far as the haters who say that the Cubs and Sox should only play one series against each other each year, I can't say that I'm getting caught up in the excitement of the renewal of the crosstown rivalry that will be rekindled this weekend when the Sox come up north to play the Cubs for a trio of day games. Maybe Juan Uribe can sucker punch Cesar Izturis or something?

Fire in Five

There's a New Team to Hate
by Steve Gillies

With the MLS still a young league, one thing you keep hearing about is the need for real rivalries. God knows the league has tried to manufacture a few. But with Chicago and the new Toronto FC expansion team, they won't have to stretch nearly as hard as the "Brimstone Cup" competition with the team formerly known as the Dallas Burn. One game in and it's already got everything you need for a great rivalry: smack-talking between the coaches, pull apart brawls, red cards and a bit of history.

One: War of Words
Fire coach Dave Sarachan expressed concerns to the Sun-Times about playing on Toronto's Fieldturf. Toronto FC coach Mo Johnston fired back by taking a shot at Chicago's attendance. It's refreshing for this league to read a bit of smack-talking between coaches in the buildup to a game. And I'll give this to Mo, the atmosphere at the stadium was absolutely electric and it led to one of the most incident-filled 45 minutes of soccer the league has seen. I can only hope when Toronto FC visit the Fire in July, at the start of the Blanco era, that the Fire can treat Toronto to the same kind of crowd. I also hope that somebody in the Fire promotions department figures out a way to give away red seat cushions that day.

Two: Seat Cushion Day
Why seat cushions? The Fire had the ignominious honor of giving up the first goal in Toronto FC history. Unfortunately, it happened on a day when Toronto were giving away free seat cushions. What followed was complete madness as twenty thousand seat cushions landed on the field in celebration. It was the easily the coolest image I've seen in an MLS game. The only thing that could have made it better is if it didn't happen against the Fire.

Three: Did He just Try to Bite Him?
Strangely, the five-minute delay due to a spontaneous crowd celebration was not the major talking point of the first half. Nor was Toronto's first goal in franchise history. The main flashpoint came when Toronto striker Danny Dichio got into a shoving match with Fire Goalkeeper Matt Pickens, and it looked an awful lot like he was trying to bite him. A huge melee followed which led to the historic first red card ever given to a Toronto player. It should also lead to Dichio getting booed everytime he touches the ball whenever Toronto comes to Toyota Park.

Four: Diego Gutierrez Gets the Salute
Comcast Sports Network has started doing a segment at the end of their broadcasts where they show footage of Fire (and Barcelona and Bulgaria) legend Hristo Stoichkov giving a salute to a particular Fire player. This week's game wasn't broadcast on Comcast, but if it was I like to think Diego Gutierrez would have gotten the salute for getting the red card in the Dichio incident. If someone tries to bite your goalie, the nearest player to your goalie better get a red card. Well done Diego. Hristo would approve.

Five: Dave Sarachan, Game Day Coach Part Three
Last week I talked at length about Dave Sarachan's inability to adapt situations that happen during the game. This week we saw the most blatant example of this yet. With two players ejected, both coaches had to make adjustments in the locker room at halftime. The Fire gave up two goals due to absolutely abysmal marking, but those were only symptoms of how disorganized they were throughout the half. It was the worst team performance since the Columbus game at the end of last season, and the worst I can remember in a game that counted. Keep in mind, this was against a last place team that hadn't ever scored a goal. I really don't think you can overstate how poorly the Fire played in that second half and they were lucky not to lose by more. Sarachan often gets blamed by critics for things that are beyond his control. But this Fire team goes into games with one formation and one game plan. Any time the game dictates that they change things up, they completely fall apart. I think you can really only hold the coach responsible for that.

Bonus Round:
Obviously this wasn't a normal game. If it were a normal game, here are a few questions I would have posed: So that's what the Fire looks like without Chris Armas and Diego Gutierrez? Ivan Guerrero gets benched for having one bad game; how many did it take for Zach Thornton, Orlando Perez or Kelly Gray? Is Chris Rolfe the only person on our team that knows where the goal is? What happens if he's hurt?

One more thing: now that we've given up that first goal and first win to Toronto, can we become the Colorado to their Salt Lake? The Rapids, after a similar loss, have gone 6-1-2 against Salt Lake.

Sky in Five

by Anne Elizabeth Moore

... is way too concerned about scary Tan White to write a column this week. Back next week.

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Comments

Jeff Webber / May 15, 2007 9:14 AM

So I turn in my article early for once and praise Mike Wuertz up and down in it...

And last night he walks in the winning run.

Ahhhhhhh... life as a Cub fan.

Mike Pries / May 15, 2007 12:11 PM

Has Gapers Block considered adding a "Rush in Five" segment?

Andrew / May 15, 2007 12:48 PM

Find us a writer, Mike, and we'll cover it.

Nuke LaLoosh / May 15, 2007 3:04 PM

Nice columns, Cubs/Sox in Fivers.

As for the Cubbies, with 36 games down -- we are almost 25% of the way through the season now. Far enough to say this with some certainty -- this is not a fundamentally sound team. We still make too many baserunning and defensive mistakes; we still fail to make adjustments.

At the beginning of the season, I said that we will continue to get hurt because of "too many walks allowed by our pitching staff."

This seems borne out now. Even Marquis' good numbers are marred by a bad BB/K ratio. I think that will catch up with him when we are consistently seeing temps over 80 degrees.

That said, I will gladly eat some crow (with a side of sweet potato fries, please) for being such a Marquis hater'.

Jason, I am sorry -- you are a better pitcher than I gave you credit for.

Question -- does Marmol become our new setup guy now? Isn't he walking a bunch of guys in AAA?

Also, is Derek Lee about to go on the DL? What is the neck spasm?

It seems we will have serious trouble ever catching up to the Milwaukee Brewers.

I cannot believe I just wrote those words in that order.

Go Cubs.

Jason / May 17, 2007 10:18 PM

Bulls in One:
Damn

Well, that was fun while it lasted, eh? At least they made a series of it and learned some things. I think next year is going to be a lot of fun.

 

About the Author(s)

Jeremy Piniak grew up watching hockey on all levels and is a lifelong Blackhawks fan who, inexplicably, still has hope that Bill Wirtz will once again provide Chicago with a championship hockey team and broadcast home games on TV, though he still mourns the destruction of Chicago Stadium. Every week he'll bring you five talking points on the state of hockey in Chicago (including, when possible, the minor-league Wolves and Hounds). Send comments to pucks@gapersblock.com

Jason Maslanka began his fandom of the Chicago Bulls in June of 1991, conveniently coinciding with the franchise's first championship. The years since the championships tested his fandom, but it never faltered. He believes that the NBA is more than dunks and hip hop, and that the NBA dress code is a good thing. He thinks most fans don't really understand basketball, and if they did, they'd love it even more. He knows that there are certain players who do the little things for no praise, and stat-mongers who don't really do anything to help their team win. Every week, he executes a beautifully crafted column containing five points you should be thinking about and discussing as a Bulls and NBA fan. Send comments, questions and arguments to bulls@gapersblock.com.

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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