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Pucks in Five

Out Come the Wolves
by Jeremy Piniak

One: We're Number One!
Although the Blackhawks season ended last week, the team did end up winning something this year: the number one overall draft pick. The Hawks were the fifth worst team in the league, giving them an 8.1 percent shot at the top choice, but defied the odds in leapfrogging past league-worst Philadelphia, who will choose second. Of course, this being the Hawks, the consensus is there is no clear number one pick, unlike in year's past where Sidney Crosby or Alexander Ovechkin were the grand prize awaiting one lucky team. There are a number of talented prospects in the draft, but the Hawks will have to hope they make the right choice for the organization's future.

Chicago's obvious need is scoring help for their second to last offense, and GM Dale Tallon has said the team will be looking to pick a top forward. There's a number of possible picks, including the top-ranked American and European skaters in the mid-term rankings by NHL's Central Scouting, Angelo Esposito and Russia's Alexei Cherepanov. Cherepanov plays in the Russian Elite league, while the 17-year-old is in his second year with the Quebec Remparts of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. Other top prospects include Patrick Kane and Sam Gagner from the London Knights of the Ontario Hockey League, who were the top two in scoring in the league; Jakub Voracek, a Czech who was the QMJHL's top rookie for the Halifax Mooseheads; and James vanRiemsdyk, who plays for the United States National Team Developmental League.

While there is a possibility the draft pick will be traded, Tallon has said while he will listen to all opportunities, moving the pick would require something the kind of offer he wouldn't be able to refuse. The draft is in Columbus on June 22 and 23, giving the Blackhawks two months time to scout and the prospects an opportunity to move into a clear-cut draft position.

Two: Adding to the Hardware Collection
In a season already full of accolades, Wolves forward Darren Haydar notched his biggest honor yet, being named the American Hockey League's MVP. Haydar leads the league with 122 points and 81 assists, and is tied for third with 41 goals, all career highs for the 27-year-old forward. He's also the only Wolves player to earn MVP honors in the franchise's history. Haydar started the season with a 39-game consecutive point streak, tying him with Wayne Gretzky for the fourth-longest such streak at any level of professional hockey. During that run, which ended January 6, Haydar picked up 79 total points, and was only held off the score sheet 11 times in the ensuing 34 games, still averaging more than a point a game.

Haydar was signed by the Atlanta Thrashers as a free agent in the off-season, and his arrival to the Wolves sparked the team's record offensive output this year. While Atlanta has made the playoffs this season as their young talent has matured, Haydar's scoring will earn him a long look at next year's training camp. Until then, the Wolves are lucky to have him as they head into the Calder Cup playoffs.

Three: Outstanding Rookie
Also earning accolades this week, not surprisingly, was rookie left-wing Brett Sterling, who was named the AHL's Rookie of the Year. Sterling led the league with 55 goals and finished fourth in the scoring race with 97 points. Sterling capped off a stellar first year in which he also was named the MVP of the AHL All-Star game, earned Rookie of the Month honors in November and December, and set team records for goals and points. Sterling also set a franchise mark for consecutive games with a goal, netting 13 in nine straight contests in mid-December.

The 22-year-old Sterling was drafted mid-round by Atlanta in the 2003 draft, but with his performance this year, may turn out to be a steal if he can continue to score at the same level. Sterling and Haydar have been the dynamic duo all year for the Wolves, so it's entirely fitting they both pick up the league's highest awards, but they both deserve a large amount of praise for their play this year.

Four: Close Doesn't Count in Playoff Races
Heading into this final weekend, the Wolves had three games to try and surpass the Omaha Ak-Sar-Ben Knights for the top spot in the Western Division. The Wolves did their part in the first two contests. Friday, the team defeated the Milwaukee Admirals in a 4-3 shootout. The win tied an AHL and franchise record for road victories in a season at 27, and sent the Wolves home with a one point deficit to Omaha. Saturday, Chicago posted a 5-0 shutout over the Iowa Stars, but Omaha earned a victory over Peoria as well, setting up Sunday's showdown against the Knights at the Allstate Arena for the division title. After Omaha pulled out to a 2-0 lead, center Cory Larose scored two goals, his second tying the game with 2:45 left in the second period. However, just 63 seconds later, Omaha scored to go up 3-2, and an empty-netter finished the scoring, leaving the Wolves on the losing end of a 4-2 game, and second best in the West.

Five: First Round Feature
With the Wolves loss to Omaha relegating the team to second, they will face off against a familiar rival in the third-seeded Milwaukee Admirals. The first two games at Allstate Arena will be Friday at 7:30pm and Sunday at 4pm. The AHL playoffs are structured similarly to the way the NHL playoffs used to be, seeding teams by division rather than conference. This means if the Wolves defeat Milwaukee, they will play the winner of the Omaha-Iowa match-up, the other two West Division playoff teams. Chicago's season record against Milwaukee was 4-5-0-1, though the Wolves defeated the Admirals on the previous two Fridays, giving them momentum heading into the best of seven series.

The Wolves have home ice advantage, but all four of their victories over the Admirals came in Milwaukee's Bradley Center this season. During the season, the Wolves tied an AHL record with 27 road wins, leaving them with a pedestrian 19-17-1-3 record at Allstate Arena. If Chicago's play at home doesn't improve in the postseason, their advantage could be moot and make their playoff run short-lived.

Bulls in Five

Hang On to Two
by Jason Maslanka

One: What's Left?
Everything is clear. The Bulls secured their playoff berth weeks ago. The team is playing undeniably great basketball. Everyone is healthy. They will have home-court advantage in the first round of the playoffs. What's left is this: are these Bulls the coveted second seed in the East or are they the fifth? It comes down to this. The Bulls play one last game, while the Cavaliers have two. If the Lebrons lose any games or the Bulls win their finale, they are the 2-seed.

Two: Does it Matter?
Oh, it matters a whole lot. Everyone knows the Western Conference is dominant this year and expectations are low for the East when they get to the finals. Before we look too far ahead, however, getting to those finals is most important. The current path for the 5-seed (if it were the Bulls) is Miami, Detroit, then Cleveland. Ouch. Those are the real teams in the conference. The current path for the 2-seed is New Jersey, Toronto, then Detroit. I'd much prefer that route.

Threeeeee: Just Winning at All
Remember, the first goal for these Bulls is to win even one series. Two years in a row, they've been sent home before the second round. If this year's Bulls, with Ben Wallace and possibly 50 wins, do the same, it'll be an awful end to a season that started with so much promise. When Ben Wallace was signed, the national and local media immediately picked the Bulls to win the East. They're going to come up short in that goal for the regular season but no one remembers the regular season in the NBA. The playoffs are where legends are built.

Four: Their Best Basketball
The team is playing possibly their best ball of the season. They've gone 8-2 in their last 10 games, bested only by Toronto's 9-1 record in the East. They have wins over possible playoff foes New Jersey, Detroit and Washington in the month and have not played a lot of close games recently at all. If the playoffs are about the team who peaks at the right moment, the Bulls could very well be that team.

Five: Awards
The Bulls are pushing a few of their own for some of the NBA's biggest postseason awards. On their website and during telecasts, the Bulls have pushed both Kirk Hinrich and Ben Wallace for All-Defensive Team honors. Wallace's nomination speaks for itself and the team notes that Kirk Hinrich gets the assignment to guard the opposition's best guard each night. As part of an undersized Bulls' backcourt, his defensive matchups can often look like a liability on paper, but rarely end up that way. The team is also pushing Luol Deng for Most Improved Player. Deng increased his scoring average from a year ago about four points per game and has become a go to scorer in the NBA.

Cubs in Five

Late to the Game
by Jeff Webber

Yeah, I'm late starting the season, but you'd be surprised how bad coverage of Major League Baseball is in Transylvania. They do know plenty about bats, though.

One: The Bizarro Cubs: All Pitching, No Hitting
We added a 40-40 man, plugged the black hole at second base with a serviceable regular, strengthened the bench, but lost Wood and Prior again and now we're getting beaten 1-0? It's some kind of crazy Bizarro World version of the Cubs. I think to break the spell we not only have to allow the famous billy goat into the bleachers, I think we should only allow billy goats. Fight bizarro with bizarro.

Two: Confession: I Have a Non-Sexual Man Crush on Ted Lilly
Moving from the DH league to the non-DH league? Helps a pitcher improve. Pitching against a league of guys who've rarely ever seen your stuff? Helps a pitcher improve. Moving from a brutal division like the AL East to an easier one like the NL (aka Comedy) Central? Helps a pitcher improve. Moving from a homer-happy dome to a more or less neutral ballpark? Helps a pitcher improve. Twenty-four strikeouts in 19 innings pitched? Mmm hmmm. Only 11 hits and three walks allowed in three starts. Oh yeah. 2.37 ERA? You know I like that, Teddy. Here's hoping his league/division switch good luck mojo doesn't wear off until after the Cubs offense wakes up and wins him a few games.

Three: How Long Can _____ Keep His Job?
Cubs in Five whipping boy Jacque Jones should watch over his shoulder. With Alfonso Soriano hurting, uberprospect Felix Pie is our centerfielder for the time being. Jones may still be in the lineup, but every good game Pie puts up in the majors is another nail in his coffin. If Pie is ready to start his promising career now, when Soriano comes back, he'll likely slide over into right field and make Jones into so much trade bait. Also: who knows why the Cubs don't put more faith in Mike Wuertz, but compare his numbers to closer Ryan Dempster's these last few years. It ain't close. Finally, how long until Wade Miller loses his job to Angel Guzman's 99 mph heater?

Four: Did Everybody See Last Thursday When Sweet Lou Stormed Up to the Mound, Called Ryan Dempster a @%$$+ and Told Him to Throw &^%$ing Strikes?
I might have peed myself a little on that one.

Five: Five in Five
1) Rich Hill: you're going to see plenty of jerseys in the stands with his name on them by mid-summer. 2) Ryan Theriot: don't get too excited, the kid still doesn't have any power of any kind... he doesn't have a single extra base hit this year. 3) Cesar Izturis: so why exactly was it we thought this was a fair return on a Hall of Fame pitcher? 4) Jason Marquis: not as good as he seems right this minute, not as bad as he was last year. 5) Daryle Ward: I love it when professional athletes are fatter than I am.

Coming up for the Cubs: Braves, Cardinals, Brewers. Cubs in Five's completely groundless forecast for the week: three wins, three losses.

Sox in Five

Stinky Sox
by Steve Gozdecki

One: Scott Podsednik
Emptiest .300 batting average around. A crummy 60 percent success rate on stolen base attempts. All the fielding instincts of a little leaguer. A very young little leaguer with ADD. Scotty Pods stinks.

Two: Juan Uribe
Disgustingly poor series in the field against Cleveland this past weekend, during which he appeared to be using a glove made out of clay that made him unable to make any damn throws on time to Tadahito Iguchi on double-play balls. Somehow leads the team in RBIs and home runs. Still, Juan Uribe stinks.

Three: Jermaine Dye
Fan favorite who is poised to make big money as someone else's DH next year. Has all the fielding range of Dan Pasqua in his prime, forcing him to dive on balls that most outfielders would walk to. Striking out plenty and walking far too infrequently. Sad to say, but right now Jermaine Dye stinks.

Four: Darin Erstad
Grade-A grinder who has me grinding my molars into dust with every plate appearance. Hasn't had a hit in more than a week, and he's stealing playing time from our best defensive outfielder. Continuing a trend that dates back to his 2001 season, Darin Erstad stinks.

Five: Ozzie Guillen
He hates Brian Anderson and loves the Grinder Twins. He wastes at bats on Pablo Ozuna that could be given to actual major leaguers. He reacts to the ejection of his third baseman by moving Pablo in from left field to man third, keeps Erstad at first base and trots Rob Mackowiak — a born corner infielder — out to left field. While just about any of his players could also be put here at number five, the fact remains that Ozzie Guillen's lineups and in-game player substitutions stink. And hence, Ozzie Guillen stinks.

Fire in Five

Commentary on the Commentary
by Steve Gillies

Every weekend starting in April, it's always the same. I'll start shouting at all the dumb things the commentators say. Then I'll demand that my girlfriend agree with me that the commentators are in fact, totally stupid. She'll tell me I'm shouting too loud for her to even hear them and go into the other room to watch Brideshead Revisited. And I'll be all alone, shouting at the television. With the first road game in the bag (we tied Colorado 1-1, that's about all that's worth mentioning about it), I thought now would be a good time to talk about the way MLS games are presented and with any luck vent enough that I won't drive the ladyfriend completely nuts next weekend.

One: The Local Guys Are Just So Local
Since this is Fire in Five I should start with a word about the Fire's local broadcast team. Actually, they aren't as annoying as a lot of soccer broadcasters. For one thing, the replays at halftime always take you through the entire buildup on key plays, not just the end product. And there's usually some fairly intelligent commentary on what happened. However, their biases often show to a distracting degree and analyst Kenny Stern is completely obsessed with referees. Still, for a local crew they can be surprisingly honest, like with this weekend's game when they bemoaned the Fire's lack of creativity despite their enormous amount of possession. I would like to see post-game commentator Frank Klopas get a chance in the commentary booth, but then again, there are a lot of people that would like to see him get a chance on the coach's bench.

Two: If You Have to Punish an Announcer, Don't Punish the Audience as Well
Moving to the national scene, ESPN's Lead analyst Eric Wynalda got in some hot water recently for saying what every soccer fan thinks of Jim Rome in boozed-up interview for a fanzine. As a consequence, he was bumped from ABC's opening day broadcast in favor of Julie Foudy. Now, I respect Julie Foudy as much as I respect any women's soccer player, but her voice isn't going to change the minds of any Sunday afternoon channel surfing sports fans who think soccer's just for little kids and girls. Plus, she just sounded incredibly unexcited to be there, something that's all too common among American announcers (more on that in point four).

Three: Regarding Wynalda
He's arrogant and he's got the old-timer's disease of finding the mistake in every play. For example, last year's brilliant Justin Mapp free kick in the playoffs was barely mentioned by Wynalda, in favor of chastising the wall for not jumping. He'll pick a point and harp on it incessantly whether the flow of the game bares it out or not. But he's also the only commentator on ESPN with a spark of personality. Sure he's wrong a lot, but he's never uninteresting. What he needs is someone who's going to keep all those opinions focused on the game at hand, rather than rambling commentaries about the state of the game, the league and David Beckham's hair. Instead what he gets is Dave O'Brien...

Four: Yes, I Am Going To Complain About Dave O'Brien Again
Apparently a few people (notably the Tribune's Luis Arroyave and Fox Soccer's Jamie Trecker) are coming around to Dave O'Brien as the lead play by play guy, noting his professional broadcasting voice and how much he's improved. I can't say whether he's improved; it's too hard for me to tell the difference between terrible and god-awful. As for the professional broadcast voice, I'll admit it. He sure sounds like a baseball commentator. Now this isn't a knock on baseball, or baseball commentary, but soccer is a different game with a different rhythm. There isn't time to tell stories, read off obscure statistics, talk about issues, or mention that Brian Ching is the only player in MLS from Hawaii.

O'Brien also has to learn something crucial about goals. They are rarer than base hits or touchdowns or baskets. They are important, game-changing, sometimes life-changing events and deserve to be treated as such. So, if the referee calls a penalty kick it's not appropriate to simply say (without so much as raising your voice), "It's going to be a handball, yep," as O'Brien did recently. I honestly can't believe this guy is still doing soccer games, let alone being the main play-by-play guy for a network that just spent a lot of money to broadcast the sport.

Five: What Average People Want
Yeah, but you're one of those crazy soccer fans, Steve. Dave O'Brien's "storytelling-oriented" type of commentary may not be your thing, but it's what ESPN wants to bring in the "average" viewer. That's an argument I hear and read a lot, but I have a real hard time with it. For one thing I don't believe that anybody, no matter how average, wants a minute-long discussion complete with graphics about famous people named Fred when a player of that name comes into a match. Also, I don't think that just because I actually like soccer makes what I want from commentary all that different from anyone else. I want something that conveys the rhythm and excitement of the game. And when it comes to MLS, the only place that really does that right now is Telefutura, the Spanish-language network the just started broadcasting MLS games. Now, if you think that's just me being a freaky soccer snob, I have to ask what's the one thing that the average, non-soccer watching person thinks about when you say "soccer commentator" to them? I'll bet you it's got nothing to do with stats or background stories or "human interest." I'll give you a hint, it's something that's said in response to something that actually happens in the games and it's something that's said with feeling. It starts with a "G" and it sounds the same as English as it does in Spanish...

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Comments

Jeff W. / April 17, 2007 11:31 AM

Sox in Fivers:

Could you please explain to me in some more detail why Ozzie hates Brian Anderson so much?

I know he was anemic at the plate last year, but all rookies need some time to develop -- why not give him more at bats?

Moreover, even if you think you need a hotter bat in the lineup, it surely isn't Erstad, Osuna, or Mackowiak, especially considering that they wind up playing the (arguably) only skill outfield position, at CF. Anderson is outstanding defensively.

Moreover moreover (yes, I meant to say that twice) why does Ozzie do all of his Anderson hatin' in public? I don't get it.

I am a Cubs fan, but I recognized that Ozzie was a near-genius in 2005. But this year, Ozzie is taking his beefs with players rather personally, which seem like the actions of a guy with a huge chip on his shoulder, not a 2-time world series coach/manager (yes, I remember he was coaching in Florida in 2003 when the Fish beat the Cubs then went to the World Series).

Please explain.

Steve / April 17, 2007 1:41 PM

Time spent pondering the Tao is time far better spent than trying to figure out what Ozzie's damage with Brian Anderson is.

There's a theory that managers who played the game tend to favor players who resemble younger versions of themselves. But while that explains Ozzie's love of the crummy batting skills of the Grinder Twins (Pods and Erstad), one would think their defense (Pods' all-around badness and Erstad's mediocre range) would nullify this since, in his prime, Ozzie brought great glove.

Here's my crazy just-thought-of-this-now theory -- since Anderson ditched out of winter ball after taking ill in Ozzie's homeland of Venezuela, it's a nationalistic clash or something. It's so whack a notion that it's probably true.

Michelle / April 17, 2007 5:16 PM

Steve, I don't believe the Venezuelan flu helped Anderson's case, but I think perhaps you've blocked out memories of those baseballs flying over Mackowiac's head in centerfield last summer -- the BA hatin' started last year. Another piece of the riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma is the post-McCarthy-trade comments by Ozzie that Sock Monkey and Anderson spent too much time doing post-game drinking.

Steve / April 17, 2007 5:42 PM

The Anderson-Mackowiak combo was straight out of the old skool manager's rulebook that Ozzie likes to rely on, which says rookies should be platooned. 'cuz god forbid a righty hitter face any righties at any point. Which was wrong, and which had me railing up a storm last season.

The BA hate didn't start for Ozzie until this off-season. Until then, it was more like a mild to heavy dislike. Now, it's the kind of hate that means BA gets to face Sabathia and Johan! to "prove" the point that the kid can't hit.

Pods hit the disabled list a few hours ago -- get ready for lots of Mackowiak and Pablo in the outfield next to GrindErstad.

The White Sox outfield...stinks!

Pedro / April 18, 2007 10:11 AM

Pie! It took way too long.

Seriously, I can't take a full season watching Erstadt. He's so past his prime and taking at bats away from Anderson, who can only bget better at the plate and actually has defensive prowess.

This insistance on "grinders" has got to stop. Pretty soon the Sox are going to resemble a softball team - they play every game, but not very well.

Jeff / April 18, 2007 12:10 PM

Some Sox fans at the Daily last night said that Ozzie doesn't like BA's "showboating." I don't even know what that means.

As for the Cubbies, I take issue with your pitching analysis. Cubs pitching has been better because NOBODY IN BASEBALL IS HITTING. It's 25 damn degrees outside.

Need some proof? A quick look at some of the Central's sluggers:

1) Pujols: hitting .160 with 1/2 the home runs of Ian Kinsler.
2) Adam Laroche? .116
3) Lance Berkman? .184 with 1 home run.
4) Jason Bay? .213
5) Bill Hall? .233

I could go on, but I won't.

The inflated (or should I say deflated?) pitching statistics of Lilly and Marquis will not lift the Cubs out of the cellar. Overall, hitting will get much, much hotter once the bats defrost. My fear is that Cubs pitching will get cooked.

Jeff W. / April 18, 2007 3:20 PM

I lied. Here's a little more data on hitting and temperature correlation, courtesy of Buster Olney over at ESPN.com:

Temperature (F); HR/G; R/G
Below 50 1.79 9.04
50-59 1.81 8.92
60-69 2.00 9.04
70-79 2.17 9.45
80-89 2.29 9.77
90+ 2.69 0.74

Jeff W. / April 18, 2007 3:42 PM

Sorry -- that last number of the last line above should read "10.74," not "0.74."

But you already knew that, didn't you?

FYI, those numbers are drawn from all of MLB regular season games, from 2002-06, inclusive.

Jeff Webber / April 18, 2007 5:12 PM

Dear Jeff W.,

Given that I'm one of the writers of this column, do you think for the sake of minimizing confusion and general courtesy you might alter your handle a bit to clarify that we are not the same person?

Thanks.

anthony / April 18, 2007 9:04 PM

Pablo would find a seat on any major league bench....ease up on the generalizations.

Steve / April 18, 2007 10:04 PM

Mark! Buehrle!

Nuke LaLoosh / April 19, 2007 8:21 PM

Certainly didn't mean to be discourteous. Sorry.

-the artist formerly known as Jeff W.

Jeff Webber / April 20, 2007 7:53 PM

Thanks much, Nuke. Sweet handle by the way. Makes me wanna rename myself "Sidd Finch."

 

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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