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Monday, May 27

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Cubs in Five

Pie Graph
by Jeff Webber

One: It's Still Too Early to Give Up On This Year
So Zambrano and Barrett are fighting, Piniella is "suspended indefinitely," and oh yeah, even after two wins in a row, we've dropped 12 of our last 18 games. Funny thing is, we're still in third place, only six and a half games out of the division lead. We have the same record as the Yankees even. Baseball Prospectus still rates us as having a 36.7% chance of making the playoffs, as opposed to oh, say, the White Sox, at 1.7%. Ouch.

Two: Barrett & Zambrano...
Should they stay or should they go now? If they go there will be trouble, and if they stay it will be double. Not even Joe Strummer's ghost can help us here. So here we are, with a talented team woefully underperforming and bad attitude seems to have a lot to do with it. And here we have two players who've been among our most reliable the last few seasons, and yet, they clearly are surly, problem-causing knuckleheads. This is going to be the number one question as we approach the deadline.

Three: Need Some Good News Now?
Well, there is Sean Marshall. Recently promoted from Triple A Iowa back into the big league rotation, Marshall has gone 20 innings in three starts, logging 22 strikeouts and just 21 baserunners to go with a terrific 2.25 ERA. Given when he opted to make his grand re-entrance, this has only netted him a 1-2 record, but with Marshall pitching like this, Marquis still (mostly) decent, Ted Lilly still a machine, and Rich Hill having seemingly worked through his rough patch, the Cubbies suddenly pulling off a winning streak is still a possibility.

Four: Penultimate Chance for Bullpen
No, this isn't their last chance. Piniella is still handing the ball to Ryan Dempster and Scott Eyre continues to (inexplicably) hold down a job. And it'll probably stay this way even after one more round of screw-ups. But due to the performance of Carlos Marmol (10 K and no runs allowed in 8 1/3 IP) and Piniella's faith in Angel Guzman (still a Cubs in Five fave — sick stuff, kids), that leash isn't too much longer. Watch for this succession of events: Dempster and Eyre blow back-to-back leads; Jay Mariotti calls for their heads and the Red Eye says the sky is falling; Eyre gets dumped/cut loose/ambiguously sent to the DL, Dempster gets traded or dropped to setup; either the unfairly demoted Rocky Cherry or Carmen Pignatiello or Clay Rapada is recalled from Iowa to take someone's place; and Carlos Marmol gets named closer.

Five: Pie Pie Graph
Is Felix Pie our good luck charm? Well, before we leave Cubs in Five for this week, let's look at Cubs losses with Pie on the roster (blue) versus losses while he's in Triple A Iowa (red), presented, naturally, in pie graph form:

piegraph.jpg

Sox in Five

Clearly, I Was Wrong
by Steve Gozdecki

You know how it generally seems like all I do is whiz all over my favorite professional sports team week after week in this space?

Well, my friends, that's because they suck this year. Granted, it's a special kind of sucking since they aren't quite the absolute travesty that, say, their cross-town rivals or the Kansas City Royals are. But still, less than two years removed from winning the World Series, we've got some expectations. And those expectations are far from being met.

But at times here in this space this season I've tried to praise the team in acknowledgement of their accomplishments — or their potential to accomplish things, or whatever. And now, looking back through nine weeks of mostly bad baseball (and mostly bad writing about said bad baseball), I've unearthed five occasions in which I donned rose-colored lenses only to have your Chicago White Sox shatter them. Herewith, five nice things I had to say that have turned out to be wrong through the first third of this season.

One: Our Big Three Are Ready to Play (March 27, 2007)
"For the veterans, spring training is all about getting through without getting hurt. And if you wanna hit .300 and hit a few big flies along the way, no one's going to complain. For our big three aging sluggers — Jim Thome, Paul Konerko and Jermaine Dye — this spring has been a success according to the above criteria. And our number four, third baseman Joe Crede, has been looking mighty good as well."
In hindsight: Thome got hurt, Konerko and Dye stink, and Crede stinks because he's hurt.

Two: This Power Bullpen Thing? It's Kinda Cool. (April 10)
"The White Sox seem to have discovered a nice recipe for success on days when the starting pitching doesn't go all kaplooey: get out to a lead, get six innings or so from the starter, bring in Mike MacDougal or Matt Thornton for the seventh, bring in the one who didn't pitch in the seventh to throw in the eighth, and then close things out with Big Bobby Jenks. Considering that nary a Sox starter has much more than an average fastball, bringing on a trio of flame throwers for the final third of the game catches the other team offguard even when they know what's coming: heat, heat and more heat. And on days when we're losing? Let's keep the fires burning with the wicked-fast-and-wild stuff that Nick Masset, Dave Aardsma and Andy Sisco bring."
In hindsight: velocity doesn't mean bupkus if you're not throwing strikes — or throwing ridiculously straight Billy Koch-style balls that hitters can just jump all over. Yesterday, Aardsma and MacDougal were sent down to AAA Charlotte to join Andy Sisco, Masset should be, and Thornton isn't the pitcher he was last year. But if the starters can just go eight, Jenks'll shut'em down in the ninth!

Three: Paulie! (April 24, 2007)
"Ya know how Paul Konerko likes to go through a long slump or two each season? And how it sees him feebly thrashing about in the dugout after another popup or whiff and generates great quotes like his recent "We've got some [expletive] pros that want to play the game. It would be different if they didn't give a [expletive], but they give a [expletive]"? Well we may have to settle for the Rated G Paulie for a while after his three-for-four, two homer, five RBI performance last night got his average back above the Mendoza line. Rise above, Paulie — rise above."
In hindsight: That five-year contract the club gave Paulie after the World Series may come back to bit them in the ass.

Four: The New (May 8, 2007)
"Welcome to the big leagues once more, Ryan Sweeney. May your smooth fielding and sweet swing bring you success, and perhaps earn you a spot as the starting left fielder. The ability is there; here's hoping that the ability to adjust to the bigs is as well.
In hindsight: Hope is not a strategy. And "can't miss" Sox outfield prospects just have this way of fizzling out, be they Jeff Abbott, Jeremy Reed, Joe Borchard or Ryan Sweeney.

Five: So I Lied (June 5, 2007)
OK, so there were really only four solid examples of me letting my optimism getting the best of me this season. It still hurts every time this turtle gets scooped out of the water by some bird of prey that clutches me in its talons and takes me high, high up into the air, soaring and seeing the world in wondrous new ways and dreaming of new possibilities... only to realize that I'm still just a turtle and the damn bird is just hungry and has just dropped me to the rocks below, the better to smash my shell to bits and get easy pickins' at my innards. Talk at youse next week, compadres.
In hindsight: I should've thrown out a "told ya so" regarding Darin Erstad's injury, but not even I thought he was grindie enough to get hurt just by swinging the bat too hard.

Fire in Five

Two Game Unbeaten Streak
by Steve Gillies

One: Help is on the Way — Maybe
With the Fire's recent offensive problems, the news that Chilean striker Marcelo Salas came in to train last week was more than welcome. A world class striker in his day, at 32 Salas probably still has enough in the tank to make the kind of immediate impact on the team that a rusty former Armenian international couldn't. Unfortunately, what the Fire were hoping would be at least a week and a half to look at the player turned into a single practice session. Salas took a quick flight out of Chicago the next day and told the media that living outside of Chile "would not be ideal" for him. Contract talks are underway now, but as much as the question is about how the Fire will be able to get the money together for Salas, it's also about whether Salas' heart is in finishing out his career away from home.

Two: Injuries Hurt
The Fire certainly had their problems before anybody went down so you can't completely lay the blame for their poor form on injuries. But check out what the training staff has dealt with in the past week alone, according to the Fire website:
• Osei Telesford (groin strain)
• Thiago (groin strain)
• Logan Pause (concussion)
• Diego Gutierrez (L toe fracture)
• Justin Mapp (shoulder strain)
• Chris Rolfe (ankle sprain)
• Calen Carr (ankle sprain)
• Pascal Bedrossian (hamstring strain)
• C.J. Brown (knee contusion)
• Dasan Robinson (groin strain)
Also, Ivan Guerrero and Mapp will be out for the Gold Cup. An injury list like that wouldn't help any team in any league break a winless streak.

Three: If You Really Want To Break A Winless Streak...
...Play Columbus. I don't want to rub it in on our Midwestern breathren too much, but they've been pretty close to the bottom of the league for three years now. So while Sunday's 3-2 win over the Crew came as a relief, it only slightly eases the pressure on coach Dave Sarachan. A loss to Chivas USA next week and I'm sure there will be renewed calls for his dismissal. I've always been pretty ambivalent about Sarachan. He's got his faults (which have been well documented here), but I never got why so many fans are so ready to burn him in effigy the second the team loses. After Sunday night's game, I decided it's not about the team losing. It's about the fact that when the Fire wins, they rarely win pretty.

Four: Jeff Curtin Had An Eventful Second Game
Jeff Curtin started his second game in a row in the place of his older brother Jim. I'm sure they had a lot to talk about around the family dinner table afterwards. First, Jeff scored the Fire's opening goal, jumping up and heading in a corner kick on his way to falling head first into the sign behind the goal. He opted against the usual extravagant goal celebration in favor of a wearing a woozy, what-just-happened look on his face while teammates congratulated him. There were concerns at halftime that he wouldn't be able to return for the second half, but he did. Only to be red carded in the 62nd minute for taking down a Alejandro Moreno on a breakaway. So first goal, first ejection — that's a full day's work. Ironically, his dismissal did lead to some playing time for big brother Jim. Call me sentimental, but I kind of want to see both Curtins on the field at the same time. Not because I think they'd be a better pairing than Brown and either Curtin, but it would be fun to see them bickering on the field.

Five: Chad Barrett Scored a Goal!
If any player has summed up the Fire's malaise over the past month, it's been Chad Barrett. He was roundly criticized for his performance last week by more people than just me. To tell the truth, he didn't play much better against Columbus. The workrate still wasn't there and he made more than his share of boneheaded plays. One instant really stood out. With the Fire down to 10 men and defending a 2-1 lead Columbus had a corner kick. Barrett stood in front of the player taking the corner, making an already short-handed team one player shorter in the penalty box. It prompted Fire goalie Matt Pickens to scream, "What the fuck is he doing?" loud enough for the TV broadcast to pick it up.

About a minute later, though, Barrett suddenly became awesome. The Fire cleared another Columbus set play and Barrett picked up the ball deep in his own half and took off. After an exhausting 75 yard dash with a Crew defender on his heels the entire way, Barrett still managed to cooly finish for what turned out to be the game-winning goal despite cramping up. He was instantly subbed out and forced to give a hilariously out-of-breath interview to the sideline reporter. That's the kind of thing that will put him back in the good graces of a lot of fans. More importantly, now that he's finally gotten the goal monkey off his back, he can calm down and start focusing on playing soccer.

Bonus Round: A Personal Note To Chris Armas
There are few players that have earned more respect out there than Chris Armas. But for some reason he just hasn't looked like the same guy out there this year. I think I finally figured it out. So if you're reading, Chris, shave your head again. We all thought you had gone bald anyway. Seeing you with hair, it's just freaky. Like Samson. But in reverse.

Sky in Five

Two Game Unbeaten Streak
by Anne Elizabeth Moore

One: Two Consecutive Wins
Last night's 78-72 victory over the now 0 for 7 Minnesota Lynx (oh, it's sad, little Lynxies, but it does get better!) marked the Chicago Sky's first-ever second consecutive win. That's right: we won two games in a row. Right next to each other! Without losing a single one of them. We're averaging 77.83 points per game now, winning half our in-season games, and slowly — ever so slowly — creeping up the Western Division rankings. Perhaps even more exciting: we're playing like a bunch of crazy-ass, basketball-loving girl hoodlums. Helped possibly by the addition of Chastity Melvin — head coach Bo Overton called her "the missing piece" before the game, which seems to have done the trick nicely.

Two: Next Best Thing to Winning
Last night's win was the coup de grace on the Sky's third excellent game in four days. It was not without its moments of terror, though. While they started strong — nearly unpenetrable defense, constant player rotation and Minnesota's lame 26 percent field goal average — a fourth-quarter malaise set in, only turned around by point guard Dominique "the Beast" Canty, who brought the point divide back to a comfortable 10. Forward Stacey Dales was still bench-warming after a pulled hamstring — she'll be out for up to two more weeks — but Dupree earned a double double and brought in 20 points and 11 rebounds for the game, and now averages 22 PPG. The victory over the Mystics didn't hurt, sure; neither the tie on the 31st. Turns out, even if you don't win in the end, thinking you stand a chance for 34 minutes of official play feels pretty good too.

Three: Who Knew — Overtime!
June 1 saw the Sky at Chastity Melvin's too-soon homecoming game against the Washington Mystics for a 75-70 victory, a feat that had eluded them against the Connecticut Sun the night before partially due to a coaching screw-up. (Sky coaching staff failed to list her as an active player at Thursday's game and new rules dictate she couldn't, therefore, play. They appealed to the Sun's Head Coach Mike Thibault but he swore solidarity to the Mystics, who'd had the same rule used against them the night before, and refused to concede. That or he was chicken!) Well, but the game started strong anyway: up by six at the end of the first quarter even with Dales and Melvin watching from the sidelines. And they stayed ahead for most of the night, too — at least until the Sun caught up to end official play in a tie. (I blame three factors: three-year vet Lindsey Whalen was wearing one of those nose guards that makes everyone look terrifying; Ashja Jones, named the Eastern Conference Player of the Week for her 31-point performance against the Sky; and Margo Dydek is actually 7'2" tall.) Five minutes of overtime just led to a 97-102 defeat for the Sky, but the game was definitely the turning point in their career. Mark my words: the Sky girls is getting their agress way on now!

Four: The Real Game
The battle between my eyes and my brain ended in defeat on Thursday as Quick Change once again totally eluded my ability to comprehend their speedy clothes-changing methodologies. Several theories abound as to the tricks up their sleeves (and they have a lot of'em. The Russian-born female half of the duo, Dania, wears like seven dresses in the four-minute act). Radio transmitters, a wacky substance called "electronic muscles," chemists, mind control, physicists, other clothes and an actually kind-of-slow teleportation device are all rumored to be on hand to aid the act. I don't know: I spotted none of it. And believe me, I was lookin'.

Five: Sky vs. Storm
Last night's game probably drew less than a thousand fans; Thursday's had close to a thou, and the home opener saw the stands still bare with twice that. What are you people doing? Because in comparison to watching growingly fierce 5'9" Armintie Price rip through the startled defensive maneuvers of the other team, it's probably boring. The Sky head out on the road for two more before they're back home next Tuesday to host the Seattle Storm. Sue Bird, Lauren Jackson, Janelle Burse, Betty Lennox: they may not be the team they were in 2004, but does a two-game winning streak give us the chops to beat 'em? I guess you gotta come watch for yourself. Unless you, like Sun Head Coach Mike Thibault, are too scared of Chastity Melvin.

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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 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.

Anne Elizabeth Moore didn't go to professional blogging school or anything like some of these sports writers today, but she's been nominated for more comics awards. That's gotta mean something.

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