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Wednesday, November 14

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Cubs in Five

Playing Out the String
by Jeff Webber

One: First Rat in the Water: Scott Williamson
Time to flee the sinking ship. Reliever Scott Williamson punched his ticket when he started mouthing off about Dusty Baker to every reporter within earshot. What did we get for him? Minor league pitchers Joel Santo and Fabian Jimenez-Angulo. Either could be interesting if he could learn to find the strike zone. Kind of tough to swallow that this is the best trade Hendry could manage with Williamson after the Nationals turned two setup men, an aging shortstop and a middling pitching prospect into Austin Kearns and Felipe Lopez. What, was Hendry unwilling to unload Neifi?

Two: Who's Leaving? Or, Who's Escaping?
How different will the Cubs be a week from today, after the trade deadline? Who's going? Who's staying? The candidates: Phil Nevin, Todd Walker, Aramis Ramirez, Juan Pierre, Jacque Jones and Greg Maddux. Who's most likely to go? Let's say Todd Walker, maybe to be the new DH in Seattle. Word is, Milwaukee is out in the Maddux sweepstakes and Hendry is disinclined to deal Aramis. That Jacque Jones and Aramis for A-Rod rumor popped its head up again, but it hardly seems likely. Some folks even say the Cubs are kicking the tires on Bobby Abreu and Miguel Tejada. Why? To help drive us into fourth place? Chicago should be selling, not buying.

Three: It's Like That Post-Battle Carnage Scene in Gone With the Wind, Only With Better Uniforms, or, Cubs Injury Update
Carlos Marmol? Nasty bruise, but nothing to worry about long-term. Derrek Lee? Back on the DL; wrist still not better. Sean Marshall? Strained oblique; minor injury, but of a variety that is sometimes tricky about healing properly. Mark Prior? Well, officially he should start again Wednesday, but I trust The Onion. Kerry Wood? Making a lucky group of doctors and physical therapists very, very wealthy. Freddie Bynum? Chrissakes, who cares about Freddie Bynum?

Four: Rich Hill Gets Another Chance
I wouldn't get my hopes up if I were you.

Five: Cubs Take on the Cardinals at Home This Weekend
This should have been a really fascinating series, but honestly it feels less like a battle of champions and more like we're the has-been sparring partners for the real contenders. I expect some fireworks though, as the impending breakup of the team, the lingering dark cloud of Dusty's potential canning, and general animosity for those damned Cardinals to push the Cubs into a fairly wired, antagonistic state. That's what I'm hoping for, anyway, as the alternative is watching $110 million worth of professional athletes listlessly taking another beating.

Sox in Five

At a Certain Point, Even I Lose the Rose-Colored Lenses
by Steve Gozdecki

Two trades in two days — will today bring a third? We'll touch upon this, and a whole lot of gruesomeness, in this here edition of Sox in Five!

One: Remember a Month Ago, When This Series Didn't Seem All That Important? Yeah, I Miss Those Days Too
Once upon a time — last September, to be exact — it looked as if the new frontrunners in the AL Central were going to be the Chicago White Sox and Cleveland Indians, who would both enjoy schedules chock full of crummy teams like Detroit, Minnesota and Kansas City that would help both of them make the playoffs for years to come. Then reality came in the form of the Grim Reaper to kill the Indians dead, and now he seems to be coming for Ozzie and the boys, who won't go down without a fight, or at least a beanball war. While you hate to concede the divisional race so soon, there really is not much cause for optimism regarding this White Sox club's chances of repeating as AL Central champs now that Detroit holds a 7-1/2 game lead in the division. The Sox do, however, lead the Wild Card race, although the Minnesota Twins certainly may have something to say about that the next two nights.

Two: Protect Them Scarce Resources
Listen to enough talk radio of any ilk, and you're bound to hear some things that make you think that the whole world's gone stupid. This week's case in point would be the assertion by one of my favorite Score guys that Jim Thome is hurting this year's model of the Chicago White Sox because the presence of a run producer like him in the lineup detracts from the need to play "small ball." No, really — someone somewhere is getting paid to share his thoughts with you on the radio, and this is one of those thoughts. Even deeper into the silly, another Score guy went into a spiel on Sunday about how even when you're down, you can manufacture runs to reduce the lead. Much like, I dunno, "collateral damage" or "friendly fire," manufacturing runs is a dopey euphemism, in this case for giving away outs — the most precious resource in baseball, and the reason why no lead is ever truly safe in this greatest of sports — in order to score runs. Where this strategy has its place is on a team that is getting strong performances from the pitching staff, where the handful of runs you can score by bunting and stealing and all those other tactics that would make Earl Weaver roll over in his grave if he weren't still alive, can indeed help you patch together some crisp 3-2 and 4-3 victories. But when you're giving away runs like the White Sox have this summer, power is the name of the game and your only hope of winning, no matter how cute it may seem to send your hitters to bunting school.

Three: C'mon, Kenny!
Earlier this season, I made a crack about how the trade deadline would probably bring Crazy Carl Everett back to the Sox, what with Kenny Williams' limited familiarity with the 725 or so major leaguers who don't play for his current team. Turns out we really should be careful what we joke about, as Kenny's Big Back to the Future machine has now brought us... catcher Sandy "No, Really, I'm Only 40 Years Old" Alomar Jr. from the Los Angeles Dodgers to replace Chris Widger in the backup catcher slot. Widger, the fall guy for the recent crappiness emanating from our South Side club, is basically the same player as Alomar, who possesses a passable glove and game-calling ability, not much of an arm, and a bat best suited for slow-pitch softball. Except Alomar is a few years older, and cost us pitching suspect, er, "prospect" B.J. LaMura, a 25-year-old righty who has earnestly toiled down in AA this season. The kicker here is that it probably wouldn't have taken much more than LaMura to persuade the Dodgers to part with former Devil Rays catcher Toby Hall, a much better backup who has been grousing nonstop about his limited playing time since being traded out West last month.

Four: Big Mac Attack
Ignoring a troubled medical history as well as a troubled pitching career, Kenny also traded for Kansas City Royals closer Mike MacDougal yesterday. For those of you who may not know much about the man born Robert Meiklejohn MacDougal, he's the guy who saved 27 games with an ERA just over 4 as a Royals rookie in 2003, then lost the job the next year and shuttled between the majors and minors before taking the ninth-inning role back early last season. As for this season, well, he's thrown all of four innings after missing more than three months due to upper arm/shoulder troubles that were originally expected to cost him only a month. The hope is that he'll settle in as an intimidating setup man (he throws the ball almost as hard as Bobby Jenks, but brings a different look with his sinker) this year and stick around for a few seasons, during which we'll hope he spends more time on the active roster than the disabled list. (Maybe Sox pitching coach Don Cooper can address MacDougal's awful mechanics.) The Sox gave up a pair of decent pitching prospects in the deal, former supplemental first-round pick Tyler Lumsden from AA Birmingham (who projects as a future number four starter) and young Daniel "Mimbo" Cortes, a 19-year-old who has enjoyed some success down at Kannapolis.

Five: An Exciting Week Ahead Off the Field
The baseball world was all abuzz at midday yesterday with reports that the Sox were on the verge of acquiring Washington Nationals outfielder Alfonso Soriano in exchange for a package centered on pitcher Brandon McCarthy and centerfielder Brian Anderson. Talk quickly cooled down, however, and Kenny Williams took the unusual step of all but proclaiming McCarthy untouchable. "I have no intention whatsoever of trading [McCarthy] in any sort of deal," Williams said yesterday. "He's very much a part of our future... . Brandon is not going anywhere." Speculation now is that while the Sox may still end up acquiring Soriano or bringing back Carlos Lee from the Brewers — either of whom would be a far more welcome sight in left field than Scott Podsednik — the Sox may do so only to trade the new acquisition to the National League, basically preventing the player from ending up in Detroit. Hold on tight to your hats; the rumors will be flying fast and furious as we head into next Monday's non-waiver trade deadline.

Fire In Five

Red Cards and Beer
by Steve Gillies

One: Well, You Can't Say They Weren't Trying This Time
Last week after a particularly limp-wristed performance that resulted in a 3-2 loss to FC Dallas I questioned the team's lack of desire under coach Dave Sarachan. This week, facing a DC United team that's been making mincemeat out of the rest of the league (they're 20 points clear in the Eastern Division and haven't lost in 14 games), the Fire used the opportunity to rally together and put on an determined performance that earned them a 1-1 draw despite being shorthanded most of the second half. The Fire battled for every single loose ball and defended like dogs, especially during an insane goalmouth scramble where they seemed to keep the ball from going over the line through sheer force of will. The intensity spilled over into recklessness at times, with the Fire earning five yellow cards and one very stupid red card from Logan Pause. Shockingly, that was the first red card the Fire have gotten all season. As dumb as blocking a throw-in when you've already got a yellow card is, I'm glad to see the team show a little, uh, fire for once this season.

Two: Does This Mean I'm Off the Fire Dave Sarachan Bandwagon?
In a word, no. The Fire, under Sarachan, have put on great performances before. Most notably, the Fire destroyed DC last year in the playoffs 4-0, only to go out next week and give up a silly goal to New England in the first five minutes. Any team can raise their level of focus and intensity for one game, it takes a coach with a certain mentality to keep them at that level consistently. We haven't seen that consistency out of Dave's Fire over the past three years. This is a long, convoluted way of saying it's entirely possible that he's just not mean enough. I will say this for Sarachan though, he made what I thought was a very questionable call with his starting lineup, leaving out the talented playmaker/winger Justin Mapp, and it worked out very well. Which brings me to my next point...

Three: The Justin Mapp Question
Both last year's playoff romp and this week's heartening performance against DC featured a Fire team starting without Justin Mapp. Last season it was due to injury, but this week Sarachan chose to bench the Mapp in favor of more two-way wingbacks and a smothering central midfield. The approach worked, as the Fire midfield looked like a much more cohesive unit, even if it gave up a little bit of skill and flair. So, the question is, where does this leave Justin Mapp? He's one of the league's most exciting young players, one of the few players that I consider to be worth the price of admission alone. But his workrate when his team doesn't have the ball has always been more than suspect. That's a polite soccer way of saying that he's lazy. So the question is, does Justin Mapp view this week's benching as a wake-up call and really start working to improve the defensive side of his game, or does he become a guy on the bench that we go to when we need an offensive spark late in the game? He did come on this week with three minutes left and almost set up a goal with his first touch of the ball, so it's definitely a possibility. Mapp should have at least a one week stay of execution with Logan Pause suspended from the red card, but it will be interesting to see where this goes.

Four: Welcome Back Injured Reserves
It was good to see Chris Rolfe back from a concussion. He fit into the starting lineup just fine, played a solid 65 minutes and certainly didn't look gun shy about challenging for any fifty-fifty balls. It'll be good to see him get his match fitness back and pair with Nate Jaqua. We haven't seen this combo both at 100 percent all season and I think when we do it's really going to put some teams on their heels. Gonzalo Segares also put in a solid 90 minutes. He's very important to our back line and it was great to see him come back without missing a beat. Even Tony Sanneh managed to come on for 20 minutes without getting hurt, although I'm betting he pulls something in training this week. Actually, does anyone know if he made it through the reserve game on Sunday unscathed? With Jim Curtin getting some time in with the reserve squad, too, does this mean we could possibly see a full strength Fire squad sometime in the near future? (I hope I haven't jinxed anyone with that.)

Five: I Figured Out the Best Way to Get to Bridgeview — It Involves a School Bus and Beer
For those of you that don't like taking two train lines and a shuttle, or sitting in traffic and then paying $15 for parking, I've found a more pleasant alternative. The Globe Pub, my favorite soccer bar, offers bus rides out to Bridgeview for $10. Sure, you're still sitting in traffic, but you don't mind as much if you aren't driving and you've got a cold can of Pabst in your hand. Plus you're surrounded by a bunch of other drunk soccer fans. Being in this element, combined with the fact that it was Polish night and beloved former GM Peter Wilt's induction to the Ring of Fire (it's kind of like getting your jersey retired) evened out the more annoying suburban family-friendly elements that were so prevalent last week. Next week's Christian rock night might bring that element back in full force, though. I should also say that for the evening games, the traffic doesn't seem to be nearly as bad and I'd time the trip at about 45 minutes. Getting out of the stadium after the game is a complete nightmare, though. There's only one exit and you're likely to be stuck waiting on the slow freight train that comes by seemingly whenever a Fire game has just ended. Someone really needs to look into that train schedule because holding your bladder in check on a school bus full of beer can get really painful.

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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 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 sox@gapersblock.com.

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 fire@gapersblock.com

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