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TODAY

Thursday, December 12

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Airbags

Cubs in Five

Poetic Pavement
by Jeff Webber

One: Michael Barrett Suffers Intrascrotal Hematoma, Likely Out for Season
Yeah, it's as bad as it sounds. We will speak no more of this here, as the mere mention of the phrase "intrascrotal hematoma" is enough to give at least half of our readers nightmares.

Two: Let's Move On to Some Moore Positive News
There's no joke here, no snark. Just enjoying the major league debut of one of the more likable prospects in the Cubs system, third baseman Scotty Moore, who Cubs in Five just love love loves. Moore, just promoted from AA West Tennessee days ago, spent all of one day in AAA before getting the call to the big leagues. He got hit by a pitch in his first appearance (momentarily recalling the horror of the Adam Greenberg incident) but pulled it together to stay in and ended up scoring. Although a few names came off the DL after rosters expanded, and a few role players came up, no other impact players were called to the big team, including hotshot prospect Felix Pie.

Three: It Hurts to Cry, Jacque? It Hurts Me, Too
Carlos Zambrano may have his Cy Young contending season cut short by lower-back pains. He left Monday's game early and has an MRI scheduled. Stay tuned... Pitcher Angel Guzman left early with a cramp in his right forearm in his last start... Outfielder Jacque Jones is day-to-day because of an infected tear duct in his left eye, no doubt from crying like a little girl at Cubs in Five's hatred of him.

Four: Derrek Lee Is Back; Only the Pirates Affected
Yeah, remember when it felt like that could make a difference? It might to the Pirates, who are only a half game behind the Cubs for fifth place in the NL Central. Yes, kids, the Cubs are a mere half game removed from last place. At least it would make for a good draft pick.

Five: $160 for a Brick?!?!?
The sidewalks around Wrigley Field are being repaved and you can leave your mark for posterity. For a paltry $160, you can buy your own brick engraved with a personalized message, to be left there for, well, however long the Cubs' brass decides. Cubs in Five is plunking down our dough for the following haiku:

Each year these damned Cubs
Tear my heart into pieces
Please death, set me free

Sox in Five

A .500 Week Against Sub-.400 Teams Is No Way to March Into the Playoffs
by Steve Gozdecki

It's one thing when you're playing with little kids and let them beat you at checkers or a video game or whatever to boost their self-esteem — after all, you're you, Joe or Jane Average, while children are the future and all that. But it's another thing when you're the defending world champions and you manage to split a week's worth of games against a pair of lousy ball clubs, the Tampa Bay Devil Rays and the Kansas City Royals. But that's your 2006 Chicago White Sox, a perplexing bunch to be sure.

With last night's extra-inning loss to the Red Sox of Boston, the White Sox now trail the Minnesota Twins by a half game in the wild card race. On that sad note, let's limp into this week's Sox in Five.

One: The Latest Data Suggests That None of You Deserve to Be in the Playoffs, Yet Two of You Will Make It Anyway
What had resembled the best division in baseball, the oft-maligned American League Central, has become rather malign-able once more, with the White Sox, Twins and Detroit Tigers all wilting a bit in the August heat. Detroit was the worst of the bunch, posting a 13-17 record that knocked them off their blistering pace of the season's first four months and allowed the New York Mets to steal bragging rights to the best record in baseball. But despite playing a lot of crummy teams last month, neither the Twins nor the White Sox gained much ground on Detroit, making the Tigers a near-cinch to win the division. The wicked crazy health issues facing the Red Sox — next thing you know, they'll lose Kevin Youkilis to gout and find that Curt Schilling contracted tetanus from applying red food coloring to his socks a few years back — knocked them out of the wild card chase a few weeks back, meaning the booby prize could be decided when the White Sox and Twins face off for three games in Minneapolis the final weekend of the season.

Two: We've Seen Enough of the Back of Your Jersey Already, Rob
I believe I speak for all White Sox fans when I say that we've seen enough of Rob Mackowiak turning around to chase fly balls hit over his head in center field this season during the far too many occasions when Ozzie has played the utility man over fine-fielding rookie Brian Anderson. Make no bones about it, Mack is a fine part-time player who plays adequately at the corner spots on both the infield and the outfield, but he doesn't have the range or arm to play center field, especially behind a pitching staff with so many fly-ball pitchers. Why, Ozzie, why? Perhaps the answer can be found onboard the Jolly Bossard.

Three: On the Verge
Assuming Joe Crede has at least one more home run left in his bat, this season will mark the first time in club history that four Sox hitters — Crede, Paul Konerko, Jermaine Dye and Jim Thome — have socked 30 or more homers. The 1977 South Side Hit Men couldn't do it. The 1984 club that featured Ron Kittle, Greg Luzinski, Carlton Fisk and Harold Baines couldn't do it. Even the 1998 combo of Frank Thomas, Albert Belle, Robin Ventura and Magglio Ordonez couldn't do it. So guys, even if you manage to follow up your world championship with a third-place, no-playoffs season, you'll always have a lot of solo home runs to look back on.

Four: Send in the Reinforcements!
Though chances are Ozzie won't play them much until the team's playoff fate is sealed, the Sox have awarded four players from the AAA Charlotte Knights — catcher Chris Stewart, outfielder Ryan Sweeney, starting pitcher Charlie Haeger and relief pitcher Boone Logan — with September callups. While Stewart is as much of a suspect as a prospect, called up mainly to give the team an emergency option behind the plate, the other three players could play key roles on the Sox as early as next year. Sweeney, who first gained the notice of Sox fans a few spring trainings ago with his sweet line-drive swing and strong throwing arm, should be in the mix to replace the soon-to-be-gone Scott Podsednik out in left field. Speculation centers around knuckleballer Haeger inheriting the long-reliever role from Brandon McCarthy if and when the team makes room for him in the starting rotation. As for Logan, the hard-throwing lefty could win himself a spot in the 2007 bullpen after a solid performance as the closer in Charlotte helped erase the bad memories of his month or so with the big club, when his inexperience showed in a big way after he made the leap from A ball. A few more Knights may join the Sox in coming days after the minor league regular season ends, including veteran relief pitcher Dustin Hermanson (attempting a comeback from career-threatening back problems), relief pitcher Sean Tracey (who is most famous for a moment of infamy a few months back when he failed to retaliate during a beanball war with the Texas Rangers) and third baseman/potential future left fielder Josh Fields.

Five: Rough Waters Ahead
No matter how you slice it, it's anything but smooth sailing in the season's final month for your Chicago White Sox. The team has 14 more games on the road and only 11 at home through the end of the season, and the weakest teams they'll face are the mediocre Cleveland Indians (seven times) and Seattle Mariners (four games). The other 14 games are against teams with winning records, including the AL West-leading Oakland A's and the Central-leading Tigers. More and more, it looks like that three-game series at Minnesota that closes out the season will decide the wild card, assuming the Twins can't put the Sox away by dint of a much easier September schedule. Just be warned now: due to a combination of scheduling silliness and territorial TV rights, the penultimate game on Saturday, September 30 is not scheduled to be televised, though the hope is that an exception will be made considering its importance.

Fire in Five

Lots of Games, No Losses
by Steve Gillies

This week saw the Fire continue their grueling schedule with two more games without a loss, a 2-2 draw against Houston and a 2-1 victory of the New York Red Bulls. With a US Open Cup Semifinal and the playoffs on the way, it's looking like the Fire picked a pretty fantastic time to start hitting their stride.

One: DeRosario's Goal — Brilliance or Blunder?
Wednesday night's game against the Houston Dynamo saw Dynamo midfielder Dwayne DeRosario score on a shot from the halfway line. Some people are saying the Goal of the Season competition is over and DeRosario's won it for the third year in a row. Some people are saying it was a complete blunder by Fire goalkeeper Zach Thornton. Either way, it's going to be a goal people talk about for years. Personally, I'd rather just give credit to DeRosario for trying the kind of outrageous, spectacular thing you see in Pele highlights and pulling it off. I also have to give credit to the Fire for bouncing back from an absolutely shocking goal to come back to tie the game.

Two: Has Zach Lost His Spot?
DeRosario's goal was just the start of a bad week for Zach Thornton, who later went down with a quad injury in practice, only to see his backup, Matt Pickens, make some spectacular saves in a Man of the Match performance against the New York Red Bulls. Pickens has played solidly during the US Open Cup run and he could really push to keep that starting spot even when Thornton returns from injury. Since goalkeeping relies so much on developing chemistry with your defense, most coaches hate making goalkeeping changes. If Pickens plays another couple of solid games and keeps the spot, you have to wonder how Thornton, the guy who's owned that position since 1998, will react to being on the bench.

Three: It Doesn't Matter Who They Put Out There, These Guys Just Don't Lose
With the schedule being what it's been for the past month, we've seen Fire coach Dave Sarachan juggle the starting lineup around quite a bit to deal with injuries and give some tired guys a rest. Most nerdy soccer fans (like me) tend to obsess about who should be in the starting lineup and what formation should be used and then get dogmatic about any deviations from that lineup a coach will make. But with five changes to the lineup from Wednesday to Saturday, it seems like it's less about the starting lineup and more about confidence and the attitude the whole team is bringing to games these days.

Four: Big Game Wednesday
A big part of the reason five lineup changes were made for Saturday's game had to be the US Open Cup Semifinal against DC United taking place at Toyota Park this Wednesday. It's a pretty big game and I'm sure Sarachan wanted to save as many players as he could for it. At stake is not only a place in the US Open Cup Final, but the right to host the game at Toyota Park. The game could also serve as a preview of what, if current form holds up, could be the Eastern Conference Finals. Also, I think players wouldn't say no to their share of the $100,000 prize for winning the Cup. While in sports competition terms it's not huge money, it could certainly help out some of those developmental guys that are making $11,000 a year. I just wish the tournament was better promoted, because it's the kind of game that deserves more than the 5,000 crowd it will probably get.

Five: Um... We're Saluting a Guy Dressed as a Dalmation
Ever since Toyota Park opened, something about start of the games has seemed a little off. I haven't mentioned it, because it's not exactly soccer-related, but lately I've been running out of negative things to say about the Fire, so I think I'll bring it up. During the National Anthem there aren't any American flags in Toyota Park to salute. Except for the one that Fire mascot, Sparky, is holding out on the field. So you've got over 10,000 people standing as a sign of respect... to a guy in a Dalmation costume! Surreal. Also, the players don't come out of the tunnel until after the national anthem. I'm not sure what's up with that. Maybe they just can't keep a straight face while saluting Sparky and his flag.

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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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