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Friday, July 12

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Cubs in Five

Second Third, Same as the First
by Jeff Webber

We're into the second third of the season and the Cubs are still treading water. Heck, they're not even treading water, they're getting sucked under and we've had to call in... Tony Womack? Yony Womack leading off? Neifi Perez playing third for Aramis? Wood hurt again? Prior still not back? Lee still not back?

Kind of starved for good on-field news this week, aren't we? Maybe you should've Tivo'd that Carlos Marmol start on Sunday to help you keep hope alive.

One: What Wrigley Needs Is a Video Montage Set to John Fogerty's "Centerfield"
Yes, the Cubs are talking about dismantling the Cubs' charming old-fashioned hand-operated scoreboard in favor of becoming yet another team with an obnoxious big-screen Jumbotron. So instead of looking up at the scoreboard and feeling a bridge across time, connecting you to baseball fans across generations, you can focus on more important matters, like whether Sausage is going to win the on-screen pizza race again, or whether it's Pepperoni's turn to shine.

Two: Let's Close Our Eyes and Dream About Carlos Marmol
Let's read articles reminding us that Carlos Marmol, like Greg Maddux, won his first career start playing against the Reds. And let's read puff pieces about Marmol as a wannabe Maddux protege. And let's let ourselves believe that. And let's pretend that Marmol has more than two pitches or that he's been pitching for more than two years, and that he isn't going to be chewed up and spit out once the league gets some scouting reports on him. For now, let's just soak up the small pleasures and cheer for the strikeouts and be happy. (Damn, did I ruin that?)

Three: Three Chances to Test the Extent of Your Bitterness Towards the Sox
Are you a Cub fan moved to rage by the continuing success of the White Sox? Here's your situation: the Cubs play three against the Tigers this week, and Detroit is clinging to a one-and-a-half-game lead in the AL Central over the Sox. Do you root for the Cubs to win, knowing that every Tiger loss brings the Pale Hose a half game closer to leading the division, or do you *gulp* root for the Cubs to lose, so that Detroit can pull further ahead? Yeah, good luck with that.

Four: Ernie Banks Rebuffed in Attempts to Buy the Cubs; Giuliani Denies Interest
Ernie Banks apparently made inquiries about buying the Cubs. Then there's Rudy G., who publicly denied a rumor exactly no one seems to have heard on the first place, saying he'd never buy the Cubs, as he is a lifelong Yankee fan. Neither's going to happen, as the Tribune Company said they wouldn't be interested in selling. And why should they? They make money hand over fist, and all without the hassle of fielding a winning team. Thank the yuppies in the $50 bleacher seats.

Five: Got a Plan to Fix the Cubs? Let's Hear It.
Let's say you're Jim Hendry. The Cubs are ten games out as the end of June approaches, Wood has an option year coming up for you to decide on, Pierre is a pending free agent, Aramis Ramirez can opt for free agency at the end of the year, and you still haven't bottomed out yet. Do you blow up the team? Trade away all the vets? Deal prospects for veterans and take another stab at 2006? What's next?

Sox in Five

Treading Water
by Steve Gozdecki

So the White Sox are only one and a half games behind the Tigers in the standings, the same as they were at this time last week. No big deal. On the other hand, the Sox are one and a half games behind the Tigers. Panic time!

So, which of the above sentiments are true? I'm going to have to say both. Sure, it's a cheat to try to have it both ways, but in this case you have to look at things from multiple perspectives. On the one hand, the Sox have 12 more games against Detroit left on the schedule, and they're 5-1 against them so far. But on the other hand, the Tigers are still a game and a half ahead of the Sox despite the South Siders' best efforts against them. Which means, in short, that the Sox have to start playing better against everyone — to treat every opponent like the Tigers.

Of course, playing better entails improvement in some areas, and we'll touch upon a few of them in this edition of Sox in Five.

One: More Bullpen Blues
Last week in this space I did a White Sox bullpen roll call that came out just fair to middlin' for pretty much everyone not named Bobby Jenks. And since then, news has come out that newly signed veteran right hander Jeff Nelson is hanging up his spikes for good due to a nerve condition and that right hander Cliff "2005 Was My Career Year" Politte has been placed on the disabled list with bone spurs in his shoulder. While GM Kenny Williams feels "encouraged" by the progress shown by rookies Agustin Montero and Sean "I Have No Idea Where This Next Pitch Is Heading" Tracey, something tells me that he's working the phone hard to find some relief. Let's just hope he doesn't overpay, as the past few years of overpaying in trades have drained the farm system a bit. (In a nightmarish aside, a recent article that mentioned the Mariners as one of the organizations that Williams works with best conjured up images in my mind of Carl Everett coming back to town for a third go 'round to replace Brian Anderson out in center field — clearly, my night terrors know no bounds.)

Two: From the Penalty Box to the Batter's Box?
But when my night terrors subside and I dare to dream, I ponder the possibility of the best unemployed broadcaster in Chicago coming to the White Sox radio booth. Yes indeedy, I can't help but imagine what it would be like if former Blackhawks play-by-play man Pat Foley — a consummate professional with a hypnotic cadence — were to come to the White Sox radio booth next year. This is pure fantasy, of course, but wouldn't it be nice if management cleaned house and booted the Dumb and Dumber crew of Ed Farmer and Chris Singleton in favor of Foley and, oh, just about any former player (Jack McDowell?) capable of handling the analyst chores? I have a strong suspicion that Foley would even manage to out-Hawk Hawk Harrelson with his home run calls. Mercy!

Three: History Repeating
There was a time after the soufflé that was the 1984 AL West-winning White Sox swiftly collapsed and the team trotted out some gruesome lineups of has-beens and never-wases to surround the 3-4 punch of lefty swingers Harold Baines and Greg Walker on a daily basis. Perhaps unsurprisingly, left-handed pitchers had a field day facing lineups where the most fearsome right-handed hitters were the likes of Carlton Fisk, the late Ivan Calderon and Tim Hulett. Here in 2006 the White Sox again are looking silly against lefties, despite a batting order that skews right handed with Paul Konerko, Jermaine Dye, Joe Crede and Tadahito Iguchi. In a division that features guys like Johan Santana, CC Sabathia, Francisco Liriano and, um, Kenny Rogers, you have to be able to hit them left handers.

Four: Proof of Life?
For most players, a 3-for-7 performance over two games wouldn't be that big of a whoop. But when you're Brian Anderson, and that "streak" raises your batting average to .167, it's a small sign of hope that maybe, just maybe, the Mendoza Line can be reached someday soon. It's pretty certain that platooning him isn't the answer, because most 24-year-olds who hit right handed (and thus would only get around a quarter of all at bats in a strict righty/lefty platoon) need to see live pitching regularly in order to improve against it. And indeed, Ozzie seems inclined to start Anderson against junkballing righties as well as lefties right now, which should prove helpful. Here's to hoping that Anderson can follow such storied Chicago baseball legends as Robin Ventura and Ryne Sandberg in shaking off a putrid start to his rookie season and become an asset with the stick as well as the glove by season's end.

Five: "You Can Throw Out the Record Books When These Two Teams Meet"
Here they come, those games against our bitterest rivals that Sox fans gear up for all season long. Yes indeed, a whole two and a half weeks of interleague play is on the way. After this current series against the Rangers wraps on Thursday, the Sox travel to Cincinnati to play those hated Reds, and then host the Cardinals and Astros (World Series rematch, woo hoo!) before packing their bags and heading to Pittsburgh and the North Side of Chicago. While I suspect that the answer to the question of "How would the White Sox fare if they were in the Cubs' weak division?" will be "Very good indeed, we play these games for a reason, don't we?" It'll be sad to see designated hitter Jim Thome sit — and if he starts more than two games in the field, I'm going to throw something through my TV set — but interesting to watch Ozzie go nuts with the double switches and stuff. One thing's for sure: Rob Mackowiak will want to be packing his complete arsenal of fielder's gloves.

Fire in Five on hiatus while Steve Gillies enjoys watching the World Cup in Germany.

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MC High Life / June 13, 2006 9:54 AM

Jeff: I assume the pizza race comment is a jab at The Cell's video pizza races. Correct me if I am wrong but doesn't Wrigley have lawn mower races on the small ribbon video board in the outfield?

Bridge across time, indeed...


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

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

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