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Wednesday, November 14

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Cubs in Five

Sporting a Woody
by Jeff Webber

One: Numbers, Numbers, Numbers
23-9 — the Cubs's record in their last 32 games. 0.5, 1.0 — the number of games separating the Cubs from the leads in the NL Central and the NL Wild Card races, respectively. 15 of 59 — the number of their remaining games the Cubs play against winning teams. 20 of 56 — the number of their remaining games the first-place Brewers play against winning teams. 61.26 percent — projected odds of the Cubs making the playoff, according to Baseball Prospectus.

Two: Cubs to Sport a Woody for Mets Series
Over and over we've heard how the Cubs need to find one more power reliever. There's even been talk of them swinging a deal for Eric Gagne. Unexpectedly, they may have had the answer on their hands the entire time: Kerry Wood. The injury-plagued fireballer is set to finish his minor league rehab in time to join the Cubs for this weekend's home series against the Mets. Now, if only Mark Prior could make a comeback as a power-hitting center fielder, we'd be all set.

Three: I Pray to God These Are All Just Rumors
Current Cub trade possibilities rumored on MLBTradeRumors.com: Matt Murton for Baltimore outfielder Jay Payton. (Eww.) Felix Pie to Texas for catcher Gerald Laird (and one would hope, much more. Also: are trying to corner the market on punchless backstops who "call a good game"? Sheesh.) Unknown players (Gallagher? Murton?) for Cincy slugger Adam Dunn. (Would that mean Soriano back to center or right?) Pie, Jones and Donald Veal for Dontrelle Willis. (Let's give up our new star-in-the-making to get back a previous star in the making we gave up now that he's not such a star anymore?)

Four: This Is the Week to Watch
Remember those 15 games the Cubs have left to play against winning teams? Seven of them are in the next seven days. If the Cubs keep up their winning ways and the Brew Crew continues to falter, the Cubs may take the NL Central lead by the weekend.

Five: Pray to Whatever Gods You Have
...that Jason Marquis can get it together again. Marquis has allowed 14 runs in 16 and 2/3 innings since the All-Star break, including four home runs during that span. Marquis fell apart spectacularly around this time last year for the Cards and with no sure-fire option to take his place (Angel Guzman? Sean Gallagher?) we really need him to continue to go out there every day and take the ball for five or six innings.

Sox in Five

Trade Deadline Madness!
by Steve Gozdecki

One: He Gone!
So another member of the 2005 Chicago White Sox world championship squad has left town with Friday's trade of second baseman Tadahito Iguchi to the Philadelphia Phillies, a team reeling from the loss of All Star second baseman Chase Utley to a broken hand the night before. Proving as always just how prescient I am, I made the move to replace Utley with Iguchi on one of my fantasy baseball squads hours before Phillies GM Pat Gillick made the same move. But while my pickup was free, Gillick had to cough up undistinguished minor league relief pitcher Michael Dubee, best known as the son of Phillies pitching coach Rich Dubee, in exchange for Tadahito. Okay, so Gillick also got the Gooch more or less for free. It's still interesting that mere months after the Sox traded chronic partier Freddy Garcia to the Phillies, the Phils have now passed the Sox a Dubee...

Two: Dyes of Our Lives
The clock just ticked from Monday to Tuesday, and Jermaine Dye remains with the White Sox despite hot hot hot rumors throughout the previous day that the White Sox right fielder was headed to Boston in exchange for Wily Mo Pena and a relief pitcher or minor league pitcher. Will a deal get done nonetheless despite Boston's seeming logjam of power hitters? Will some other team make a bid for Dye, who has been on a nice power tear since missing more than a week in late June and early July with a quadriceps muscle strain? What once seemed such a sure thing is now perhaps a mere 50-50 shot with the hours ticking away to this afternoon's 3pm CDT major league baseball trading deadline.

Three: Please, Doesn't Someone Need a Grindy Pinch Runner?
Friday night against the Blue Jays of Toronto, official nemesis of Sox in Five Scott Podsednik gave yet another reminder that he's not a very good outfielder. Several reminders, in fact, as first he climbed the left field wall in the fourth inning to try to catch a Frank Thomas drive that ended up hitting the wall for a double while Donkey Pods swung from a vine and the fans ground their molars down to the gum line. Thomas then scored on a single to left when the rag-armed Sox leftfielder bounced the throw to the cutoff man. Got that? Podsednik is so bad that he let Frank the Tank Engine Thomas steam home and score on a single. Fortunately, the Sox held on for a 4-3 victory. Sunday afternoon Pods wasn't so lucky, as he dropped a fly ball in the eighth inning that allowed two Blue Jays to score on their way to a 4-1 win over the Sox. If the Cell were the Oakland Coliseum, many a C and D cell would've been thrown from the stands in the vicinity of Pods' head. Baseball gods, I beseech thee — isn't there some general manager out there with visions of the 2004 version of post-season pinch-runner extraordinaire Dave Roberts dancing in his head willing to take Pods off our hands? Please?

Four: Other Vague Trade Possibilities
With the $40 million pitching rotation a luxury that a budget-conscious Sox team likely cannot afford in 2008, there's still a decent chance that one of the right-handed starting pitchers could be dealt today. While it would be nice if some team would decide that Jose Contreras possesses the magic touch needed to win in the post-season and send the Sox a little somethin' somethin' for El Cubano Viejo, it seems more likely that either Javier Vazquez or Jon Garland may find himself in a new uniform. If I was the decider, I'd deal Garland before Vazquez, but consensus seems to be that Vazquez is more likely to be dealt, though he does have limited no-trade protection that will keep him from heading west. Even if all three remain with the Sox after the trading deadline, a waiver deal could happen with Contreras if one of the contenders or pretenders becomes desperate in August.

Five: A 6:05 Buehrle Summertime Start Will Lessen the Rockets' Red Glare During the Post-Game Fireworks
The moment I noticed that Mark Buehrle would be starting Saturday night's game, I began to wonder if he could match the crazy fast pace of the 99-minute game that I saw him pitch in-person back on April 14, 2005 (a 2-1 win over the Seattle Mariners). Not that I wanted a fast game, mind you — it was a beautiful night, we had club-level seats, the wife was running a tab, and no one is eager to fight their way out of the parking lot and the insane traffic aides who push you out onto the Ryan no matter how much you want to cut through Bridgeport in order to get to 55. But anyway, while this 2-0 White Sox win took a more leisurely two-hour, seven-minute pace, Sox officials were faced with a bit of a conundrum when the game wrapped with the skies far from black at 8:15pm, as post-game fireworks were promised. And so... the fireworks display kicked off under inky blue skies, which was decidedly unsatisfactory. Would it have been so hard to throw on a reel of 2005 World Series highlights or something while waiting for the dark of night to come? Or was it that important to get the hourly workers off the clock and close the joint up early? Mercy!

Fire in Five

What a Difference an All-Star Break Makes
by Steve Gillies

One: On Games that Matter
It was refreshing to get back to regular season play after a week of being inundated with over-hyped, overpriced International Friendlies both on TV and live in Chicago. Cuahtemoc Blanco's long awaited debut came in a friendly game against Glasgow Celtic and worryingly didn't sell out. The Chicago Trophy, a series of friendlies between a Polish, Italian, Mexican and Spanish team couldn't draw more than 16,000 fans to Soldier Field despite the fact that they started offering two-for-one tickets. Does this mean Chicago isn't the soccer crazy town it's often billed as? Do 'mericans really not like the soccer-ball after all? Hardly. The Gold Cup Final sold out at Soldier Field, and I have little doubt Blanco's league debut will sell out Toyota Pak next Saturday. Speaking as a raging soccer fan that skipped both events, there have been a ton of soccer games to see this summer, and it would take thousands of dollars to see them all. And, like a lot of people, I remember the farce in 2004 when a worn out Bayern Munich (they had a fitness session that day) played Manchester United's youth team in the least exciting soccer game ever played in front of 60,000 people. So, while Sevilla and Celtic might be interesting teams, they aren't going to get me — or a lot of other people — to spend money on games that don't have anything at stake.

Two: A Mountain to Climb
And thanks to the Fire's awful form for the first half of the season, there's a lot at stake for the Fire for the rest of the regular season. At last place in the Eastern Conference the Fire can't afford to drop many more points if they're going to make the playoffs. There has been a sudden cause for optimism however, with the arrival of Blanco, a new coach, the imminent return of key players from injuries, and another international star joining the team next week. Even without the full cast of characters, the team put on their most convincing display since the Kansas City game, destroying Toronto FC 3-0 in Toronto on Sunday. Interestingly, it was that first game in Toronto where things really went off the rails. Could this be the one that signals a turnaround?

Three: Blanco's Bringing It
If you've been reading this column at all, you know I've been pretty cynical about the Blanco signing. One exhibition game and one league game against a fairly weak opponent might be too early to herald his success, but I have to admit I've underestimated the impact that he'd make on the field. He's not a quick or dynamic player, but when he gets the ball he doesn't lose it and plays tend to open up around him. His composure has rubbed off on the rest of the team too, with the Fire passing the ball around much more confidently. And most of all, he can deliver the killer pass. See the ball to Ivan Guerrero on the first goal against Toronto for a prime example. The good news is that while he's making Calen Carr, Chad Barrett and Floyd Franks look dangerous, as early as next week he'll have Chris Rolfe and Paulo Wanchope to feed those passes to.

Four: Wanchope
Wait. Paulo Wanchope? Yup. After the deal with Marcelo Salas didn't materialize, the Fire went with a pretty awesome Plan B. Heralding from Costa Rica, Wanchope has been one of my favorite players in the region for the past decade except when he was terrorizing the US defense in World Cup Qualifying. He's dropped off the radar a bit since a spell in Spain and a long run in England where he played at Manchester City under Juan Osorio, but he was still good enough to score two goals against Germany in the last World Cup. Sometimes he's a goofy looking, unorthodox player, (check out what they thought about him in England when he arrived but he's great to watch and his arrival should make going to Toyota Park a lot more fun.

Five: It's Been An Awful Year For Fire Fans
Despite so many positive developments on the field for the team, I can't not end this column on a down note. This week one of the Section 8 leaders, Brandon Kitchens, had a seizure while playing a soccer game and passed away at a tragically young age. I usually enjoy Section 8 from afar and didn't know Brandon, but clearly his loss will be felt by Section 8 and the entire fan community. My sympathy goes out to his friends and family.

Additionally, Bill Quigley, editor of the fan site The Fire Alarm, suffered multiple strokes in the offseason and is still in the hospital recovering. I met Bill a few times at various Fire events, and he was always the most energetic, enthusiastic person in the room and it's pretty awful to think of him stuck in a hospital bed. I can only hope for as speedy a recovery as possible.

It puts the petty complaining about the team's performance or the parking at Toyota Park in perspective and makes me want to focus on enjoying everything as much as I can. Come to think of it, I take back my first paragraph. All the games matter.

Sky in Five

Phoning it In
by Anne Elizabeth Moore

The Gum Chewer Phones it In
Sunday night's 88-70 victory over the Houston Comets was precipitated by the 21-point lead the Sky took in the second quarter. Stacey "Moral Center" Dales was the big point-grabber, with 18; Jia contributed 13 and Melvin 12, while Candice "The Gum Chewer" Dupree clearly phoned it in, bringing in only 11 points. She was matched by the Comets' big shooter, Tina Thompson, who regularly shoots in the 18.4 PPG range but that night only brought in 10. She was at a bit of a loss to explain her team's behavior, too: "They shocked us a little bit," She told the AP. "We allowed them to do every single thing that they wanted to do." If only other WNBA teammembers were as mindful of the Sky's ambition.

Another Vistory — and Almost Another
A Thursday 83-73 win against the number-one rated Detroit Shock even had new 32nd Ward Alderman Scott Waguespack impressed. "They're doing pretty good," he mused somewhat wistfully at the close of a meeting he kindly took with me about development and rezoning issues in Wicker Park. "Pretty good?," I thought, but did not correct him, because he works for the government and I am scared of the government.

Unfortunately, it seems to have impressed our girls, too. They headed into Friday's match with the number-one-in-the-West Phoenix Mercury fourth in the East with an 11-13 record. Among the Mercury's star members are former Storm playa Dianna (18 PPG / 4.3 RPG / 4.4 APG from Connecticut) Taurasi and scrappy Cappie Poindexter. And while the Sky has never won a game against the Merc — not one — they managed to retain a healthy eight point lead into the half, which was subsequently lost again in the third quarter. A notably ridiculous three-pointer by Cathy Joens that seemingly came from behind the blackboard evened up the score again at 3:33 left in official play. Last game, though, against the Minnesota Lynx, the Merc's megashooter Penny Taylor had brought in a game-high 30 points for a 103-79 win, and that kinda drive brought them another victory in the final seconds in this match.

But we'll meet again, Phoenix.

Does He Have to Also Have a Birthday?
As if deliberately trying to frustrate me, the Sky Guy celebrated his birthday at Friday's home game — and oh christ, I forgot that mascot birthdays means a shit ton of mascots from all over the city come to commit havoc on our otherwise unaggravating fandom. The other mascots are kind of great, though: why can't we just have a funny animal to make us uncomfortable? Then we could at least mitigate the annoyance with cuteness. That Benny dude steals purses; I'd be OK with that. Anyway, it all served to remind me how much the Sky Guy sucks. Luckily, I now have a souvenir of his complete suckiness to take home with me, a Sky Guy bobblehead doll, which according to one of my fellow sportswriters is the only bobblehead doll in history to look exactly like its human counterpart. Clearly, he has never seen the Ann Donovan bobblehead doll.

(In other fan news: the Stacy Dales Fan Club had a new member with her own sign that read, "My First Sky Game.")

Athlete of the Year
Sky starter Armintie Price is the first choice now for Rookie of the Year. Her stupendous strength, crazy agility and lightning speed are all up for recognition, and even her offense is improving: up to 40 percent at most recent totals. She took the lead when an injury befell Minnesota Lynx Lindsey Harding, taking her off the floor for the remainder of the season. And check out these stats: 27.8 minutes per game, 8.6 points, 3.1 assists and 6.9 rebounds. There's not another serious challenger to the seat — LA Sparks' Sidney Spencer and Marta Fernandez are up, as is Evanthia Maltisi of the Connecticut Sun — including team member Cathy Joens, who made the list of Honorable Mentions.

Speaking of Phone it In...
There is no point five today. It's summer! Use this time to go shoot some hoops in the backyard and then come in and write in your diary about it. Or email them to me: sky@gapersblock.com.

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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. Send comments to sky@gapersblock.com.

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