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Wednesday, July 24

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Airbags

Cubs in Five
by Jeff Webber

One: Barry Bonds Returns, or, Blah, Blah, Blah, Steroids, Steroids, Steroids
Barry Bonds returns from a series of debilitating injuries this weekend against the Chicago Cubs. You could, if you liked, take this as yet another opportunity to stir up the unbelievably boring performance enhancing drugs debate. After all, Bonds does admit to "unknowingly" using a pair of PEDs given to him by the BALCO guys. Or, you could critique every move the muscle-bound lummox makes in an exaggerated Hulk voice: "Intentional walk make Hulk want to smash!" I'm going for the latter.

Two: Will Maddux Retire or Cash a Series of Ridiculously Large Checks? The Answer, in This Week's "File Under Duh"
Speaking of future Hall of Famers with dubious dispositions, Greg Maddux in his victory in St. Louis versus the Cards last week passed 400 innings for the 2004 and 2005 seasons, vesting his option for 2006. There's always a small chance he'll opt to decline the $9 million and retire instead, but then, there's always a small chance that lightning could strike you 11 times between the bus stop and your apartment. I wouldn't worry about either.

Three: Fun Rookie of the Week: Rich Hill
Minor league call-up Rich Hill will be used out of the bullpen for the rest of the season, and one thing it won't be is boring. The lefty sports a Bugs Bunny curve that leaves batters overswinging like cartoon characters and has netted 215 strikeouts across four levels of professional baseball this season. Thing is, if he doesn't strike you out, he's liable to walk you or serve up a meatball. Hill has walked 13 batters in only 21 major league innings with three home runs thrown in. Whereas a strikeout pitcher who succeeds through power tends to translate comparably easy to the big leagues, a guy who nets Ks with a curveball has a tougher road to hoe. Will he adjust? Who knows? But it will be fun to watch.

Four: Who to Blame This Week, or, Miss Congeniality: Jerry Hairston, Jr.
The next time talk turns to chemistry problems in the clubhouse, you might bring up outfielder/infielder Jerry Hairston, Jr. All year long, the Cubs have been reluctant to give the young veteran a regular job, even as he's proven a decent, even occasionally good lead-off hitter. Why? Well, whispers around town are that Hairston's a jackass &amdash; an arrogant, self-centered know-it-all that pretty much nobody can stand, nearly as awful as the guy we traded for him, Sammy Sosa. If that's not enough to make you sour on Hairston, try watching him stumble around the outfield like he's blindfolded. Just missing the cut for Who to Blame this week is multiple award winner Corey Patterson, who's been batting .188 and striking out around 25 percent of the time since returning from the minor leagues. The Cubs have asked him to work on his swing in winter ball this year, but Corey &amdash; uncoachable as ever &amdash; seems likely to refuse.

Five: Yeah, But His Name Is "Poo Holes"
Just as we thought all year, the likely 2005 MVP will be playing first base in this week's Cubs/Cardinals series at Wrigley. Problem is, he'll be suiting up for the visiting team. Derrek Lee once seemed a shoo-in for MVP, but thanks to the Cubs' complete disintegration, the voters will probably go for Cards first baseman Albert Pujols instead. Lee may obviously be the best player in the league, but the award typically goes to the best player on a winning team, i.e., Albert Pujols. You can always comfort yourself by remembering that, even if Pujols does win the MVP — and heck, even if his team goes on to win the World Series — his name will still be pronounced "Poo Holes," which never stops being funny.

 

Sox in Five
by Steve Gozdecki

One: There's Magic in the Air, or, How Low Can You Go?
The White Sox "magic number" (the combination of Sox wins and Cleveland Indians losses needed clinch the division) has been shrinking rapidly during this current White Sox hot streak, which has seen them take seven of their last eight games. This has happened despite the best efforts of the Cleveland club, which hasn't conceded anything as it pursues the Wild Card. The magic number is down to 15 as of this morning, putting the Sox on target to clinch the division within the next two weeks or so. Let's get ready to celebrate, Chicago.

Two: Think Globally, Win Locally, or, How the West Will Be Won
Despite Thursday night's loss against the Kansas City Royals, your Chicago White Sox have posted an outstanding 40-14 record against their peers in the American League Central division. This kind of dominant performance is what takin' care of business is all about, even if the team's sub par 15-19 record against AL West foes might seem like cause for nervousness should the Sox have to face the Angels or A's come the playoffs. But if you buy into the cliché about pitching winning out in October, then you've gotta believe that this Sox team is built to win against any foe.

Three: Day Laborers, or, Boston Baked
So, how was your Labor Day? Did you have some friends come by to 'cue? Or did you have to travel a bit for your fun? The Sox, of course, had to day trip to Boston Monday, and not just to pick up some baked beans. In a rather unusual move, they interrupted their current home stand to play a make-up game against the Red Sox Monday, and then returned to Chicago to host the Royals the next night. Against Boston, rookie pitcher Brandon McCarthy impressed once again, throwing seven innings of shutout ball in a 5-3 Chicago victory. But although he's made a pair of stellar starts over the past week and a half, McCarthy is not likely to start more than another game or two this season, as manager Ozzie Guillen will be sending him to the bullpen to keep the rest of the pitching rotation intact.

Four: Up and Down, or, Objects in the Outfield May Not Be as Equal as They Appear
If cars are in fact time machines, as Kevin Costner's character in the 1993 film A Perfect World claimed, then here in September 2005 outfielder Brian Anderson can be viewed through the windshield while fellow outfielder Joe Borchard can just barely be seen in the rearview mirror. Though both of these former first-round draft picks played college baseball in California and were called up from the minors this week, their similarities end there. At 26, former college quarterback Borchard is perceived as a washout after failing to develop as a hitter over the course of six minor league seasons, including four years at AAA Charlotte, where he holds the dubious distinction of being the team's all-time leader in hits. While Borchard still possesses tremendous power potential, he has yet to master the finer points of hitting and is likely to leave the organization this winter after several miserable stints in the bigs. In contrast, Anderson is a rising star, expected to compete for a starting outfield spot on the 2006 club and bring a good blend of power hitting and on-base skills. In the short term, however, we won't be seeing all that much of either player on the field except as hangover relief the day after the Sox clinch.

Five: Make Me Smile, or, Come Up and See Me Sometime
While the White Sox passed the two million attendance figure this week for the first time since 1993 and have set a club record with 16 sellouts this year, September has brought with it the expected attendance slump as the family-friendly club copes with the kids going back to school. Fewer than 20,000 fans attended each of the three games against the Royals this week, though crowds were better during last weekend's four-game sweep of the Tigers. Wishing to see more butts in the seat, first baseman Paul Konerko commented, "It's a little bit frustrating. When we have a big crowd it helps, whether [fans] realize it or not. When you go to Fenway Park, New York, even Seattle, which is out of [the race] and they had a big crowd... We just hope that coming down the stretch against Anaheim and Cleveland, there are big crowds because it helps us win." At a minimum, everyone who calls her- or himself a baseball fan should try get out to the Cell this weekend to see the wonder that is Angels' right fielder Vladimir Guerrero, last year's American League MVP. And, of course, to cheer on your soon-to-be American League Central champs.

Bonus Feature: Where Can I Catch the Sox in the Coming Week?
Because the White Sox are baseball Bedouins, with their TV broadcasts wandering up and down the dial, each week this column lets you know where you can catch them on the tube, as well as any promotions going on for those who want to catch a game in person.

This upcoming week exemplifies the joys of Sox fandom, as the team's six games will be shown on five different channels. All games are also on WMVP AM 1000.
Friday Sept. 9—v. Los Angeles Angels, 7:05pm, WCIU Channel 26 ("Halfway to St. Patrick's Day" promotion, with dancers, drummers, skydivers and green beer)
Saturday Sept. 10—v. Los Angeles Angels, 12:15pm, WFLD Channel 32 (White Sox rally towel giveaway)
Sunday Sept. 11—v. Los Angeles Angels, 2:05pm, Comcast Sports Net Chicago
Monday Sept. 12—no game
Tuesday Sept. 13—at Kansas City, 7:10pm, Comcast Sports Net Chicago
Wednesday Sept. 14—at Kansas City, 7:10pm, Comcast Sports Net Plus
Thursday Sept. 15—at Kansas City, 1:10pm, WGN Channel 9

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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. Because he swears by the work of the "baseball outsiders," who believe that statistic analysis trumps things like subjective evaluations and team chemistry, he finds himself baffled by the success his team is having in this 2005 season. Each week through the end of the Sox's playoff run — which will hopefully end around Halloween — 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.

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