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Saturday, December 7

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Cubs in Five

The Cards Can't Hold Our Jacque
by Jeff Webber

One: The Cards Can't Hold Our Jacque
Normally, hating the Cardinals is satisfying, in a kind of hating-the-irritating-jock-who's-the-most-popular-kid-in-school kind of way. With this year's Cardinals a high-priced, underachieving mess, it feels more like picking on that guy two years past graduation after his Camaro's gotten all dented and construction work isn't paying enough to get him out of his mom's basement. Eh... who am I kidding? You never stop hating a guy like that, and Cub fans never stop hating the Cards. Keep your eye on Jacque Jones, who, despite all of his occasional ineptitude, owns the Cards to the tune of a .571 batting average. And against Kip Wells, who's pitching tonight, he's 8-for-19 lifetime, with two homers.

Two: Department of Things I Got Wrong, Starring Ryan Theriot
I was right about Ryan Theriot not having much juice behind his bat. He's still slugging an appalling .360 on the season (that's 36 points lower than Carlos Zambrano, to give you an idea.) But there was one thing I got very, very wrong: Ryan Theriot is a good shortstop. Given his poor minor league numbers at the position, and given that he has primarily been a second baseman, I thought it was a given this rookie would be shaky as an everyday shortstop. I was wrong. In 46 games at short, Theriot has committed just one error. Even more impressively, his Range Factor is a respectable 4.41 and his Zone Rating is a not-too-shabby .869. What does that mean? Well, it means that Theriot gets to many more balls than say, Derek Jeter, handles as many, and fumbles many, many fewer.

Three: Does Anybody Still Remember Ronny Cedeno?
Once brought up to the bigs with Matt Murton as part of the Cubs' "youth movement" of a few years ago, Cedeno proceeded to spend 2006 showing exactly how badly he'd been rushed, putting up an appalling, Neifi-like .610 OPS. This year, Cedeno's hitting up a storm in AAA, putting up a .360 batting average to go with 10 homers, a .966 OPS, and most tellingly, he's drawing a walk in more than 10% of his plate appearances. Still just 24, Cedeno is going to get another chance with the Cubs. Is he a Quadruple A player — too good for the minors and not good enough for the show — or has additional time in the minors helped him put his game together? It may be hard to tell at first, as he's likely to ride the pine as long as Theriot stays hot.

Four: Word Is, Kerry Wood May Yet Make It Back to Contribute this Year
Go ahead, hold your breath.

Five: Current Cubs Playoff Picture
The Cubs are still three games behind the Brew Crew for the NL Central lead, but they're only one and a half games behind San Diego for the Wild Card. And, given the creampuffs their schedule is stocked with for the remainder of the season, simulations have them with a 46.98 percent chance of making the playoffs this season. A little perspective: that's more than twice as likely as the combined chances of the Yankees, Cards and White Sox.

Sox in Five

The Less I Watch the Sox This Summer, the Better I Feel
by Steve Gozdecki

One: Ozzie Throws in the Towel!
Asked after Saturday's 11-2 loss to the Red Sox if his team was still in the playoff hunt, Chicago White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen conceded a point that most of us sussed out more than two months ago: this team ain't goin' nowhere. "Nope. I don't see it. It's going to be tough," Ozzie was quoted as saying in the Sun-Times. "You have to be honest because we are facing pretty good ballclubs, guys fighting for first place. To make a run, we have to be perfect every day. And I don't see us being perfect every day." Hell, a perfect inning now and then would be nice.

Two: Trade Rumors
Among the scuttlebutt on the interwebs over the past few days... Jose "Bandito Mustache" Valentin broke his leg in a fairly heinous manner this weekend — will Tadahito Iguchi replace him as the New York Mets' starting second baseman? Or is the Gooch on his way to the San Diego Padres? Starting pitcher Jose Contreras to the Seattle Mariners? Right fielder Jermaine Dye to the Los Angeles Dodgers, Cleveland Indians, Boston Red Sox, Arizona Diamondback, Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim or Chicago Cubs? Boston Red Sox outfielder/tank Wily Mo Pena to the Sox? Starting pitcher Jon Garland to the Atlanta Braves for shortstop Edgar Renteria? Garland to the BoSox for Pena and something else? With Ozzie's surrender-speak quoted above post-dating his Thursday spiel about how the Sox won't be trading anyone, a deal or three is all but certain.

Three: A New Statue in the Outfield!
No, this isn't another one of my cracks on Dye. Last night, the Sox unveiled a new sculpture at the Cell — pitching great Billy Pierce, who toiled for the team from 1949-1961. A seven-time All Star during his Sox career, Pierce won 20 games in 1956 and 1957, earning the Sporting News American League Pitcher of the Year Award both years. (Back then, a single Cy Young Award was given out across all of Major League Baseball, so the TSN award was as good as it ever got for Pierce.) The new statue, which puts Pierce in the company of teammates Minnie Minoso, Luis Aparicio and Nellie Fox, plus Carlton Fisk and the Old Roman himself, can be viewed out on the concourse in left-center field.

Four: Dead Man Walking
According to reports, former Cubs manager Dusty Baker recently gave Ozzie a call to send his best wishes and support. Yeah, that's gotta be inspiring.

Five: Bad DNA?
While it's laudable that the Reinsdorf-era White Sox have brought back so many former players of recent years to man some key roles in management and PR — including general manager Kenny Williams, manager Ozzie Guillen, coaches Joey Cora, Harold Baines and Greg Walker, and three of the four English-language broadcasters (Ed Farmer, Darrin Jackson and Chris Singleton) — the fact is that these guys were all part of some fair to middlin' Sox teams (with the exception of Baines and Walker, who roared their way to a division title in 1983 but bombed out in the playoffs) and aren't exactly chock full of "championship DNA," even thought most of them were present during the World Series championship a mere two years ago. While I don't put much truck into the notion that people are born winners or losers, I'm not entirely convinced that cronyism is the best policy either. Perhaps some fresh blood from the outside could help change the fortunes of your Chicago White Sox?

Fire in Five

by Steve Gillies

...Returns next week.

Sky in Five

Back to Those Winning Ways
by Anne Elizabeth Moore

One: Suck Slump: Over
Saturday July 21 had our dropped-to-sixth-place Sky rematched with the top-ranking Indiana Fever for the second time in four days, the last game having ended in a perhaps unsurprising 75-74 lose for our girls. Cries of "Oops, and we were all excited for nothing" and epithets like "Fading" were still ringing in the ears of Bo Overton et. al when the Fever fell behind in the first quarter on Saturday, only to be forgotten by the fourth when Jia "Jia" Perkins stormed the paint and sunk 15 of her game total 17 points, despite a smart guarding by her vicious polar opposite, the amazing Tan (.804 free throw percentage! Close to a steal and two personal fouls per game! Don't let her near you or the ball!) White. The Fever were suffering the injury of 6'1" star forward Tamika Catchings but managed to gain a healthy lead over the Sky in the usually dismal third quarter. However, the loss of their star player and the ferocity of Perkins (with no small help from Dominique "The Beast" Canty, who's clearly been working on her assists) meant a point-by-point matchup right to the buzzer. At which point we all looked up to witness a 68-65 victory of the worst-ranked team in the conference over the best.

Two: More Where That Came From
Sunday's Silver Stars game was equally awesome, with The Beast's six-seconds-left-in-OT-jumpshot to credit for this victory, alongside Jia's 27 total points for the game. Yowza. Now the Sky's back in the black, fifth ranked in the con, beating out the Mystics yet again, and rightfully. (The Fever were knocked back to second-place status after their Saturday loss.) Becky Hammon, a 19.4 PPG averaging Star guard from South Dakota, sunk 20 total points this game but missed a final jumpshot at a second left in overtime play. She lists her favorite band as N*Sync, but that is probably just a coincidence.

Three: This Message Brought To You by, Well, Me
It's getting harder and harder to be an anticorporate activist and sit through a Chicago Sky game these days without losing my lunch. Thankfully, the big brands still haven't caught on — I assume that or Margaret Stender is a much savvier player than I give her credit for — so I'm only forced to reckon with ridiculous off-names like the silly credit card company that sponsors the 4th quarter official time out, or the bagged popcorn company(?) that got the back of the halftime dance competition last game. Still, there are quite obviously more and more brands at each game, and while I know deep in my heart I am to take the increased sponsorship as indicative of magnifying cultural significance, it's a false equation: a plethora of telephone company logos does not mean Jia "Jia" Perkins gets to start next game, and a sandwich company's name on every available wall space does not, to me, equal Dominique "The Beast" Canty being paid what she's worth for entertaining me twice a week. When corporate sponsorship actually brings about something useful for someone involved in this game, I swear I will get on board with it. Until then — and listen up, ridiculous American car brands and fast food hangers-on — I will ignore and deride you at every opportunity. And I'm with the press.

Four: Four Example
Someone really needs to think about sponsoring some goddamm decent freethrow percentage rates for our homegirls, because the 37.5 percent we hit at the half against the Fever on Saturday is not going to cut it when they're sporting numbers like 71.4 percent. I promised the gods of women's basketball I wouldn't ride them too hard, as they're still healing from the five-in-a-row losing streak, so I can't say too much else. But — cough field goal percentages in the 40 percent range cough — OMG WTF IMHO know what I mean? Additionally, I will gladly sponsor Tan White and fellow Fever Aussie guard Tully Bevilaqua being stuck in an elevator for the rest of the season because christ, together they do not get any less scary.

Five: The Gum Chewer of the NBA
People keep calling Candice "The Gum Chewer" Dupree the "Tim Duncan of the WNBA." Her impressive showing in the All-Star Game brought out the comparison on more than one occasion. The increased attention's mixed with straight-up acclaim and netted her an appearance last week in Sports Illustrated. The San Antonio Spur's power forward Duncan is renowned for his quiet demeanor and steady strong play, rewarded regularly with All-NBA and All-Defensive NBA team recognition, plus two stints as MVP. And while Dupree's PPG average is dropping back a bit, to the 19-ish range (Duncan has a mere 14! Whassup!), she does it all while chewing gum. (Jia's averaging an aweful 21.4 PPG, BTW, so on Tuesday from 2 to 3pm, visit the SkyTalk forums to ask Jia how she does it via the Internet!)

In other exciting news, a ticket to the Friday July 27 game against the Phoenix Mercury will get you your very own SkyGuy bobblehead, which you are welcome to deface however you see fit. Highly suggested, though: bring a tiny little skirt for him and dress him up with Gender Identity Disorder.

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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.

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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