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Pucks in Five

Time for a Rally
by Jeremy Piniak

One: Double OT Drama
Game 1 was a high-tempo, high-scoring affair, but the Wolves gave up two third period leads and the Hamilton Bulldogs notched the game winner off a screened shot in the second overtime for the 6-5 victory. Wolves star Darren Haydar had two goals and an assist in the loss and Michael Garnett had 33 saves in the contest. After trailing 2-0, the Wolves had four unanswered goals to take a 4-2 lead into the third period before allowing Hamilton to rally and force overtime. In the second overtime, the Bulldogs dominated, holding Chicago to a single shot, and after Brian Fahey was sent to the box for hooking, Hamilton defenseman Dan Jancevski scored to end the game and put the Wolves behind for the first time this playoff year.

Two: Tight Game, Tough Loss
After Friday's two-overtime thriller, Sunday afternoon's Game 2 was a more subdued affair, but the result was the same for Hamilton, who scored at just 3:18 of the first overtime for a 3-2 win and a 2-0 series lead over the Wolves. Netminder Fred Braithwaite made his first postseason start for Chicago, presumably to give Garnett a rest after Friday, and played well, making 27 saves, but the Wolves were unable to muster the offensive firepower to even up the series. Hamilton scored 2 minutes into the game but Jordan LaVallee tallied his sixth postseason goal to tie the game at one. After Hamilton took a 2-1 lead early in the second period, Darren Haydar scored his league-leading 10th goal on a 5-on-3 powerplay at the beginning of the third period.

Three: Digging a Hole
Despite the Wolves being in a 0-2 hole, the two teams have been evenly matched in both contests. So why are the Wolves looking at an early deficit? Chicago has played decent games and a few different breaks could have changed the tenor of the series, and still could in the upcoming games. One area the Wolves do need to focus on is their defense, as the team has given up at least 30 shots in both games. While the blueliners are not to blame for either loss, a stronger effort will be needed if the Wolves are going to pull themselves back into the series.

Four: Crossing the Border
The series shifts to Hamilton, Ontario, this week for the next three games. Game 3 is tomorrow and Games 4 and 5 are back-to-back Friday and Saturday. After losing home-ice advantage, the Wolves are forced to play from behind in a hostile Hamilton environment. The Wolves did set a franchise record for road wins this season, so playing well away from home is something the team is comfortable with. To make the Calder Cup finals, the Wolves will need to win at least two games at Copps Coliseum and find a way to beat the Bulldogs at Allstate Arena in Game 6 or 7. Game 3 will be critical for Chicago; a 3-0 deficit is nearly insurmountable, as the Bulls demonstrated this past week.

Five: Toews Inks Deal
The Blackhawks made a bit of news this week, signing last year's Number 1 pick (and third overall) Jonathon Toews. Given the impact many young players had in the NHL this season, including Jordan Staal, who was picked one spot ahead of Toews, Chicago will be expecting a lot of the 19-year-old. Considering their lack of depth at center, especially if Michael Handzus does not re-sign, they will need to. Toews' play at the recent World Championships for gold medal winners Team Canada convinced him he was ready to make the jump from a sophomore at the University of North Dakota to the NHL. While the Hawks have a history of much-hyped prospects who never materialize lately, Toews has the skill to be a top-line center as he develops, and playing in Chicago next season will allow him the chance to grow more quickly. There's always a hesitation at rushing a youngster too quickly, but Toews has proven he can play with the best.

Cubs in Five

Nasty, Nasty Boys?
by Jeff Webber

One: Every Silver Lining Has a Touch of Gray
Yeah, the Cubs won two of three against the Sox this weekend, and yes, that was pretty awesome. The part that concerns me is the part about Carlos Zambrano giving up an appalling seven runs. It's as though he doesn't even want that extension.

Two: Nasty, Nasty Boys, Don't Mean a Thing
Is Lou planning to replace the Cubs' shaky bullpen vets with a combination of hard-throwing kids, ala his (in)famous '90s Reds
"Nasty Boys"? Could be. This week, media outlets were abuzz with talk that Piniella spoke to current closer Ryan Dempster about returning to the starting rotation. Who'd close in his place? Some said Angel Guzman, others said Carlos Marmol would be called up from AAA Iowa. The talk has been scuttled for now, but may yet resurface. Flip-flopping Dempster from short-relief to 110 pitches every five days sounds borderline insane to these ears. Guzman to the pen is iffy. It seems like a waste for a guy with four plus pitches, but then again, he's seldom good for many innings before imploding anyway. As for Marmol... why not give him at least a spin in short relief first?

Three: Cliff Floyd, Cubs in Five's New Favorite Cub
After being ejected from Sunday's game based on a comment attributed to him mistakenly (he says) by umpire Joe West, Floyd's number one concern wasn't the league, the umps, his manager or even his teammates. Nope, Floyd was afraid of his mom. "Now I've got to deal with my mom," Floyd said. "Everybody's worried about [baseball discipline czar] Bob Watson. I'm worried about her."

Four: OK, If the Cubs Are Demoting Guzman to the Bullpen and Ryan Dempster Isn't Moving to the Rotation, Who Gets the Ball as Fifth Starter?
Best guess: Sean Marshall. Although shaky on the whole in '06, the lefty showed flashes of real promise. After getting off to a late start this year, Marshall is looking good in AAA Iowa, most notably in his last start on May 17 against Oklahoma, when he gave up one run in eight innings. Marshall has gone 2-0 with a 1.82 ERA so far for Iowa this year. We'll find out Thursday, the day the Cubs are likely to next need a fifth starter.

Five: Alfonso Soriano Hitting Second?
Yup, 'cause RBI guys who strike out a ton and don't walk much are poor choices for leadoff mean, no matter how fast they can run. The Fonz should get more chances to drive in runs batting behind current leadoff hitter Ryan Theriot. And yes, I remember saying Theriot would wilt. So far "Zambrano will bounce back" and "Theriot will fall apart" are sticking out as my worst predictions of 2007. I'm sticking to my guns on both, though.

Sox in Five

Waiting for the Great Leap Forward
by Steve Gozdecki

One: You Woke Up My Neighborhood
Only in our toddlin' town can a talk-show host egging on a player because the guy signed to be his backup is finally healthy enough to start a game turn into a profanity-laden on-air screaming match between the host and a major league manager. But that's all part of the fun when Ozzie Guillen's lack of impulse control, AJ Pierzynski's douchebaggery and Mike North's omnipresent need to provide the filling in a shit sandwich collide. While the whole incident of Friday morning blew over before the weekend concluded, with the three men are said to have made up before the sun set Friday and Pierzynski turning Friday's ire into Saturday and Sunday's fiery play (highlighted by Sunday's game-breaking grand slam), something tells me this volatile brew will come foaming up again before season's end.

Two: The World Turned Upside Down
Remember that awesome bullpen Kenny Williams so painstakingly assembled starting with the pre-2006 season trade for Matt Thornton? The one that also included more recent acquisitions like Mike MacDougal, David Aardsma, Andrew Sisco and Nick Masset? And that looked so great back in April? Yeah, I'm having trouble remembering it too, what with a series of recent brutal outings that have left those last four guys sporting ERAs over 5 for the season, highlighted by Aardsma giving up nine earned runs in the span of 1-1/3 innings Saturday and Sunday against his former team. However, props are due to Masset for going strong in his spot start victory over the Cubs on Sunday, and to Thornton for recently correcting some wrongs and getting back into a groove that has seen him go unscored upon this month.

Three: Tender Comrade
Even more so, perhaps, than those of us who do not rely upon our bodies to make a living, athletes tend to be extremely unwilling to undergo surgery despite having a quality of care available to them that folks like you and me will never see. In the case of White Sox third sacker Joe Crede, though, his decision not to undergo microsurgery on a pair of herniated back discs this past off-season (he instead opted for a strengthening program) may come to cost both him and the club. Both his hitting (.215 with four homers) and fielding have been below his usual standards this season, and he left Sunday's game with tightness in his lower back and took a cortisone shot and anti-inflammatory meds that kept him out of last night's game. While Ozzie will gleefully run Pablo Ozuna out there night after night rather than, I dunno, calling up Josh Fields from AAA or something, the 2007 edition of your Chicago White Sox sadly miss the sure-handed, slugging fan favorite who has manned third base the last four seasons.

Four: Ideology
Never let it be said that Ozzie Guillen likes rookies. No sir, them young players ain't no good — they try to get by on baseball talent rather than grindiness and crafty veteran know-how, after all. So it is that Ryan Sweeney, future .300 hitter and starting outfielder, was sent back down to the minors over the weekend when Jim Thome returned from the disabled list. The upshot? A whole lot more of Rob Mackowiak, Luis Terrero and Pablo Ozuna out in left field until Scott Podsednik returns. Last I checked, this was not such a good thing. We know what they can do, and it isn't much. Can the rookie do worse? We know he can certainly do better, with a far higher ceiling at this point in his career than any member of this trio. Free Ryan Sweeney!

Five: The Milkman of Human Kindness
The easy breezy month of May continues to fill the White Sox schedule with beatable teams, including the current series against the so-so Oakland A's and the bad-as-usual Tampa Bay Devil Rays coming to the Cell for three this weekend. Oakland offers the chance to see... not all that much, actually, with exciting young ace pitcher Rich Harden on the disabled list, aka his second home, and their "big name" (Mike Piazza) there with him. But as always, the A's are fielding a competitive team. As for the Devil Rays, they're still looking for their first-ever winning season here in their tenth year of play. But exciting youngsters like lefty flamethrower Scott Kazmir (who should start Sunday's game against the Sox), outta nowhere right-handed starting pitcher James Shields, infielder BJ Upton (BJ stands for "Bossman Junior," though his birth certificate reveals that he's actually Melvin Emanuel Upton), and outfielders Elijah Dukes and Delmon Young plus pseudo-veteran Carl Crawford suggest that brighter days are ahead for this bunch.

Fire in Five

So Much For That "Best Start Ever"
by Steve Gillies

The Fire lost 2-1 to Dallas. That's three losses in a row, effectively negating its unbeaten start. The performance was a giant improvement over the disaster in Toronto, and the Fire could have easily gotten something out of the game if it hadn't been for the post, the crossbar and that guy in the middle of the field. So, when things are going bad and we're tempted to turn against the team, let's save our contempt for the people that realy deserve. The refs and the guys in suits that do so little to make going to Toyota Park an enjoyable experience.

One: Brian Hall, The Best Ref in the US...
...at screwing the Fire. Seriously, it's rare that I blame losing games on referees. But Brian Hall gifted Dallas a lead with his penalty call on Matt Pickens for brushing up against Kenny Cooper while he was running the ball out of bounds. It's not the first time he's screwed the Fire either (remember that disallowed goal from the playoffs in 2005?). The thing that really gets me, though, is that this war criminal is widely regarded as one of the best refs in MLS. This might explain why no American refs made the cut for the World Cup last year, a pretty damning indictment considering
FIFA took guys that couldn't count past one.

Two: Two Things I Don't Get
Like I said in the lead-in, it was a much improved performance for the team. Still, there are two things that I just don't get. First of all: Pascal Bedrossian. Frenchie finally got the first start of his Fire career. I'm not questioning the start. If a guy's going to be on the higher end of the salary scale, you should eventually find out if he can play or not. It would be going too far to say we found out he couldn't play, but he only looked decent. For a developmental player or someone in his early twenties, decent is fine. For a Senior International it's not.

My second issue is playing Dasan Robinson as a right midfielder. Robinson moved out to the right against New England specifically to mark a player that was giving us problems. But for some reason he started at right midfield against Dallas. Robinson is a very good defensively, but his lack of quality on the ball was painfully evident sticking him in midfield. Things notably improved when he moved back to the center of the defense and Brian Plotkin took over the right side for him.

Three: Dave Sarachan, Game Day Coach Part Four (The Final Chapter):
Yes. That was me praising a substitution made by Dave Sarachan. It doesn't end there though. Dave actually went three for three on subs, also bringing on Chad Barret and Thiago. Both of them had a hand in setting up Calen Carr for the lone Fire goal. And the attack looked more coherent than it has previous times Sarachan's thrown on three attacking subs. I also want to mention that I am retiring the use of the phrase "game day coach" in these headings. In the future I'll try to come up with something a little more creative when talking about the tactics Sarachan employs in individual games...

Four: Traffic and Parking — Seriously
Sitting in traffic for an hour and a half before the game, I was pretty excited about the possibility of a sellout. I mean, for traffic to be that bad, there would have to be a big crowd at the stadium right? Wrong. It turned out the stadium was half-empty, as per usual. If the Fire front office don't have the sufficient mental capacity to get cars into the stadium on time at half capacity, what on earth are they going to do when Blanco's arrival starts to fill the stadium? The 7pm start time for ESPN's benefit didn't help matters, but the traffic situation has been a nightmare since Game 1. They've had an entire offseason to manage the problem and have done less than the coaching staff has to find a right midfielder. This week I had a friend miss 25 minutes of the first half sitting on Harlem Avenue. That's absolutely unacceptable. And don't get me started on the complete anarchy the parking lot devolves into after the games. Season ticket holders should demand to know what is going to be done to improve the situation before putting any money down for next year.

Five: Not Quite Fire Related, But Congrats to Bob Bradley
Interim US National Team Coach Bob Bradley finally became non-interim US National Team Coach. He was at Toyota Park and waved to the crowd at halftime while the announcement was made, which was fitting since many of his best years were while coaching the Fire. A lot of people, most of all US Soccer Federation President Sunil Gulati, have been banking on a high-profile foreign coach to come in and wave a magic wand that will somehow turn our group of fairly average players into world superstars. Instead we've got a guy that knows the system and players inside and out, and unlike the other candidates, clearly wants the job. He'd have to in order to put up with such rotten treatment over the past year. While he's not going to bring much different to the table than Bruce Arena, that's not necessarily a bad thing. It does make you wonder what the entire past year was for, though. While some people might be questioning the decision, I think it's much more fitting to question the leadership of the man making the decision.

Sky in Five

Fun While It Lasted
by Anne Elizabeth Moore

One: Compelling Evidence That Bo Overton Hates Awesomeness
The Sky finalized their roster on May 16, regrettably letting go the stellar Amanda Lassiter (the team's third highest scorer so far this season) and hometown hero Jenna Rubino. Lassiter, the 6' 1" X-Box-playin' six-year veteran, an excellent defensive player and a starting forward last season, was released, despite her total and complete awesomeness. Six-foot guard Rubino, who packed the UIC Pavilion at both home preseason games with former DePaul teammembers, was beginning to exhibit an easy and likeable leadership quality, on top of her seven points per game average. Overton also released the promising Christine Quaye, who scorer though she may have been, was after all a bit light on the defense. More significantly, he also let Dionnah Jackson go, third in assists for the Sky. Overton will keep a 13-player lineup throughout the season with only one local, Rockford's Stephanie Raymond, a rookie with a 3.5 PPG average. She may be a good player, but any hint of awesomeness remains to be seen.

Two: On It Being Fun While It Lasted
The Indiana Fever was not in prime force when All-Star Candice Dupree led the team in an all-out attack, scoring 24 points, catching four rebounds and taking three steals. Lassiter added an aggressive 17 to the score and was called for a flagrant foul against Ebony Hoffman; Hoffman responded verbally and received a technical. Indiana coach Brian Winters didn't even put power-starters Tan White and Tully Bevilaqua on the field, and Dupree and Lassiter brought the team to a thrilling victory of 80 over 73. It was a night to remember.

Unfortunately, it was also a night that happened last year, on August 13, 2006. This most recent game against the Indiana Fever, the last in our 'til-now undefeated preseason, we lost 55 to 60. It sucked. Now we're not undefeated in anything even remotely related to basketball.

Three: Since Last We Communicated
A starting lineup of Stacy Dales (G), Jia Perkins (G), Monique Currie (F), Candice Dupree (F), and Kayte Chistiansen (C) for the May 15, 2007 Indiana Fever home game proved promising; Dupree, who averages 14 points per game, led with three attempts and sunk two by the end of the first quarter. The game marked Jia Perkins' return to the UIC Pavilion. The 9.4 PPG-averaging single mom of a 3-year-old has the team record for 97 assists. They closed up the point gap for awhile, helped along by a clever steal by Dupree in the third quarter, but the Sky just couldn't beat the wholly unstoppable Tan White and Tully Bevilaqua and the lost the game 55 to 60.

Rookie Armintie Price had a few silly fumbles but caught three rebounds and had four assists in Sunday's game at the away season opener against the New York Liberty. The Sky was up nine at the half but eventually lost 83 to 71.

Four: Tan White Is the Scariest Human Alive
Together, the Indiana Fever's 5'7", 154-lb Tan White and Australian point guard Tully Bevilaqua, who holds a 2004 WNBA Championship with the Seattle Storm, are a terrifying combination of basketball smarts. Bevilaqua I once saw lunge after and catch a rebound in Seattle so forcefully, she flipped backwards over the press table. And still came up ready for more. And White, who averages a steal per game, is the only player who makes more more nervous when she leaves the field than when she plays it. Why? Because you know it's just going to be worse when she comes back. Like Jason. It's not that she scores so frequently, nor does she rebound all that often. She just steals the ball and then mind controls the other team into losing. All of which is probably enough, but when they're backed up by the 6'7" rookie Alison Bales; Tamika Catchings, who has scored in every single game of her six-year career; and eight-year veteran forward Tamika Whitmore, whose mother was a member of the 1930's-era barnstorming exhibition team the All-American Redheads, things either become pretty great if you're the Indiana Fever, or pretty horrible if you're the Chicago Sky.

Five: So There Are Some Lessons Here
Maybe Overton has a plan for shaping the Chicago Sky into a killer team, but they really need to get their agress on, and how. Dominique Canty, a recent transfer from Sheryl Swoopes' team, the Houston Comets, could anchor the team's fear factor. But the loss of Lassiter and Rubino will sting for some time: hard playing and a cheerful demeanor don't always equal points. As for who might be on hand to lead the team to a season victorious in something, this accidental sports reporter is fresh out of ideas. Hold ping-pong tournies in the concourse?

WCR in Five

Pace Yourselves, Dammit!
by Scorey Feldman

One: Back in Black
It generally takes teams half a season to gel, but Saturday's 41-33 win over The Fury showed that the Double Crossers might be the team to beat this season. Accused of relying too heavily on Ana Mission last year, they've clearly taken the lesson to heart and are finally focused as a team: a tight roster, great strategy and smart play.

Two: Don't Break What Ain't Fixed
In this case, we're talking about Hoosier Mama's tailbone. Still recovering from last year, Hoosier called off the jam an instant before smashing into the floor, resulting in a thousand gasps and an awkward silence from the Cicero stadium. She lined up again just two jams later, grimacing the entire time. It's a long way to the championship, Mama — pace yourself!

Three: Hell's Belles, Hella Loud
What is it about the ladies in red? Every lead jam, every hit, every nod to the crowd results in a roar not heard since Roman times. And the louder the crowd gets, the better the Belles play: their definitive 54-38 win over the Manic Attackers kept the crowd in a frenzy from start to finish.

Four: All That and Smarts Too
Experienced derby fans were grinning from ear to ear watching the Belles' jammers infuriate the Manic by picking up lead jam, lazily circling the track as slow as possible, and then ouch! — calling off the jam before the Attackers could pick up a single point. Just plain cruel.

Five: Malice: With Chains, Without Help
During an interview last year, running back great LaDainian Tomlinson said of his offensive line, "Without them, there's no success for me." The Manic Attackers would do well to listen, as the Belles' pack repeatedly forced them into sprints that left their jammers alone and helpless. The Attackers have some of the league's best jammers, but without some help from their blockers, it's going to be a long, frustrating season.

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Comments

Steve / May 23, 2007 4:57 PM

Jeff -- don't the White Sox qualify as Chicago's official Nasty Boys bullpen? Bunch of hard-throwing guys with less than three full seasons of big league experience...

Andrew / May 24, 2007 1:09 PM

The Sox loaded the bases in the 8th with one out last night, and managed not to score. Who do they think they are, the Cubs?

Steve / May 24, 2007 2:19 PM

The Sox loaded the bases in the 8th with one out last night, and managed not to score. Who do they think they are, the Cubs?

True grinders woulda suicide-squeezed one run home, then grounded out weakly to end the inning.

 

About the Author(s)

Jeremy Piniak grew up watching hockey on all levels and is a lifelong Blackhawks fan who, inexplicably, still has hope that Bill Wirtz will once again provide Chicago with a championship hockey team and broadcast home games on TV, though he still mourns the destruction of Chicago Stadium. Every week he'll bring you five talking points on the state of hockey in Chicago (including, when possible, the minor-league Wolves and Hounds). Send comments to pucks@gapersblock.com

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 freely admits she knows next to nothing about basketball, but she knows what she likes: Amanda Lassiter.

Scorey Feldman made the mistake of seeing the Windy City Rollers debut at the Congress Theatre in 2005 and has been neck-deep in derby madness ever since. He's currently serving as the league's Head of Rules & Regs despite his status as one of the worst rollerskaters the world has ever seen.

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