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Wednesday, November 14

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Cubs in Five

What Can You Learn from One Week?
by Jeff Webber

One: The Cards Are Not Yet Dealt
Nothing like sweeping your division rivals in your first home series of the season. The Cubs didn't always look pretty doing it, and their finest moments may have reeked more of good luck than dominance, but the W's still go down in the book. But it's way, way, way too early to get cocky. (Do you really think the Rockies will still be in first place in a month? Or that the Devil Rays will keep playing .500 ball?) It won't be two weeks before the Cubs are playing the Cards again, and next time, it'll be in front of sold-out St. Louis crowds in the Cards' brand spanking new stadium.

Two: Early Returns on The Marshall Plan
Twenty-three-year-old rookie pitcher Sean Marshall's first start was a mixed bag. On the one hand, he kept the ball down, threw nearly two thirds of his pitches for strikes, and retired nine Cards in a row at one point. On the other, he was completely out of gas after just 65 pitches and had to be yanked early in the fifth after plunking David Eckstein to load the bases. Michael Wuertz and Jerome Williams took over for him after that, with Wuertz looking terrific even while allowing a few runs to score, and Williams looking like crap even as he managed two scoreless innings. Go figure.

Three: Things You Should Get Used To, or, It's Never Too Early to Start Picking on Jacque Jones
Get used to Jacque Jones having extended 0-fer streaks like the 0-for-12 with which he opened his career as a Cub. He strikes out like a freshman on prom night and he's already shown a disturbing tendency to press to impress. I've been calling this since the day we signed him: Jones is our 2006 scapegoat.

Four: Things You Shouldn't get Used To, or Beware the Sex Appeal of Anecdotal Evidence
Don't get used to Jones redeeming himself with clutch homers like the one he slugged off a Sidney Ponson misplaced changeup Sunday night. Jones will have his days and seems like a nice enough guy, but don't let a dumb luck homer off a meatball pitch from a gassed fat dude convince you he's our new go-to guy. He's probably not even fully out of his slump yet. Also: Michael Barrett's nine RBIs are super and Ronny Cedeno's 10 hits are great. But Barrett has not suddenly turned into Manny Ramirez and Ronny Cedeno did not wake up as Derek Jeter. Pitchers will adjust. That said, enjoy all three of these things while they last. Cedeno, in particular will be coming back to earth hard in the near future.

Five: Here's Hoping the Fun Can Last Another Week
The next six Cubs games are against the pitching-starved Cincinnati Reds and the bottom-feeding Pittsburgh Pirates. If'n you were hoping the Cubs would run up an early lead, here's their chance. After that come the Dodgers, Cards, Marlins and Brewers. Oh what a difference a week can make.

Sox in Five

Stumbling Out of the Gate
by Steve Gozdecki

Remember how the White Sox looked so terrible in spring training? Remember how we shrugged it all off as a whole lot of nothingness, confident that the team would pull it together once the season started? Remember how an easy victory over the Cleveland Indians on opening night managed to erase our worries and fears?

Well, after a very uninspiring, occasionally terrifying first nine days of baseball, during which the Sox have posted a 3-4 record, the worries may be creeping back in. If you're only as good as your last game or two, then the Sox are doing just dandy, coming off a pair of fairly crisp victories over division rivals Kansas City and Detroit. But our two losses each to Kansas City and Cleveland may leave you with a bit of worry.

One: It's Just One Week Out of 26
Boy, these White Sox stink, don't they? Can't hit, can't pitch, can't field — the season's over! Oh, I kid of course. The regular season is a marathon, not a sprint. Your World Champion Chicago White Sox are not the only 2005 playoff team off to a slow start here in the new season — indeed, while the Red Sox, Astros, Angels and Cardinals are playing better-than-break-even ball early on, the Yankees, Braves and Padres have joined the Sox in stumbling out of the gate and amassing sub-.500 records here in the early going. We're not even 5 percent of the way into the season, and there's plenty of time for the Sox to wake up and climb back to the top of their division.

Two: They're Called Home Runs, Not Thome Runs
Coming into yesterday's game, Jim Thome had hit three home runs while the rest of the White Sox combined for, erm, zero. That this power outage saw the team compiling a 1-4 record exposed the falsehoods behind claims that the Sox are a small-ball squad that scores runs through hustle and bunts and stolen bases and other things that create more outs than runs. Fact is, as go the homers so go the White Sox, and so with Paul Konerko and Joe Crede joining Thome in going yard yesterday in Detroit's spacious Comerica Park we witnessed a White Sox winner that put them close to the break-even mark.

Three: Yes He Can Play Many Different Positions, But Can He Play Them Well?
While we've managed to banish one of the "o" boys (as in, "Oh Lord what is he doing in the major leagues, let alone on my team?") with the offseason release of Timo Perez, we've still got Pablo Ozuna to kick around here in '06. And Friday night, with the not-so-useful Scott Podsednik riding the pine, we got just enough Pablo out in left field to make us miss Pods, and maybe even Timo. An infielder by trade, Pablo was sent out to the outfield that evening and managed to misplay a wind-addled fly ball of the sort that most people not named Adam Dunn or Pablo Ozuna would catch. The resulting double that shoulda been caught helped the Royals put up a five spot on their way to an 11-7 victory. Add a backup outfielder (or, be still my beating heart, a starting leftfielder with some pop) to Kenny's little shopping list.

Four: A New and Improved American League Central Division?
On both the radio and TV side, as well as on a Twins game that I caught on the tube thanks to a free trial of the delish MLB expanded cable package, I'm hearing all kinds of talk about how much more competitive the American League Central division is this season. But I'm not buying it despite what we've seen through this single week of play. Cleveland's hitters scare the pants off of me, but the loss of ace starting pitcher C.C. Sabathia to injury for a month has to hurt the team a bit despite its easy April schedule — improvement over last year's 93 wins doesn't seem likely. The Twins are treading water and perhaps even declining a bit versus last year, with only two reliable starting pitchers and a not-so-good offense two key concerns. Kansas City is still Kansas City, though they've got some minor league talent that may be promoted around midseason to give the team's long-suffering fans a bit of hope for the future. Only Detroit, with a good-looking offense and some hard-throwing young pitchers, looks significantly improved from last year, but it's still hard to expect much more than an 80-win season from them.

Five: Bring Me the Head of Scott Podsednik
Is it a lingering groin injury? Too much rust after an injury-shortened spring training? His recent marriage to Playmate Lisa Dergen? Whatever the cause, Scott Podsednik has had a negative effect on your Chicago White Sox this season. Pods has only reached base twice in 21 plate appearances so far, scoring once while not yet attempting a stolen base. So weak is the stick of Pods that the Royals were actually pitching around ninth-place hitter Brian Anderson with men on base in order to get to him. While the Scott Podsednik who can get on base at a .350 clip and succeed on three out of four base-stealing attempts is marginally useful, this current version of Pods may leave you wondering if we can get Timo back. Almost wishing, even.

Fire in Five

Worse Management, Better Defending, Better Than Losing
by Steve Gillies

Well, that was a lot more like a road game. Nothing to write home about in terms of pretty soccer, but they managed to go to the home of the defending champions and get a draw. Playing on the road, results matter a lot more than performance, and doubly so when you're at the start of the road trip from hell.

One: One Year Ago Later
I'd be deeply remiss if I didn't mention that a year ago this week AEG, the parent company of the Fire, decided to release popular general manager Peter Wilt and replace him with a David Brent look-a-like named John Guppy. Guppy was brought in to concentrate on selling Executive Suites in the new Bridgeview Stadium and secure a deal on the naming rights (oops). Now one year later, the stadium may still not have a name, but I hear those corporate box seats for the B96 Summer Bash are moving fast. My friendly season ticket rep has been replaced by someone with a New York accent and I can't watch away games on anything but the pay-per-view at the soccer bar because getting local TV coverage doesn't seem to be a priority. At least in previous years when I watched games at the soccer bar there was a good chance Peter Wilt would show up to have a few beers with fans and maybe buy chips and salsa for everyone. I guess it wouldn't really be a Chicago sports team if there weren't some bad moves by the ownership to complain about, though, so let's move on and talk about what happened on the field this week.

Two: The Defending Was a Little Better
Even though they fielded the same lineup as last week, the Fire certainly showed a different attitude defensively. Jim Curtin, who looked a little sluggish last week, was all over the field making sliding tackles, winning headers and even getting forward to score a late game-tying goal. Credit should also go to the team as a whole for keeping Landon Donovan quiet. Whether he was playing as a forward or dropping into midfield to try to get more of the ball, someone was always there to make life difficult for him. Extra credit goes to Ivan Guerrero and Gonzalo Segares, who picked up yellow cards for excessive fouling on the purple-shoed poster boy of Major League Soccer. Good job guys. Sometimes part of good defending is letting them know you're there.

Three: But Still... They Gave Up Another Bad Goal
In the 79th minute with the game winding down, I was finishing my last beer thinking that we had a few close calls, but we were going to get through it with a shut-out. Sure, Chris Albright scared us with a header off a corner kick that hit the crossbar, but that was the best chance LA were going to get and they didn't take it. Surely no one could get that open again. Of course, five minutes later LA had another corner, Albright got open again and managed to put his header half an inch lower this time. For what I thought had been a pretty impressive defensive performance, seeing them let a guy get open from a corner twice in a row in the closing minutes of a game is pretty disheartening. I'll give them credit for picking their heads up and scoring a late goal of their own, but if it hadn't been for that goal all of the headlines would have been about the Fire's poor defending for the second week in a row.

Four: Is it Me, or Is Justin Mapp Growing Up This Year?
For the past two years, Justin Mapp has been not only one of the youngest, but also probably the most talented player on the Fire. There's been something a little frustrating about him, though. While he's great with the ball at his feet, he'll go for long stretches of games without getting himself involved in plays, particularly toward the end of games. He's also shown the least amount of work defensively of any of the players, which has gotten him labeled as a lazy player. Watching him in person for the last two years, I could never figure out if he wasn't quite physically ready for professional soccer, or if he just didn't have the heart. But early signs this season have been good encouraging. He's stayed active and dangerous throughout entire games. His late run against LA led to the Fire's score off a free kick. More importantly, I've seen Mapp make at least four sliding tackles this season. By my unofficial count, that's four more than he had made in his career up until now.

Five: We Need a Win Next Week
Realistically, coming away from road games against Dallas and LA with a loss and a tie isn't too bad. With another seven games before playing at home, the Fire is going to have to pick up a win soon though. Fortunately, their next game is against the Columbus Crew, who placed last in the Eastern conference last season and started this year at 0-2. With a large contingent of Fire fans expected to make the trip to Columbus, this should be time for the Fire to pick up their first win. Tough games on the horizon against the New England Revolution, the Kansas City Wizards and the New York, uh, Red Bulls on the horizon, mean this should be the time to pick up their first win of the season.

Bulls in Five

Up and Down
by Jason Maslanka

Have I titled a column "Up and Down" yet this year? I imagine I have, but outside of synonyms for up and/or down, other titles just don't seem as apropos. This past week functioned as the finale to a huge up, an unexpected four game winning streak and surge into the eighth playoff spot, and concluded with a huge down, a 14-point thrashing at the hands of the 76ers.

One: What Was That?
A late season four-game winning streak. A solid seven-point win at the Wachovia Center against the Sixers. A one game lead for the last playoff spot. That's what Bulls fans were thinking about on Saturday morning. By Sunday morning, everything had changed once again. Allen Iverson had scored 39 the night before and the Sixers beat the Bulls 89-75. Trust me when I say that the final score was no indication of what an awful game the Bulls played. When they needed a win the most, for a two game lead on the Sixers with only six games to play, they laid an egg... a huge ostrich, strike that, dinosaur egg.

Two: Choose Your Own Adventure
35-41. That's the record of the Bulls, while the Philadelphia 76ers are at 36-41. Their records are nearly identical, but the Bulls control their own destiny, as the pundits love to say. Through some convoluted system, the Bulls hold the tie-breaker over the Sixers and would make the playoffs if both teams finish with identical records. If the Bulls win all their games, or at least as many as the 76ers, they're in. It's that simple. When asked about controlling their own destiny, Scott Skiles noted that the team hadn't won six games in a row all year, and it'd be pretty wild if they did now. Bulls' fans are in for an interesting finish, but if I were a betting man, I'd take the Bulls as the eighth seed over the Sixers.

Threeeeee: But Why?
It's true that there's no rhyme or reason as to why someone would pick the Bulls for anything, let alone a playoff spot. While normal analysis may not help predict the Bulls' future, it can't hurt to look. The Bulls play exactly half of their final six games at home. They play Atlanta, Orlando and Toronto, three teams with worse records than theirs. They play Washington, a team with a .500 record, and have two nearly guaranteed losses in New Jersey and Miami. The Sixers play four of their last five on the road. They play nearly the same schedule as the Bulls, but play that hot Nets team twice. They'll have to win one more game than the Bulls during this stretch, and statistics are not with them.

Four: This Week
This week features four games. The Bulls absolutely must win two of those games. No one can expect them to beat New Jersey tonight, nor Miami on national television on Saturday. The two important games are Atlanta and Washington. Any team that deserves to be in the playoffs has to beat the Atlanta Hawks. There's no doubt about that. Beating the Wizards is no guarantee — they cause the Bulls tons of trouble dating back to last year's playoffs — but a win is a must. Going 2-2 this week would set them up for Orlando and Toronto to finish the season. Much like Atlanta, those are matchups that playoff teams win. With a 4-2 record to close out the season, Philly would be forced to go 4-1. With New Jersey twice and Miami once, that seems nearly impossible.

Five: Playoff Tickets
For those brave souls who believe in this team, and don't mind a possible Ticketmaster refund system, playoff tickets go on sale this Saturday morning. They can also be purchased at the United Center and other Ticketmaster locations. Jason's Bet: Buy first round tickets and enjoy the playoff atmosphere. Don't think too hard about second round tickets. That would be a miracle.

Standings Update: The Bulls (35-41) sit 0.5 games behind Philadelphia and 1.5 games behind Indiana and Milwaukee.

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Comments

Jeff Webber / April 11, 2006 12:58 PM

I'd like to see the Sox maybe pick up Joey Gathright and give him a whirl in left/leadoff. Scouts are split on him, with maybe half of them seeing him as an emerging Juan Pierre type (and the other half seeing him as a career pinch-runner). But with the entire offseason passing without Tampa getting a sizable offer on him, his price has certainly come down. He'd be an interesting choice.

Steve / April 11, 2006 3:04 PM

Joey Gathright = Scott Podsednik. They're both just next-generation Otis Nixons. Fast, but not with much in terms of on-base skills. If your speedster isn't getting on at a .400 clip, you're better off with a stronger hitter in the leadoff spot. So say we all.

Heck, I'd like to see the Sox trade for and put Bronson Arroyo in left field. The man's got a stick!

Pretty cool how our columns carry the same message this week, albeit from opposite sides of the five-percent-full/95-percent empty glass.

Jeff Webber / April 11, 2006 8:02 PM

Gathright=Podsednik? That's fair. However: a healthy Podsednik type is still a good player.

Sure, we'd love leadoff hitters to be Tim Raines. Problem is: exactly zero leadoff hitters reached based at a .400 clip last year. None. Only Derek Jeter and Brian Roberts even managed a .370 clip.

You see, the bulk of today's high OBP guys are middle of the order types, so as distasteful as it might be to those of us who remember the glory days of Henderson, Raines, et al., there's value in a guy who can reach base 35% or so of the time while swiping 40-60 bags.

And if the Sox could pick Gathright up for a blocked starting pitching prospect or so (anyone but McCarthy, really) and pay him 300-ish grand to swipe 60 bags, score 100 runs and reach base 200 or so times. Well, to my eyes, that'd be about ideal.

Jeff Webber / April 11, 2006 8:10 PM

In other news, did you see where Robothal says Dontrelle Willis may be on the trading block?

Holy crap would I like to see either Chicago team get in on that.

Steve / April 12, 2006 8:54 AM

Hey Jeff -- word up to your "they don't make speedy little leadoff men like they used to" lament. Which is why I favor having more of a full-fledged hitter with some pop in that spot, since the leadoff man is only leading off in around half of his at-bats during the course of a game, especially in the AL. Strong OBP skills are more important than stolen-base ability for your leadoff guy anyway, especially since anything below a 70 percent or so success rate on steals carries a negative impact according to the statheads. You probably wouldn't want a base-clogger like Konerko or Thome batting first in your lineup, but a guy with average speed can get the job done surprisingly well.

Which is why I nominate Tadahito Iguchi for Sox leadoff man -- he got on pace at a .342 clip (v. Pods' .351) last year while giving away many an at-bat, and teams wouldn't be pitching around the ninth-place hitter to get to him. (In my fantasy lineup here, we've suckered someone else into taking Pods and we have at least a league-average hitter -- or Ross Gload -- in left field.)

Jeff Webber / April 12, 2006 9:29 AM

I can't help feeling we don't fully understand the role of speed yet. For instance, the last 4 WS champs had traditional speedsters leading off. Is that because that works or because managers just won't let the archetype go? I have my theory...

Anyway, if Taguchi's .342 OBP would float your boat, you might check out Gathright's 2006 ZIPS projections. They have him at exactly .342 OBP with a 70% success rate and 39 steals. BaseballAnalysts.com sees him with a .360 OBP and 50 steals. Again, he'd make the minimum, so he slots easily into the Sox' payroll.

More stats... His minor league numbers for 2005 were .305/.388/.407. He's also an oustanding defensive outfielder. Gathright's 2005 Range Factor/Game (2.61) and Range Factor/9 Innings (3.26) were both significantly above league average for a CF at 2.38 and 2.69, respectively. They might even want to move Anderson over for him.

Steve / April 12, 2006 9:47 AM

I can't help feeling that we don't want a slap hitter coming up whenever bottom-of-the-order guys like Crede and Anderson are on base, ripe to be cut down on a force play when Pods (and, in some fantasies, Gathright) slaps the ball to the shortstop. Which is why I'm mad for Tad!

Jason / April 12, 2006 12:07 PM

I think the speedy leadoff hitter is a myth. Call me a Billy Bean lover, but I can't imagine that anything is more important than OBP. If you had nine hitters with great OBP, you'd score runs.

Now, it's baseball, and there is the human element, so a base stealer can help to distract the pitcher and get him off his game.

As I say this, Scott Podsednik hits a double, and I get giddy...

Jeff Webber / April 12, 2006 7:47 PM

I am most emphatically not arguing that speedy slap hitting trumps OBP. I, as well, have swallowed the sabrmetric Kool-Aid and I love me some Bill James & Co. The Tom Goodwins and Tony Womacks of the world can suck it.

What I am arguing is that the .400 OBP baseline often cited (including above) as a benchmark for leadoff men is a lot of pipedreaming in an age where fewer than half a dozen men in the league batting in any position in the order manage such a feat. If you can find a cat like Gathright who's projected to get on base at a rate appreciably above the league average and he can do it while playing top-notch D with a stolen base success rate well above the 70% benchmark, and all for the league minimum, you're looking at a handy guy.

OK, so you like Tad leading off. Who's in LF in your world? Mackowiak? And if you want to pick up someone, who do you like that a) makes next to nothing, and b) can possibly be had for minor leage pitching? (Since that's mostly all the Sox have to spare without screwing up the big club.)

Other quick thoughts on speed: reliable studies have not yet, to my mind been done on the ancillary effects of speed. Are you better off having a league average runner with a few extra doubles to his name or with a burner like Juan Pierre who is disproportionately likely to score from first on a single? How is the pitcher's game affected by having to throw from the stretch and favor his fastball to prevent steals? Until I see hard numbers trumping my personal observations on these things, I'm going to keep assuming they matter a great deal.

Jeff Webber / April 12, 2006 8:21 PM

And btw, I am totally loving this baseball debate. Cheers.

Steve / April 13, 2006 7:31 AM

As I mentioned above, I'm intrigued by the possibilities of Ross Gload playing every day in left field. If he puts up the .850 OPS that he managed in '04. he's more valuable than punchless Podsednik. If he doesn't, we look to trade for someone after giving him 100 ABs or so. Even though he could end up with near-full-time status, I would not want Mackowiak as a regular.

I don't see why a left fielder acquisition would have to follow your criteria, both because we could deal a minor league hitter (Owens, Sweeney or Fields) or a member of the rotation, and I don't know that our payroll is maxed out. That said, a package of either Garcia or Garland plus Pods for a slugging leftfielder and a fourth-starter/swingman type would do nicely, with either McCarthy or the newly acquired pitcher joining the rotation in the fifth spot, and perhaps getting treated like a genuine fifth starter (that is, skipped when an offday allows it).

But now we're entering Sam Smith territory, albeit in a different sport....

Jeff Webber / April 13, 2006 8:36 AM

You don't really think anyone is going to trade for Podsednik now do you?

While I think they will trade a starter, I think they'll be saving that bullet til midseason for whatever they need then. Garland's first year has a no trade clause, I think.

I would be flabbergasted if they traded Fields yet.

Jason / April 13, 2006 10:56 AM

If Tadahito were the leadoff hitter for this team, who would hit second? If you go with the OBP theory instead of the speedy leadoff hitter theory, you need another OBP guy hitting second. A guy like Bill Mueller would have fit the bill. Spring training showed me that Uribe is not that guy. If Jim Thome plays half as well as he is now for the rest of the year, you need men on base.

Steve / April 13, 2006 2:49 PM

Who would hit second? Gload, baby. Ross Gload.

The man has done a Hell of a job overcoming the handicap of an extremely unpleasant name; now, he needs our faith. Gload.

Jason / April 13, 2006 5:09 PM

Ross Gload could be a terrific player. He really could be. I just wouldn't be comfortable sticking a player with probably less than 200 ML AB's in the 2-hole of the defending champs.

Steve / April 13, 2006 5:59 PM

Jason -- the guy who hit second last year for the World Champs came into the year with zero ML ABs!

In any case, I think you and I agree that it's all about OBP guys, so our dream lineups don't call for a guy who takes pitches while the leadoff man tries to steal, wastes outs with sacrifice bunts, etc.

Jason / April 14, 2006 8:16 AM

We're totally on the same page with OBP guys and wasting outs, etc.

I guess I have a bit of a Japanese baseball fixation, so I rarely consider someone who played in Japan to be of rookie status. They just seem to have a knack foor fitting in pretty darn well.

Jeff Webber / April 14, 2006 9:41 AM

If you go with the OBP theory instead of the speedy leadoff hitter theory...

I think the reason I can't let this argument go is that no one seems to realize I am arguing for OBP. Gathright, while speedy, also has a 2006 ZIPS projection for a .342 OBP, same as Tad's 2005. BaseballAnalysts.com has him at .360. His career minor league OBP is .390.

I don't think I'd be frustrated if people were saying he wouldn't hit these numbers (PECOTA has him lower, I think), y'all seem to be assuming that the fact the he can run means he won't walk. Not true. His rookie season OBP wasn't good, but he has a pattern of improving dramatically his second time around a league.

Steve / April 14, 2006 9:53 AM

Jeff, I think we're working at cross-purposes or something.

We agree that OBP is important; I also believe SLG is important, as mentioned above. Outside of the first inning, the leadoff hitter is not guaranteed to lead off again during the course of a game, and on an American League team with competent hitters (okay, competent hitters and Brian Anderson, zing!) at the bottom of the lineup, I want to see someone who can drive in runs as well as get on base. Slap-and-tickle hitters lead to AJ, Crede, and Anderson getting forced out on the bases.

I will give massive props to the manager of a contending team who, come September and expanded rosters, dares to pinchhit for speedy punchless leadoff man any time he comes into an RBI situation, even in the second or third inning. Vivan los specialistes!

Jeff Webber / April 14, 2006 6:59 PM

I'm all for pinch hitting for speedsters in RBI situations, myself.

As for the importance of SLG for leadoff guys... current sabremetric thinking generally holds OBP to be about 3 times as important as SLG.

So, if you've got a guy like Iguchi, getting on base at a .340 clip with a .440 SLG, he is--from a runs created standpoint--no more useful than a slap hitting speedster with a .360 OBP and a paltry .380 SLG. And when you add in the positive impact of such a speedster's steals (Gathright's minor league success rate is, by the way, much closer to 80% than the 70% break even line)... well there you go. And we're just talking offense. Gathright was, as mentioned above, one of the highest ratest CFs, in terms of range, in all of MLB last year.

The key of course is whether a person thinks Joey Gathright can get on base at a .360 clip. Based on his projections, MLEs, scouting reports, and my own observations, I think he probably could.

I can certainly applaud the Ross Gload idea, though, as cheap homegrown solutions are always worth a shot before hitting the market.

Jeff Webber / April 14, 2006 7:03 PM

Cripes, Steve, this is fun. Maybe we should start a blog where all we do is cheerfully argue about Chicago baseball...

 

About the Author(s)

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 sox@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 Gillies watches too much soccer to be completely healthy. He's 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

Jason Maslanka began his fandom of the Chicago Bulls in June of 1991, conveniently coinciding with the franchise's first championship. The years since the championships tested his fandom, but it never faltered. He believes that the NBA is more than dunks and hip hop, and that the NBA dress code is a good thing. He thinks most fans don't really understand basketball, and if they did, they'd love it even more. He knows that there are certain players who do the little things for no praise, and stat-mongers who don't really do anything to help their team win. Every week, he plans to execute a beautifully crafted column containing five points you should be thinking about and discussing as a Bulls and NBA fan. Send comments, questions and arguments to bulls@gapersblock.com.

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