Friday, February 27, 2009

Back to earn more stripes

Tiger's back on the prowl. He didn't have quite the same growl in his first tournament, as he threw in the towel in the second round of the Accenture Match Play Championship, losing 4-and-2 to Tim Clark.

But the golf world (or the whole world, really) is back on notice. In his Wednesday return to golf, the Golf Channel drew its highest ratings for any round of a tournament it has covered. And this was the first round of a 64-player match play tournament, sort of like the first round of March Madness.

It was, after all, the return of the greatest athlete in the world after an eight-month layoff due to knee surgery. Tiger is not just the best golfer out there, he IS golf. Despite not playing since last June (when he won the U.S. Open despite a double stress fracture of his left tibia and a torn ACL), Tiger ranks 1st in the World Golf Rankings by 1.74 points over Sergio Garcia. 1.74 doesn't sound like much, until you realize that it's greater than the gap between the 65th player in the world and the 550th.

Even more amazing is that back in January, in the midst of a seven-month layoff, his World Golf Ranking was actually 1.14 points HIGHER. So before his return and ensuing second round defeat, as talented columnist Mike Nadel points out, the gap between Tiger and 6th ranked golfer Geoff Ogilvy was greater than that between Ogilvy and the 1,382nd ranked golfer, good ol' Pablo Abumohor. But check this out: after his U.S. Open victory, Tiger had 21.54 ranking points, twice as many as 2nd-place Phil Mickelson. Despite spending the last eight months rehabbing, he still sits atop the world leader board, but has dropped all the way down to 9.61 points.

Tiger is a joy to watch. Some take issue with his periodically brash demeanor; others shun his dominance for the same reason that many of us are sick of the Yankees' non-stop success since the mid-90s. I agree that he should try to restrain himself from yelling at photographers (though in fairness, he's the only golfer that has to deal with this constant distraction), but with regard to his personality and antics, it's not like we're talking about T.O. or Michael Vick here. He generally seems to be a pretty nice guy and a solid role model.

In terms of his dominance, Tiger Woods is not funded by the Steinbrenners. He's not buying success by spending as much as the bottom 13% of players on the tour. No, Woods is just a man more skilled at his sport than anyone else, a guy with the focus and intensity of a tiger; a golf prodigy who shot 48 over nine holes at the age of three, won the Junior World Championships six times, was the youngest ever Junior Amateur Champion, and has exhibited the staying power to parlay his early success into an extended stranglehold on the game of golf.

I'm typically a fan of parity, but in this case I side with rarity. Tiger is MJ. Tiger is Ali. Tiger is Babe Ruth. I can't help but hope for him to continue to add to his list of accomplishments so that I can say I grew up watching the man with the most major titles (2nd place, four more to match Nicklaus) and the most PGA tour wins (3rd place, 17 more to tie Sam Snead).

He has been ranked 1st in the world since June 12, 2005. That string of 194 weeks is not even the longest of his career--he controlled the leader board for an absurd 264 weeks from 1999-2004 (that's a record). Whether he attains the above distinctions or not, I've gained a great deal of enjoyment watching this freak of nature, and even his detractors must admit that he is special to watch.

I'm just glad Tiger's back. Oh, and by the way: The Masters is April 9-12.

NCAA tournament, Titan style

The IWU women's basketball team is now 27-0 after winning the CCIW conference tournament with 76-58 and 75-55 wins over North Central and Carthage, respectively. Next step: the NCAA tournament. This will be their third consecutive appearance in the tournament.

Also, congratulations to Christina Solari on her CCIW "Player of the Year" honor, and to Coach Mia Smith for her CCIW "Coach of the Year" honor.

The announcement for Division III NCAA tournament pairings will be at 10 a.m. Monday at The team will have to win either five or six games to take the ultimate trophy, depending on whether they are awarded a first-round bye.

There are no more silly losses from here on out--losing in the NCAA tournament is never something to be ashamed of. But after watching this team plow through CCIW and non-conference opponents like a woodchuck through wood, I think we all expect some degree of success on the national stage. Add in that the Titans will almost assuredly host a game or two (or more), and it's hard not to hold out some "hope" that the women will be playing in a few weeks at Hope College, host of the Final Four.

But no matter what the tournament has in store, a sincere congratulations to the Titan women! What an incredible season!

3-0, 198 to go

Micah Hoffpauir (pronounced Hoff-POWER, as in he hit 25 HR at AAA Iowa last year) celebrates his grand slam in the Cubs' first spring training game.

The Cubs are 3-0 in spring training, posting 5-3, 7-4 and 10-4 victories. They are clearly a runaway victory train; a true juggernaut that can't be stopped. Joey Gathright is 3-3, Micah Hoffpauir has two home runs and seven RBI, and Ryan Theriot is batting .571. With additional contributions from players such as Jeff Stevens, Mark Johnson and Doug Deeds (seriously), this is a team so laden with talent from top to bottom that the "W" flag may spend the entire season atop Wrigley's flag pole.

PREDICTION: The Cubs will go undefeated in spring training, and then go 162-0 in the regular season. This is my first Cubs prediction of the year, and I have to admit: I feel pretty good about it. The Cubs finished 97-64 in 2008, and I think if a few more hits fall in and a few more calls go their way, they could easily add 65 victories to this season's total. For the record, this would result in a combined spring + regular season record of 201-0.

Some may say this prediction is overly bold, or even stupid, or perhaps completely asinine and ridiculous. Some may say this prediction undermines my status as a Cubs analyst, throws my baseball acumen into question, and casts doubt on my general mental competency. Some may think this prediction premature, or baseless, or dismiss it as a comical take on a small sampling of meaningless spring training games. To those people I say: good points.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Cy "Young"

Brooklyn Paige
Chicago Cubs

Ht: 18 in Wt: 4 lbs, 15 oz Throws: Right

Brooklyn led the majors in wins, strikeouts, ERA and games started in 2009. She was voted MVP and Cy Young of the National League. Hers is a classic feel-good story, as she has had great success in the Majors despite being undersized and constantly underrated by scouts.

Year Team G W L SO ERA
2007 Cubs 35 30 0 250 1.42
2008 Cubs 34 29 0 235 1.76
2009 Cubs 36 36 0 260 1.38

Baseball time is here again

Baseball season's underway
Well you better get ready for a brand new day.
Hey, Chicago, what do you say
The Cubs are gonna win today.

They're singing ...
Go, Cubs, go
Go, Cubs, go

Hey, Chicago, what do you say
The Cubs are gonna win today.

Go, Cubs, go
Go, Cubs, go

Hey, Chicago, what do you say
The Cubs are gonna win today.

You know why I can post the lyrics to a song saying the Cubs are going to win today?

Because the Cubs play a baseball game today. At 2pm vs. the Dodgers. Because spring training starts today.

Sure, we're still 40 days from the start of the regular season, but fake baseball starts today! Bats, and gloves, and baseballs, and pitches, and strikes, and baserunning, and other baseball game-related things. Enjoy!

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Perfect regular season

The Illinois Wesleyan women's basketball team is now 25-0, completing an undefeated regular season with an 81-75 victory at Elmhurst Tuesday night. The Titans faced their biggest scare all year, as they trailed by 20 with 15:26 to go, but outscored the Bluejays 49-23 the rest of the way. According to IWU's Web site, the Titans are the first CCIW champion since 1998 to go undeafeated.
IWU will host the CCIW tournament this Friday and Saturday, playing North Central (12-12 overall, 7-7 conference) at 8pm Friday. Wheaton faces Carthage in the other game at 6pm. The championship game will be held at 2pm Saturday.

After that, it's on to the national tournament, and one could argue that with all the blowouts this season, having a tough battle and being forced to fight from behind for a change is not the worst thing that could have happened, especially considering they still escaped with an unblemished record. The Titans faced a serious challenge but still came out on top, and that's a good sign.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Big East is a Beast, but DePaul is the Least

How ridiculous is the Big East? The conference seems to feature two or three can't-miss match-ups every week. Five of the nation's top ten teams reside in the Big East (Pitt, UConn, Louisville, Marquette, Villanova), and three others have been ranked this season (Notre Dame, Georgetown, Syracuse).

Some historical perspective from the New York Times:

"In 2006, the Big East set an NCAA tournament record by ushering eight teams into March Madness. In 2008, the conference tied its own mark with another eight-team showing. The latest edition of Joe Lunardi’s Bracketology at has seven Big East teams making the tournament this season. We could still have a record this year, though, as Georgetown, Cincinnati and Providence could also squeeze in."

Georgetown hurt their chances with a 76-58 loss to Louisville tonight, but could still sneak in by winning their final three games. The fact that an 8-10 team could potentially dance speaks volumes about the conference. Here's one way to look at it: The Big Ten, which is no slouch of a conference (and also has seven teams Marching to Madness according to Lunardi), has its 11 teams averaging 17.1 total wins this season. The top 13 teams in the Big East average 18.8 wins.

Here are some Big East games that have taken place in the last three weeks:

1 Connecticut vs. 7 Louisville
16 Villanova vs. 20 Syracuse
13 Villanova vs. 12 Marquette
1 Connecticut vs. 22 Syracuse
Notre Dame vs. 7 Louisville (ND ranked as high as 7 this year)
4 Pittsburgh vs. 1 Connecticut
11 Marquette vs. Georgetown (ranked as high as 9 this year)
14 Villanova vs. 25 Syracuse
6 Louisville vs. Georgetown

This Wednesday, (2) UConn will visit (10) Marquette, and then Marquette has to visit (6) Louisville this weekend.

The point: the Big East is a freakin' gauntlet this season. Teams like Connecticut and Pittsburgh (and Louisville, and Marquette, and Villanova ...) will be very well prepared for the madness coming next month, as they have faced top teams week in and week out since early January. It would not be surprising to see three or four Big East teams in the Elite Eight, and even two or three in the Final Four. Of course, anyone can get hot in March, but the Big East teams have the advantage of having faced the heat all season.

One last point: What the hell is DePaul doing in this conference? Other than losing, that is. The Blue Demons have to be feeling quite blue about their 0-14 conference record. But they don't just lose, they lose like only a team that is completely and utterly over matched in every conference game they play can lose: by an average of 17.6 points per game.

DePaul went from Conference USA to the Big East in 2005 when the Big East invited them, Cincinnati, Louisville, Marquette and South Florida to join their ranks in response to having lost three football teams. But DePaul doesn't even have a football team, and they apparently don't have a basketball team either. This invitation was clearly like when you're having a party and there's that guy at work who has no friends and is way too proud of his Star Trek Convention Trivia Championship and he always has just a little bit of drool on his chin but you have to invite him because he's going to find out about it anyways, but I'll tell him it's just a little get-together and it's no big deal if he can't make it and please God let him be busy that night. But no, DePaul's schedule was completely free that night and he can't wait to come and he'll bring his Star Trek: Insurrection DVD because it's the one where the crew discovers a cloaked Federation ship that contains a gigantic holodeck and it's going to be the greatest night ever and have you seen it yet? You haven't seen it? Do you think everyone else has seen it? I'll come over early and get it all set up.

So now DePaul gets the crap beaten out of it every year, having won a total of 20 conference games in their four years in the Big East. This year's fourth and fifth place teams (Louisville and Villanova) have combined for 22 wins THIS SEASON. With 16 teams, the Big East is more like the Huge East, and should think about downsizing.

But more importantly, it's also incredibly strong from top to middle, and it should be exciting to see how the teams fare come tournament time.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

"Start" of Spring Training

Zambrano, Dempster, Lilly and Harden--that's all set. But who will replace the supreme averageness of Jason Marquis as the Cubs' 5th starter? Piniella is in a good position, with two solid options and a potential wild card in 24-year-old Jeff Samardzija. Though of the three, only Marshall has appeared as a starter more often than a reliever in his career.

Heilman, 30, had been with the Mets his whole career, but was traded to the Mariners in December and then quickly flipped to the Cubs in January. Heilman was traded after struggling as a reliever in '08, going 3-8 with a 5.21 ERA and 1.59 WHIP (walks + hits/inning pitched). However, he posted a 3.27 total ERA in the three seasons prior. Those numbers came mostly out of the 'pen, as he started just seven games in that time frame, all in '05. Heilman has not started since that year.

Marshall is a 26-year-old lefty who has provided versatility for the Cubs since coming up from the Minors in 2006. He has appeared in 79 games with the Cubs, 50 as a starter. Last year was arguably his best, as he posted: 3-5, 3.86 ERA, 1.27 WHIP. Marshall has generally fared better out of the 'pen (3.03 vs. 4.80 ERA).

It's actually somewhat ridiculous how similar these two pitchers are with their production. A look at their career numbers (Marshall listed first):

16-22 4.62 1.41
22-33 4.24 1.33

More food for thought: Marshall, as more of a finesse pitcher, will post fewer strikeouts, but has also exhibited slightly better control. (Marshall listed first)

K/9 IP BB/9 IP
6.18 3.6
7.90 3.7

So: both have split time between starting and relieving, and both have been better as relievers. Their career win percentages are two percentage points apart, their ERAs and WHIPs are very similar, and Heilman is likely to strike out a few more guys, while walking slightly fewer.

Well, I'm exhausted. One thing to consider is that if Marshall starts, Neal Cotts is likely to be the only lefty out of the bullpen. Did you hear that? I said: Neal Cotts could be the only lefty out of the bullpen. Add in the fact that Cotts is actually better against righties than lefties, and this could be a serious factor in the final decision.

But wait: our wild card candidate. Jeff Samardzija came up last July and appeared in 26 games. He was exciting to watch, putting up a 2.28 ERA and notching 25 Ks in 27.2 IP. However, he also walked 15, and a similar struggle with control in a starter role would severely limit his ability to go deep into ballgames. Given that Zambrano and Harden tend to struggle in that arena, I'd prefer to see a 5th starter who can eat up some innings.

To me, it seems silly to prematurely choose between Heilman and Marshall, since neither really stands out. But as I said above, this is a nice situation for Lou. Both have the ability to perform satisfactorily in the 5th starter role, and whoever ends up in the 'pen will provide a nice insurance policy when another starter gets injured or struggles. Lou has rightly declared that he'll use spring training as a forum to help answer this particular question.

I lean toward Marshall because he's had more experience as a starter, but would have no problem seeing Heilman take the ball every fifth day. Ultimately, this is just one of many reasons to be excited about spring training baseball, which starts in just three short days (vs. Dodgers, Wednesday, 2:00 CST). And by the way, Samardzija will start the first game.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Brooklyn Paige

My beautiful niece.

4 lbs, 15 oz
18 in

Small in stature, big in awesomeness.

Congrats, Mandy!

Mother and child are both doing well, and should be home Sunday.

Goodbye to Conan

Hard to believe, but Conan has been on since I was 11 years old. He was a writer at SNL, and when Letterman left for CBS, SNL executive producer Lorne Michaels tapped a 6-4, red-headed goofball with virtually no TV experience to take over Late Night. It was a ballsy decision on Lorne's part, but it sure worked out. Lucky for his fans, Conan had this to say on last night's final show, regarding his next gig at the Tonight Show:

"Sometimes I read that it's time for Conan to grow up cuz he's going to 11:30, and I assure you: that's just not going to happen."

The Tonight Show currently targets a different demographic than Late Night, and Conan has already had to retire some of his more outlandish gigs such as the Masturbating Bear. But here's hoping that Conan will still be Conan, just an hour earlier. A couple clips from last night's final episode:

And I can't post this video because NBC prevents YouTube from providing an embed code (and I can't find it on NBC's site), but this is a link to one of my favorite moments:

Friday, February 20, 2009

Ticket Masters

Today was yet another milestone on the path to Baseball 2009. Every year, the ritual goes something like this:
  • Pitchers and catchers report
  • Position players report
  • Tickets go on sale
  • Spring training games begin
  • Several rounds of roster cuts
  • Final roster is set
  • Ope ... Openi ... Opening Day arrives (sorry, my fingers tremble with excitement when I try to type that)
Trevor Sierra and I engaged in our annual tele-Internet-athon, multitasking our way through landlines, cell phones and virtual waiting rooms in an attempt to secure some two hour and forty-seven minute vacations this summer.

Our final haul included two Cardinals games, a White Sox game, and three others, including some pretty decent seats. Ticket Day is always a double-edged sword, as it is quite glorious in what it presages, but, as Trevor pointed out, it makes it that much more difficult to wait out the next month-and-a-half of sub-freezing temperatures, snow, and a general lack of regular season Cubs baseball. On this day every year, I have the strange taste of hot dog in my mouth (not the taste of strange hot dog, that's quite different), an odd desire to sing the National Anthem, and an inexplicable urge to pay $6.50 for a beer.

But most of all, I know that better days are ahead.

Thursday, February 19, 2009


33 total points

0 free throws attempted

I wanted to be ill as I watched Ill. put together one of the more offensive offensive displays in Assembly Hall history last night. The Illini were like terrible battleship players (they couldn't sink anything). If they were plumbers, they'd have been fired (they couldn't drain anything). If they were a movie, they'd be The Natural (they sucked).

OK, sorry, I was just trying to distract myself from disturbing facts such as these:

  • Illinois lost to Penn State on Wednesday by a score of 38-33. No, the game was not forfeited at halftime; that was the final.
  • Illinois attempted zero free throws, the first time in school history that has happened.
  • The teams shot a combined 29 percent from the field. I'm pretty sure Chris Kawakita and I shoot a higher percentage when we play horse, and most of our shots are from at least 30 feet away, or involve our feet, head, back, knee, non-dominant hand, a folding chair, a wall, a pillar, a nearby child, an orange cone, the bleachers, the ceiling, a cell phone, a door, the hoop at the other end of the court, an animal, a table, the scoreboard, or the shot clock.
  • The teams combined for the lowest point total in D I since 2005.
  • Illinois had six points with under eight minutes to go in the first half.
  • Illinois had 29 points with 10:21 to go in the game, scored a basket with six minutes left, then another basket with about two minutes left, and that was it. Repeat: 29 points with 10:21 left. Two. More. Baskets. The. Rest. Of. The. Game.
Anyways, the loss drops the Illini to third place in the Big Ten, and means it would take a miracle for them to overtake Michigan State for the regular season title. But they're still in good position to get a top seed in the Big Ten tournament, and they need to move forward and pretend this game never happened.

Go Illi--I just threw up a little in my mouth.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Fit for two Kings

The Bulls didn't make THE trade (Amaré Stoudemire), but they did make A trade, landing forward John Salmons and center Brad Miller from Sacramento (click post title for story). Andres Nocioni, Drew Gooden and Cedric Simmons head west to the Kings.

The Bulls cleared cap room by unloading the four years, $28 million left on Noc's contract, and freed up some serious facial hair room by shipping Gooden.

Miller was with the Bulls for about a year-and-a-half from 2000-2002, and this year is averaging 11.9 points and eight rebounds. He's no Dwight Howard, but the Bulls could use an inside presence, and Miller has made two All-Star teams and is a good passing big man.

This is Salmons' seventh year in the NBA, and also his best, as he's averaging 18.3 points per game. He is a 6-time winner of the Whitest Sounding Name for a Black Player award.

Cubs quote of the day

From Paul Sullivan of the Tribune:

"Mike Fontenot and his girlfriend bought Ryan Theriot's kids a trampoline for Christmas, much to the Theriots' chagrin.

'It's only like a foot off the ground,' Fontenot said. 'They'll only break their arms, not their necks, so he's happy about it. He told me when I have kids, he's going to get them steak knives.'"

Conan the Birdarian

This is Conan's last week at Late Night (tear), and they're doing some great "best of" stuff.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

A Look Back

The Illini had a good day on Tuesday without even taking the court. As some bloggers predicted, Purdue stepped it up with a big win over Michigan State, giving the Illini a realistic chance of catching the Spartans in the Big Ten. Here are the updated Big Ten standings:

Michigan State 10-3 20-5
Illinois 9-4 21-5
Purdue 9-4 20-6
Ohio State 7-5 17-6
Minnesota 7-6 19-6
Penn State 7-6 18-8
Wisconsin 7-6 16-9
Michigan 6-7 16-10
Northwestern 4-8 13-10
Iowa 3-10 13-13
Indiana 1-11 6-18

Michigan State lost for the first time on the road, as they were pasted 72-54. It was a three-point game at halftime, but Purdue dominated the second half. It looks like it will be an exciting final three weeks in the Big Ten! And I won my free sports bet at!

My other prediction was in the NBA. The Bucks did indeed topple the Pistons, but it wasn't their offense that did the trick--it was their D. Milwaukee registered a 92-86 upset victory, and is now two games behind Detroit for the 7th spot in the Eastern Conference. The Bulls are just 2.5 games behind the Bucks, which is absurd, because that means they're 2.5 games out of a playoff spot, and the Bulls deserve a playoff spot about as much as Alfonso Soriano deserves a Career Postseason Achievement award. I'm selfishly glad the Bulls have a shot at the playoffs, but seriously: why does the NBA allow so many teams into the playoffs? It's Bulloney.

A Look Ahead

It's a Big Night in the Big Ten, as first place (5) Michigan State takes on third place (21) Purdue in West Lafayette. MSU fears not being on the road, as they are one of two teams (UConn) to be undefeated away from home this season.
Illinois is jammed between these two teams in the standings, so they'll keep a close eye on this one. It might be the last best hope the Illini have to pull within one game of first, as a Purdue victory could mean that an Illini win against MSU on March 1 would launch them into a tie with the Spartans.

This should be a great battle, and I think MSU's road magic has to end sometime. Why not against a strong team who knows it has to have this one? Purdue by 5.

Also, the NBA is back after it's All-Star hiatus, and I'll give you an upset special: Milwaukee has lost their first three games against the Pistons this season, but will turn up the offense tonight and get a win. There will be no bailout for Detroit this evening (ha!).

Monday, February 16, 2009

Movin' on Down?

Word out of Mesa is that Piniella is finally considering moving Soriano out of the leadoff spot (click post title for Tribune blog post). Many Cubs fans have banged their heads against the wall for two years about this, as Soriano seems suited for the middle of the lineup rather than the top. Sori has averaged 36 home runs over the last four years, and while he had 71 combined stolen bases in '05 and '06, he's had just 19 each of the last two seasons.

On-base percentage is often cited (correctly, if you ask me) as the most important statistic for a leadoff man, and Soriano's career OBP is .329. Last season, his OBP as a leadoff man placed him 22nd among 32 players with at least 200 plate appearances.

So: Soriano can mash the hell out of the ball, doesn't run much, and is not prone to getting on base. Analysis: bad leadoff man.

The one thing people mention in defense of him batting leadoff is his ability to "spark the offense" when he starts the game with a dinger. I agree that it's sweet to be up 1-0 about 30 seconds into the game, but you could say the same about Ryan Braun, A-Rod, or any other home run hitter. If he hit lower in the order, the Cubs might be up 3-0 in the first, instead of just 1-0.

But here's the rub: Soriano doesn't seem to produce when hitting down in the order. Over the last three years, he boasts a .297 average in the leadoff spot, while hitting an atrocious .144 in all other spots, including a .243 average in the 5-hole, where he could possibly bat in a reshaped Cubs lineup (Fontenot, Theriot, Lee, Bradley, Soriano, Ramirez, Soto, Johnson). One could certainly argue that this is partly due to attitude, as he has typically cried foul when not batting leadoff. Can you imagine if he got over his leadoff obsession and had one of his patented hot streaks in the 5- or 6-hole instead of the leadoff spot? Last year, Soriano was 29th in the majors in home runs, but just 81st in RBI! He had fewer runs batted in than Hunter Pence! Two years ago, the disparity was even more dramatic, as he was 11th in the majors in homers, but just 102nd in RBI, behind legendary run producers like Ray Durham and Kevin Kouzmanoff.

The two most natural leadoff options would probably be Ryan Theriot and Mike Fontenot. Fontenot's career OBP is .369, and was a superb .395 last year. Theriot's career mark is .362, and he's averaged 21 stolen bases over the last three seasons.

Theriot played very well last season, and is a great slap hitter with an amazing ability to hit the ball to the right side. This is a great skill for a 2-hitter, as he could often produce a first-and-third situation if Fontenot gets on ahead of him. However, you'd like to have a base-stealing threat, and Fontenot is far from it (seven career stolen bases).

Theriot is a bit of a threat to run, and Fontenot, as a lefty, has a natural ability to hit the ball to the right side. I wouldn't mind seeing:


I hope Lou at least experiments this spring with some different options. Sure, the Cubs won 97 games last year with Sori leading off, but a) that doesn't mean there's no room for improvement, and b) in the playoffs, when every at-bat counts and pitchers tend to make fewer mistakes, Soriano goes from a spark plug to a dead battery.

I have no idea why Piniella has babied Soriano throughout his tenure in Chicago, and his quotes from today don't sound all that geniune either (“So, we’ll see. To me, he’s still my leadoff hitter. I love him in the leadoff spot. I like him in the leadoff spot. But, look, we can see how it looks. We’ve got plenty of time in the spring to see where things shake out.”). So this is all premature and probably pointless, but I'm glad Soriano finally seems amenable to a change, and it'd be nice to see Lou play around with the lineup a bit during spring training.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

A Tale of Two Titans

Both Titan squads hosted Wheaton on Valentine's Day. The women showed no love for the Thunder, beating down yet another opponent with a 101-57 victory. They are now 22-0 overall and 12-0 in conference play. The win clinches the CCIW regular season title, meaning the Titans will host the CCIW tournament on Friday-Saturday, Feb. 27-28. Congratulations, Titans!
The men, on the other hand, continued to struggle, losing 86-60 and falling to 5-7 in the CCIW. Kent Raymond filled it up with 28 points on 10-17 shooting, including 5-10 from three. Fellow observer Chris Kawakita noted Raymond's impeccable shooting stroke, especially from the free throw line. Raymond is an 89 percent free throw shooter on the season, good for 11th in Division III. Raymond is also 11th in the nation in points per game, averaging 23.5.

The Titans committed 19 turnovers, a category in which they unfortunately lead the conference (14.3 average). The loss leaves them in 6th place.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Warrick not Done

Wide receiver Peter Warrick was regarded as an extreme disappointment in the NFL. Now he'll be playing with the Bloomington Extreme (click post title for Pantagraph story).

Warrick was drafted fourth overall out of FSU by the Bengals in the 2000 NFL draft, having been the Sugar Bowl MVP and a two-time 1st team All-American. Warrick fizzled out in the NFL, however, and was cut by the Bengals before the 2005 season after being replaced by T.J. Houshmandzadeh. Bengals owner Mike Brown said, "It took dozens of workers 3-and-a-half months to put Housmend ... Hooshmanz ... that guy's name on a jersey. We've got too much invested in him. We have to play him now." (He didn't really say that.)

After a year with the Seahawks, Warrick spent time with the Las Vegas Gladiators of the AFL, and last year played with the Montreal Alouettes of the CFL. Warrick, therefore, set a record for biggest drop off in nickname manliness. Alouette, you may be aware, is a children's song about plucking the feathers off a skylark, a small bird. Repeat: he went from a gladiator to a children's song about plucking the feathers off a small bird.

Analysts say this record will likely never be broken, as this is currently the biggest possible drop off in nickname manliness. Former record holders include:

- NBL players who played for the Philadelphia Warriors followed by the Anderson Duffey Packers (that's not a joke ----->)
- players who went from any team at all to the Brooklyn Bridegrooms of the NL
- players who went from the Colt .45s of the NL to any team at all (seriously, naming your team after a semi-automatic pistol? Now that's manly.)

Note: CFL'ers who play for the Saskatchewan Roughriders followed by the Alouettes are in a tie for second behind Warrick.

The Extreme will play their first game Monday, May 4. Given that AFL teams often score in the 50s or higher, Warrick should be an exciting addition to the team.

Friday, February 13, 2009

In the 'Zona

Pitchers and catchers have reported to Mesa, Ari. for training camp. Break out the ball and glove, crack open the baseball book you've been saving, and start researching for your fantasy league. Spring training is here!

Thursday, February 12, 2009

A Look Back

Illinois got all Jekyll on their Hyde last night, ending a brutal road slump by staging a comeback victory against Northwestern. Down by 14 with just 5:28 left, the Illini went on a 17-2 run, and Demetri McCamey banked in the winning jumper with 2.9 seconds left (17-2, oddly, matches the Bulls' run to beat the Pistons Tuesday). Northwestern dominated the first 35 minutes of the game, but once Illinois instituted a full-court press, the Wildcats fell apart, showing why they've never made it to the NCAA tournament. C'mon, Northwestern. The NCAA tournament has been around since 1939, and you've NEVER made it. NOT EVER. Your last conference championship was in 1933! There was no TV or radio in 1933! You are clearly the 11th wheel in the Big Ten.

The Bulls, proving they are consistently inconsistent, dropped their final game before the All-Star break, losing to Miami 95-93. The Bulls trailed most of the game, tied it with 6.5 seconds left, then lost on a Shawn Marion dunk with 1.1 seconds left. At the break, the Bulls are 23-30, in 10th place in the East.

Notre Dame's losing streak had to end sometime, and you figured that when it did, they were going to unleash their anger on someone. The Irish took out their religious wrath on Louisville, getting revenge for an OT loss earlier this season with a 90-57 victory. Louisville shot a pathetic 39 percent, while ND was 10-18 from three.

On a separate note, I'm glad to see Field of Dreams did well in the poll. Whoever voted for The Natural: you are wrong.

A Look Ahead

One day--that's right, ONE--until Cubs pitchers and catchers report for spring training. Exercising, stretching and ... well, that's actually about it for now. But still, there will be Cubs players on a baseball field, and that's what counts.

As points out, Illinois has won every home game and lost every road game since early January. With road games against 4-6 Northwestern and 1-10 Indiana this week, the Illini hope to change their road fortunes. Despite their struggles away from Assembly Hall, the Illini are favored by 2.5 points tonight (8:00, ESPN2), in part because they've won 11 of their last 12 at Welsh-Ryan Arena.

Illinois knows it's time to crank things up (only seven of 18 conference games remain), and given the fact that Illinois won't have the opportunity to beat down NW in Champaign this season, plus the fact that they only have to travel a few hours for this "road" game, I think Illinois will finally figure things out tonight. Northwestern is in the top 25 in points allowed, and scoring has been the problem on the road for the Illini, so while I expect a close game, Illinois has more talent and athleticism, and should pull it out.

It's also #1 vs. #2 tonight. No, not in college basketball. Rather, #1 overall pick Derrick Rose and the Bulls will try to stay hot as they battle #2 overall pick Michael Beasley, Dwyane Wade and the Miami Heat (6:00, TNT). Wade has struggled at the United Center in the past, and lately, he's been their whole team. Therefore, the call here is that the Bulls take their last game prior to the All-Star break.

Did you know: Notre Dame is French for "Not that much better than DePaul." DePaul, who wishes they had never joined the Big East in 2005, is 0-12 in conference play. Notre Dame, a program with a storied history and a preseason ranking of nine, is just 3-7, having lost their last seven. Now I know why their football team doesn't join a conference! Their seven consecutive losses have been by an average of 13.8 points. Wow. Is there anything the Pope can do?

The answer is no (I think--I'm not entirely familiar with all the teachings of the Catholic church). And tonight, there won't be much Luke Harangody or Kyle McAlarney can do to stop the bleeding against Louisville (6:00, ESPN). There doesn't seem to be much fight in this year's version of the Fighting Irish. ND goes down again tonight.


Conan only has a few shows left, but for some reason still invited Norm McDonald on for one of them:

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Pot proponents upset with Kellogg's for bonging Phelps

Michael Phelps took a hit recently when Kellogg Co. got frosted at him for flaking out on them when he was caught smoking marijuana from a bong last November (click post title for Tribune story).

They've decided they'll no longer be showing him the green, despite sticking with him after a previous drunk driving conviction. Pot proponents are pretty steamed about the whole thing, and I agree. Athletes can drink, smoke cigarettes, commit acts of domestic violence, and worse, and have no problem getting lucrative endorsement deals. Phelps is a dope for getting caught, but Kellogg Co. doesn't have a real leg to stand on when you consider that the company's founder, John Harvey Kellogg, was a proponent of genital cages and electric shock, and co-founded the Race Betterment Foundation, which helped spark the eugenics movement in America. Kellogg Co. is on their high horse here, and needs to leggo their ego.


Jon Stewart doin' his thang, this time at the expense of Bill O'Reilly:


Brett Favre will reportedly tell the Jets he plans to retire (click post title for ESPN story). First of all, talk to me in September. If he's still retired when the season starts, then I'll believe it.

Favre is probably the only Chicago rival I've ever come to like a little bit. Every blue and orange bone in my body hated him for years as he continuously picked apart the Bears, year after year, making ridiculous throws that should be reserved for the backyard; refusing to ever provide hope to his division rivals by missing at least one--just one!!--freakin' game; admitting to an addiction to painkillers; winning a Super Bowl; and defining the Bears chief rival for 16 years.

But he played with so much damn heart and joy, and the Bears actually enjoyed some success in the early-mid part of this decade despite him, that I had to admit: I kind of liked watching him play. He is an NFL icon, and every time I watched him jump up and down after each and every touchdown pass as if it were his first, I just couldn't stay mad at him.

But then he discussed retirement every single year, a la Roger Clemens, and then finally retired, and then tried to pressure the Packers into letting him come back, even though the organization had already tried to move on. Early in his career, given all his success, his unbridled joy often came off to a Packer-hater like me as egotistical, and his decision to un-retire just months after retiring smacked of the same thing.

It was his realness that made me like him for a while. He seemed to genuinely love every moment on the field. When he kept feigning retirement, and then un-retired, he seemed fake and calculated. Today he said he's going to retire: it better be for real.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

A Look Back

The Titan women took care of business, winning 67-45 over the Big Blue. A win at home against Wheaton this Saturday at 2 pm would clinch the regular season conference championship. Of course, the women have loftier goals in mind, as most 21-0 teams would.

If you'll recall, I suggested yesterday that Villanova would beat Marquette, while the Bulls would down the Pistons. Read on:

Villanova shot a ridiculous 58 percent from the field, and laced Marquette 102-84. The victory pulls them within one game of the Golden Eagles and two games of conference leader Connecticut (10-1), and leaves Marquette with back-to-back Big East losses after winning their first nine league games.

The Bulls stayed hot, staging an exciting comeback to beat the Pistons. The Bulls trailed by as many as 15, and by 10 with about 3:30 left, but ended the game on a 17-2 run to win 107-102. Which means three things:
1) the Pistons have lost five straight at the United Center
2) the Bulls are actually playing pretty well of late
3) I am a sports genius

Plus it means I won my free bet on centsports

Prospectus Projections

Baseball Prospectus unloaded their 2009 predictions today (click post title to visit projected standings). For the record, BP predicted 4 of 8 playoff teams correctly in '08, so, like all sports predictions, they're completely worthless.

For '09, they have the Cubs racking up 95 victories and winning the NL Central by 12 games over the Brewers (me likey). BP had the Cubs winning 89 games last year, while they actually won 97. Therefore, we can add eight victories to their projections, and safely assume the Cubs will win 103 games in 2009.

Also according to BP, the Mets and D'Backs win their respective divisions (which they also predicted in '08, incorrectly), while the Braves sneak in there to win the wild card.

In the AL, it's Boston, Cleveland, and a surprising Oakland team, along with the Yankees winning the Wild Card by five games over the Rays.

I'll address these and some of the other projections in the coming days and weeks, and make my own boldly inaccurate predictions as the season approaches. For now, let's just bask in the glory of baseball projections in general, along with the thought of a third straight NL Central title for the Cubs.

College Conference of Illinois Wesleyan?

The undefeated IWU women's basketball team (10-0 CCIW) takes to the home court tonight against Millikin (5-4 CCIW). With four games to go for a potential CCIW sweep, the Titans face one of only two conference foes that has given them a scare this year, as they trailed by four with under 10 minutes to go against the Big Blue on January 17. The Titans ultimately pulled out a six-point victory in that one.

The Titans are so thoroughly dominating the conference that their conference victories (10) equal the combined win total of the bottom half of the CCIW. As the number one team in the nation, it's fitting that they'll be shooting for 11-0 CCIW and 21-0 overall tonight.

A Look Ahead--Things are Looking Up

There's a little spring in my step today, as winter starts its slow recession into the background. It's 57 degrees and sunny in Bloomington, Ill., and Cubs pitchers and catchers report in three days. Quotes from Big Lou, rants from Big Z, injuries from Rich Harden, and more ... I can't wait.

Monday, February 9, 2009

A Look Ahead

Two of the Big East's six ranked teams go head-to-head as Marquette visits Villanova (6:30 CST on ESPN2). To me, this is one of the better mascot match ups you'd want to see: a wildcat vs. a golden eagle. Cats like to eat birds, so it's an inherently good pairing, and here you've basically got a crazy-ass super-charged cat against a rather intimidating bird with an 8-foot wingspan. Think about it ... see? Tough to say what would happen. You might jump to the conclusion that the wildcat would win, but keep in mind that cats often struggle against speedy opponents because they have a tendency to lose focus and start plotting evil deeds, fantasizing about inflicting large-scale suffering upon all humankind. Because they're evil.

On the court, Marquette dropped a stunner to South Florida on Friday, the Bulls' first ever win against a top 10 team. Villanova has won 5 in a row, and is 11-1 at home. I think the one-point loss in Florida might still be messing with the Golden Eagles' heads, and 'Nova's been on a roll. The cats get the upper hand in this one.

On the NBA side, the Bulls finally return home to face the Pistons (7:30 on Comcast SportsNet). The Bulls looked to have gained a spark during their road trip, beating the Clippers, Sacramento, Phoenix and New Orleans, and losing to Dallas by one in overtime. The Bulls are about as predictable as Power Ball numbers, but I think they'll take down the Pistons, if for no other reason than because the Bulls are actually favored, and it would be rude of them to ruin such a special occasion.

I don't think I--wait, let me think ... nope, I've never predicted a sports game incorrectly, so find a bookie and go make some money!

Field of Dreams--in Zion, Ill.?

Play ball!

That's what they'll be doing in 2010 in northeast Chicago suburb Zion, Ill. Kevin Costner is the primary owner of a new minor league baseball team, which begs the question: which movie has he been involved in that most sounds like it could be about baseball, but isn't?

-No Way Out
-Hit and Run
-Message in a Bottle

OK, that last one doesn't sound like baseball, but I needed a third. The point is: Kevin Costner makes a lot of movies about sports, and he apparently involves himself in movies that sound like they'd be about sports, too. Now he's become the owner of an actual sports team. Talk about playing out a subconscious fantasy. Couldn't he just start a blog or something?

But seriously, this is pretty cool. I live just 45 minutes from Peoria, where one of the Cubs single A affiliates plays (Ryne Sandberg coached the team until this year). I saw Nomar Garciaparra play there, as well as Mark Prior. Minor league baseball is great: cheap seats, overly enthusiastic mascots, and you might just see a future star in your own backyard (not literally your back yard, that's Field of Dreams).

The nickname will be voted on by fans. How about the Untouchables?

U. 4 real?

After another home-cooked whooping, this time over 13th ranked Purdue, ESPN projects Illinois as a 4 seed in the tournament (click post title to visit ESPN's bracketology page).

At 7-4 in the Big Ten, Illinois is tied for 2nd with Ohio State, two games behind Michigan State. If they can keep close to MSU the rest of the way, the teams' March 1 matchup in Champaign will be a dandy (yeah, I said it: dandy. You got a problem with that?). U of I has won 10 straight home games, including every conference home game, but has struggled on the road. A 4 seed would surpass even the expectations of the Orange Krush. This week, they take to the road against Northwestern (Thursday) and Indiana (Sunday). They need to find a way to generate some momentum on the road, and playing the 9th and 11th place teams won't hurt.

More on Drugs

So A-Rod was allegedly on the juice, too. I’m shocked, but not “OJ verdict” shocked. The fact is, there were 104 players who tested positive in ’03. I’m not sure how many were tested total, but even if we take all 40 players on each team’s 40-man roster, 40 times 30 is 1,200. That means at least 8 percent of players tested positive for steroids. Regarding steroids in general, we’re pretty sure about Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Mark McGwire, Jose Canseco, Rafael Palmeiro, Jason Giambi, and maybe a few others. Is it that surprising that A-Rod would be one of them?

Don’t get me wrong, it is saddening. For one thing, the more top players that go down, the less trust there will be among fans. It’s worse for a future would-be Hall of Famer like A-Rod to be on the list of 104 than, say, Daryle Ward.

Second, many fans (myself included) were hoping A-Rod could help save baseball by surpassing Bonds’s 762. If you assume that A-Rod’s legacy will be in tatters when all this is said and done, the next best hope to knock Bonds down to 2nd is Albert Pujols. He just turned 29, and has 319 home runs. A-Rod had about 360 home runs at the same age. But instead of being perhaps five or six years away from a new—and legitimate—home run king, we’re perhaps 10 years away, and Pujols is no lock to break the 700 barrier. Plus, A-Rod may still surpass Bonds, and MLB could then have a home run king and queen (not to mention three of the other top 11 career home run leaders) who aren’t in the Hall of Fame.

But in the end, I’m with Curt Schilling on this whole thing. Who is it that’s leaking these names out one-by-one? Let’s get all the names out there. It’s 104 names no matter what the names are. Either way, the pieces are going to have to be picked up; might as well pick them all up at once. Baseball has to get past this before it can move forward.

Update: Alex Rodriguez has admitted to using PEDs during a 3-year period with the Rangers. This admission of course doesn't change anything, but I have to give him credit for coming clean about not being clean. After Giambi's "I'm sorry for something, but I can't say what" press conference, McGwire's "I'm not here to talk about the past" Senate hearing, Barry Bonds's indictment for lying to a grand jury, et al, this is refreshing. A-Rod's decision to cheat is just as wrong as everyone else's, but his immediate reaction is a world apart from most everyone else implicated in baseball's steroid situation.