Friday, October 30, 2009

Rock Cleveland!

The Cleveland Browns are bad. They've scored the third-fewest points in the league and allowed the sixth-most. They've lost three games by more than 20 points. Their fans are even planning a protest for their Monday night game against the Ravens. Bad, bad, bad.

Which is why it's sad, sad, sad that Bears fans have no choice but to get jazzed up for this game given that it means either rising above .500 or falling below it. And it's even sadder that there's at least a tiny little touch of trepidation heading into the game. I mean, if they can lose 45-10--allowing six TDs and a field goal in the Bengals' first seven drives--then they can lose to pretty much anyone, right?

I don't know, but I sure hope not. You should feel better knowing that it's entirely possible that my inability to watch any of last week's game led to the poor performance (I was in airports all day). And even though I have to travel again this Sunday, I booked a 6 a.m. flight just so I could catch all the action. So let's hope my return to sitting in front of the TV with an icy cold beverage corresponds to a return to normalcy in the Land of Lovie.


Confidence and aggression. The Bears have more talent than the Browns on both sides of the ball (as does, you know, your local Pee Wee squad), and they need to come out looking to punish them, not tippy toeing around and scared because of last week's beat down. Someone must pay for last week's tragedy, and I don't see why it shouldn't be the Browns.

Get after the "quarterback." I put "quarterback" in quotes because ohmygod Derek Anderson is so bad. With Brady Quinn as their other option, it's "trick or trick" for Eric Mangini. Not to mention their O-line sucks, having allowed at least one sack in every game this year. But back to Derek Anderson: he is avert-your-eyes, hide-the-children, is-there-a-bucket-nearby-I'm-not-going-to-make-it-to-the-bathroom-in-time bad. If he finishes this game with a QB rating over 80, someone on the Bears' coaching staff should be fired. I nominate Everyone.

Turnovers. If the Bears can maintain their grip on the ball and Cutler can keep from throwing it into the hands of Cleveland's defenders, the game should be a cakewalk. They can't let them hang around by giving them free possessions.

Kick/punt coverage. The Browns' biggest weapon is return man Josh Cribbs. He has the most return yards of anyone in the league to go along with one kick return TD and one punt return TD. Gotta contain him.

Where'd he come from?

QB Derek Anderson, Oregon State
RB Jamal Lewis, Tennessee
WR Josh Cribbs, Kent State
WR Mohamed Massaquoi, Georgia

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Who would you rather have, Jay Cutler or Matt Ryan?

This post is coming a bit late, but watching the Bears-Falcons game made me wonder: Who would you rather have, Jay Cutler or Matt Ryan?

Age isn't much of a factor here, as Cutler, 26, is just two years older than Ryan. Cutler is essentially two-and-a-half years into his career, while Ryan is seven games into his second year in the league.

I didn't compare their stats before starting this post, I just realized as I watched them battle on Sunday Night Football that I honestly wasn't sure which signal caller I would rather have on my imaginary football team.

And it turns out this is, in fact, a really good debate. Both players were highly touted and highly drafted (Cutler 11th, Ryan 3rd), and here are some statistical comparisons:

QB--------Comp. %----Yds/game-----Avg.----TD/seas.-----Int./seas.-----QB rat.

It doesn't get much tighter than that. The only significant variance is that Cutler has a bit more of a gunslinging mentality: he tends to throw a few more touchdowns, but he gives defenses a few more gifts as well (he is, after all, from Santa Claus, Ind.). Translation: Cutler has the better arm, Ryan the better head. Cutler, by the way, is on pace to set a career high in interceptions this year.

Another similarity: both are rather adept at avoiding the rush, but disinclined to take off and run down the field.

And one final stat for you to chew on, the one that makes all the difference: Ryan is 15-7 in his young career, while Cutler is 20-23.

So who would you rather have if you were starting a team?

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Turns out Peyton Manning's pre-snap "audibles" are just random, nonsensical signals

From the Wait 'til this Year Humor Vault

INDIANAPOLIS--Reporters confirmed on Friday that the last-second audibles for which Colts quarterback Peyton Manning has become famous are completely made up and pointless. Manning is known for approaching the line of scrimmage before a play and yelling out directions while simultaneously signaling to his offense.

"Jibberish," said wide receiver Reggie Wayne. "I try not to pay any attention to it, but he gets a kick out of it."

"It gets a little annoying," said offensive tackle Ryan Diem. "'Three! Six! Toyota! Coyote! Macademia!' He says 'macademia' almost every play. He just loves that word for some reason. It gets old, but I suppose it works for him."

Colts head coach Jim Caldwell was asked if he has considered putting the kibosh on Manning's gesticulations.

"Look at him out there, flailing away and yelling like a crazy person. I'd probably be risking my life if I told him to stop. He's not ... he's not right, man."

Added Manning's wife, "He does the same crap at home. If we're going to make lasagna but he realizes we're out of cheese, he'll stand at the refrigerator touching his hand to his knee, crossing his arms, yelling out random words. I just wait 'til he's done and then ask what the hell he's talking about."

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Hard to bear

Week 7: Bengals 45, Bears 10

Two weeks ago, the Bears were The Team that Was Overcoming Injuries and Finding Ways to Win Games. Today, they're football's version of the Titanic.

Such is life in the NFL. With only 16 games on the schedule, every game can cause a rather seismic shift in the standings. We knew we'd know a lot more about the Bears after back-to-back road games against good teams. It turns out that ignorance was bliss.

There is literally not one statistic that Bears fans can look to in order to feel better about Sunday's performance. Um, Devin Hester had over 100 yards receiving? (Yeah, but he had a fumble, too.) Uh, Johnny Knox had a nice day returning kicks? (He sure had a lot of opportunities.)

Yeah, it was ugly. The season will turn into a complete brownout if they can't beat a terrible Cleveland team this Sunday. Either the Packers or Vikings will lose since they'll be playing one another. So let's forget about the bungled game against the Bengals and know that we should be feeling at least a little better one week from today.

Monday, October 26, 2009

The Brennan Principle vs. The Krupin Effect

This summer, my friend Dr. Brian Brennan realized that whenever he would leave town, the Cubs would struggle. Case in point: I went to Vegas with him and Trevor Sierra, and the Cubs went 0-4. By the end of the week, we had lost our patience as well as our money.

So on August 28, Dr. BB did some analysis to see exactly how serious the Brennan Principle really was. Turned out that on days when he had been in Bloomington, the Cubs were 48-37. On days when he was anywhere other than Bloomington, they were 15-25. Based on winning percentage, the Cubs would have been 71-54 on Aug. 28 if Brian had simply never left town. Not too much to ask, one wouldn't think.

On the other hand, if Brian had never been in town from Opening Day forward, the Cubs would have been 47-78, worse than every team except for the Nationals.

Which brings me to .the Krupin Effect. While I don't want to denigrate Brian's impressive (and depressing) ability to negatively impact the fortunes of his favorite team (why is it that all my Cubs fan friends decided to sabotage the 2009 season? You'll recall that Trevor Sierra and Andrew Kapral played a key role in their demise as well. I need new friends ...), Sports Illustrated has a great story about a Nationals fan who did even more damage to his team's hopes than did Brian.

It's worth a read, but here's the main plot line: 27-year-old Stephen Krupin shares Nationals season tickets with his father, and attended 19 games at Nationals Park in 2009. How many times did he see Washington win?


In a sport in which every team is essentially guaranteed to win at least a third of their games (and, really, even more than that at home), Krupin went 0-for-19! Unbelievable. Check it out.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Bears look to earn their stripes against Bengals

I don't know if you can have a must-win game when it's Week 7 and you're over .500. But if you can, then the Bears find themselves in that situation this Sunday in Cincinnati.

After all, a loss could send them tumbling to as many as 4.5 games behind the Vikings. And with the Packers likely to stomp on the Browns, the Bears could find themselves in third place in the NFC North. As in, they'd only be ahead of the Lions. As in, uh-oh. While bigger comebacks have surely occurred, a loss this weekend would likely leave the Bears shopping for Wild Card costumes come Halloween.

The Bengals were the "other" surprise team through Week 5 (the Broncos being THE surprise team), scoring wins against the Steelers and Ravens to take over first place in the AFC North. But just when you thought they were going on a Gus Johnson-announced ride to glory, they got beat up by the Texans in a 28-17 home loss. That made them 1-2 at home (compared to 3-0 on the road), which is either a reason for Bears fans to be optimistic, or a reason for them to be extremely fearful given that good teams don't typically lose consistently on their home field.

Keys to the Game

Defensive ends, coming and going. The Bengals' sack leader, Antwon Odom, is going. As in, going on the IR due to a season-ending injury. That should help limit Cincinnati's pash rush. For the Bears, newly acquired Gaines Adams will see action for the first time. He'll get into the rotation at defensive end, meaning Mark Anderson will play fewer snaps. Nice to have some additional depth on the defensive line, since Tommie Harris is unlikely to play.

Slowing down Benson and his bruised ego. Cedric Benson is amped up to face his former team, as evidenced by the shots he's taken at the organization this week. He's piled up the third-most rushing yards in the league to this point, and it could be a bad day for the Bears if they allow him to get his legs moving as fast as his mouth.

Pressure Palmer. You may have noticed that the Bears didn't sack Matt Ryan in last week's loss. But did you realize they didn't even hit him? That's right, not one hit on the opposing QB. Lovie Smith admitted at halftime that he was caught off guard by the hurry-up offense. He admitted after the game that he was caught off guard by Matt Ryan not having two flags hanging from his belt.

R-U-N-N-I-N-G G-A-M-E. I don't care. I don't care if I've said it every week, I'm just going to keep saying it until Matt Forte runs for more than 12 yards. Do I have to spell out the importance of Cutler not having to throw for 300 yards every single week? Because I just did. I literally spelled it out. And Lovie should get Wolfe in there a little more if Forte continues to struggle.

Where'd he come from?

QB Carson Palmer, USC
RB Cedric Benson, Texas
WR Chad Ochocinco, Oregon State
LB Dhani Jones, Michigan
CB Leon Hall, Michigan
CB Morgan Trent, Michigan
S Tom Nelson, Illinois State

Friday, October 23, 2009

Milton Bradley drawing interest?

Per Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports:

Multiple teams are in contact the Cubs about outfielder Milton Bradley, with one source saying, "You would be shocked at the level of interest."

The Cubs remain confident that they can trade Bradley without assuming the vast majority of the $21 million remaining on his contract over the next two years.

New owner Tom Ricketts has set a limit for how much money the Cubs will include in a deal, one source says. The Cubs can take back a contract but pay only a fixed amount of cash.

I'm in "I'll believe it when I see it" mode when it comes to trading Bradley, but this is good news.

NFL Visions, Part 2


San Francisco 49ers, 3-2
They became the trendy pick to have an unexpectedly good season after opening the year with two divisional wins. But after a 45-10 drubbing by the Falcons, they're suddenly looking quite vulnerable. Not to mention QB Shaun Hill has thrown for over 200 yards exactly once this season. The Niners are dependent on Frank Gore and the running game, so his injury really took its toll. Gore will be ready for their upcoming game against the Texans after having a bye week to recover, so Sunday's game should provide a good gauge of where San Fran truly stands.

Miami Dolphins, 2-3
Their win over the Jets in Week 5 kept their season alive. And while they used the Wildcat to run all over Rex Ryan's defense, Michigan product Chad Henne also threw for 241 yards. If they want to stay in it for the long haul, they're going to have to come with their best effort starting this Sunday--on deck for the Dolphins are the Saints, Jets and Patriots. Ouch.

Houston Texans, 3-3
It's fitting that they've alternated wins and losses en route to an even record, because it seems like they're always in the six to nine win range--not good enough, but still a dangerous team to line up against on Sunday. The Bengals discovered that first hand when Matt Schaub (sixth-highest QB rating in the NFL) scorched them for 392 yards.


Tennessee Titans, 0-6
That has to be a typo, right? No, it doesn't, and here are some numbers from Sunday's game that are also impossible to believe:
  • 59-0
  • The Titans had -7 passing yards against the Pats. They are the first team since the merger to finish a game with negative passing yards. They completed two passes--one for 15 yards, one for -22.
  • Passer ratings of the two starting QBs: Tom Brady: 152.8; Kerry Collins: 4.9. For good measure, Vince Young entered the game late and finished with a rating of 0.0.
  • Tennessee fumbled six times and threw two interceptions.
Wow. I mean ... wow.

Washington Redskins, 2-4
I mentioned it earlier this week, but the only reason they have two wins is because they played the Rams and Bucs. They've also managed to lose to four previously winless teams. I was in Washington, D.C. when they lost to the Lions, and also this past Sunday when they lost to the Chiefs. There's something absolutely hilarious about watching a pathetic football team at a bar crowded with fans of said team. They're so bad that fans aren't even sure whether to cheer when something good happens since they know the next play is bound to result in one or more of the following:
  • a fumble
  • an interception
  • Albert Haynesworth twisting his ankle while accidentally stepping on coach Jim Zorn's foot, who consequently falls sideways into his assistant coach, who knocks over the offensive coordinator, and so on and so forth in a domino effect until eventually the entire Redskins team is collapsed on the sideline, which would no doubt produce the first glimmer of hope this entire season for Washingtonians as they contemplate the possibility that their team will be allowed to forfeit the remainder of the games on their schedule

During the game against the Lions--which was quite possibly the ugliest football game played on American soil since the collapse of the XFL--one bar patron kept talking about 'Skins owner Dan Snyder and how he's met him and done radio shows with him. I forget everything he said about him, but I'm positive the words "a**hole," "motherfu**er," and "Nazi" were involved. All the other Redskins fans at the bar seemed to be unfazed and in complete agreement.

And during the game against the Chiefs, there were some technical difficulties with the broadcast at one point, during which the big screen switched to the Ravens-Vikings game. There was a palpable sense of relief in the bar. It's hard for fans to watch the team because a) it's not a pretty sight, and b) they're all half-secretly rooting for the team to lose so that the whole thing can get blown up. I'm talking ownership change, coaching change, new QB, the whole shebang. I'm honestly not sure what's worse right now, being a Nationals fan or a Redskins fan.

I'll leave you with this stat: the Redskins have rushed into the correct end zone twice on the season, matching the number of times they've had a player tackled in their own end zone for a safety.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

NFL visions, Part 1


Minnesota Vikings, 6-0
You have no idea how much it pains me to be writing this. Saying that things are looking up for the Vikings makes me feel like my lunch might be looking to come back up. But what can I say? They're one of four remaining unbeatens, Brett Favre has the third-highest QB rating in the land, and Adrian Peterson is back atop the NFL in rushing yards. I predicted they would go 9-7, and that's looking about as likely as the Rams making the playoffs. But hope remains, Bears fans: in 2008, the season took its toll on Favre and he struggled mightily down the stretch. He's been sacked 14 times this year, so we'll have to wait and see what November and December have in store for the Vikes. But for now, their stock is higher than Geovany Soto.

Arizona Cardinals, 3-2
Warner, Fitzgerald & Co. started 1-2 and it was easy to say they had fallen back to Earth after a lucky run to the Super Bowl last year. But after beating a solid Texans squad and pasting a Seahawks team that had played well at home until then, the Cardinals find themselves over .500 and tied for first in the extremely winnable NFC West. (Unless you are the Rams. The Rams cannot win the NFC West. This is known as the Rams Clause.) But they need to get the ground game going if they want to continue to rise--their best rushing performance of the season was a 72-yard game from Tim Hightower in Week 2.

New England Patriots, 4-2
Remember when the Jets held them to zero touchdowns and made Tom Brady look like, I don't know, Wayne Brady? A changing of the guard in the AFC East, right? Wrong. Four weeks later and the Pats are back in their cozy little first place nook, a nook to which they've become quite accustomed over the years. And even if they were still in last place, they would have to be in the "Things are looking up" category after their 59-0 drubbing of the Titans. NFL Visions rule #1: If you win by at least 50 points, things are looking up.

Atlanta Falcons, 4-1
If the season ended today, the Falcons would be the top-seeded NFC Wild Card team. Plus, they're only a game back of the seemingly unstoppable Saints. They were underdogs in San Fran two weeks ago but handed the Niners their worst-ever loss at Candlestick. Then they beat a tough Bears team (single tear) to move to 4-1. They have the Cowboys on tap, and then a huge Monday night affair in New Orleans.


New York Jets, 3-3
Tell me if this sounds familiar: Jets get a new quarterback, get off to a hot start, then said quarterback throws 10 million interceptions and things go downhill. Last year it was veteran Brett Favre, this year it's rookie Mark Sanchez. Three weeks into his NFL career, he was 3-0 and everyone was talking about an all-New York Super Bowl (didn't they say that last year, too?). But it turns out Sanchez is, in fact, a rookie: one TD and eight picks in his last three games, including back-to-back divisional losses.

Baltimore Ravens, 3-3
Just call it the NFL Visions jinx. Things were looking up for both the Jets and Ravens after Week 3, and now they both find themselves spiraling downward in this random categorical system I've made up. In their first three games, they scored 38, 31 and 34 points, respectively. A potent offense to go with your dominant defense? Yes, I'd like that very much, thank you. But wait--where'd the defense go? They're allowing nearly 22 points per game and rank 22nd in pass defense. Since when does Baltimore score 31 points and lose? They sit in third place in the AFC North.

Philadelphia Eagles, 3-2
Though 3-2 is very respectable and they're still just 1.5 games behind the Giants, a loss to the Raiders is absolutely crushing. Oakland had been outscored 130-49 prior to their 13-9 victory on Sunday. McNabb was sacked six times even though Oakland had just nine sacks in their first five games combined. Any given Sunday, etc., etc., but in a season where the "Have"s have a lot and the "Have not"s all look like they're owned by Al Davis, this may turn out to be the biggest loss of the year for any team.

New York Giants, 5-1
Lucky for the Eagles, the team they're chasing appears to have a few chinks in their armor. Saying that "things are looking down" for them doesn't mean they're a bad team, it just means that there's no way Giants fans are looking at the G-Men quite the way they were one week ago. Saints-Giants was supposed to be the game of the week. Hell, the game of the year. The Giants' ground game versus the Saints' air attack. Bruising backs against a precise passer. And then ... pfffft. The air came out of the Giants' balloon faster than Balloon Boy came out of his. The Giants might still be the second-best team in the NFC, but right now, it appears to be a pretty distant second.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Now I'm not so sure Jaramillo is the answer

The Cubs today signed former Rangers hitting coach Rudy Jaramillo to a three-year, $2.4 million deal. The contract makes Jaramillo the highest-paid coach in baseball, though free agent pitching coach Dave Duncan has a good chance to eclipse that.

I touted the possible signing of Jaramillo less than one week ago, so what's changed? It's mostly just one giant negative that jumped out at me: the Rangers finished 12th in the AL in OBP last season, and outside the top five in four of the previous five seasons. I am a huge proponent of OBP, and while I haven't read any quotes from Jaramillo regarding his thoughts on it, it doesn't seem to have been a focus for Rangers hitters while he served as hitting coach.

Jaramillo had been with the Rangers for 15 seasons, and in many other important ways, he had a great deal of success. According to the Tribune, the Rangers scored 800 runs or more in 13 straight seasons under Jaramillo, the longest streak in the majors since the Yankees accomplished it in 17 straight seasons from 1926-42. And no matter how much I value OBP, I recognize that scoring runs is ultimately what matters.

He is a good communicator, a disciplinarian, and a veteran of the game. He was the Astros hitting coach for four years in the early '90s and was one of the final two candidates in the Mets' 2004 managerial search (Willie Randolph got the job).

Here's the stat the impresses me the most: From 1996 through 2004, the Rangers ranked in the top five in the American League in batting average, runs scored, slugging percentage, home runs, and hits (per Wikipedia). But it pains me to notice that on-base percentage is nowhere to be seen on that list.

But look, there's no plethora of evidence that Cubs' former hitting coach Gerald Perry was a huge sabermatrician dedicated to the idea of getting on base, but the Cubs led the NL in that category in 2008. Then, still under Perry early in 2009, the Cubs couldn't draw a walk if you spotted 'em a 3-0 count.

Hitting coaches (and pitching coaches) get too much credit when things go well, and not enough credit when things go south. Given Jaramillo's solid reputation and generally positive results in Texas, it still seems like a good day for the Cubs. But I have to admit, I'm not at all happy to learn that the Rangers' offensive success over the last decade-and-a-half did not include a proclivity to getting on base.

Despite having two wins, the Redskins just might be the worst team in the NFL

The Redskins have played six games, all of them against winless teams. How incredible is that? Of course, four of them aren't winless any more because the Redskins were kind enough to give them their first victory. They lost to the Giants in Week 1, gave the Lions their first win in over a year-and-a-half, blew a 15-point second half lead against the Panthers, and then scored just six points at home to the now 1-5 Chiefs.

And by the way: their two victories consist of a 9-7 win over the Rams in which they got booed at home, and a 16-13 victory over the Bucs. Sorry, Titans fans--the Redskins aren't on your schedule this year.

New refs, new rules

The NBA is officially changing the rule for traveling, saying two steps are allowed instead of just one. So LeBron James's "crab dribble" wasn't cheating, it was forward thinking!

But seriously, the rule used to be one step, and the refs gave them 2.5. How many will they give them now that the rule is two? Three? Five? Will the NBA install those moving walkways that you see in airports?

Or maybe they're utilizing my speed limit philosophy: increase all speed limits by 25 percent, round down to the nearest multiple of five, and cops can feel free to ticket anyone going over the posted speed limit. As opposed to our current system in which the speed limit is the speed minimum and no one has any idea how fast they're actually allowed to go.

Okay, so change the traveling rule to two steps, but call it! I'm okay with that.

A rule that actually needs changing

The first inning of Game 1 between the Angels and Yankees reminded us why baseball needs to add a "team error" scoring to the rulebook. With a runner at second and two outs, Hideki Matsui hit a high pop fly on the infield. The third baseman and shortstop miscommunicated and let it fall between them, and the runner scored from second. This went in the box score as an RBI single. When you imagine a player hitting an RBI single in the playoffs, you don't exactly think of a high pop fly with two fielders standing underneath it. But because no one touched the ball, the official scorer couldn't assign an error.

It's simple: the Angels deserved to have an error counted against them, and Matsui didn't deserve a single nor an RBI. Solution: team error.

A good reason to buy a ball retriever

I've had some bad days on the golf course (and I mean BAD), but none were this bad.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Cutler signs two-year extension

The Bears have signed Jay Cutler to a two-year extension, locking him up through 2013. Great move by the Bears, turning the franchise's first real quarterback since Sid Luckman into an actual franchise quarterback. He'll get $20 million in guaranteed money in those two years, one dollar for every pass he's thrown this season in the Bears' no-run offense.

Notre Lame

It must be fall, because Notre Dame just lost to USC.

Eight straight years now. Not much of a rivalry; more of an annual event you can set your watch to. And while I don't generally root for USC, I love watching Notre Dame lose to pretty much anyone. Why? Let me count the ways:

1) Charlie Weis is terrible. And yet he's the second-highest paid coach in college football. Notre Dame signed Weis to a 10-year contract worth over $30 million just seven games into his tenure. How's that workin' out, ND? I'll tell you: 28-20, the most losses in back-to-back seasons in Fightin' Irish history, and a program that has struggled to get its head above water ever since Weis used Ty Willingham's recruits to go 9-3 in 2005.

2) They're not even in a conference. They think they're so damn special they don't even need to be part of the NCAA framework.

3) They get hyped like nobody's business, and lose when the stakes are high. Prior to their 49-21 victory over Hawai'i in the, ahem, Hawai'i Bowl last year, the Irish had lost nine straight bowl games. They hadn't won a bowl game since 1994! And yet, they go to a BCS game pretty much every time they're over .500.

4) They're on national television every single week. Is this Notre Dame's fault? No. But it still makes me hate them. They get national exposure every week, which is perhaps the biggest reason for their consistent recruiting success. And yet they're just 14-17 over the last three years. Imagine if every single Arizona Cardinals game were broadcast on national television (the Cards are 16-15 in their last 31 games). Would you stand for that?

5) It's a Catholic university. The football team goes to mass prior to every home game, and the stadium affords a view of "Touchdown Jesus." Makes me want to vomit. Better amp up the prayers, boys. Though it's possible that even Jesus can't save Charlie Weis at this point.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Zoned out

Week 6: Falcons 21, Bears 14

It's fitting that Matt Ryan made his living Sunday night by throwing repeatedly into the flat, because the Bears looked awfully flat themselves.

Despite having a bye week to prepare for the Falcons, the Bears couldn't run, couldn't tackle, couldn't cover anyone, and couldn't hold on to the ball in a game that had Wild Card implications written all over it.

But more important than all of that, they couldn't produce in the red zone. The Bears were 1-for-4 in the red zone while the Falcons were 2-for-2. Just as many baseball games come down to hitting with runners in scoring position, this entire game came down to red zone performance. Though the Bears played the Falcons close and lost by just a touchdown, the fact that they had a fumble, an interception, and several killer penalties in the red zone makes the seven-point loss harder to stomach than the swine flu.

The Bears played ugly, plain and simple. There was no positive aura, no real glimmer of hope that the Bears would find redemption in the Georgia Dome. From the middle of the second quarter, it had the look and feel of a disappointing loss, and that's exactly what it turned out to be.

I'm ready to ask the question: Is Matt Forte hurt? That's about the most optimistic way to look at his body of work this year. Remember, he did hurt his left hamstring in the preseason. And here's where the Bears' five opponents have ranked in rush defense: 2, 17, 20, 21, 24. Three of the five teams don't crack the top 20. And this despite the fact that playing the Bears allows pretty much any team to pad this particular statistic given that they rank 27th in the NFL in rush yards per game.

Every time Forte gets the ball, he looks like a fish entering shark's territory--he just gets swallowed up. No doubt the offensive line is partly to blame, but both Garrett Wolfe and Adrian Peterson are averaging significantly more yards per carry than he is. And on top of it all, Forte fumbled on back-to-back plays at the goal line Sunday night. He had 23 yards on 15 carries overall. You know who had more rushing yards than that? Jay Cutler.

This was the Bears' second loss of the season, and the second on Sunday night. Prior to this season, Lovie Smith was 7-2 on SNF. But the Bears have run from the bright lights like cockroaches this year. Hey, at least they're running in that metaphor!

The Bears have dug themselves a deep divisional hole thanks to a 33-31 Vikings victory over the Ravens. They're 2.5 games out and find themselves even with the Packers. But the Vikes head to Pittsburgh next week and then clash with the Packers in Week 8. The Bears will head to Cincinnati next Sunday, and I leave you with good news: it's not a night game.

Friday, October 16, 2009

A prime time for some payback

3-1 vs. 3-1. The Bears have 105 points on the year, the Falcons 102. Both teams are 2-0 at home and 1-1 on the road. Michael Turner is averaging 3.8 yards per carry, Matt Forte 3.7. Do you think it's fair to say that Sunday's Bears-Falcons match-up will be a battle of evenly matched teams?

And because they're so evenly matched, the game gives the Bears a chance to show a prime time audience what they're truly made of. As a Bears fan, 3-1 sounds and feels great. But there's no question there are still some question marks surrounding this team. Two of their wins could have been losses were it not for inaccurate field goal attempts. And just as I still have reservations about the Vikings due to the fact that they've beaten the Lions, Browns and Rams for three of their five victories, the Bears' most recent victory over the Lions isn't exactly proof positive that they're on a direct path to the Super Bowl.

But with road games against the Falcons and the surprising Bengals on tap, we'll know a lot more about the Bears nine days from now. Lovie Smith has had nearly two weeks to prepare for this revenge game, and he should be able to add Pisa Tinoisamoa back into the mix--Hunter Hillenmeyer and Adrian Peterson are still doubtful.

Keys to the Game

Roddy White. The 5th year receiver didn't do much in the first three games, but his 210-yard explosion last week has him ranked 8th in the league with 82 receiving yards per game. Plus, he burned the Bears for 112 yards in last year's last-second stunner. It could be a long day for the Bears secondary if they allow White and Matt Ryan to get into a groove.

The middle of the field. Atlanta has allowed just three receiving touchdowns on the year, the Bears just four. With each team's secondary playing well, both Ryan and Cutler may find themselves looking for their tight ends. Former Chief Tony Gonzalez is playing well in Atlanta while Greg Olsen has yet to eclipse 100 total receiving yards on the season. The Bears need to keep Gonzalez in check and can expand Cutler's arsenal if they can get Olsen going.

Keep the running game going. Forte finally broke through two weeks ago against the Lions with 121 yards rushing. And while I sound like a broken record talking about the importance of the ground game, Atlanta ranks in the bottom third in run defense for the third consecutive season; the Bears need to take advantage of this weakness.

A quick start. The Bears have been outscored 34-7 in the first quarter this year. They've been able to come back and win three times, but that task would be significantly tougher against the Falcons in the Georgia Dome. It's going to be important to be in it from the start on Sunday night (btw: how weird is it that the Bears have played only one noon game this year, and play another 3:15 game next week?).

Where'd he come from?

QB Matt Ryan, Boston College
RB Michael Turner, Northern Illinois
WR Roddy White, UAB
TE Tony Gonzalez, Cal

Ru-dy! Ru-dy! Ru-dy!

It would be nice to see the Cubs go after hitting coach Rudy Jaramillo, who just turned down a one-year deal to return to the Rangers. Jaramillo has had 17 players win Silver Sluggers in the last 10 years, and ESPN says he is "arguably the best hitting instructor in baseball."

With Von Joshua already out of the picture, Jaramillo would be a nice addition to a team that clearly underperformed offensively in 2009.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

The Nostradamus of baseball

Okay, I'm way behind with this one, but I just saw it recently. If you haven't already seen it, you should watch. Seriously, it's awesome.

Rams offer 2nd round draft pick to Lions if they'll go back to being the laughingstock of the league

From the Wait 'til this Year Humor Vault

ESPN's Page 2 recommends a new logo for the Rams.

ST. LOUIS--In a first-of-its-kind trade offer, the St. Louis Rams have offered the Detroit Lions a 2010 second round draft pick in exchange for the Lions agreeing to once again be known as the laughingstock of the NFL.

"Before their stupid victory over the Redskins in Week 3," said Rams GM Bill Devaney, "football fans all over the country were able to enjoy a good laugh at the expense of the Lions. 'They may never win again!' fans would say. 'They're so terrible!' But now, people are starting to say that about us, and that doesn't feel very good."

With Detroit finally getting into the win column after 19 straight losses, the Rams are on the hot seat of public ridicule due to their current 15-game losing streak. They're averaging less than a touchdown per game on offense this season and have been shut out twice in their five losses.

Needing to escape the spotlight--and admitting that winning a game or two in order to do so is "pretty much out of the question"--Devaney is turning to the trade front in the hopes of luring the Lions into willingly returning to the days when everyone in America could quickly and confidently tell you that Detroit was clearly the worst team in the NFL.

Added Devaney at the end of his press conference: "What do you call 47 people sitting around a TV watching the Super Bowl? The Detroit Lions! ZING! Ohhhhhh, man, that gets me every time. The Lions are so bad ..."

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

What's on deck for the Cubs?

There are still home runs to be hit, strikes to be thrown, and rings to be won.

Just not at Wrigley Field.

For the Cubs, the sights are now squarely set on 2010. This season reminded many Cubs fans of the Cubs of old, and in fact many of the Cubs are getting old. But it's in with the new as owner Tom Ricketts takes over the controls, though he and Jim Hendry don't have a great deal of wiggle room given the big, backloaded contracts Hendry has passed out like candy corn over the last few years.

So where do the Cubs go from here? First, there are the free agents: Rich Harden, Kevin Gregg, Reed Johnson and John Grabow.

There's no doubt Harden will test the free agent waters. I've said before that he's not worth big money and multiple years, but it's possible he won't find a suitor willing to give him either one. He's worth a mid-level, one-year deal. I think we all know that Hendry took white out to Gregg's name in the media guide right around mid-August. I would definitely welcome back Reed Johnson, who was of course hurt in 2009 but plays hard and is a solid platoon player or starter if need be. And Hendry's already working on a two-year deal for Grabow, who had success in his 30 games with the Cubs this year.

You can already fill out a good deal of the 2010 depth chart in pen:
  • Soto isn't going anywhere, but needs to show up in 2008 shape so he can get back to 2008 form.
  • Lee and Ramirez are set at the corners.
  • Theriot seems a safe bet to be at short.
  • Fukudome figures to be in center or right.
  • Soriano's contract is unmoveable, so you can write his name in the spot marked "LF" (please let his bum knee be the reason he flailed away at the plate like a Little Leaguer and played left field like a Little Leaguer who's only on the team because his dad's the coach).
So second base and right field/center field are on Hendry's to-do list. With little payroll flexibility and what would seem to be an offense bound for a rebound, I still like the idea of Andres Blanco getting a shot at second. He would bat eighth and likely provide little pop, but he's the best defender on the Cubs' 40-man roster and it's always important to have good glove work up the middle. Free agent options include Mark DeRosa, Orlando Hudson and Felipe Lopez. Again, I'd prefer the Cubs stay in-house at 2B.

Suggesting that there's a question mark in the outfield of course assumes that Hendry is able to pull off an offseason magic trick worthy of a show on the Vegas strip: unloading Milton Bradley and the $21 million remaining on his contract. But even though Hendry is behind the 8 ball and every GM in baseball knows it, he's also handcuffed and has almost no choice but to ship him out.

If Hendry hopes to make an upgrade somewhere, outfield would seem to be the place to do it. The free agent class in center includes Rick Ankiel, Rocco Baldelli and Corey Patterson (kidding). In right, you've got Bobby Abreu, Xavier Nady, Austin Kearns (if his option is not picked up), and others.

If the Cubs choose instead to spend their money on a second baseman and/or bullpen help, there are in-house options in the outfield: Reed Johnson in center and Fukudome in right is one of them. Jake Fox is another option in right, perhaps in a platoon with Fukudome. Will Fox hurt the team with his glove? Most likely. But Bradley was no stud himself, and we all saw Soriano bumble his way around left, so how much of a drop-off would it really be?

With the chatter about Zambrano hitting the trade block cooling down, the rotation would figure to be Z, Lilly, Dempster, Wells and either Marshall, Gorzelanny or Samardzija (my money would
be on Gorzelanny).

And last, but definitely not least, the bullpen. Carlos Marmol will be the closer, having finished the season with 12 consecutive saves. Gorzelanny and Guzman should be the G-Men in the setup role. Aaron Heilman is (unfortunately) likely to be in the mix as well, along with Marshall and Samardzija (or Gorzelanny). Other unprovens will have the opportunity to make the squad, including Justin Berg (12 IP, 1 BB, 0.75 ERA), Esmailin Caridad (19.1 IP, 1.40 ERA), and Jeff Stevens (bad).

As always, the free agent market provides an array of options, including Chad Cordero, Danys Baez, Joe Beimel and Darren Oliver (the last two being lefties). Signing relievers will always and forever be a complete crapshoot (see: Brad Lidge in '08 vs. '09, or B.J. Ryan, or Ryan Franklin coming out of nowhere).

Hendry doesn't have much choice but to bring back a near mirror image of the 2009 team. But it's reasonable to assume it will be one of those goofy, distorted mirror images. Zambrano with just nine wins? Soriano with only 55 RBI? Ramirez missing half the season?

You can accuse me of being overly optimistic, but I think the Cubs have a very good chance of turning things around without turning the roster over. The fact is, there's over $130 million of talent in their dugout, and a whole slew of players fell so far below their career averages in 2009 that, well, their career averages now look nothing like they did heading into the season. In this case, what comes down must go up.

The off-field action will all go down starting in just about a month. Players can declare free agency starting 15 days after the conclusion of the World Series, and Hendry's real work will begin at that time. Hopefully his work will lead to Cubs fans enjoying playoff baseball one year from today instead of looking forward to 2011.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Who does Kyle Orton think he is, Jay Cutler?

Let me get this straight ...

Kyle Orton is 5-0 and Chad Henne is 2-0. Chad Pennington, whom Henne replaced, was 0-3. Kerry Collins is 0-5 while Tom Brady and Philip Rivers are a combined one game over .500. Did I get that right? It's nice that we've had the chance to enjoy some surprises even though many aspects of the 2009 NFL season have been quite predictable (e.g. Giants good, Rams bad).

This week on Fox ...

This says it all about last Sunday's slate of NFL games: Joe Buck, Fox's #1 play-by-play man, was doing the Cowboys-Chiefs game. That's right, the 2-2 Cowboys vs. the winless and hapless Chiefs. It actually turned out to be a barn burner, but Fox execs must have looked down the list of games about 10 times before finally convincing themselves that yes, that was in fact the best early game on the schedule. All the others involved either unwatchable teams like the Rams and Redskins or likely blowouts such as Giants-Raiders and Eagles-Bucs, which turned out to be blowouts indeed.

Getting the rally monkey off their back

Despite having lost 12 of 13 postseason games against the Red Sox prior to their ALDS series, and having been eliminated by Boston in 2004, 2007 and 2008, and having never EVER beaten the Red Sox in a playoff series, the Angels scored five runs in the final two innings--including three in the 9th--on Sunday to pave the way to an improbable sweep. Here's hoping they can maintain their confidence and level of play against a stellar Yankees team.

Nearly a clean sweep

Obviously, the Rockies didn't get the memo about getting swept in the first round. By winning Game 2 of their series with the Phillies, they prevented 2009 from being one of the worst years ever when it comes to the divisional round of the playoffs (introduced in 1995). No, wait, it was still one of the worst years ever. Sweep, sweep, sweep, 3-1. Not exactly the best way to tear up the ratings.

While we're on the topic of parity, or lack thereof, the four teams left standing have the 1st (Yankees), 6th (Angels), 7th (Phillies) and 9th (Dodgers) highest team payrolls, respectively. And the Phillies-Dodgers match-up mirrors last year's NLCS. Did someone say salary cap? No? Sorry, I thought I heard someone say salary cap.

Monday, October 12, 2009

How sweep it is

Cardinals fans were on top of their Chicago-hating world just one week ago. The Cubs had it handed to them in last year's playoffs and flopped their way to a second place finish this year. The Cardinals had beloved Cub Mark DeRosa in their dugout and acquired slugger Matt Holliday at the trade deadline. Adam Wainwright led the league in wins and Chris Carpenter put up Cy Young numbers. Many (including your truly) thought they'd represent the NL in this year's World Series.

And then ... the NLDS.

Five total runs in three games. A .129 average with runners in scoring position. One RBI for Pujols. Huge errors--the kind that bring to mind that internationally known sign where the hands are grasping the throat. Blaming the towel-waving fans in the stands. Arguing with the home plate umpire even though TBS's little pitchtrax thingy clearly showed a strike (c'mon, La Russa, you owe it to your team to watch the game on TBS in the clubhouse so that you can see the technological miracle knows as pitchtrax).

The Cardinals simply didn't show up. Instead, they were shown up by Randy Wolf, Clayton Kershaw and Vicente Padilla. Vicente Padilla! Padilla was cut by the Rangers earlier this year, but on Saturday he cut up the Cardinal lineup as he put the icing on an old fashioned playoff whooping that put the redbirds on ice until 2010.

Cards fans now have some questions to consider:
  • Does this make La Russa more or less likely to return next year?
  • How about pitching coach Dave Duncan?
  • Do you still want to dish out big-time dough for Matt Holliday?
  • How about Mark DeRosa, who is planning offseason wrist surgery?
  • How much does it suck to be dealing with these questions just one week after completing a 91-win season?
  • Will Brendan Ryan finally shave that god-awful mustache?
If you couldn't already tell, I really, REALLY enjoyed the Dodgers-Cardinals series. I still think MLB should move to a best-of-seven format in the first round, though I'm not sure it would have made a lick of difference in this case.

In a related story, remember what I said about St. Louis hating Chicago? Someone needs to tell Bernie Miklasz at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that it's not all that insightful to boil down your analysis of the Cardinals' performance to a bunch of cheap shots at the Cubs. The Cardinals didn't morph into the Cubs--this collapse was all their own. They borrowed the Dodgers' fans white towels and spent three games waving them. Just because your crappy little town plays second fiddle to the Second City doesn't mean you should try to make yourself feel better about the Cardinals' pathetic performance by dragging the Cubs into this.

After the Cardinals went down 2-0 in the series, Step 1 of Bernie's two-step process for them to get back on track was to "quit impersonating the Cubs." Oh, that's very helpful, Bernie. I'm sure Tony La Russa wrote your plan on the back of his hand so he wouldn't forget it.

But the Cardinals do have something in common with the Cubs now: they, too, will be watching the rest of the playoffs on TV.

Friday, October 9, 2009

And the winner is ...

Well, the season's over. Let's see, something positive to say ...

Ah, I got it: It wasn't a June swoon that cost the Cubs!

Unfortunately, it was an August one that did them in. While the Cardinals got as hot as the color of their jerseys, the Cubs struggled and stumbled and sank to second place on their way to a disappointing 83-78 season.

Given the expectations, the injuries, the horrific fundamentals, the apparent lack of passion, and the fact that the Cubs never really put together any real good stretches save when they beat up on the Nationals and Reds right after the All-Star break, this was one of the least enjoyable Cubs seasons I can recall. Again, I factor expectations into the equation h
ere. Sure, Cubs fans always look forward to each season with rose-colored glasses, but deep down, we often know it ain't gonna happen. This year, everyone just knew it was going to happen. So, wha' happened?

What happened is that Soriano batted 37 points below his career average and had just 55 RBI. What happened is that Geovany Soto had a sophomore slump that Van Wilder would be pr
oud of. What happened was that Zambrano and Dempster combined to win 11 fewer games than they did in 2008. What happened was that Aaron Miles was one of Lou's first options off the bench.

But you know all this already. What you don't know is how Trevor Sierra, Andrew Kapral and I did in our annual prediction challenge. And I know you're on the edge of your seat with anticipation.

But first, one more note about the 2009 season: Last Thursday's rainout resulted in the Cubs playing fewer than 162 games for the second straight season.
The last time the Cubs went back-to-back seasons without playing 162 games was from 1984-87, when they played 161, 161, 160, and 161 games, respectively. The Cubs also played just 160 games in 1991, and played an extra game in 1998 due to the play-in game versus the Giants.

And now, the results you've been waiting for ever since 12 seconds ago when you read the paragraph that indicated I was about to share with you the results of our annual prediction challenge:

Cubs wins

Brandon 92
Trevor 89
Andrew 90

Actual: 83

All three of us correctly assumed that the Cubs wouldn't be able to match their gaudy win total from 2008. We did not assume, however, that they would tread water most of the season and finish just a touch above .500. Andrew is notorious for being pessimistic in our challenge, but this year it was Trevor's dire outlook on life and general hatred of all things Cubs that got him a win in the biggest category of all. I hope you're happy, Trevor. By the way, all three of us picked the Cubs to win the Central, but with the Cardinals having won 91 games, only my predicted total would have resulted in a division title. So I have no choice but to assign additional blame to Andrew for the Cubs' disappointing season. I don't know how you guys sleep at night.

Zambrano wins
Brandon 17
Trevor 17
Andrew 19

Actual: 9

It's almost as if Andrew underwent some sort of significant, life-changing experience that made him more optimistic. Perhaps around, say, April 4 of this year? Well, that optimism is admirable and should generally be applauded, but for the purposes of this prediction challenge, it's really biting him in the ass. Trevor and I split this one despite our stunningly inaccurate prediction of 17 wins.

Fukudome average
Brandon .274
Trevor .271
Andrew .280

Actual: .259

Remember how at the end of last year we all said the Cubs had overpaid for Fukudome? That he was just an average player despite his $12 million salary? Well, we're all eating our words now--Fukudome raised his average two whole points this year! And ... wait for it ... he hit one more home run! Way to go, Kosuke! Trevor wins again on account of his xenophobia and attendant hatred of Asian people.

Gregg saves
Brandon 31
Trevor 29
Andrew 23

Actual: 23

Gotta hand it to Andrew on this one. We'll never know if he thought the Cubs would win a lot of blowouts and therefore deflate Gregg's save total, or if he looked into his crystal ball and saw a glimpse of Gregg being demoted in favor of Carlos Marmol. Either way, he nailed it.

Soto home runs
Brandon 29
Trevor 27
Andrew 24

Actual: 11

Um, what the hell? We all predicted Soto would hit at least twice the number of home runs that he did. Eleven? Seriously? You know who hit more than 11 home runs? Will Venable. Sorry, not familiar? How about Laynce Nix? That guy doesn't even know how to spell his name! Neither does Jonny Gomes, but he outhomered Soto too. Did you have the legendary Miguel Montero on your fantasy team? More home runs than Soto. You get the point. Andrew takes this sorry excuse for a category.

Marshall wins
Brandon 12
Trevor 12
Andrew 10

Actual: 3

If the last one was a sorry excuse for a category, what does that make this one? We all had Marshall ticketed for a strong season as the fifth starter, but he went to the 'pen and Randy Wells put the fifth starter spot on lockdown. Of pitchers who threw at least 60 innings for the Cubs, only Carlos Marmol had fewer wins (2) than Marshall. What was I saying about Andrew and his newfound optimism? The optimism tank was apparently emptied right about halfway through his 2009 predictions.

Team double plays turned
Brandon 149
Trevor 128
Andrew 128

Actual: 144

With a few games to go, I thought I might actually nail this prediction exactly. But the Cubs didn't turn any twin killings in their last two games, and the rainout took away another game. This could have gone down as the greatest prediction in the history of sports ... but no. Still, thank God for this category; it stands as my only solo victory on the year.

Final tally:

Trevor: 3
Andrew: 3
Brandon: 2

We also predicted the final NL Central standings, but that doesn't solve matters as all three of us flipped the Cubs and Cardinals and then accurately predicted two other teams while flip-flopping two others. Oh well, a tie it is!

Congratulations to Trevor and Andrew on their Debbie Downer, tag team effort as they double-handedly ruined the Cubs season for reasons that are not readily apparent to me. Congratulations to all others who participated (me), and best of luck next year!

Thursday, October 8, 2009

It's what's on the inside that counts

NOTE: I am re-posting this with pictures at the bottom.

I had some free time in the nation's capital last Monday, and decided to take in a Washington Nationals game with my friend Kate Duis. Here's what it was like: imagine you go to a top-notch, Zagat rated, "Man I hope my date doesn't order the most expensive thing on the menu" restaurant. You place you order, and 15 minutes later the waiter brings over one of those covered trays, gold-plated and everything. You're licking your lips with anticipation. The waiter sets the tray on the table, removes the cover, and ... there's a big pile of s**t staring up at you.

That's sort of how things go at beautiful Nationals Park--the product doesn't exactly match the packaging. The putrid Nationals are 53-103, 37 games out of first place, and a pathetic 31-48 at home. Though they won a rather lackluster 2-1 game last night, the Nats just don't look quite right playing in the $600 million facility which resides on the Capitol Riverfront.

You know the whole "If you build it, they will come" philosophy? Well, the Nationals built it, but they didn't come. They've sold out just 54 percent of their seats in 2009, the second year of the park's existence. Nationals Park, like many of the newer baseball parks, is very open, enabling fans to view the action on the field even while grabbing a cold one or one of the many food options on the concourse. It also affords views of the riverfront, the Capitol and the Washington Monument (though only from certain places; it's not like Busch Stadium where the arch is a key component of the park's landscape). Nationals Park was also the first major stadium in the U.S. to achieve LEED certification for its environmentally friendly design.

But it was difficult to grasp the true quality of the stadium with only 18,000 moderately interested fans on hand. When I judge a stadium, a big part of my impression is based on the environment and atmosphere. At Nationals Park, it ain't good.

But of course, there's an obvious reason for this. You can't blame fans for not showing up to a late September game with their team in the all too familiar last place position. And while the organization hopes to entice fans in the near future by building up the area surrounding the stadium with shops, restaurants, etc., the tumbling economy has prevented such growth from taking place to this point.

But the stadium is a great start. If the organization could fill it with a team even half as impressive, perhaps more than half the seats would be filled.

Here it is, Nationals Park. Beautiful, huh? Wait, that doesn't look right ...

Ah, yes, here it is. From the outside, anyways.


From centerfield. A nice place, this Nationals Park.

Come on, man. If you're not going to move to the lower deck, at least move down a few rows!

Lest you thought it was just the upper deck that was empty ...

The odd "Presidents' Race" ritual. This is kind of amusing, but it has a very unfortunate side effect: after the race (which is in the 4th inning), the presidents remain in the park, wandering the stadium scaring children. And adults. They're very scary with their giant heads. And take it from someone who knows: they're creepy as well.

Told ya. If it's me and one other person in a picture and I'm not the creepy one, you know the other person must be creepy.

They do exist! A hardcore Nationals fan! Shhh, we don't want to disturb him in his natural habitat.

The worst statue of all time, except for the two next to it. The Nationals commissioned someone to do statues of famous Washington Senators (the baseball team), and s/he did it in a "capture the action" "mid-movement" fashion. So, the statue is supposed to be this guy in the midst of hitting a pitch. To me, it looks like he's swinging five bats which are attached to one another with some sort of primitive rope system.

It's never too early to promote your best player, even if he doesn't actually wear a Nationals jersey yet (he played in the minors this year).

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Aw man, this jersey got all soaked in irony

This whole story requires a big ol' hat tip to Khair Sadrud-Din.

The Angels clinched the NL West last week, and part of their postgame celebration involved remembrance of and tribute to Nick Adenhart, a former Angels pitcher who was killed earlier in the season. As you can see, part of their celebration involved dousing Adenhart's jersey with beer.

Only problem is, Adenhart was killed by a drunk driver. Now while we can assume Adenhart wouldn't have wanted his friends and teammates to stop drinking simply because he was killed by a drunk driver, and we can also grant that the Angels were just trying to pretend he was there with them, pouring beer on his jersey just as they would have done to him had he been in the locker room, can we at least acknowledge that this scene is sort of uncomfortably ironic?

I mean, I'm pretty sure I've never in my life seen 10-15 people pouring anything on a jersey. And the first time I do see it, it involves guys energetically smothering a jersey with alcohol. And that jersey happens to be that of a guy who isn't celebrating with his teammates because he was killed in an unfortunate accident involving a guy who clearly had too much to drink.

But here's the best part: when a reporter asked the Angels players about this ironic display, third baseman Chone Figgins came up with a response that was as defensive as it was tone deaf:
"He's our teammate. We're allowed to do what we want."

Yes, Chone, that is correct. You can in fact do what you want. But that's not really the point.

The scene made me think: Isn't it a little odd that when a team clinches a playoff spot, youngsters watch their favorite players as they spray champagne, chug beer and pour alcohol everywhere? And that in this case, kids saw their heroes celebrate their lost teammate by taking his jersey and covering it in beer? The fact is, it's probably fair to assume that some of these players drive home with at least a slight level of intoxication. Maybe not the Angels players last week, but with eight of these alcohol orgies at the end of each baseball season, there's bound a few guys driving under the influence. And isn't that the whole reason Nick Adenhart isn't with us today?

But I digress. On the scale of immature things you can do, electing to celebrate your lost teammate with a beer shower is pretty far down on the list. But the irony simply can't be ignored. Unless, of course, you're Chone Figgins.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Should I stay or should I go? The Jim Hendry version

Jim Hendry is under contract for three more years, but you'd never know it with all the recent chatter about his potential ousting. Having made more bad moves in the offseason than did Tom DeLay on "Dancing with the Stars," his future is filled with more question marks than a Spanish exam. The Trib's Rick Morrissey says he deserves another shot; the Sun-Times says the Milton Bradley signing may have sealed his fate.

There's no doubt this past offseason was a bust. From The Useless One (Joey Gathright) and The Awful One (Aaron Miles) to the trade of Mark DeRosa and the signing of Milton Bradley, Hendry turned a great, 97-win team into a slightly above average, 83-win team. It was a huge disappointment, no doubt, though they did finish five games over .500 and second in the NL Central. It was nice to see them on the right side of .500 for the third consecutive season, but with a $134 million payroll, that wasn't exactly the goal.

The decline wasn't all Hendry's fault: there were injuries, including those to Ramirez, Zambrano, Harden, Lilly and others. There were unexpectedly subpar seasons, including those by Soriano and Soto.

But Hendry does deserve the lion's share of the blame, having built a team unprepared to weather these storms. He removed leadership by trading DeRosa and letting Kerry Wood walk (though I'm still okay with the latter). He failed to build a reliable bullpen. He has now spent $78 million on average/terrible left-handed right fielders over the last two years.

The Cubs' team ERA actually improved slightly from last year, down to 3.84 from 3.87. And on defense, they committed six more errors this year versus last. But the big problem (if you hadn't yet figured this out after 161 games) was the offense: 707 runs this year after leading the league with 855 last season.

In the general managing world, Hendry didn't just strike out on 2009, he got the golden sombrero. But just as a player or manager can't be judged by one season alone, neither can a general manager. I think it's only fair that new owner Tom Ricketts look at Hendry's entire resume before deciding his fate. At the moment, Hendry's name is synonymous with Milton Bradley's, but that doesn't tell the entire story.

MLB Trade Rumors compiled a detailed history of Jim Hendry's moves as Cubs GM. It was posted last July, so it doesn't include the debacle of this past offseason, but it's interesting to look at the many moves he has made since Andy MacPhail promoted him seven years ago.

Can you recall Hendry's first move as Cubs GM? Of course you can: he traded Darren Lewis for Chad Hermansen. Who could forget that? But wait. That trade wasn't as insignificant as it sounds. Less than five months later, Hendry traded Hermansen and Todd Hundley for Mark Grudzielanek and Eric Karros, a move that helped lead to a division title for the Cubs. It was also the first sign that Jim Hendry might be a direct descendant of King Midas. This is the kind of rabbit Hendry will need to pull out of his hat when it comes to unloading Milton Bradley.

But it was 2003's trade deadline fleecing of Pirates GM Dave Littlefield that really ignited a love affair between Hendry and Cubs fans: Jose Hernandez, Matt Bruback and Bobby Hill for Aramis Ramirez, Kenny Lofton, and cash! Littlefield then gave the Cubs Randall "Sausage Beater" Simon a few weeks later (that nickname sounds dirty, but in case you've forgotten the incident that begot such a nickname, please click the link).

In an attempt to out-GM himself, Hendry pulled off a Hee Seop Choi for Derrek Lee trade in the 2003 offseason. He also got Michael Barrett for Damian Miller and traded for Nomar at the 2004 deadline, and the Cubs won 89 games that year, though they choked away a playoff spot in the final week of the season.

Hendry has other good moves he can point to, such as trading Sammy Sosa after he turned his back on the Cubs (and integrity), and getting rid of Michael Barrett at the right time. He also made mistakes beyond those of this past offseason, such as giving up three young pitchers for Juan Pierre and giving away Greg Maddux for Cesar "♪ You can ring my be-e-ell, You can ring my bell ♪ " Izturis.

Those are the specifics, here's the bottom line: Hendry has produced three NL Central titles in his seven years at the helm. The Cubs hadn't seen that kind of consistent success since 1938 when they accomplished the exact same feat. In fact, the Cubs have made the playoffs just 16 times in their long history, and Hendry has been behind the desk for three of them. The 182 wins in 2007 and 2008 were the most in back-to-back seasons for the Cubs since 1935-36. It's fine to lay the blame for 2009 at Hendry's feet, but you also have to give him some credit for the products he put on the field in the years prior.

Expectations-wise, 2009 was a disaster of a campaign for the Cubs. But the "W" flag still flew 83 times, and we've also seen some promise from young players such as Randy Wells, Jake Fox and Andres Blanco.

Hendry has created some serious work for whomever is in charge this offseason, but in my opinion, he's earned the chance to do that work himself. As Tom Ricketts takes over the helm, I hope he'll keep Jim Hendry on board.