Wednesday, March 31, 2010

2010 Cubs predictions

We're only five days away from Opening Day, which means it's about time for me, Trevor Sierra and Andrew Kapral to make comically inaccurate predictions about the upcoming season. Last season, Trevor and Andrew tied with three apiece while I had only two. I won in 2008, and Andrew dominated in 2007. Due to the sensitive nature of these predictions, all information prior to 2007 has been destroyed.

On with it:

*2009 totals in parentheses

Cubs wins (83)
Trevor 88
Andrew 87
Brandon 86

(good luck with that one, Andrew)

Randy Wells wins (12)
Trevor 13
Brandon 11
Andrew 10


Soto slugging percentage (.381)
Brandon .475
Andrew .445
Trevor .430

Zambrano wins (9)
Trevor 20
Brandon 14
Andrew 14

Derrek Lee HR (35)
Brandon 33
Trevor 33
Andrew 27

Carlos Marmol walks per 9 innings (7.9)
Brandon 6.4
Andrew 5.8
Trevor 5.1

Theriot OBP (.343)
Andrew .380
Brandon .370
Trevor .365

Final NL Central standings



Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Are you serious? F**king Doris in Accounting is going to win the office pool again?

From the Wait 'til this Year Humor Vault

Doris liked Murray St. over Vanderbilt because, in her words, "I had a friend named Murray when I was a child, and he once gave me his vanilla pudding because he knew I liked it so much." Unbelievable.

CONCORD, Mass.--No f**king way. Not again. This is the second year in a row that Doris down in Accounting is going to win the goddamn NCAA Tournament office pool.

How could she have Butler in the Final Four? Oh, that's right: because she's a f**king idiot.

Bill in Sales said she picked Kansas to lose early because "K is just not a pretty-sounding letter." And rumor has it some of her picks were based on which team her cat stepped on when she placed the bracket near it. That is some serious bulls**t.

And Ohio over Georgetown because her ex-husband is named George? Tennessee over Ohio State because she once drove through Tennessee and a nice man helped her with a flat tire? What a lucky bi*ch. And the worst part is, she doesn't even watch any of the games--I can guarantee you she won't know she won until someone tells her. Just like last year.

I'm out of that f**king pool until that basketball-picking witch doesn't work here anymore.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Bears spend big, but will it bring big results?

When you draft as poorly as Jerry Angelo, you need to turn to the free agent market in order to improve your team. And when you trade away virtually all of your draft picks for a franchise quarterback, you really need to look to free agency to fill your team's holes.

So that's exactly what the Bears have done, making a splash--hell, doing a cannonball--on the first day of free agency by signing DE Julius Peppers, RB Chester Taylor, and TE Brandon Manumaleuna.

As the Bears' Chicago counterparts on the North side have shown them, free agency ain't cheap. Peppers: $91.5 million, $42 guaranteed. Taylor: $12.5 million, $7 guaranteed. Manumaleuna: $17 million, $6 guaranteed.

They've anted up, but will the new additions up their win total?

I really like the additional of Taylor to the backfield. In his only season as a Viking in which he got the bulk of the carries, he ran for 1,216 yards. While no one knows if the thief who stole Matt Forte's talent will return it in time for the 2010 season, the Bears now have two solid backs. Plus, Taylor is adept at catching passes from the halfback position--he's had 40+ receptions four of the last five years. The Bears had no balance on offense last year; hopefully having more talent at the running back position will provide some.

The other offensive addition is not quite as dynamic. In fact, Manumaleuna has had no more than 15 receptions since 2003. He is the reason the phrase "blocking tight end" exists. He's 6-foot-2, 295 pounds, and has played in high-powered offenses such as Mike Martz's greatest show on turf and the recent Chargers' squads. It's hard to get excited about a blocking tight end, but the Bears should be willing to pay a trash can $17 million if it can block.

The 2009 Bears defense had a unique ability to make opposing quarterbacks feel comfortable. Peppers should help to change that. While he's over the hill as far as defensive linemen go (he's 30--there's no way the Bears keep him around for all six years of his contract), he was in the top 10 in the NFL in sacks in 2006, 2008 and 2009. Football's big secret is that it's all about the offensive and defensive lines: get pressure on the other team's quarterback and protect your own QB, and you'll win your share of games. For this reason, Peppers makes the Bears' D significantly better. He makes the rest of the defensive line better because he'll draw double teams. He makes Urlacher and the linebacking corps better for the same reason. He makes the secondary better because they shouldn't have to cover their receivers for quite as long. He was seriously overpaid, but if he has a couple real good seasons with 10 or 12 sacks, he could help revive a flatlining Bears defense.

Of course, what frustrated Bears fans more than anything last year were Cutler's boneheaded plays and a lack of protection from the offensive line. None of the above free agents will fix those problems, and a limited number of draft picks--including none in the first two rounds--won't help, either. If Brett Favre returns to the Vikings, are the Bears now better than them? I don't think so. Are they better than the Packers? I'm not so sure. After all, it's difficult to turn a 7-9 team into an 11-5 team with one Friday's worth of free agents.

But give the Bears credit. They put themselves into a corner by limiting themselves to free agency, but they didn't sit around when it came time to improve the team. The Bears are a better team than they were when their season ended in January. But don't let all those dollar signs fool you--there's still work to be done.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Andres Blanco traded to Rangers for player to be named later

So says Gordon Wittenmyer via Twitter. Blanco was out of options and was unlikely to make the team out of spring training. This disappoints me as Blanco is perhaps the best defensive player on the Cubs' 40-man roster and the Cubs have no backup shortstop heading into Opening Day. While he didn't set the world on fire at the plate with his .252 average in 123 at-bats last year, he could have been a decent bat off the bench and a strong defender up the middle.

Oh well. On the bright side, the Cubs will get something in return for a player they were going to lose one way or another.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Gorzelanny and Silva to begin season in starting rotation

This according to Carrie Muskat over at Gorzelanny stole the fifth starter spot from Sean Marshall--Marshall had a strong outing on Wednesday to lower his spring ERA to 1.64, but Gorzelanny followed with six strong innings yesterday to lower his ERA to 3.07. I think Marshall's career splits played a role as well (4.86 career ERA as a starter, 3.15 as a reliever). It's likely that my prediction from February 5 that Gorzelanny would start the season in the rotation played a role as well. Right? Yeah, it's likely that my prediction played a role.

Silva has had a solid spring while Jeff Samardzija (who will go to the bullpen) did not. I still don't think the Cubs will need a fifth starter until April 19 (though they may prefer one), so it will be interesting to see which back-end starter will get the bulk of the starts before Lilly returns.

Piniella also said that lefty James Russell (0.00 ERA in nine innings) is very likely to make the team as a reliever.

Stupid Pirates fans go into yet another season with unjustified hope

From the Wait 'til this Year Humor Vault

Pirates fans seem to forget the reality of their team's suckitude every March.

PITTSBURGH--In a ridiculous display of naivete, many Pittsburgh Pirates fans actually have some hope for a successful Pirates season in 2010. Despite 17 straight losing seasons, the Pirates faithful truly believe this could be the year.

"We have Zach Duke, Ronny Cedeno, Brandon Moss ... the list goes on and on," said idiot fan Lenny Markin. "We're really primed for a run this season, I can feel it. I can feel it in my bones."

"When Opening Day comes, we have the same record as everyone else," said obviously brain dead fan Jessica Hoover. "Bring on the Yankees, baby!"

Local Phillies fan Matt Bachner said nothing angers him more than the annual appearance of completely inexplicable hope displayed by friends and colleagues.

"It just goes to show you how much of a sucker most people are. The team makes a couple moves in the offseason, fans forget about the debacle of a season that ended six months ago, and they buy right back in. They're idiots. IDIOTS!" he yelled as he pushed an unsuspecting elderly woman who was walking by with a Pirates jacket on.

"There are fans that actually think we're going to be good?" said Pirates manager John Russell. "That's ri-goddamn-diculous," he said with a laugh. After the laughing continued for over a minute, the reporter walked away and the interview ended awkwardly.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

The name game, vol. 4

Dairese Gary (New Mexico)
Never a good thing when your last name makes a much better first name than your first name.

David Kool (Western Michigan)
When you've got a last name like cool, you just throw a nice, normal name in front of it. Don't ruin it. Don't do Lance Kool or Darius Kool. Just David Kool, or Steve Kool. Well done, Mr. and Mrs. Kool.

Blaise Ffrench (St. Peter's)
Not every day you see the double "f," and not every day you see the name Blaise. Also not every day you hear anything about the St. Peter's Peacocks. Is that the worst college team name in the nation? How often has a St. Peter's student gotten drunk, headed to a big basketball game and gotten ready to yell "Peacocks, motherfu**er!" at the other team right after a big three-pointer, but then had to decide against it since, you know, they're the Peacocks. Do you think their fans ever shorten it to just "Cocks"? The St. Peter's Cocks? That makes it sound like a person--a saint, no less--with a unique biological affliction.

"Humpty" Hitchens (Akron)
Do I really need to say anything? Okay, how about this: his name cracks me up.

Tyler Storm (Northern Illinois)
Sounds like a character in a novel. Or the bad guy in a bad movie.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Former Cubs making news with new clubs

Indians closer Kerry Wood is going to be out at least six to eight weeks after suffering a strained muscle in his upper back. He's the second AL Central closer to go down in spring training; Twins
stopper Joe Nathan is out for the season.

Second baseman Mark Grudzielanek, who is now 39 years old, is vying for a spot on the Indians' roster. Though he's batting just .250 this spring, one of his main competitors, 24-year-old Luis Valbuena, is batting just .214.

While the fact that Grudzielanek might still be playing in the big leagues this year came as a surprise to me, here's something that's not a surprise to anyone: Milton Bradley was ejected from two spring training games in one week. Okay, let's be honest: that's actually a little surprising.

Last Wednesday, Bradley appeared to forget how many outs there were when he dropped his bat and removed his batting gloves after striking out for the second out of the inning. On Friday, Bradley said something to the umpire on his way to the dugout after a called third strike and was tossed.

So Bradley has twice taken shots at the Cubs through the media, and now he has been ejected from two spring training games. I'm sure Seattle fans are thrilled about their team's new addition.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

It's past time to change overtime

The NFL's competition committee has suggested a possible change to the league's playoff overtime rules. The potential rule change, which would have to be approved by 24 of the league's 32 owners, would give both teams an overtime possession unless the team that gets the ball first scores a touchdown. If the teams remain tied after one possession each, it becomes a sudden death situation. The idea is to prevent a team from winning the coin toss, moving about 30 yards down the field, and winning on a long field goal without the other team ever getting to touch the ball (see: 2010 NFC Championship game).

I say: don't just make this rule change for playoff games, make it for all games! The NFL has always had one of the worst overtime systems in all of sports. To me, it's akin to ending a hockey game after the first player makes a goal in a shootout, or declaring a baseball team a winner if they score a run in the top of the 10th. This "modified sudden death" idea still places too much emphasis on a coin toss, as the team that wins the coin toss gets a crack at ending the game with a touchdown. But at least under the proposed rule change, the team that loses the coin toss wouldn't lose just by allowing a long field goal.

I still like college football's overtime better, but I understand that the NFL wouldn't want to make their games, which are often too long as it is, even longer. At least this new rule would put the emphasis on players making plays rather than players calling "heads" or "tails."

Monday, March 22, 2010

Cubs spring training update

With less than two weeks remaining until Opening Day (shiver), the Cubs' roster stands at 40 players. Not many position battles have been officially decided, but some of the competitors have fallen by the wayside.

Starting pitcher 1: Carlos Silva and Jeff Samardzija continue to battle for one rotation spot. Silva has a 5.73 ERA, but had two consecutive solid starts before leaving yesterday's start early with a tight right quad (he's expected to be fine). Samardzija has a 9.00 ERA in just four innings of work; he'll start again today.

Starting pitcher 2: One spot will go to a lefty, which leaves Sean Marshall and Tom Gorzelanny fighting for it. Marshall has a solid 2.57 ERA in seven innings, while Gorzelanny's is 3.12 but he's walked eight in 8.2 innings.

Bullpen: Carlos Marmol and John Grabow were locks from the start, and it appears that Esmailin Caridad has worked his way into the 'pen as well (in 8.1 innings, he has not allowed an earned run, and has one walk and seven strikeouts). With Guzman out for the year, it's very likely that the two potential starters who don't crack the rotation will make the team as relievers. Of course, when Lilly returns (hopefully in mid- to late April), one reliever might be relieved of his spot in the bullpen.

But for now, two spots remain. A few early spring candidates have been sent down in the last week or so, including Andrew Cashner, Blake Parker, Jeff Stevens, Mitch Atkins and David Patton. The latter three all saw time with the big club last season.

Remaining bullpen candidates:

John Gaub--LH; 6.75 ERA
Justin Berg--RH; 1.50 ERA
James Russell--LH; 0.00 ERA in eight innings
Mike Parisi--RH; 4.15 ERA
Jeff Gray--RH; has not been able to pitch due to a groin injury

Second base battle: Lou Piniella suggested last week that Fontenot has a leg up on the battle to be the starter at second. Fontenot is hitting .294 this spring, while Baker has struggled to the tune of .115.

Backup outfielder: Tyler Colvin is making things tough--he's batting .442 (19-for-43) with a home run and seven RBI (second only to Fontenot). Sam Fuld still has a decent shot to make the team due to his .299 average in the majors last year, but he's batting just .125 this spring. Micah Hoffpauir, who could potentially be used in the infield and outfield, is just 8-for-34 (.225) this spring.

Backup infielder: Veterans Kevin Millar (.300) and Chad Tracy (.269) continue to duke it out, and while Bobby Scales is still on the radar, his .100 average isn't helping his cause.

Friday, March 19, 2010

2010 Cubs preview: Right field

Stop with the crazy spinning! Stop it! Shuushi!

In Kosuke Fukudome's first at-bat as a Cub, he lasered a double off the center field wall against Ben Sheets. In the ninth inning of that game, as you likely recall, he hit a three-run home run to tie it up. Only $12 million for this guy? What a bargain!

Or not. Fukudome batted .257 in 2008 and .259 last season. That Opening Day display of power and production was misleading: Fukudome has a total of 21 home runs and 102 RBI in his two seasons in the majors. (By the way, the similarity between Fukudome's 2008 and 2009 numbers is freaky: 150 games, 146 games; 501 AB, 499 AB; 79 runs, 79 runs; 129 hits, 129 hits. Weird.)

I have two pieces of very good news, however:

1) His OBP in 2008 was .359, and it improved to .375 last year (ahead of Theriot, Johnson, Soto and Soriano, among others). Last year, when batting first or second in the lineup, his OBP was .379.

2) He is expected to bat near the top of the order this season. He'll start in the two-hole, though that could change.

My point is, Fukudome has something to bring to the table, and it's his ability to get on base. That ability should be better-exploited this season with him expected to bat first or second rather than being expected to be a run-producer near the middle of the order.

Still, Fukudome's performance has been rather disappointing given that he batted .351 and .294 in his last two seasons in Japan. While he was credited (wrongly, one would think) with the Cubs' dramatic shift in philosophy in 2008 (taking pitches, drawing walks), it'd be great to see him put up his own solid numbers this season, rather than simply being credited with those of his teammates. After two seasons of watching him struggle to catch up with above average fastballs, I have a hard time believing that will happen.

Prediction: .264 avg, 9 HR, 51 RBI, .380 OBP, 13 stolen bases

But what do you think?

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Things you didn't know you didn't know about the NCAA Tournament

Want to fill out the perfect bracket? Just head to the nearest copy machine and print up 18,446,744,073,709,551,616 brackets. Fill them all out with different scenarios, and you'll be assured of NCAA Tournament perfection!

Texas A&M vs. Utah State is a battle of the Aggies.

Wofford, with 1,350 students, is the smallest school in the tournament. They are also part of the only first-round matchup between teams that start with the same letter (they play Wisconsin).

There are 22 states represented in the names of the tournament teams: Kansas, Nevada, Iowa, Michigan, New Mexico, Maryland, Tennessee, Ohio, Oklahoma, Georgia, California, Florida, Texas, Minnesota, Kentucky, Wisconsin, Washington, Montana, Missouri, West Virginia, Arkansas, and Utah.

If Kansas and Kentucky face off in the final, as I predicted, it will be a rematch of the 2008 championship game coaches (Bill Self with Kansas and John Calipari with Memphis).

Oakland is not located in California (it's in Rochester, Michigan) and Sam Houston State is in Texas, but not in Houston.

The 15 seed is the place to be if you have a weird nickname: we've got the UC-Santa Barbara Gauchos, and the North Texas Mean Green.

hat tips: Miami Herald, BleacherReport

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Roy Halladay forgets it's spring training, throws complete game

From the Wait 'til this Year Humor Vault

CLEARWATER, Fla.--While most starting pitchers throw just two or three innings in each of their first few spring training starts, Roy Halladay got lost in the moment on Tuesday and threw a complete game shutout against the Tigers. Halladay, who is a rubber-armed crazy person who never gets tired, ever, said he's just become accustomed to finishing what he starts. He didn't realize his mistake until a conversation with reporters after the game.

"Oh, that's right, it's March!" Halladay said. "I can't believe I just did that. I bet there were some young guys who wanted to get some work in today. Shoot. That's my bad."

Halladay needed just 89 pitches to set the major league record for most spring training complete games: one. It became apparent that Halladay might have mistakenly thought it was the regular season when he threw a 95 mph fastball underneath the chin of infielder Matt Dominguez after Dominguez had singled off him earlier in the game. The brushback pitch occurred in the eighth inning of a 10-0 game, and Dominguez is a Single-A player who has virtually no chance of making the team.

"Well, whaddaya gonna do?" Halladay said. "I won't throw nearly as many innings tomorrow." Halladay was then reminded that he doesn't get to pitch every day.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Book review: Curse? There Ain’t No Stinking Cub Curse and Other Stories about Sports and Gamesmanship

Curse? There Ain’t No Stinking Chicago Cub Curse by James Wolfe and Mary Ann Presman (Rensselaer Publishing Group, 2010), 204 pages

The first two stories in "Curse? There Ain't No Stinking Chicago Cub Curse" find the Chicago Cubs making a run toward the World Series and a man named Henry Crawford going on a lucky streak at a blackjack table. If you know me at all, you know I loved the beginning of this book.

There are many reasons to participate in sports and games: to try to win the World Series, to pass the time at a family gathering, or as the background to a first date, just to name a few. James Wolfe and Mary Ann Presman explore these and many other reasons that people engage in friendly--and sometimes not-so-friendly--competition in a collection of 11 short stories (four by Wolfe, seven by Presman) that's sure to bring a smile to your face if you've ever played Scrabble, tried to master golf, or dabbled in almost any other competitive activity.

The book's first story is by far its longest. In it, we find that the Cubs have a new head honcho, Johnny, and that he's not your typical MLB owner. Johnny purchased the Cubs because 1) he loves the team, and 1a) he thinks that being the owner might enable him to throw on a uniform and get some major league playing time. He operates the team with the help of his loyal but outspoken brother Frank, the narrator of the story and the lifelong brains behind Johnny's bravado.

Johnny makes George Steinbrenner look like Ebenezer Scrooge as he immediately lures the game's premiere manager and stockpiles many of its most expensive players. How does he afford it? With billboards at Wrigley--rather, at Goldman Sachs Field--fireworks nights, and hefty increases in concession prices. With Johnny's free-spending methods vaulting the Cubs into a comfortable lead, Johnny harasses the manager to find playing time for--Johnny.

A low draft pick years earlier with a professional career that fizzled quickly, Johnny obviously hasn't let go of his childhood dream. Johnny weasels his way into a couple blowout games, which baseball's commissioner does not find amusing. There's no doubt Johnny causes his share of headaches, but he's doing so as the Cubs sit atop the division standings. So Cubs fans are left to debate: is the dream of a potential World Series ring worth the nightmare of Johnny's style of ownership? The story's timing couldn't be better as the real-life Cubs embark on a 2010 campaign under new ownership.

Two of Wolfe's stories deal with a game that is as frustrating for almost everyone who plays it as baseball can be for Cubs fans: golf. "If profanity improved the golf game" brings us Jack, a "straight-laced, God-fearing CPA" who looks down on the friends in his foursome for their contributions to a troubling "trend of acceptable language in society in general." But when Jack accidentally lets the s-word slip after a bad bunker shot and it leads to a sand save followed by a birdie on the next hole, his M.O. changes dramatically. If only this simple solution worked for all of us hackers out there ...

While Wolfe's stories deal with baseball and golf, Mary Ann Presman takes the reader on a scenic route of less popular--but no less enjoyable--games. I laughed at Sylvia, the cranky middle-aged woman who takes a traditional Mother's Day game of bocce ball way too seriously: "She was in favor of strictly enforcing the rules and playing her best, even when the game was 'Candyland.' ... It prepared the kids better for the real world."

I cringed as 13-year-old Lucy agreed to an innocent game of pool with her grandfather at the local pool hall, only to find herself on the listening end of her most straightforward sex talk to date: "Just 'cause a guy gets all hot and bothered whenever you come into view doesn't mean he's hopelessly in love and wants to marry you ... It just means he's got a hard-on and you can give him great pleasure by taking care of it."

And I was touched by the seemingly innocuous game of H-O-R-S-E between Neal and his younger brother Teddy, a game played just after Neal's return from Iraq on the heels of their father's death: "Teddy stepped back a few paces, bouncing the ball. He stopped, clenched the ball. 'But I thought you couldn't wait to get away from here?'
'Away from Dad maybe. But not this place.'

is a quick read, and an enjoyable one. Whether Wolfe and Presman are exploring sports as power, as diversion, as tradition, or as a way to connect, they draw you in with their unique characters and engaging narrators. The short story format enables them to traverse a variety of sports and games and to analyze some of the many ways in which people compete with one another. Whether you're a sports addict, you enjoy the occasional game, or you just like a good story, Curse? will have something for you.

Monday, March 15, 2010

IWU women's basketball team's run comes to an end

Mia Smith's teams went an incredible 58-3 over the last two seasons. Unfortunately, a couple uncharacteristic performances in the NCAA Tournament prevented either squad from earning a Final Four berth.

While it was a loss to Washington University in last year's Elite Eight that left the Titans without a banner, it was a Sweet Sixteen loss to a very talented Wisconsin-Stevens Point team (easily the best team I saw them play this year) that ended the 2009-2010 season.

It was a revenge game for the Pointers, both for a loss earlier this season, and for a loss in last year's Sweet Sixteen. The Titans led 50-39 early in the second half, but the Pointers fought back and it was a close game for the last 13 minutes. Stevens Point built a five-point lead late, but two consecutive old-fashioned three-point plays by the Titans--both by Stacey Arlis--quickly turned the deficit into a one-point lead with four minutes left to play.

Christina Solari made a layup to put the Titans up by one with 32 seconds remaining, and had a one-and-one with 13 seconds left after a miss by the Pointers. The front-end free throw missed left, and the Pointers grabbed the rebound. The Titans forced a miss, but Ashley Averkamp--who led her team with 20 points--snagged the board and put it back up and in to give Stevens Point a 77-76 lead with just two seconds remaining. A last-ditch shot attempt from nearly half court fell short, and the Pointers moved on to face Hope in the Elite Eight.

The 77 points were the third-most allowed by the Titans this season: they defeated Olivet Nazarene 108-83 in late November, and beat Stevens Point 84-80 in their very next game. Four Pointers were in double-figures on Friday, and the Titans were outrebounded 42-36.

Christina Solari led the team with 17 points, and her sister Karen, Olivia Lett, Nikki Preston and Stacey Arlis all joined her in double-figures. If was a tough shooting night for Nikki--she was 4-for-12 and 0-for-3 from behind the arc. Overall, the Titans shot well at nearly 51 percent, but 19 turnovers resulted in them taking six fewer shots and four fewer threes than their opponents.

Though there's no doubt the Titans would have loved to have surpassed the success they had last season, there's absolutely nothing wrong with another conference title, a 28-2 showing overall, and the team's second-ever appearance in the Sectional round of the NCAA tournament. While the nature of Friday's loss makes it a tough one to stomach, Mia Smith, seniors Christina Solari and Carrie Williams, and every other player on the Titans should be extremely proud of yet another incredible season. The 1,700 fans at the Shirk Center on Friday (save the decent number of Pointers supporters) were treated to a phenomenal year on the heels of a record-shattering 2008-2009 season, and they'll no doubt be back for more about eight short months from now.

Friday, March 12, 2010

2010 Cubs preview: Center field

Some solid CF defense would help out the Cubs' pitching staff.

For the second time in two years, Jim Hendry signed a free agent outfielder from the Rangers with the initials M.B. Let's hope that in terms of on-field production and off-the-field antics and attitude, the initials will be the extent of how much history repeats itself.

Milton Bradley recently complained that Cubs fans expected too much from him last year. While he rarely says anything true (enjoy that big bag of crazy, Seattle), there's a grain of truth to this statement. When your team's GM gives someone $30 million over three years, it's hard to remember that the guy makes Rich Harden look durable and that he's had just one 20+ home run season in his career.

So while Byrd's contract was a little more reasonable, we still need to avoid falling into the same trap. Byrd's home run totals since 2003:

2003: 7
2004: 5
2005: 2
2006: 5
2007: 10
2008: 10
2009: 20

Byrd has averaged less than 50 RBI per season since '03, though in his three seasons under new Cubs hitting coach Rudy Jaramillo, he had 70, 53, and then 89 last year. His last three seasons are three reasons why Jaramillo may have been the Cubs' biggest free agent signing this past offseason. But while Byrd's 2009 season--.283 avg, 20 HR, 89 RBI--was solid, it would be unrealistic to assume he will reproduce his career year.

By the way--as far as average goes, Byrd has been all over the place, from a .228 in 2004 to a .307 in 2007.

Prediction: .287, 14 HR, 68 RBI

What do you think?

Thursday, March 11, 2010

The name game, vol. 3

Steve Tchiengang (Vanderbilt)
Reasons it's funny:
1) Last name is pronounced "chen gang," which is very close to "chain gang."
2) He has a unique last name, which is not surprising given that he's from Cameroon. But I love that it's paired with a very typical American name, Steve.

Just-in'love Smith (Siena)
You've got to be kidding me.

Jermaine Jackson (Rider)
Would you rather be overshadowed by a younger brother who becomes one of the most famous people on the planet, or be a backup forward for the Rider Broncs? I honestly don't know the answer to that.

Orion Outerbridge (Rhode Island)
Unique in its duality: first name brings to mind one of the most recognizable constellations and a hunter in Greek mythology, but last name is Outerbridge.

Lex Mongo (Massachusetts)
Would be a great movie character:
Bad guy: Who are you, anyway?
Lex: The name's Mongo. Lex Mongo.

No, wait. Maybe a kids' show character:
Dora the Explorer: Hi there, friend. What's your name?
Lex: Yo soy Lex Mongo! Let's go outside and play!

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

2010 Cubs preview: Left field

Hopefully Soriano will be doing plenty of trotting this year. Around the bases, that is, not in left field.

After this season, Alfonso Soriano will be halfway through his 8-year contract (gulp). After hitting .299 and .280, respectively, in 2007 and 2008, and helping lead the the Cubs to division titles in each of those years, Soriano played just 117 games last season and batted a paltry .241. Of his three seasons with the Cubs, 2009 was his worst in virtually every statistical category. He also had 11 errors in left field, and his overall defense would be better described as apathetic than athletic. Or perhaps apoplectic.

Soriano's days as a leadoff man are over (he's 34 years old), and he will most likely bat fifth or sixth in the Cubs' lineup. He's no longer a five-tool player (his tool set is down to two, three at most), but if he can once again harness the power that has resulted in five 30+ home run seasons over the course of his career, he can provide a solid force in the middle of the order.

What I hope: That Soriano's left knee was the main reason for his problems at the plate and in the field. He looked lost in all facets of the game last year (you don't have to swing at every pitch, Alfonso, it's not tee ball), and perhaps that was a function of a knee that was worse than he let on. He's always been prone to slumps, but after April of last year (.284 avg, 7 HR, 14 RBI), the rest of the season was a slump.

What I fear: That his knee played a role in his decline, but that his advancing age is the real issue. His home run totals have declined each of the last four years, he hasn't had more than 75 RBI in any season with the Cubs, and he hasn't played more than 117 games either of the last two seasons. Soriano used to be an agile second baseman who could run the bases and make exciting plays in the field--that is not the man who has played for the Cubs the last three years (side note: Soriano made SportsCenter's Top 10 plays with a diving catch on Saturday--perhaps he gave up laziness for Lent?)

What I hope: That batting lower in the order will enable him to get the most out of his skill set. While he stole 41 bases in his one season with the Nationals, it quickly became clear to fans that the Cubs had signed a slugger, not a stealer. In his three years with the Cubs, Soriano has just 47 total stolen bases (and only nine last year). Batting lower in the order with more RBI opportunities will hopefully lead to a 90- or 100-RBI season rather than the 67 he has averaged as a Cub.

What I fear: That the stubborn bastard won't be comfortable batting anywhere other than leadoff. In the past, he has been adamant about batting at the top of the order, but it looks like Lou is finally going to act like a manager and make out his own lineup. Soriano has to be intelligent enough to realize he doesn't belong at the top any more, right? Let's hope so--in his career as a Cub, his average is 14 points lower in the sixth hole and his home run rate is just over half of what it is when he leads off.

Prediction: A DL stint seems more than likely, which will affect his numbers.

.279 avg, 28 HR, 85 RBI.

Not worth $17 million, but it could get the job done if the rest of the lineup produces as it's capable of doing.

Agree or disagree?

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

IWU men making most of tournament opportunity

Pantagraph/Carlos T. Miranda

After a loss to Carthage in the CCIW Tournament final, the IWU men's basketball players had to hold their collective breath and hope for their first bid to the national tournament since 2006. Just over a week later, the Titans find themselves in a Sweet 16 match-up with ... Carthage.

In fact, this Friday's game--which will take place at Wisconsin-Stevens Point--will mark the fourth time the two teams have met this season. The Titans won at home while losing twice in Kenosha. Carthage is led by CCIW's leading scorer Steve Djurickovic, who scored 22, 18 and 26 points, respectively, in the teams' first three games.

IWU (22-7) had to defeat #1 nationally ranked Washington University on the Bears' home floor to get to the Sectional round, and earned a 75-70 victory behind 24 points from Sean Johnson (it should be noted that this win was predicted by Bob Geraty). The Titans are now 4-0 against Wash U in tournament games, and the win ended an 18-game tournament winning streak for the two-time defending national champs.

If coach Ron Rose can lead the team to a win over Carthage, the Titans will face the winner of UW-Stevens Point (25-4) and Texas-Dallas (24-5) on Saturday night.

Monday, March 8, 2010

How sweet it is

Photo by Marc Featherly, IWU

The Illinois Wesleyan women's basketball team has not lost at home this season. If that trend continues for two more weeks, the Titans will have a national championship banner to hang in the Shirk Center.

After a dominant 83-53 win over Simpson on Saturday, the Titans (28-1) learned that they will host the Sweet 16 and Elite Eight rounds of the tournament this Friday and Saturday. With the Shirk Center playing host to the Final Four no matter which teams make it, the road to the national title officially goes through Bloomington, Ill.

On Friday at 7:00, Mia Smith's squad will face UW-Stevens Point (23-6), a team they defeated 84-80 at Shirk back in November. Four Titans scored in double figures, and Nikki Preston led the way with 19. IWU faced Stevens Point in the Sweet 16 last year as well, winning 77-64.

The Pointers are led by post player Britta Peterson and her 15.4 points per game. Peterson led the team with 21 points in the teams' first match-up this season. While the team has a solid presence down low, they're also dangerous from behind the arc--they shoot 34 percent from three compared to 30 percent for the Titans.

Overall, however, the Titans score 80 points per game compared to 69 for the Pointers, and the Titans allow three fewer points per game (58) than the Pointers (61).

If IWU prevails on Friday, they'll face a team with only one loss. Hope (29-1), which is essentially a #2 seed, will take on Marymount (28-1) on Friday at 5:00. Hope has won 21 straight games and outscores their opponents by an average score of 74-51.

Friday, March 5, 2010

2010 Cubs Preview: Shortstop

I hope we see a lot less of this uppercut swing in 2010.

There's a lot to discuss when it comes to the Cubs' shortstop position. Obviously Ryan Theriot will be the starting shortstop come April 5, so let's start with him. There are a few stats we need to explore:

Career HR prior to 2009: 7
HR in 2009: 7

2007 + 2008 strikeouts: 108
2009 strikeouts: 93

When Theriot shocked the Wrigley Field fans with a go-ahead grand slam against the Marlins on May 1 of last year, it seemed that he had found a new weapon. "This scrappy singles hitter can put a charge into one? This is great!"

But it wasn't. Theriot seemed to become addicted to the idea of trying to hit the long ball. This resulted in a very un-Theriot-like uppercut swing, way too many warning track fly balls, and a tendency to pull off the ball instead of staying inside of it and hitting the ball to the right side.

From a successful '08 season to a so-so '09 season, Theriot's average dropped from .307 to .284, his OBP dropped from .387 to .343, and his walks fell from 73 to 51. To put it mildly, I was ecstatic to hear Theriot say this:
"I had a stretch where I hit some out of the park last year, but that's not my job. I need to get on base and set the table for the big boys."

-From an AP story by Mike Nadel
Precisely. It was almost ridiculous how good Theriot was in 2008 at stroking the ball through the right side of the infield. It was ridiculous how rarely he did so in 2009. If Fukudome ends up being the main leadoff man, these types of hits will serve the Cubs well as Fukudome, a good base runner, will be able to go from first to third.

The second thing we need to talk about is the possibility that Theriot will be moved to second base if Starlin Castro is brought up at some point to play short. This wouldn't necessarily affect his offensive production, but it does obviously make a difference for the Cubs defensively. In my opinion, Theriot is the second-weakest link in the Cubs' defense, behind Soriano. While his range is decent (though not great), his arm is terrible. Though he seems to prefer playing short, I think the overall infield defense would be considerably stronger with him at second. So I wasn't ecstatic to read that he's quite defensive about his defensive position:
"Competition is good because it brings out the best in all of us. But to be quite honest with you, 'What have you [referring to Castro] done at the major league level?' Those expectations and that pressure, everybody deals with that differently. I think it takes a little bit more than just ability."

-AP story by Mike Nadel
When asked earlier in the spring about Castro possibly taking over at short, Theriot said, "He's going to have to come get it." Theriot did back off a bit in later comments:

"It would be wonderful to see a guy come up with those tools and use every single one of them. It could change my role, sure, but that's all right. My role's been changed quite a bit. The good news is, I've always had a role.

"Be a part of it. Contribute. Win. That's the ultimate goal of everybody here. You put your personal feelings aside and do what's best for the club."

Nice. Now don't get me wrong, I'm not proclaiming that Starlin Castro is the Cubs' savior, or that it's even close to a guarantee that he'll be a productive member of the Cubs' big league club this season. But if Castro proves capable and Piniella asks Theriot to move to second, I hope he would do exactly what he said--put his personal feelings aside and do what's best for the club. The Cubs are already very strong defensively at the corners. Having Castro and Theriot in the middle infield would give them one of the better defensive infields in the league.

Prediction: .296 avg, .385 OBP, 2 HR, 35 RBI, 65 K, 60 BB


Thursday, March 4, 2010

Let the games begin

At 2:00 CST today, Ho Ho Kam Park will look something like the photo above. Though spring training games are of course a far cry from regular season action, we will have actual baseball games to talk about for the next seven (and hopefully eight) months. Enjoy.

Dwight Howard draws technical foul for not having any tattoos

From the Wait 'til this Year Humor Vault

ORLANDO--Orlando Magic center Dwight Howard earned a technical foul on Wednesday for not having enough tattoos. Though he pretended to be shocked by the call, Howard had been warned by the NBA Commissioner's office several times that if he didn't get inked up, he would be punished accordingly.

"We have an image to uphold," said Commissioner David Stern. "We have lots of young kids coming to our games, and they expect to see random, borderline inappropriate tattoos all over the players' bodies. I called Dwight a week ago and told him he needed to get him some tats. Apparently he still thinks he's above the rules."

Stern cited the Nuggets' Chris Andersen--aka Birdman--and the Knicks' Eddy Curry as two examples Howard should consider following. Stern has instructed the NBA's referees to continue to T players up until they "stop being B-backs and get engraved already." He said they've contracted with several tattoo artists who are ready to "pound some skin and sling some serious ink."

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Titan men's and women's bball teams will go dancing

Congratulations to Ron Rose and Mia Smith for leading their respective teams to the postseason. The men (20-7) will face Central Iowa (23-4) and a win would likely pit them against #1 Washington University (23-2) on their home court. View men's bracket

Though there are no actual seedings, the women (26-1) essentially earned a #1 seed. The Shirk Center will play host to the first two rounds, with IWU taking on Franklin College (21-6) this Friday at 8:00. If the Titans prevail, they will face the winner of Simpson (22-5) vs. Chicago (19-6) Saturday at 7:00. View women's bracket

Franklin won the Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference (HCAC) regular season title and claimed the conference tournament title with a win over rival Hanover. As far as common opponents go, the Grizzlies lost to Elmhurst 85-57 back in November and beat North Central 73-61 in December.

They outscored their opponents by nearly 10 points per game and have three players who average double-figures. While they are clearly a solid team, they play in a relatively weak conference and did not defeat any ranked opponents this season (IWU defeated four).

Not to jinx anything, but it's worth noting in case IWU advances to play Chicago that the Titans prevailed 64-57 at Chicago on December 5.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

2010 Cubs preview: Third Base

On June 20, 2008, Ramirez hit a game-winning home run off Scott Linebrink to lead the Cubs to a 4-3 victory over the White Sox. I watched it with Trevor Sierra and Andrew Kapral from the Cask 'n Flagon across the street from Fenway Park. Unfortunately, we didn't see enough of this last year due to Ramirez's shoulder injury.

On paper, this would seem to be the easiest position to predict. Since Aramis Ramirez joined the Cubs in 2003, you could pen him in (pen, not pencil) for about 30 home runs:

2003: 27
2004: 36
2005: 31
2006: 38
2007: 26
2008: 27

You also knew he'd be right around the 100 RBI mark:

2003: 106
2004: 103
2005: 92
2006: 119
2007: 101
2008: 111

While Ramirez had just 15 HR and 65 RBI in 2009 due to a shoulder injury that limited him to almost exactly half the season (82 games), translating those stats into a full season's worth of at-bats calculates to 27 HR and 116 RBI. Yup, sounds like A-Ram.

And let us not forget that the man can hit for average as well. Though he hit just .272 between the Pirates and Cubs in 2003, his lowest average since then was .289 in 2008. He topped the .300 mark in 2004, 2005, 2007 and 2009, reaching a high-water mark of .318 in 2004.

In short, Ramirez is the biggest key to success for the Cubs' offense. It's no coincidence that the Cubs scored 148 fewer runs in 2009 than in 2008 given that Ramirez had just over 300 at-bats last year. He opted not to have shoulder surgery in the offseason--let's hope he can remain healthy all year.

It's sort of a contract year for Ramirez. I say "sort of" because he has a player option for next year at $14.6 million (he'll be 32 years old at the end of the season, by the way). If he has a productive year, he can test the free agent market or at least try to force the Cubs to ante up with a longer contract. If he struggles, he would likely exercise the option. While he's not in the same situation as Derrek Lee, he still has plenty of incentive to have a strong year. I think he's hungry to once again put up the numbers he's accustomed to: .305 avg., 29 HR, 114 RBI.

Monday, March 1, 2010

The name game, vol. 2 (The Baylor Edition)

The Baylor Bears get a post all to themselves for having such a phenomenal collection of names on their roster. To wit:

Ekpe Udoh
Again, not all the names on these lists are funny--some of them are just awesome. This one's awesome.

Givon Crump
This one's funny.

LaceDarius Dunn
This one's ridiculous. Do you know how many boy names are listed in the average baby book? I don't either, but it's a ton. But noooo, LaceDarius's parents just couldn't find a name good enough for them, so they had to make up some ridiculous s**t.

Dragan Sekelja
It's pronounced "drahgahn," but it's damn close to dragon.

Quincy Acy
Sounds made up. Who has two names that end in "y"?

Tweety Carter
No doubt a Twitter addict.