Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Humor Vault Headlines

Rangers President Nolan Ryan critical of team's lack of no-hitters

Sports Illustrated puts all 32 NFL teams on cover just to see what happens when they jinx everyone

Albert Pujols gives stern lecture to a baseball after it doesn't go as far as he told it to

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Out with Lou, in with Ryno

It's time for a change in the Cubs' dugout. It's not that they need to "inject life" into the clubhouse, as they always say; this team was DOA when the season began. It's also not a desire to see Lou Piniella punished or called out. In fact, I think Lou deserves the opportunity to resign. But the point is, he's not coming back next year, and the second half of the season will be as pointless as the first if he's still at the helm.

Wave the white flag, Jim Hendry. I know, it's embarrassing. The third highest payroll in the majors yet only a half game better than the Royals. It's bad. It's pathetic. But what's worse: yelling "Charge!" to your troops and sending them to certain defeat, or admitting that it's time to reorganize and regroup before the next battle?

I personally feel that Ryne Sandberg should get a chance to be the next Cubs' manager, whether it be today or starting in November. The organization gave him a chance to prove that he was serious about the whole managing thing back in 2007, and now he's in Iowa. He's going to get a shot with a major league team, and soon. While he certainly wasn't management material back in his playing days, he and those around him acknowledge that he's a much different person now. He knows how to communicate, how to lead, and how to work with young players. The Cubs' 2011 roster will include Starlin Castro, Tyler Colvin, Geovany Soto, Andrew Cashner and other youngsters, making it the perfect time to give Ryno a shot.

By making the change now, Hendry can give Sandberg a chance to get his feet wet in a virtually pressure-free situation. This team's cooked, anyways. Will anyone care if he goes 30-50 the rest of the way? You could argue that hiring him in the offseason gives him a clean slate, a fresh start. But there's pressure with every new season, and high (if unjustified) hopes with each Opening Day.

And this way, Ryno will have a three-month head start on evaluating the Cubs' talent, their strengths and weaknesses. He can play an integral role in forming the team's offseason plan rather than stepping in in November with more knowledge about dining out in Des Moines than which trades or free agents the Cubs should pursue.

We knew back in March the sun could be setting on the current era. The sun shone through a window of opportunity over the past few years, but aging veterans and a decimated bullpen have brought the team to a turning point. Turn the corner, Jim Hendry. It's time for the native son to rise to his dream job. Give Ryno a chance, and do it now.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Week 12 awards: aaaaand scene

Well, that's all she wrote. The curtain is closed on the 2010 Cubs season (or at least on its chances of involving a postseason). Little did we know on the morning of April 7 how dreadfully terrible "Year One" would be. If it were a play, I would give it zero stars. DO NOT WATCH THIS PLAY! Give the tickets to the nearest homeless person and apologize to him as you do so.

It's fitting that the Cubs lost the so-called "BP Cup" because they're the BP of baseball, and not just because Randy Wells and Carlos Zambrano are usually throwing batting practice to the opposing hitters. They are an absolute disaster, a failure that only William Shakespeare could give due description.

Hopefully a few of the players will be exiting stage right in the near future. Ted Lilly should bring a decent return, in my opinion. He has 46 wins as a Cub and could help a National League contender down the stretch. How Hendry will get anything for guys like Fukudome and Lee, I have no idea, but I don't see Lee returning and we have no need for the $12 million man next year with Colvin here to stay.

I'll tell you, with the Cardinals in first and the Sox on a tear, this is turning into an absolutely brutal season for me. I think I am now in a place mentally where I can start rooting for the Reds to win. No, I don't want to see Dusty Baker in the playoffs, but goddamn do I hate those redbirds.

Goat of the Week: Have to start with the Goat this week because it was just that kind of week. I think I have no choice but to go with the entire offense. The eight runs yesterday were nice, but they scored six runs in the five games before that. Six runs make for a decent game but a pretty bad week. It's really not worth singling any one player out--they're all pretty terrible. None of them can hit when it matters, and now everything after the All-Star break won't matter.

Dishonorable mention: Carlos Zambrano

For Big Z to have launched into an angry tirade within the confines of the clubhouse would have been bad, but to do it in front of the cameras--to have yet another immature explosion on camera--was unacceptable. The suspension was certainly warranted, and the Cubs might as well put him on waivers and see if another team wants to roll the dice on an overpaid hothead.

Ryno of the Week: Eight innings/two runs and seven innings/three runs for Ryan Dempster. His 11 quality starts this season tie him for 11th in the NL in that category.

Friday, June 25, 2010

With tough decision looming, LeBron James turns to Yelp

From the Wait 'til this Year Humor Vault

An exasperated LeBron James wonders where he should go next.

CLEVELAND--When LeBron James becomes a free agent on July 1, several teams will be ready to pounce. Should he stay at home in Cleveland? Should he join Dwayne Wade or Chris Bosh? Should he head to a major market like New York or Chicago? Facing a very difficult decision, James has turned to the website Yelp for help. Wait 'til this Year sat down with James at his computer as he reviewed his options.

"Danny from Evanston says: 'The Bulls are #1! They're my fave!' Wow, he gave them five stars," LeBron said.

"Oh, but look, Mike T from Los Angeles says: 'The Clippers are on their way to the top, baby! 2010-11 will be THE YEAR! Can't wait!' Five stars for them too. Very interesting ..."

After an hour on the site, LeBron was disappointed to find that most teams garnered a five-star rating from the majority of reviewers, and felt the reviews he read were overwhelmingly positive. All in all, he didn't gain much from the experience. He did find one review, however, that bucked the trend.

"Vinny D from Chicago says 'F--k the Bulls, they f--king suck. All of Chicago can go to hell.' Zero stars. Wow. Really makes you think, doesn't it?"

Thursday, June 24, 2010

More reasons to love sports

My readers know that I have a love affair with sports (read: unhealthy addiction to any type of televised athletic competition). The drama, the unpredictable outcomes, the athletic prowess--I freakin' love it. On Wednesday, two sports that aren't anywhere near the top of my sports pyramid reminded fans of sports' endless ability to fascinate and entertain us.

First, the US soccer team took on Algeria in a game they had to win due to England's victory over Slovenia. Despite the US having tantalizing chance after tantalizing chance, the game remained scoreless all the way through the 90th minute. But in the 91st minute, with all hope lost, a close-but-no-cigar storyline already written, another disappointing World Cup finish for the US all but in the books, Landon Donovan's chip shot goal changed everything.

Donovan, USA's most popular player, the man who wears #10, the face of the franchise, knocked in a rebound of Clint Dempsey's shot to keep his team from being knocked out. As the announcer said, you simply couldn't write a script like this.

No, this wasn't the World Cup final, but the US hadn't won their group since 1930 and has only advanced to the Round of 16 four times. After eight shots on goal, including one that went in but was strangely disallowed ... after 21 total shots ... after Jozy Altidore missed from point blank range ... after Dempsey hit the post with a blistering shot and failed to put in the rebound ... after 91 minutes of frustration and heartbreak, with just two minutes until elimination, the ball bounced gently to one of the few Americans who plays in the US even when the World Cup isn't taking place, and suddenly the American team was able to erupt into celebration along with the millions of American fans who were watching along. A movie with that ending would be terrible. In real life? Wonderful.

Later in the day, top seeds such as Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic receded into the background at Wimbledon as John Isner and Nicolas Mahut played (but did not finish) a comically long match. After their fifth set was postponed due to darkness on Tuesday, the two came back to resume their match Wednesday. So they played all day Wednesday ... and then it was postponed due to darkness again. How is that possible? Well, the fifth set stood at 59 sets apiece when twilight forced the postponement. 59-59! It's supposed to go to six! The fifth set went on for over six hours, and they're not done! The match has taken over 10 hours total. It's the longest tennis match in history, and it seems like it might be the longest sporting event of any kind in history.

I remember Andy Roddick and Roger Federer playing an epic Wimbledon match last year, but their fifth set was a paltry 16-14. 59-59 is insane. It's unfathomable. It doesn't even make sense. It's like a baseball game going into the 40th inning. They played 45 games in the first four sets combined, and they'll play at least 120 in the fifth set.

It's painful to imagine yourself in their shoes, going back and forth for hours. The match will take three days to complete given the two delays, and that's assuming one of them is able to put the other away today. I suppose at this point it would be more unexpected for one of them to quickly dispose of the other, so I guess that's what we should expect. Because as yesterday proved, as so many other days have done before, if you're going to expect anything when it comes to sports, it should be the unexpected.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

A question

With the Cubs and Mariners doing battle until 11:30 and an early morning World Cup game for the U.S., I have just one question in light of Lou Piniella returning to Seattle, where he managed for 10 years, and Milton Bradley being back in the same ballpark as the Cubs.

Who is having a worse year?
  • Lou Piniella
Piniella is the lame duck manager of a team eight games under .500. He usually looks like a homeless person. He answers "What else can I do?" in response to 90 percent of reporters' questions, and yelled at a reporter and at Steve Stone for suggesting he should play Colvin more, and then promised to play Colvin more each time. He was also roundly criticized for moving his highest-paid pitcher to the bullpen (a move I agreed with, but I doubt he takes much solace in that).
  • Milton Bradley
He's batting .214 with a .301 OBP. He's earning $11 million and yet is owned in just 3.6 percent of ESPN fantasy leagues. He spent 13 days on the "restricted list" after admitting he's crazy. He has managed not only to make the Cubs' trade for oh-so-terrible Carlos Silva look good--he's made it look like one of the best trades they've ever made.

Last night's game was a perfect example of Lou and Milton's struggles--the Cubs lost with another meek performance while Bradley went 0-for-3.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

(Bad) stat of the day

How fitting is it that Aramis Ramirez, who is batting .168 this year, batted .167 in a two-game rehab stint with Class A Peoria? We've always known he was consistent, and that holds true this year--but not in a good way!


It was nice to see Tiger Woods play relatively well and compete in the US Open, but it was strange to watch him, Phil, and a number of other top golfers miss opportunity after opportunity even after Dustin Johnson opened the door--or rather, brought in a wrecking ball and knocked down the whole wall with a triple bogey followed by a double followed by a bogey within the first four holes. But Graeme McDowell has a really cool accent, so I was okay with him taking the trophy.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Week 11 awards: Hard to defend Cubs' defense

The Cubs have had plenty of problems on offense this season, and they've struggled at times on the mound. But last week, their most prominent deficiency was in the field. After committing a rather unreasonable 12 errors in six games, they have now committed the third-most in the majors. Errors last week:

Lee: 3 (committed six all of last season)
Baker: 3
Colvin: 2
Soto: 2
Castro: 1
Lilly: 1

The Cubs allowed four unearned runs in a 9-5 loss Tuesday, four more in a 7-6 loss Friday, and had they not given the Angels four more on Saturday, they would have ... well, lost 8-0. But still.

I was "lucky" enough to see Saturday's demolition in person, and I guess we can't be surprised that this feast or famine team followed up that drubbing with a 12-1 pounding of their own. Here's hoping the offense can remain locked in as the Cubs will face two Seattle starters with sub-three ERAs, including Cliff Lee, and then Felix Hernandez.

Ryno of the Week: Colvin continued to rake, going 6-for-15 with two home runs, six RBI and three runs scored. He's now hitting .339 at home. But how nice was it to see Carlos Zambrano put together a couple good starts, especially yesterday's? His line--7 IP, 8 H, 7 R, 1 BB, 7 K--was his best of the season, and he added two hits and an RBI just for the heck of it.

Honorable mentions: Derrek Lee, Xavier Nady

Goat of the Week: Alfonso Soriano continues to look lost at the plate despite two hits yesterday, but being there live to see Ted Lilly get banged around leads me to give him this inglorious distinction. He needed 104 pitches to get through 5.1, giving up six earned runs on nine hits and three walks. He's been great this year, but Saturday just wasn't his day.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Cubs do the unthinkable (win a series)

(AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)

Before Thursday's walk-off win:

Last time the Cubs won a series: May 25-27 against the Dodgers
Last time the Cubs won back-to-back games: May 22-25
Last time the Cubs won in their last at-bat: May 27

I guess we should have enjoyed the hell out of that Dodgers series.

Through seven innings yesterday, the Cubs offense looked like the offense we've become resigned to watching this year. They wasted prime scoring opportunities in the first and second and opted not to create any more opportunities for the next five innings. Yes, Dallas Braden threw a complete game earlier this season, but he had been awful in the six starts since. Nevertheless, he held the Cubs to just one run on five hits through six.

But the Cubs were able to get to the A's bullpen, loading the bases against former Cub Michael Wuertz and tying the game on a sac fly by Xavier Nady. Nady's RBI came against closer Andrew Bailey who had to be replaced in the ninth because manager Bob Geren failed to make a double switch when replacing Wuertz. Somebody didn't study their NL rulebook ...

So Jerry Blevins had to come into the game, and the Cubs utilized the power of cheese--oops, I mean the power of the walk (I've got that giant noodle on the brain). Three straight free passes set up Fukudome's game-winner through a drawn-in defense, and the Cubs celebrated their third walk-off of the season.

It was nice to see Randy Wells go deep into the game for once. Here are his innings pitched in his last four starts:


But he went seven yesterday and allowed just two runs, bucking a couple negative trends--a 6.47 home ERA and a 7.01 daytime ERA this season. He didn't get the win because of the Cubs' late rally, but he dropped his ERA below five and started off what he called his "new season" in solid fashion.

Though Theriot drew one of those ninth-inning walks, he went 1-for-13 in the series. Whatever happened to that one guy, what's his name, uh ... Fonso ... no, um ... Fontenot! It's hard to remember given that he's started once since June 8. He's batting .293 on the year and deserves some starts at second in light of Theriot's struggles. I know the Cubs faced a lefty yesterday, and will today too, but in general, Lou needs to get Fontenot some at-bats.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Omar Vizquel had no idea retirement was an option until Ken Griffey Jr. did it

From the Wait 'til this Year Humor Vault

Prior to Griffey's retirement, Vizquel just wished there was some way to end it all.

CHICAGO--White Sox shortstop Omar Vizquel says that he was shocked and very excited when Ken Griffey Jr. retired recently, saying that until he read the story, he had no idea such a course of action even existed. Vizquel, 43, has played major league baseball for 22 years and has pretty much sucked for the last four of them. He says he would have retired years ago if anyone had told him about it.

"What the f--k?" Vizquel said to a clubhouse full of teammates, holding up the USA Today sports section. "Why did no one tell me about this? I'm 43 years old, I'm terrible, my knees hurt, I'm playing for a crazy-ass manager, and I groan with displeasure every time I see my name in the lineup. You guys couldn’t have told me about retirement?”

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Around the majors

-You probably already know this one, but Corey Hart leads the National League with 17 home runs. Corey Hart! His career high prior to this season is 24.

-You probably also know that Ubaldo Jimenez leads the majors with 12 wins, but did you know that David Price is the only other pitcher with more than nine?

-Miguel Cabrera leads two of the Triple Crown categories with 19 home runs and 56 RBI. He's also batting .330, but that ranks just seventh in a tough AL batting race.

-The five best individual ERAs--and nine of the top ten--are in the National League. Also, six of the top ERAs are owned by pitchers 26 or younger.

-The top four teams in the AL East are a combined 50 games over .500. The top four in the NL Central are a combined three games under .500.

-The Mariners are on pace to hit just 91 home runs. That would be the fewest since 1994 when both the Pirates and Phillies hit 80. Seattle's 36 long balls are just three more than teammates Jose Bautista (18) and Vernon Wells (15) combined.

-Through nearly 40 percent of the season, the Diamondbacks' relievers have a major league-worst 7.33 ERA despite having had to throw the fifth-fewest innings of any relief corps.

-Three teams--the Cubs, Dodgers and Pirates--have yet to record a complete game, while just one team--the Royals--has yet to record a shutout.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

No-hit duel between Lilly and Floyd fits right in with MLB's 2010 theme: Pitching Rules

What a game that was on Sunday. A no-hitter through eight. Oh, and a no-hitter through 6.2.

You really have to tip your cap to Lilly, as he continues to mow down opposing hitters despite getting virtually no run support from the hitters in his own dugout. He has received two or fewer runs of support in nine of his ten starts, which is why he's 2-5 despite a solid 2.90 ERA. Lilly's getting even less run support than Roy Oswalt who demanded a trade because of the Astros' offensive ineptitude. It may not be long until Lilly, who will be a free agent at season's end, makes a similar request. His last five starts have looked like this:

L 2-1
W 1-0
L 3-2
L 3-2
W 1-0

It's difficult to pitch well knowing you're probably going to get just a run or two of support, but Lilly has been stellar. Watching the Cubs offense makes me want to rip my heart from my chest just to put an end to the agony, but fortunately Lilly just bears down even more.

This year it seems that the Cubs aren't the only team driving their fans nuts with a lack of hitting. Sunday's unique affair in which both starters went at least six innings with a no-hitter--the first time since 1997 that this has happened--was just another example of the dominant pitching that has been on display throughout the 2010 season. It seems like every week there's a new pitching accomplishment to talk about. To wit:
  • There have already been two perfect games this season, three if you count Armando Galarraga's. There had never before been more than one in a single season, and there was once a 54-year stretch with just two perfect games.
  • There have been three total no-hitters (including the perfect games), four with Galarraga's. That puts MLB on pace for seven or eight. There were seven in 1991.
  • Last season, 11 pitchers finished with an ERA under three, the second time since 2000 that the number was in double-digits. Right now, 25 pitchers are under 3.00.
  • Ubaldo Jimenez, who tossed one of the aforementioned no-hitters, has a positively Bob Gibson-like 1.16 ERA. Cardinals rookie Jaime Garcia has a 1.49 ERA, and 21-year-old Stephen Strasburg has baffled hitters in his first two starts.
  • Guys named Jonathon Niese and Mat Latos have thrown one-hitters, and there have been two more on top of that.
  • The Cardinals and Mets played 19 innings before scratching a run across on April 19, and the Dodgers and Diamondbacks needed 14 innings to break a scoreless tie on June 2.
And it's not just a matter of individual impressive performances. Take a look at the league ERA over the last 10 years:

2010: 4.17
2009: 4.31
2008: 4.32
2007: 4.46
2006: 4.52
2005: 4.28
2004: 4.46
2003: 4.40
2002: 4.27
2001: 4.41

So what in the world is going on? Well, a lot of players and managers posit that it's simply the "ebb" part of a natural ebb and flow. While that's legitimate, it's of course impossible not to draw a connection between baseball's war on steroids and the war pitchers are waging on hitters in 2010. It's June 15 and the league's leading home run hitter has 19 long balls. Remember when Sammy Sosa hit 20 home runs in one month back in 1998? So yeah, things have changed a bit.

It's not just home runs, though. Ben Walker of the AP points out that home runs, runs and batting average are at their lowest rate since 1998. Troy Renck at the Denver Post suggests that one reason for the drop-off is that hitters are no longer ashamed of striking out, and that average hitters are swinging for the fences even if it means they might come up empty. A quick look at the numbers shows that strikeouts are indeed up a bit, though not much.

In the hitters' defense, it is still relatively early. Bats tend to heat up with the weather, so it wouldn't be surprising to see run totals go up with the temperature forecast. But for now, it's a pitcher's world and hitters are just living in it. Personally, I don't have a problem with the fact that we're seeing more outs than balls out of the park, but I do foresee one problem: Joe Girardi and Charlie Manuel are going to have one heck of a time choosing the pitchers for their All-Star rosters.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Jake Fox designated for assignment by Oakland

Former Cub Jake Fox wasn't doing much of anything with the A's, and his struggles led to his release on Sunday. He is now available to other teams via waivers if anyone has interest.

Fox put up a poor slash line of .214/.264/.327 in 39 games. You'll recall that the Cubs traded him for Jeff Gray and two minor leaguers in December. I really thought the guy could hit, and I'm shocked to see him without a team just six months after he was traded.

Week ten awards: The fat lady has cleared her throat

This photo has nothing to do with this blog post--I just think it's cool.
(Nuccio DiNuzzo / Tribune)

Well, at least one of the Chicago baseball teams got back on track this weekend.

Wait, that doesn't provide me any solace--I hate the Sox! Leave it to the Cubs to get the struggling South siders rolling again. Mark Buehrle's been struggling, hasn't gone more than 5.1 in his last three starts? No problem! A.J. Pierzynski can't hit the broad side of a barn? Take a crack at the Cubs' staff! Gavin Floyd has the worst ERA in the majors? No worries--how does a no-hitter through 6.2 sound?

After a 3-4 week in which the Cubs sank to a season-low eight games under .500, they're 7.5 back of the Reds after getting a game back with yesterday's exciting win. The Sox are the same number back of the Twins and have Detroit to chase down as well, so it's safe to say Chicago baseball isn't as good as, say, Chicago hockey.

After Lou's tirade against Steve Stone, it looks like he may have finally glanced at the stat sheet. He said yesterday that Colvin "is going to play a lot more than he has been" even though the same suggestion from Stone elicited a tirade in which he said "What job has [Stone] had in baseball besides talking on television or radio? What has he done? ... I'm tired of these guys, I really am."

But the fact is, though Colvin went 0-for-3 yesterday, all he's done the last 15 times Lou started him is go 19-for-48 (.396). And one of Lou's "five major league outfielders" is hitting .185 in June after hitting .253 in May. This slump was as predictable as the sunrise since it has happened all three years he's been a Cub. I'm talking, of course, about Kosuke Fukudome. Both Colvin and Fukudome are left-handed and, conveniently, one of them sucks and one of them is good along with being an important piece of the team's future. So apparently Lou is able to take suggestions, just not without yelling at the person first.

Although, I'll believe it when I see it since Lou also said on June 5 that Colvin would "be in the lineup most of the time," and he then sat four straight games June 9-12. Lou's change of heart back on the 5th, you'll recall, was after a reporter asked about Colvin's playing time and he snapped at him, too. Sigh.

Ryno of the Week: Obviously Ted Lilly, who would have been 2-0 were it not for Marmol's blown save in Milwaukee. He threw 16 innings and allowed just one run on five hits and one walk. He also struck out 11 and thrilled a wet crowd at Wrigley by taking a no-hitter into the ninth (more on that tomorrow). Ex-Cub Juan Pierre kept him out of the history books but it was still a fantastic week for Theodore Roosevelt Lilly.

Marlon Byrd gets a special mention after a ridiculous 13-for-26 week that included two home runs and five RBI. He's batting .333 on the season.

Honorable mentions: Geovany Soto, Jeff Baker

Goat of the Week: Though he doubled and scored the only run yesterday, Alfonso Soriano was still just 2-for-20 last week. He's in one of those funks where he's swinging at just about everything, and he's now batting .111 in June.

I have to say, it was almost as if James Russell was trying to win this fake award. In two appearances he went 1+ innings and allowed five earned runs on seven hits, good for a 45.00 ERA. He was summarily sent to Triple-A Iowa.

Dishonorable mentions: Derrek Lee, Kosuke Fukudome

Friday, June 11, 2010

We watched four hours of baseball for THAT?

Stop me if you've heard this one before: the Cubs had their share of hits and scoring opportunities, but with runners in scoring position--what, you're stopping me? Well, I'm going to finish anyways. With runners in scoring position, the Cubs were 1-for-10. They had a RISP in the 8th, 9th and 10th innings, but couldn't get a run across.

About the nicest thing I can say about the Cubs' lack of clutch hitting is that it wasn't the main reason they lost. They committed three errors that resulted in three unearned runs, including the game-winner in the 10th. Tracy, Castro and Nady spread some good will with gift runs, and the pitchers were in the giving mood as well as they issued nine walks.

It was unfortunate that Nady sailed a throw over Koyie Hill's head in extras, as it was his bat that kept the Cubs in the game until that point. He smashed his fourth home run of the season and added a sac fly and a walk filling in for Derrek Lee.

Speaking of the recently recalled Tracy, I haven't had a chance on this blog to express how happy I am that Aramis Ramirez was finally disabled. Obviously I'd rather see him healthy and productive, but it's been clear for weeks that something is wrong with A-Ram. Tracy was tearing up Triple-A, and if he can be even moderately productive with the Cubs, the move will be a good one. Unfortunately, Tracy did his best Ramirez impression yesterday, going 0-for-5 with three strikeouts, a failed bunt attempt and the aforementioned error on a freakin' rundown which your average 10-year-old could successfully execute.

Ryan Dempster, going for his third win over the Brew Crew this season, followed in Zambrano's footsteps by issuing five walks. He failed to go six innings for the first time this season (he easily leads the Cubs staff in innings pitched and is third in the majors in that category), though he did still manage to exit with the lead. Gorzelanny and Stevens kept the walks coming, however, after a two-out error by Castro, and the Brewers tied the game at four just after the Cubs had taken the lead.

So the Cubs lost two of three for the fourth consecutive series as they head into what will be a big series for both the North and South siders emotionally if not in the standings. The struggling Randy Wells will start things off, but he'll be followed by Carlos Silva and Ted Lilly. There hasn't been much to cheer about lately, but a series win against the crosstown rivals would be a sight for sore eyes.

By the way, I hope it's not true, but Bleed Cubbie Blue has some disturbing information about the Cubs clubhouse. As you'll read if you click the link, a source says that the Cubs clubhouse is a "disaster," with the Latin players having "completely walled themselves off from everyone else." This would be terrible news if true, and it would certainly lead me to believe that Piniella needs to go. It's one thing to have a lack of chemistry, it's quite another to have bad blood coursing through the clubhouse. I hope it's nothing but false speculation, but I feel it worthy of re-posting here given that BCB's typically reliable managing editor Al Yellon writes that he has no doubt this information is 100 percent correct.

Note: Marlon Byrd has 16 hits in his last seven games and now has the highest average in the National League at .329.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Confessions of a hockey watcher

Scott Strazzante / Tribune

Congratulations to the Chicago Blackhawks! On their Stanley Cup victory, yes, but more for their unexpected accomplishment of turning this unabashed hockey hater into something of a fan.

Yes, I admit it: I jumped on the Blackhawks' bandwagon and actually enjoyed watching hockey this year. This is more momentous than it sounds.

I hated hockey my whole life, and I had my reasons:

1) Too low-scoring
2) Too many stupid fights
3) I never took the time to understand it ("He was called for what? Hooking? Now he has to go sit in a box?"
4) I could never see the damn puck go into the net. The whole point of watching a sport is for the drama and the payoff at the end. Not being able to tell when a goal is scored is like never knowing if a home run goes over the wall.

I was happy when the NHL locked out in 2004-05 because it meant that pointless hockey highlights wouldn't take up valuable time on SportsCenter. One year and one day ago, I wrote this Humor Vault installment joking that no one cared about the Stanley Cup finals or even knew they were taking place.

And this year, I found myself frustrated that Game 6 took place on Wednesday since I had a conflict. I can probably name about 10 Blackhawks players. I got excited for power plays. I read a Sports Illustrated article about hockey instead of skipping over it like I always used to. I TiVoed Game 5 and avoided seeing the score so as not to ruin it.

What's gotten into me? Well, clearly, the fact that the Blackhawks were a dominant team and won the Stanley Cup was a huge part of it. They had the third-best record in the NHL this year, so they've been making headlines for months. I (try to) read the Tribune sports section every day, and it's harder to avoid all the stories about the Hawks on broadsheet than it is on the Web. After picking up bits and pieces of knowledge about the team as the season went on, I actually took the step of flipping the channel to their games every now and then. And you know what? Hockey is pretty fun to watch.

The best thing about it is that the action is constant. It seems like there's always someone getting banged into the boards, a 100-mph shot zooming toward the net, or a power play that sets the team up for a great scoring opportunity. Once you get a handle on the basics of the game, it's pretty exhilarating to watch.

I still get frustrated by a real low-scoring hockey game, but five of the six finals games saw seven or more goals scored. Oh, and speaking of goals, here's a very important reason I've come to enjoy hockey more: HD.

Perhaps it's petty, but my fancy HD television enables me to see the puck much more clearly. True hockey fans hated when Fox toyed with the "puck tracker" which illuminated the puck at all times. I appreciated it, though, and now I appreciate the HD technology that allows me to celebrate a goal at the same time the players do.

I still have little-to-no interest in watching a game that doesn't involve my local team. And in the future, I see myself getting into the Hawks only for about two months per year during the playoffs. As my readers know, I'm already a close follower of MLB, NFL, NCAA football and basketball, and I dabble in the NBA and PGA. There just isn't enough time for another acronym.

But I've come a long, long way in a pretty short time, and I anticipate remaining a fair weather postseason Blackhawks fan (by the way, there are very few fights in the playoffs, another positive). That might not sound like much to a true hockey fan, but it's a pretty dramatic change for me. One year ago, I would have put the chances of me ever writing that sentence at about one percent.

So congratulations again, Blackhawks, on your Stanley Cup championship and on making me more of a hockey fan than I ever thought possible.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Humor Vault Headlines

NHL veteran Nicklas Lidstrom admits he still has no idea what icing is

MLB draft gets great reviews from both viewers

North Korea excited to kill every team in their way play in World Cup

Adam Morrison’s mustache successfully distracts Celtics in Game 3

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Cubs "ace" throws up, throws well

AP photo

8-0, 2.93 ERA

Those, my friends, are the numbers of Carlos Silva. What are we supposed to make of this? What kind of twisted, incomprehensible world are we living in? Those numbers are more mysterious than the numbers from Lost. They don't make sense. They hurt my brain, but in a good way.

The Tribune reported that Silva was battling the stomach flu yesterday and was constantly trying to throw up between innings. He did so at one point, but his illness did nothing to prevent him from another great outing.

Here are a few more numbers for you, because I just can't help myself:

  • Silva is owned in 84 percent of ESPN fantasy leagues. Many people thought he wouldn't make the team, let alone most fantasy team owners' rosters. Eight-four percent is more than Derek Lowe, Raul Ibanez and Orlando Hudson.
  • Silva now has eight quality starts this season; he had 11 the last two seasons combined.
  • He has won six straight starts.
  • He is not only effective, but efficient. He has only reached the 100-pitch mark twice all year, in each of his last two starts.
  • His WHIP is 1.06, fifth in the NL and just slightly worse than that of Ubaldo Jimenez (0.93). Jimenez is the only NL pitcher with more wins than Silva.
Pat Hughes referred to Silva as the Cubs' ace during yesterday's radio broadcast. I'm freakin' out, man. The snozberries taste like snozberries.

By the way, I think this calls for a Milton Bradley update: he's hitting .212 with three home runs and 21 RBI.

The Cubs still managed to waste some prime scoring opportunities yesterday, but they piled up double-digit hits (10) for the third straight game and put up enough runs to get the win. Marlon Byrd is scorching hot right now with four straight multi-hit games, and it was nice to see Soto come up with a couple knocks.

Interesting factoid: Did you know that it is in fact within the rules of Major League Baseball for Ryan Theriot to draw a walk? No, seriously, I looked it up! And he proved it with two walks Monday, giving him 10 on the year. The Cubs drew six walks in all yesterday, which was nice to see since they are 13th in the league in that category.

One final note: it really seems like the bullpen might be rounding into form. I mentioned yesterday that they allowed just one earned run all of last week, and yesterday Jeff Stevens and Sean Marshall combined for two scoreless innings. At the moment, there's no one Lou could summon from the 'pen who would really worry me: Howry? Perfect as a Cub (though I do acknowledge that could change in a hurry). Stevens has a 0.00 ERA. Russell has a 2.70 ERA, 14 K and just 3 walks. Gorzelanny? Tough to know how he'll transition to relief, but he was solid as a starter. Cashner has looked great, and we know what Marshall and Marmol have done. I don't know how long this feeling will last, but it's nice not to pee my pants a little every time Lou comes out of the dugout.

Next up are the Brewers, against whom the Cubs are 5-1 this year. They'll have to face Gallardo tonight, but it will get easier after that with Randy Wolf (4.66 ERA) and Dave Bush (4.97) taking the mound.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Week nine awards: Cubs, we need to talk

Dear Cubs,

This isn't really working for me right now. It hurts me more than you to say this, but I'm just not really enjoying our time together. I mean, 1-4 against the Pirates and Astros? Those are two of the four National League teams that are worse than you. That's right, there are only four teams worse than you. Your 25-31 record would put you last in the NL East and ahead of only the Diamondbacks in the NL West. Sure, you've wedged your way into third in the crappy NL Central, but you're 7.5 games out of first while being just 3.5 games ahead of last-place Houston.

But honestly, Cubs, it's your offense that really got me to thinking. You're on pace to score 677 runs, 30 fewer than last year. You're 13th in the league in runs scored, ahead of only the Giants, Astros and Pirates. And let me again remind you that you are 3-11 against the Astros and Pirates. Watching your offense through an entire game is like watching Britney Spears's career arc: it's painfully long and drawn out, and you know it's not going to end well.

Sorry, now I'm just being mean. What I'm trying to say is that our relationship isn't fun like it used to be. Do you know how it makes me feel to see Aramis Ramirez batting .169? Do you know what it's like to see that Geovany Soto has just one more RBI than he did on June 7 of last year? Can you possibly understand the pain that comes with knowing there's one bad Carlos on your team, and his last name isn't Silva?

But I digress. Look, you know that I'll always watch you. I've watched you ever since we first met, and I'll keep watching you no matter what. But you're driving me into the arms of TiVo, and you're starting to make me think that we need to make some serious changes. I'm talking about trading Lilly, Lee, and any other veterans that other teams will take off your hands. It's just that I think this version of you might be bad for me. In fact, I think you might just be a bad team, plain and simple.

There, I said it.

I'm sorry if that hurts, but it's how I feel. I needed to get some things off my chest, and I hope you understand where I'm coming from. Hopefully we can still make this work.

Ryno of the Week: Per usual, there wasn't a whole lot to get excited about on the offensive side. Nady is heating up as he went 5-for-7 with a homer and three RBI; Byrd was on fire in Houston and went 7-for-16 on the week; and Koyie Hill had two big hits in Houston and was 4-for-10 on the week with three RBI.

On the mound, both Jeff Stevens and Bob Howry threw 2.1 scoreless innings--neither pitcher has allowed an earned run as a Cub this season. And the Cubs' bullpen overall was a bright spot last week: they allowed just one earned run in five games. The award goes to the newest member of the 'pen, Andrew Cashner. He tossed three scoreless innings of relief in three appearances, and his considerable talent was readily evident in his smooth delivery and mid- to high-90s velocity.

Honorable mention: Ryan Dempster

Goat of the Week: I'm going to go with Randy Wells. He made two starts last week because he failed to get out of the first inning against the Cardinals on May 28. He did not go more than 5.1 innings in either start and had more first inning trouble on Sunday. Through 12 starts, Wells sports a 4.86 ERA. Through 12 starts last year, he had a 2.72 ERA. Would you like fries with your sophomore slump?

Dishonorable mentions: Ryan Theriot, Geovany Soto, Carlos Zambrano

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Bulls set to hire Tom Thibodeau as new head coach

ESPN and other outlets are reporting that the Bulls have found a successor to Vinny Del Negro--Celtics assistant Tom Thibodeau. Though the official announcement cannot come until after the NBA Finals, it's being reported that Thibodeau will sign on for three years.

The Bulls weren't exactly aggressive in their search for a new coach, but many analysts believe they ultimately found the best candidate out there. Though he has never been a head coach in the NBA, he has coached with the Timberwolves, Spurs, 76ers, Knicks, Rockets and Celtics. His teams have finished in the top 10 in team defense 15 times, and the Celtics held opponents to the second-fewest points of any team this season.

So, Bulls fans, here is your team's new head coach!

Oh my God, no, that's not going to work. Let's try this again:

No! What is going on here?! BAD Tom Thibodeau! One more chance:

Okay, that'll work. Thibodeau will be the Bulls' 21st head coach.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Who is Andrew Cashner anyways?

Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Yet another youngster has made his way to the Cubs' 25-man roster. Andrew Cashner joins Starlin Castro, Tyler Colvin, Carlos Marmol and Geovany Soto in the Cubs' somewhat odd mix of up-and-coming prospects and aging veterans. I'll try to provide a little context to Cashner's rise through the ranks of the organization.

First of all, it's not all that surprising that he has worked his way to The Show this season. The Cubs bullpen has been a revolving door since Opening Day:

Opening Day bullpen

Only three pitchers have survived the first two months of the season: Marshall, Marmol and Russell. And of course Zambrano saw some time in the 'pen as well. The Cubs have used TWELVE guys in relief already this season. In 2008, they used 14 total (excluding Randy Wells and Carmen Pignatiello, who pitched just two and three times each, respectively).

Cashner was drafted 19th overall by the Cubs in 2008 out of Texas Christian University where he was both a starter and a reliever. It was actually the second time the Cubs drafted him and the fourth time he was drafted overall (that happens pretty often in baseball). He stands 6'6, taller than every Cubs pitcher except for Marshall, and is 23 years old, making him younger than any current Cub save Starlin Castro (Colvin is 24).

Cashner throws a 92-96 mph fastball, a slider that he calls his "out pitch," and has developed a changeup this year. He's also able to throw a sinker when he needs a ground ball. He had a very, very small cup of coffee after being called up on Memorial Day, throwing one pitch, a 95 mph fastball, to Ronny Cedeno that was popped up for the final out of the eighth inning.

Cashner pitched eight games in A ball the year he was drafted, and struggled to the tune of a 5.85 ERA. In 100 innings between A and AA last season, he struggled with his control but had a strong 2.60 ERA. He allowed just one home run in 24 starts. Between AA and AAA this season, he was 6-1 with a 2.05 ERA and had just 15 walks in 57 innings before being recalled.

Is Cashner ready to be a consistent contributor on a major league team? Probably not. But he's got his first big league outing out of the way and a 0.00 ERA to go with it. Baseball America had him ranked as the Cubs' fourth-best prospect heading into the season (behind Castro, OF Brett Jackson and 3B Josh Vitters), and Baseball America also declared his fastball and slider the best in the team's farm system. Another piece of the future is here a bit earlier than expected, and let's hope it's a bright one.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

A perfect example of why MLB needs more instant replay

Paul Sancya/AP

Without much to talk about after a Cubs rainout in Pittsburgh, I decided I'd go on an angry rant about the scarcity of instant replay in baseball.

Bud Selig and MLB should have implemented a wider use of instant replay long ago. It was obvious when Jeffrey Maier turned into a right fielder; it was obvious when Fred McGriff was called out on strikes in the 1997 NLCS; and it was obvious when Matt Holliday was called safe at home in Game 163 three years ago.

And it was painfully obvious last night. The Tigers' Armando Galaragga had a perfect game going with two outs in the ninth, but umpire Jim Joyce blew a call (he admitted as much after the game) at first and it suddenly became a one-hitter. Now what could possibly or conceivably be wrong with the concept of Jim Leyland tossing a flag onto the field, the umpires conferring for a few minutes as they do now on questionable home runs, and then the crew chief coming out to the field and signalling "out" as the crowd's boos quickly become cheers. Would that be so wrong?

I'm not sure if you've noticed this, Bud, but the NFL recently incorporated a heavy dose of instant replay into their rule book, and it's pretty sweet. They even do it in tennis! (The crowd oohs and aahs as they show the replay live--it's kind of fun, actually.) Last night in the Stanley Cup finals, they reviewed an uncertain goal call and got it right. And then they did it again! It works like a freakin' charm!

I know it's not an easy task. There are annoying little things to be written like "Manager will have a red flag available, and may choose to throw the flag onto the field if he desires to challenge an umpire's ruling." That's annoying, no one wants to write that. And there are questions, like where do the runners go if a ball originally called foul ends up being fair? But they should have been working on this for years, and if they can review home runs, they can review bang-bang plays at first (although, we better clear up that whole "tie goes to the runner" myth right now), close plays at home and trapped balls in the outfield.

Amazingly, Galarraga's perfect game would have been the third already this season. Until this year, there had never been two in the same season. Joyce obviously deserves some blame for making a pretty bad call in a situation where normally, the benefit of the doubt would go to the pitcher, if anyone. But Joyce could have gotten off the hook and Galaragga could have gone into the history books if they could have just reviewed the damn thing.

Reds announcer Marty Brennaman said there has to be a way to make this situation right. I'm not sure if that's the case, but there's definitely a way to make sure it never happens again.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Illinois Wesleyan Titans win two national titles in five days

Congratulations to the IWU baseball team on their World Series victory! The team won 11 of their last 12 and 17 of their last 21 games to take home their first-ever national championship, and they did so just four days after the IWU women's track team won the Division III outdoor track championships. Congratulations to Coach Schumacher and his team as well! The two titles were the fourth and fifth in IWU history, respectively; the women's track team won both the indoor and outdoor championships in 2008, and the men's basketball team won it all in 1997.

So just how exciting was the IWU sports scene in 2010? Here's a summary from IWU Sports Information Director Stew Salowitz:
Including baseball, 10 Illinois Wesleyan teams were involved in NCAA postseason competition in 2009-10: football and women's soccer advanced to the second round; men's basketball went to the final eight and women's basketball to the final 16; softball won three games in the regional; men's golf tied for 15th and women's golf placed 13th in their national tournaments; women's indoor track tied for fourth and the women's outdoor track team won the Division III championship last weekend. In addition, IWU has sent individuals to the NCAA championships in women's cross country, women's swimming and men's swimming.

It seems like there should be some way to acknowledge such a great year across the board, doesn't it? Well we're in luck, because there is! Each year, the National Association of Collegiate Directors of Athletics awards the Directors Cup, which is given to the school in each division that accomplishes the most athletically. I'm not sure exactly what the current standings account for (though they definitely do not yet include these two championships), but IWU is ranked ninth in Division III. It seems somewhat likely that after the two spring championships, the Titans will finish in the top five, something they've never done since the Cup was first awarded in 1996.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Week eight awards: Meh

The Cubs kept their momentum by taking two of three against LA, but their mojo ran out at the hands of Chris Carpenter and Adam Wainwright. Two one-run duds were sandwiched around yet another win by Carlos Silva, and the week ended with the Cubs in pretty much the same position they were in when the week started. That's been the team's tendency at home this season; their four homestands have looked like this:


They just can't seem to put together any type of streak at home, mostly because they can't score runs consistently. This was a bit of a strange week in that despite scoring just 16 runs in six games, the Cubs won three times by shutting out their opponents in each win. While Derrek Lee and Mike Fontenot heated up a bit, most of the hitters were ice cold. Averages from last week:

Byrd: .238
Fukudome: .222
Castro: .217
Soto: .214
Theriot: .160
Soriano: .111

It's hard for a team to get hot when two-thirds of the order is batting like ... well, like Aramis Ramirez. Perhaps it's time to see more of Tyler Colvin? Please? And perhaps it's well-past time to move Ramirez down in the order? Might I suggest 10th?

Ryno of the Week: Ted Lilly looked great and deserved a win when he helped the Cubs beat the Dodgers 1-0, but Carlos Silva edges him out because of this stellar in a very important game against the Cardinals: 7 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 0 BB, 11 K. His performance ultimately prevented a sweep, and Silva became the first Cubs starter to begin a season 7-0 since Ken Holtzman went 9-0 in 1967.

Honorable mentions: Derrek Lee, Mike Fontenot

Goat of the Week: The choices for this "award" on the offensive side were detailed above. John Grabow also threw his name in the hat by allowing five earned runs in two appearances, and then he was placed on the DL with what I believe is being called a "strained ability to pitch effectively in the major leagues." But overall, I have to go with Ryan Theriot who reached base in just 19 percent of his plate appearances and has a .313 OBP for the season. One could say his job is to "set the table," but instead, he's been getting up halfway through dinner and angrily knocking all the plates and glasses off the table.