Archive for the ‘Columns’ Category

TBLcast .9

Posted: October 16, 2012 by Mauricio Rubio Jr. in Columns, Podcast, Through Both Lenses
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In this minicast I discuss the 2012 White Sox and their bleak looking future.

Special Edition: The Moecast 1.0

Posted: October 14, 2012 by Mauricio Rubio Jr. in Columns, Podcast, Through Both Lenses
Tags: , , , ,

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I talk some DC baseball with you folks in this very brief special episode.

Courtesy Tom Mleko

The beautiful thing about sports, about living in a city drenched in sports teams, engulfed in sports history is the ongoing cycle of teams to root for and follow. The Sox’ unexpectedly hopeful season just ended, the Cubs lost 100+ games (for the first time in 50 years, believe it or not), the impending strike may shorten/eliminate the Blackhawks’ season, the Bulls’ hopes rest on an ACL of the best point guard in the NBA, but da Bears? Da Bears are 3-1 and atop the NFC North. The cycle continues, and this leg of the cycle looks like a winner.

Da Bears look like serious contenders. Outside of an embarrassing loss at Lambeau, da Bears have looked like the best team in the NFC not representing the Bay Area. The defense is up to its usual tricks: forcing turnovers, scoring points (read: plural), and wreaking havoc on opposing defensive coordinators thus far (read: thus far). After the thorough thrashing of Rob Ryan and the Cowboys, we and the rest of the nation were reminded just how good this defense still is. Brian Urlacher is still the anchor of the D, the same way Jay Cutler anchors the other side of the ball. Both guys want one thing: to be competitive and win football games.

It’s no wonder than that after the aforementioned ass-kicking Dallas and the rest of Cowboy nation received Monday night, we were wondering about the psychological makeup of both stars, albeit in very contrasting ways. Through all the revelations we received Monday night, all the answers, we were still left with a few questions. We want to know why Cutler had a tiff with Offensive Coordinator Mike Tice, and we want to know how mentally tough Urlacher will prove this year, battling his obviously hankering knee(s?) injury.

Cutler’s magnetism begs us to talk about him, to write about him and his will to win. In this city, a city built on big shoulders, historical defense, and legendary running backs, we don’t know of this passing game you speak of. This is still so new to us. Cutler brings something we’ve never seen before his arrival. Does he know that? I don’t know. What I do know is that with the addition of Brandon Marshall this year and Cutler evolving into the quarterback and man he is capable of, da Bears have become…gulp…a passing team? This is dangerous on many levels.

Mike Tice calls the plays. Jay Cutler executes said plays. Bottom line. Was there a blowup between the two on the sideline after a failed 3rd and 1? That depends on how you define blowup. Was Cutler pissed that they turned the ball over to the punting unit? Obviously. I would be more concerned if there were no blowup at all. We criticize Jay when he seems complacent, and we criticize Jay when he shows emotion. Come on. You can’t have it both ways. I love the competitive fire, the spirit of “We may be up big on the scoreboard right now, but I want to shove it down their throat, I want to put this game away, leaving no doubt who wins.” The coverage of Cutler walking away from Tice on the sideline is a non-issue. Cutler is the leader of this team, but he has to mature and converse with the coaching staff every now and then, doesn’t he? That’s part of leading by example, beyond throwing touchdowns to Marshall and Devin Hester en route to victory and spreading the ball around to increasing targets. If we are to become a passing team (read: if), Cutler needs to maximize his potential, which will include heavy doses of competitive flames. The offensive line is starting to gel, evident in preventing Dallas’ up-to-this-point-lauded defense from having any effect on the game. He’s got plenty of targets (Hey there, Kellen Davis! Didn’t see you come in), Forte will get healthy, and Tice will learn where to pick his battles. Yes, that is part of Tice’s job description I’m sure. Know your personnel. But no one wants to talk about Mike Tice. Mike Tice is not going to sell papers, make you tune into the post-game show. I know my personnel…

Da Bears’ defensive personnel, on the other hand, could not have excited football fans any more than they did Monday night with their play. They picked off overrated Dallas Quarterback Tony Romo 5 times, scoring touchdowns on two of them. Components of the defensive core for years, Lance Briggs and Charles Tillman picked 6 once apiece, up and comer and potential Pro Bowler Major Wright intercepted twice, and D.J. Moore took one away late in the 4th quarter. Everyone on the defensive side got involved. Everyone that is, except for Urlacher. His own brand of competitive fire is still ignited, but I’m not sure Urlacher the of yesteryear is still in the house. He didn’t look like the Urlacher I know and love Monday night, but I know he’ll still have his moments, his flashes of brilliance. The defense, even without him contributing on a regular basis, will continue to dominate, but we miss you, big fella. Get well soon?

In the meantime, the rest of your personnel on both sides of the ball will handle business. Just ask Dallas.

Next stop: Jacksonville.

by: Tony Leva
email: tonytrucker1969@gmail.com

NFL vs. NHL Lockout Edition…Who Ya Got?

At this moment, there are two lockouts being rammed down our throats.  Both are insanely stupid and could cost one league it’s credibility for a while and the other may cost the other league far more than that.  The NFL refs and the NHL lockout are both maddening, but which one is stupider?  Let’s look at this match-up in detail…..

Money issues….The NFL is refusing to pay their refs what they want since they classify them as part-time employees.  With a record $9 billion and change in revenues, the money they are quibbling over is just stupid.  The percentage the refs want in relation to those revenues is measly at best.  In the case of the NHL, the issues at hand are basically identical to the issues in the 2004-05 lockout that cost us an entire season.  The owners want to reduce the players’ cut of revenue from 57% to 49% and then eventually to 47%.  The reduction last time was from 70% to the current level.  The players can’t stomach getting another royal bowel-ripping and are holding tough.  This is some serious shit here.  BIG EDGE…NHL

Contract Terms….The NFL’s issue here is that they refuse to make the refs full-time employees like the MLB, NHL and NBA all do.  Hence, they keep their salaries low, which returns us to point #1, Money.  The NHL owners want to limit the length of player contracts to 5 years, which still didn’t stop these asshats from signing players to contracts as long as 14 years this summer.  Here’s a hint, fellas, stop fucking yourselves in the ass with contracts like those.  It’s hard to see your side of things when you do shit like this.  Due to the sheer stupidity factor, the NHL takes this one as well.  EDGE…NHL

Damaging Your Sport Factor….The NFL refs have been so bad they’re affecting point spreads in Vegas and are a jokewriter’s dream.  The internet is seeing some pretty good compilation videos of refs mistakes.  Being a national punchline isn’t something you strive for when having labor issues.   But no matter how bad the NFL is looking, that harm will vanish when the real refs come back.  But the NHL lockout may cripple the sport in irreparable fashion.  Nobody knows how many fans will never come back if a second season in 8 years is stolen from hockey fans.  No sport has ever cancelled an entire season, let alone two.  The damage will be unprecedented.  ROSIE O’DONNELL-SIZED EGDE….NHL

It seems by my count the NHL’s lockout wins the battle of  “How stupid are we?”.  There is simply no way the NFL’s ref dispute can compete with such blatant dumbfuckery that the NHL owners are showing here.  In fact, this may be the dumbest sports labor issue ever.  Well done, you band of ringmeats.

Another Clown Claims the Crown

Nearly each season in Survivor, we are gifted with a contestant that hatches some can’t-miss plan.  They usually involve making multiple alliances or a bit of back-stabbing that will end up with a blindside vote at tribal council.  Some plans are brilliantly conceived and are beautifully executed with accordant results.  Those plans are always the brainchildren (is that a word?) of the more educated players.  Some plans are hatched by guys like Zane.  This is Zane.

If I told you Zane here was born and bred in Kentucky, didn’t have a high school diploma, was a veteran of the paper hat and nametag work scene, currently works as  a tire re-treader and was the one to hatch a can’t-miss plan immediately after losing the immunity challenge, which way would you answer?

A…Plan comes off without a hitch.  Zane  the mastermind is installed as the new kingpin of his tribe.  He is now in a position of power.  Shit just got real.  ZANE real.

B…Plan mostly works.  Zane escapes unscathed at tribal, but doesn’t fulfill the endgame of the plan.  He’s still solidly placed in an alliance that controls the game.

C…Plan fails.  Someone else gets voted off at tribal , Zane survives by the skin of his teeth and is now on shaky ground with a weak alliance.  His place in the game is very precarious.

D…Plan explodes in his inbred face.  Zane looks every bit the idiot he’s portrayed himself as and is voted off with extreme prejudice.

Before you guess, let me fill you in on what Zane’s plan was.  During the immunity challenge, Zane, a recent (less than 3 days) ex-smoker caused his team to fall behind in the challenge, a deficit they never made up, losing the challenge and forcing them to vote someone out that night.  Back at camp, Zane decided to take the blame for the loss and insist he was fine with being voted out.  The whole tribe was kind of shocked and looked glad that they had a patsy volunteer for the chopping block.  It’s often tough at your first tribal council, not knowing who is the biggest liability.  Zane made it easy.

So far, so good, I assumed.  I mean, surely this was the groundwork for one helluva plan.  I couldn’t wait to see how this Mozart played the keys of the strategy piano and engineered his salvation.  What was the masterstroke of the can’t miss plan?

He went to the other tribe members and tried to initiate a blindside of Russell by using his Kentucky hillbilly charms on them.  He tried to make himself the lovable loser and went for the pity.  This fucking idiot decided to go for pity 3 days into the game.  Let’s say his gambit DID work.  How long did he hope to milk that angle?  You don’t win Survivor on 39 days of pity.  You get voted out real fast when the pity stops.  Instead of laying low and rallying support to dump the incredibly unpopular Russell, he jumped into the breach and went ass-up.  The bitch of it was he was openly laughing about his gamesmanship and how his plan was sure to work before tribal.

Let’s get back to our quiz.  I bet you guessed D.  Well, you’d be right.  At tribal, the vote went 5 against Zane and only Zane’s lone vote against Russell.  Walking away from tribal, Einstein Jr remarked, “Son of  a bitch” and was flabbergasted in his closing remarks to close the show.  This wasn’t as stupid as how James (twice) got voted off with immunity idols in his pocket, but it sure deserves a spot in the team photo.  Well done, Zane Einstein!!  You are an official Survivor legend!!

by: Mauricio Rubio Jr.
email: mr@99sportsproblems.com
twitter: @MRubio52

The 90 Feet From First To Second

Alex Rios is busting his ass to get to second base. Dayan Viciedo just hit an “uh-oh” groundball to Detroit Tigers “shortstop” Jhonny Peralta and a momentum killing double play is forming. Peralta, to Infante, to Fielder is almost imminent, and all Hawk can say is “Uh-oh.”

It’s more than just a play at this juncture in the season. The White Sox are trailing 4-3 to open the bottom of the fifth. They are sitting on a 2 game lead over these Tigers in the division and this one game can mean the difference between winning and losing the division. Up 1 with 16 games left is no guarantee of anything. Should the White Sox get this game and stretch the lead to three it makes it incredibly hard on the Tigers. Detroit’s schedule might be easier, but at that point the White Sox would have to give the division away.

The White Sox have had their troubles with the Tigers of late. They’ve been swept in 2 of the last 3 series with Detroit, and are looking at losing an extended 3 of 4 against them in this series. Sale vs. Verlander was postponed on Friday, now it’s Quintana vs. Fister. Quintana suffered through a 3-run third but he survived into the fifth. It’s become his trademark of sorts, he’s Livan Hernandez lite in that way. He isn’t the Quintana from the first half, but he will hang around the game even if he goes through patches of early trouble.

The White Sox are battlers though, that much has been made clear this year. Despite injury, ineffectiveness from their position players, and just flat out bad play the White Sox, through the classic combination of skill, smarts, and luck, are still in first place.

Yeoman’s Work

Doug Fister is having a solid follow-up year to his mini-breakout last year. He was left for dead in Seattle, being branded a failure thanks to a 3-12 record that was totally lying about Fister’s ability. Doug Fister had solid peripherals in 2011 before the trade. His 2012 isn’t so much a break out as it is a continuation. Fister is on the mound for the Tigers when the bottom of the fifth begins. He’s been doing yeoman’s work for most of his 4 innings. Fister has interesting stuff, but it is not overpowering. Fister is into the meat of the lineup in this inning, the 3-4-5 hitters. Dunn, Konerko, and Rios. The Tigers are clinging to a 4-3 lead. Fister has to get them through the 5th and into the 6th because the Detroit bullpen is full of question marks. A battle of the ‘pens favors the Sox.

Dunn hits a hot liner to center and Konerko follows with a ringing double to left. At this point Fister is toast and will give way to Al Alburquerque.

Alburquerque walks Rios and AJ Pierzynski lines out hard to right. Dunn can’t score. The bases are loaded and Dayan Viciedo is stepping into the box, with the Sox down 4-3.

Defensive Issues

Peralta is the perfect representative for this Tigers team. Peralta was always valued more for his stick than his glove, but now even the hits aren’t coming like they used to. The combination of Peralta and Cabrera on the left side of the infield is a huge issue. Untold runs are scoring because of the lack of range over there. Cabrera is sure handed, but he can’t move like he used to. Add in the ouchy ankle and you have the makings of a bad defensive combo.

Omar Infante is a prodigal Tiger. He was signed as an amateur free agent in 1999 by the Tigers and enjoyed 6 seasons in Detroit before being traded to the Cubs for Jacque Jones in 2007. Infante has a reputation as being a solid 2B. Some of his tools are in decline, as is to be expected, but he is still the best defensive infielder on the team, and that’s an issue. Infante is best used as a part-time player. The Tigers tried out Ramon Santiago at second, but he couldn’t hit. Ditto with Raburn, Worth, and anyone else they plugged into the keystone. Infante is the best option.

Prince Fielder tries. He’s a big man, and it’s difficult to make some plays. He’s remarkably athletic, and he is also competent at first, but he isn’t Gold Glove caliber. His bat is why he is on the team. Prince is about to encapsulate the Tigers in one picture.

The Interesting Case of Alex Rios

Alex Rios was a dog. He teased Toronto in 2007 with an OPS of .852, good defense and solid speed. Ever since then Rios has been best described as “enigmatic,” and “bad.” Rios looks the part. He’s 6’5, has an athletic body, and the swing is one of the prettiest right-handed swings in baseball. It’s not violent, it’s smooth. To compare, Bryce Harper’s swing looks like a Metallica guitar riff. Rios has a swing that looks like Asturias. It’s smooth and clean through the zone.

That’s what made him so infuriating to watch. He had all the physical tools but it didn’t translate into results. Rios was waived by Toronto in 2009 and Kenny took a risk. The story goes that Kenny Williams claimed Rios to block him from going to the Tigers, thinking that Toronto would pull him back if the White Sox claimed him.

They didn’t.

The Sox were stuck with Rios and he was equally infuriating in Chicago as he was in Toronto. Rios was awful in 2011, he was one of the reasons the White Sox fell flat on their face that year. Heading into 2012 he was a major question mark. I thought that if he and Dunn produced the White Sox would come close to winning the division.

The distance between winning and losing the central might be the 90 feet it takes to get from first to second.

Textbook Execution

So with the bases loaded and one out, Dayan Viciedo hits a ground ball to Peralta that should mean 2 outs, the lead heading into the 6th, and the Tigers increasing their chances at winning the AL Central crown.

Alex Rios is charging ahead, busting his ass to break it up.

Peralta is stepping backwards to gather the ball.

Infante is streaking across from his defensive spot to cover second base.

Dunn is racing home to hopefully score.

Konerko is chugging into third.

Hawk is saying “Uh-oh.”

In a flash the Tigers chances of winning the Central have taken a huge hit. A pariah adds another piece to his image restoration project. A manager steps closer to a forced retirement, and the Tigers come up just short.

The distance between winning and losing.

As I Argue With Myself About The White Sox

  • The Pessimist: It’s still only a three game lead. They might not even make the playoffs.
  • The Optimist: Yeah but it’s 3 with 16 to play. They’re in at least, and if Sale and Peavy go crazy they can make a lot of noise in the playoffs. They play good teams tough this year.
  • The Pessimist: The playoffs are different, and how do we know if Sale is going to hold up against the work load? It’s more innings than the guy has ever thrown in his career, his velocity is down and he’s fallen in love with his slider. Do you really want to pin your hopes on Sale and Peavy?
  • The Optimist: Why not, it’s worked almost all year. Peavy didn’t break down, Sale didn’t fall apart (yet), and the bullpen is solid. The middle of the lineup is annoying to other teams and I think they are among the best in all of baseball.
  • The Pessimist: It’s still a lineup that employs Beckham, Viciedo, and Ramirez. You can’t have three holes like that in your lineup and expect to make much noise. A 162 game season is one thing, where you can rest your starters, like the White Sox did all year. Do you really think Peavy or Sale can go in games 1-4-7 and live? Can you lean on those two guys that much? I don’t think so. The rest of that rotation is a huge question mark, Quintana might be Livan Hernandez lite, but is that a guy who wins playoff series for you? Do you trust Gavin Floyd?
  • The Optimist: I don’t think starters 3-4 matter that much. If they can give you anything resembling a quality start, I think the White Sox will make a deep run into October. I just think the lineup will overcome the SP struggles. The defense is the best in baseball too, I think that can cover some mistakes by the pitching too. The lineup is solid enough, albeit slightly top-heavy. Peavy and Sale will survive and thrive in the postseason. The bullpen is going to get it done. I think they can go far. I think they can win.
  • The Pessimist: Wait, you mean the same bullpen that has Addison Reed as the closer in it? I don’t trust that kid, I don’t trust Thornton either. The only guys I trust in the ‘pen are the LOOGY Veal and the Wife Beating Brett Myers. The lineup is severely top-heavy and 3-4 starters do matter unless you think Sale and Peavy are RJ and Schilling reborn. And there’s no way you can think that, RIGHT!?!?!?
  • The Optimist: Uhhh…
  • The Pessimist: I FUCKING KNEW IT! You’re crazy bro. You’re crazy.

by: Mauricio Rubio Jr.
email: mr@99sportsproblems.com
twitter: @MRubio52

So You’re In A Pennant Chase

Congratulations, here take this bottle of Mylanta and a packet of Tums. This one is going to be a grind all the way to the end, so prepare your assholes, this is going to get really bumpy.

You see, apparently neither team wants to run away with the division. There have been ample opportunities, especially for the enigmatic Tigers who seem to like sweeping the Sox and then getting swept by the fucking Royals of all teams.

Oh the Royals.

Apparently nobody that is competing for the AL Central is allowed to beat them this year. They aren’t a good baseball team but for some reason they play the top dogs tough. I can’t explain it, it’s just baseball. Shit like that happens.

And that’s really what this article is about. We’ve got well over 130 games played now and it’s “a sprint to the finish” to borrow a tired term, but really at this point it’s less about the accumulated statistics of the past and the general randomness of the future. I mean, Dan Johnson pretty much saved the Tampa Rays season last year when he hit a home run when he and his team were down to their last strike of 2011.

Dan Fucking Johnson.

So how do you watch baseball in September with the finish line in sight? Let me guide you.

Rule #1, No cross sport references.

Your memory should recall 2008 and 2006 and 2005, so I know you, this is just a gentle reminder.

There is nothing like this. There is no sport like this, there is no month like this, there is no comparison for these moments that you the Sox fan will endure. This isn’t like any other sport, this my friends is a day-in, day-out grind that will leave you sick to your stomach most of the time.

The pay-off potential though? That’s big time. You remember it, when Konerko raises his hands and that fat-ass Jenks tries to jump and then Uribe comes running in and then the dog-pile ensues.

Yeah. That’s worth the 2-month supply of heartburn. Trust me.

Rule #2, Any one moment does not make a player better at baseball, it simply defines him.

Baseball in September is a unique creature. Teams live and die in September moments as they are scratching and clawing their way to a playoff berth. Legends are made in these next two months. Shit people in Chicago still love Crede, Dye and Rowand and they haven’t been relevant for years now.

Basically, you win now and you live forever.

Seriously, Bucky Fucking Dent has a career OPS of .618 and he’s a baseball immortal because he just killed the Red Sox. Cue Mazeroski, Boone, Gonzo, and the rest of the not-great-but-immortal gang.

So let’s say the White Sox win the world series on the backs of Dan Johnson, who hits a game winning HR to beat the Tigers in game-163, Gordon Beckham, who goes crazy in the AL-DS and CS, and Phil Humber who steps in the rotation and wins 2 WS games.

Their ability has not improved, they aren’t any better than they were entering the playoffs. As crazy (and extremely unlikely) all of that is, it doesn’t make them any better at baseball. Maz was 23 when he hit that crazy HR for the Pirates. You know what he did after that? He continued to not hit. He put up an OPS+ of 83. He was an awful hitter for the rest of his career. Baseball is littered with these types of stories. Don’t let this cloud your judgement of a player’s past performance. Don’t let “clutch” enter your lexicon quite yet. There are very few players who I would call clutch, and that is not a term anyone should use lightly.

Just, you know, be careful when you throw that shit around.

Rule #3, Honor the Pitcher’s Duel, and a brief guide to observing a pitcher’s duel.

There are a few types of “Pitcher’s Duels.” There is the legitimate kind where two aces run into each other and decimate opposing lineups for 2 1/2 hours, there’s the lesser kind where two lesser pitchers run into each other and decimate opposing lineups for 3 hours, and there’s even a version where two journeymen pitchers get together and go lights out crazy for 8 innings.

Here are the typical signs of a true duel:

  • Strikeouts – A true pitcher’s duel will have the SP’s throw up close to a K per IP. The strikeout is the calling card of an ace, a true ace. Great pitchers know how to miss bats and induce weak contact. Close to a K per IP is 6-7 K’s in 8 IP. Stuff like that. Weak grounders to the left side are important in context, but that can sometimes been chalked up to a poor showing by the offense.
  • Hitter Reax are important – Given the two offenses you’ll be watching, Tigers and White Sox, it is safe to go off the hitter reactions to gauge what kind of stuff the pitcher has. Both lineups have enough good hitters that if you see those guys taking awkward half swings and just looking like little leaguers playing wiffle ball that you know the pitcher has great stuff. Hitter reaction is key, if he’s early on an off-speed offering you know he was looking fastball, etc. etc.
  • Mind the sequencing – Chris Sale got into trouble last time because he threw too many sliders. Delmon Young saw too many of them and hit a really good slider into the seats. Sequencing is pitching. Pitchers need to have a proper attack to keep batters off-balance. It can be any mix of pitches (relative to the situation) so long as there is a mix. Pitching is like real estate (location, location, location), yes, but that only tells half the story. Changing the eye level is important. Mixing speeds is important. Throwing waste pitches is important. Maintaining top velo is important. Knowing what pitches are sharp and what you can get away with early in the count/inning/game and what are your put away pitches is important. Pitching is a composite of knowledge, talent, and pacing. And it’s more than that too. Pitching is hard to define, really. But when you watch a start, look at the sequence. Is he pitching backwards (throwing soft stuff first then whipping the fastball), is he following the old rules and establishing the fastball first, is he changing eye levels, is there a good mix going on or is he too reliant on one pitch? Watch. Learn.
  • Staying power – Endurance is key in a duel. 7 IP minimum. No 6 inning duelers, that’s mere quality. We want excellence in a true duel. 6 innings is fine for one of the lesser duels, but it won’t do in the true tests of Aces. Sale vs. Verlander on Thursday will give you the first real test of that theory.

Rule #4, Overreaction in the moment is fine, but keep perspective.

OMFG SALE SUX BRO

DUDE FUCKING PAULIE HAS NO IDEA AT THE PLATE, BUM

D-WISE HITTING MACHINE!

All of these are examples of people caught up in the moment, and that’s fine. September baseball is all about the moments that define seasons and legacies. The moment is primary this month.

HOWEVA

Sale does not suck, brah. Paulie has the best attack of any hitter I’ve seen this year, and Wise is not a hitting machine. Keep perspective when the moment passes. Understand what you’re watching, this is just the final act of a long season. All the plays before today count too. All the Royals losses in previous months, all those times that both teams got stuck in the mud at varying points, all of that is still a big part of the reason why the White Sox will win or lose the division.

Look at it this way, this month is right in front of you, and it’s paramount. Right now. The Cubs were white-hot in September in 2010 and it didn’t matter because they blew ass the other 5 months of the season. That shit matters too. That time you didn’t beat Luis Mendoza, that time when Cy Chen shoved it to you, that time Hector Santiago gave up a really, really long HR to lose the game? All of that matters, all of that counts, and all those lost opportunities are part of why the Sox are only 2 games up.

So if they lose the division by a game or two, don’t just blame the September losses. There were ample chances before this month to make the Tigers irrelevant (see the Baltimore series).

Similarly, don’t forget the contributions of guys like Rios, AJ and Konerko from the early months if another person rises up and carries the team to October glory. Peavy was spectacular early, and is still good late. Those contributions matter too.

Rule #5, don’t let anyone, even some asshole on the internet, tell you how to have fun while watching your team.

We’re all adults here, so everything is more or less a suggestion. I think these are helpful tips to keep in mind, but basically, it’s your team. Have fun man, enjoy this shit. It is an exciting time to be a baseball fan.

by: Tony Leva
email: tonytrucker1969@gmail.com

Loaded for Bear – The Offense

Going into the 2012 season, there are grand expectations for Bears fans.  Grand, yet reachable.  The reasons for optimism are totally valid in this case.  For years, the team has been plagued by poor quarterbacking and substandard depth and quality at the WR corps.  This season, our franchise QB was given a legit group of weapons to play with. Marshall, Jeffery, Hester, Bennett and Token White Guy have a chance to do some damage.  Adding quality RB Michael Bush was a nice touch to compliment Forte.  It all going to come down to health and the play of the offensive line.  They don’t need to play at a Pro Bowl level, but they need to be competent.  Let’s break down the offense and see what’s what.

QB – Recent Bears history has been full of shitawful QBing. The backup spot never mattered more than this past season when Jay Cutler broke his thumb. A team that had legit Super Bowl hopes was suddenly as impotent as Jerry Sandusky’s wang in a Hooters with Caleb Hanie at the controls.  The very same Caleb Hanie who was championed by the idiot section of the fanbase after the 2011 NFC title game.  Remember those clueless jerkoffs?  Anyway, it was proven that Hanie was shit and he’s been replaced by a legitimate NFL QB in Jason Campbell.  In a similar situation, we’d have someone who could actually play the position now.  That’s a nice feeling.

Going with only two rostered QBs, the Bears are hoping for great health in this spot.  I’d love to see us get some breaks this year and give Cutler a shot at a healthy season.  This season could be special.  GRADE – A

RB – Let’s recap some recent history….Forte wants to get paid, turns down an offer that carried a $14M guarantee, comes to camp and gives away his leverage by showing up, plays at a Pro Bowl-level, gets hurt, wants even more money than he wanted before, looks like a whiny pud, watches the team sign Bush, feels like he may have fucked himself, ends up taking a solid deal to stay here.  Did I miss anything?

Forte and Bush should be about as solid a duo as there is in the league.  Both are solid vets who should compliment each other well.  Armando Allen should provide a nice scatback element to the offense.  Should be a fun group to watch.  GRADE – B+

O-Line – Ummmm, nothing to worry about, right?  I mean, once Gabe Carimi turns into an All-Pro, things will fall into place.  J’Marcus Webb will play like a young Orlando Pace, I’m sure!!  Things will be great!!

Yeah, let’s dial it back a notch.  For this unit to give the offense a chance to thrive, they’ll need one thing above all else….health.  If the starting five guys can stay together and jell a bit, they have a shot at being competent enough to give Jay 4 or 5 seconds on a consistent basis.  We need them to be mentally into it, not letting their minds wander and take penalty after bad penalty.  Competence would be acceptable at the moment.  I’ll believe it when I see it.  GRADE – D

Let’s Wreck Some Shit – The Defense

[youtube http://youtu.be/vGwUpM9QryU]

D-Line – This is, in my opinion, the very key to the defense this season.  In any defense, the pass rush makes or breaks it.  The team addressed this area with their first draft pick, DE Shea McClellin.  Many of us wanted an offensive lineman, but they went this way.  I’m willing to trust someone not named Jerry Angelo in his first draft making this pick.  If he realizes his role, he could give Pro Bowler Julius Peppers someone to take some of the pressure off.  The unit is depending on it’s depth to keep fresh players rotating in and eventually winning the late battles by doing so.  Phil Emery won’t get a pass if his hunch doesn’t pay off.  GRADE – B

Linebackers –  Brian Urlacher’s knee.  Do I need to say more?  I tend to think Urlacher will be healthy enough to start the season and make contributions to a unit that isn’t very deep.  As long as Lance Briggs is the best LB on the team, we’ll still be dangerous.  Urlacher’s knee won’t make or break the season, but a healthy knee will obviously be a tremendous piece of luck.  GRADE – B+

Defensive Backs – No other unit on the team is as dependent on another unit as the d-backs are dependent on the d-line to generate a consistent pass rush and limit the time these guys have to cover opposing WRs, some of which are goddamned monsters….Calvin Johnson, that crew from GB, etc.  Peanut Tillman has been a solid player but it seems he may be slipping a bit.  A hopefully resurgent Kelvin Hayden will provide some depth and experience to a unit that had issues last season.  DJ Moore and Tim Jennings seem to provide a spark at times.  I’d love to see this unit step it up and surprise the skeptics, myself included.  GRADE – C

Special Teams –  With the Greatest Kick Returner of all Time (G.K.R.o.a.T. from now on) back to playing at a Pro Bowl level, the team added former Pro Bowl special teams player Eric Weems and another ST ace in Blake Costanzo to an already unit.  There are few things one can count on in life and the Chicago Bears special teams units playing their asses off and making plays is among them.  Already the NFL record holder for career TD returns, the G.K.R.o.a.T. is as deadly a weapon in the open field as the game has ever seen.  He’s just a joy to watch.

[youtube http://youtu.be/HuCMb9FYyDA]

PK Robbie Gould is the 5th most accurate, by percentage, field goal kicker in NFL history.  He’s always a solid bet and seems to work hard on his game each season.  Having a kicker you don’t have to worry about it a pleasure.

As for the punting, Adam Podlesh and Ryan Quigley will be battling for the spot and doing a credible job of it.  I’m not worried about the punting as it is.  GRADE – A+

Coaching – Lovie is not always a great in-game coach.  I think he does a great job from Monday to Saturday, but he gets dumb somehow for 3 or 4 hours on game day, blowing time outs and challenges like they were free with every purchase at your local 7-11.  Lovie is almost in the same predicament as the o-line….he doesn’t need to be great, just don’t fuck up the easy, basic stuff and let your team win it for you.  I think the rest of the staff will do a good enough job to keep the ship on a straight course.  The schedule this season is filled with winnable games.  Lovie and Co. should be able to guide the squad to at least 9-10 wins, if not more with a good dose of luck and health.  GRADE – B

Outlook – Without a perfect team in the league, the Bears seem to have as good a shot as anyone to get hot near the end of the season, a la the 2010 Packers and the 2011 Giants, and make a serious run at the Super Bowl.  They were hitting their stride last season and have added to that bunch in hopes of sustaining that feeling and success.  The schedule coupled with health and luck could make for some really fun times this season for Bears fans.    Add in the fact that the NFC North is one of the best divisions in football with the dirty rat bastard Packers and the Lions both expected to make a run at the SB and there could be some dramatic football played down the stretch.  I’m going with an 11-5 record and a playoff berth for the team, with a legit shot at glory in attendance.  They’re going for it and should be rewarded.

[youtube http://youtu.be/67BR5zcPAFM]

by: Mauricio Rubio Jr.
email: mr@99sportsproblems.com
twitter: @MRubio52

I know. The Cubs fucking suck. I get it. For those brave souls who would venture into Cubs September baseball, I offer you a congratulations of sorts. That kind of dedication is commendable in some respects. Some circles would call it lunacy, stupidity, and just plain pathetic. Me? I call it being a Cubs fan.

I digress.

You want to know what to watch for in September. Who are the kids that you should be paying attention to. What should you, the Cubs fan, try to find in the mire. Well, I can help you out with that. First things first though.

PUNCHING PEOPLE IN THE FACE ISN’T GOOD BASEBALL.

I can’t stress this enough. If I were on the Cubs it would take a lot of willpower for me to not go around and punch people in the face because of the frustration level would be building to a critical level. Seriously, I would probably go around trying to start fights out of sheer boredom and stupidity.

But I’m not a player, I’m just a fan.

Fan logic is the worst kind of logic. It’s blind and completely based on personal experiences rather than the realities of the game they are watching. For example, whenever a player is negotiating for more money the fan logic says: “I would play for free! These jokers are greedy and should just take whatever’s given to them.” The cousin to this logic is the ‘ole “draw parallels from their job to yours” technique, ala “I show up to work everyday and I play hurt.”

This is incredibly stupid. Nobody pays 40 dollars a ticket to see you work, let alone 30,000 people. Nobody tunes in to watch you work, let alone a million viewers. You have almost zero advertising value compared to a professional athlete, thus their rules are extremely different. Also, their job is incredibly difficult and requires a certain level of health to perform. Trust me, it ain’t easy being a pro athlete. It takes a shit ton of work.

Similar fan logic dictates that players should start fights when they are bad to light a fire under the team and that will magically lead to winning. I call this the “Da Fire and Passion” logic.

Baseball is a sport of relaxing and concentrating. As the original Baseball Annie once said, “Making love is like hitting a baseball: you just gotta relax and concentrate.” This applies to all of baseball. You have to find a good zone to be in. Trying harder rarely leads to better results, as odd as that sounds. Trying harder leads to becoming too tight, holding the bat too tightly and reducing the flexibility in your wrists which will lead to an almost zero percent chance of making contact. It means you’re pressing and that’s the wrong thing to do in this game.

So, punching someone in the face? Wrong thing to do in baseball. It’s cheap. What the Cubs did was bush league. It’s going to lead to some really bad blood for a few years. Harper said it best: “I think I’d be pretty [ticked] off if I was getting my teeth kicked in all [week], too, but you can’t lay down.”

Let’s get to the important hitters:

Starlin Castro

Did you notice that Starlin Castro’s approach got better? No? Ok. Well it did, in a tiny sample. Starlin Castro got to 500 hits, which is great. Castro’s defense has been improving, which is better. The approach has also changed and it looks like he has a plan at the plate, which again occurred in a small sample size. The approach would be amazing if he can hold on to the gains. Castro’s BA took a dip. This is fine. The power is showing up more often and his OBP has actually maintained itself from the early months.

Consider this:

From the first half to the second Castro lost almost 30 pts. of BA, but gained 3 pts. of OBP. Look at August, his BA was .252, but his OBP was 10 pts. higher than his May OBP when he was hitting .304. Castro isn’t a finished product, but he’s slowly putting the pieces together in his age-22 year. This could be big.

What to watch for in September:

It wouldn’t shock me if Castro absolutely broke out in the month and tore it up. He looks relaxed at the plate right now, and it doesn’t look like he’s thinking about the approach, it looks like he’s just doing it. Look for his walk rate, his power, and his average. If those all take a positive up-turn in this month it’s not crazy to think that he can build on it and carry the gains into 2013. I’m not predicting a McCutchen break out year in his age 23 season, but I don’t think it’s crazy to see him turn in a .290/.340/.440 season next year.

Anthony Rizzo

The kid can play, and that’s a big relief. Rizzo had an awful year last year before adjusting at the plate and changing his stance. The swing is compact and it generates real power from the left side. The funny thing with Rizzo is that there isn’t a really good comp for him, so I won’t force it (#Goldstein). Rather, I hope he turns into Paul Konerko, a good sometimes great hitter with a terrific approach. He is having his struggles of late, but that’s to be expected. He wasn’t the guy who put up .330/.375/.567 in July, but he isn’t the .252./.300/.342 August guy either. Oddly enough, he might just be exactly what his .298/.349/.480 2012 slash line suggests: an above average 1B.

What to watch for in September:

Power. The old axioms suggest that power truly shows itself by a player’s age 25 year. Rizzo flashes it every so often as he is capable of hitting absolute screamers out of the park. It might not be in his swing to hit light tower shots, but a hint of the 30+ HR power potential would be nice to see in this month. Rizzo is a good hitter with power, rather than a classic power hitting 1B. I personally think he can be a legit power threat, meaning hit 30+ HR’s consistently.

Brett Jackson

Brett Jackson is hitting .191 and would strike out 220+ times in 500 PA’s and it is glorious. Jackson is an athletic prospect with a vastly under-developed hit tool. The approach, believe or not, is actually pretty good for a rookie. He will take the walk and he knows what he wants to hit. But wanting and doing are two completely different things. He has obvious speed, but his base running IQ isn’t there yet. He’s like the inverse of Scott Rolen in that regard, all speed no smarts.

What to watch for in September:

Assuming health…

I’m on the record quite a bit for hoping Jackson can be Tigers-Era Granderson, or Mike Cameron. Maybe he’s just Dexter Fowler (if you followed all of that, I love you).

Look for his hit tool to either improve or collapse. In an extremely small sample it’s trending downwards, but that doesn’t mean a whole lot. Pay close attention to the BB-K ratio and that Batting Average. It was the right move to bring him up and see what he is. Handling Major League pitching is a bitch, that learning curve doesn’t get much steeper. If he can be a guy who hits .250 with speed/walks/power, that’s a win. I don’t know if he can though.

Josh Vitters

Josh Vitters has a sweet swing, the type of swing scouts fall in love with. He’s also 1-for-27 against lefties and doesn’t fare much better against righties. Vitters is a project, and he always takes a step back before taking a step forward when he goes up a level. Age used to be strongly on his side but that time has run out. Vitters isn’t making good contact and he’s striking out at an alarming rate. He’s overwhelmed right now and just looks lost.

What to watch for in September:

He needs to hit the shit out of the ball to warrant any regular playing time. The Cubs could be looking at bringing Ian Stewart back again if they don’t think Vitters is ready. He doesn’t look anywhere close to ready either. I’m in the Chase Headley in 2014 camp, so anything Vitters does in the short-term is a bonus. He’s a bit statuesque at the hot corner, but he is sure handed. I don’t know about this guy.

…and the one pitcher worth watching,

Jeff Samardzija

Raise your hand if you thought Jeff Samardzija would turn into a reliable starter when he came out of Notre Dame.

Liar.

Shark is having a breakout year. No really, how many times can a reliever whose career was in serious question 2 years ago give you 165 innings of solid, sometimes good/great, baseball? Not too many. His periphs are solid, the velo is solid, and his control didn’t completely collapse.

His control hit a critical moment in June and he posted the ugly 10.41 ERA and saw his WHIP balloon to 2.06. When his command is there, Shark is a very effective pitcher. I do think the bouts of inconsistency are something Cubs fans are just going to have to live with, but he’s moved up from “Maybe a 5 starter” to “A 3 starter that sometimes pitches like a 2.”

What to watch for in September:

He’s not an ace, so don’t act like he is one. Even if he emerges as the Cubs best pitcher that still doesn’t make him an Ace (intentional capital A). You’re going to have to watch the command. I think he retains the solid control and maybe even lowers his BB/9. If he isn’t given the Strasburg treatment look at his armslot late into September. When it dips, his command goes away, when it’s consistent he can put up some good numbers. The fastball combos he employs are the key, coupled with his cute slider. The strikeouts are there, he needs to keep on limiting the walks.

 

by: Mauricio Rubio Jr.
email: mr@99sportsproblems.com
twitter: @MRubio52

 

Two shells of armor struggled against each other
Feebly in an antique arena.
Before them is nothing,
Behind them was nothing.
Only in this moment would we remember, for everything after is quick to be forgotten.
Transient warriors, fighting a meaningless fight in front of a crowd too apathetic for memory.
Yet it is in this moment that the memories of man would do well to remember.
Can something be savage and brutal
Yet sublimely beautiful?
Can a moment of slaughter and mayhem
Be serene and inspire awe in the hearts of man?
If so, this be the moment.
Remember it well, gentle fan.
For behind them is only tragedy,
And ahead is nothing.

The fuck is wrong with AJ?

It seems that I am the curse of baseball players. The harbinger of suckitude. The prophet of #slack. The fortune teller of doom. As soon as I give out some nice words about how a player is playing very well, he goes cold. I did it with Starlin Castro this year, and he struggled mightily before pulling out of it and recovering quite nicely. I did it with Shark too, praising his new found control only to see him shit the bed and issue 4 walks the day the article ran. The opposite is also apparently true as I talked shit about Ray Olmedo at Sunday’s Sox-Mariners debacle and then he channeled his inner Vizquel making diving stops and hitting line drives everywhere.

AJ is awful right now (which means that he’s going 8 for his next 12 now that this is written), and he looks so completely out of it, it’s disturbing. Pierzynski is a smart baseball player. The dude is also a hustle man which makes his production this year so nice. It’s not that he’s slugging .500+, it’s that he’s doing it while playing good defense at a premium position and making smart/grindy/hustle baseball plays.

Of recent vintage, however, he’s struggling with…something. I have no idea what it is, as much as we want baseball players to be automatic and impervious to everything around them, outside factors can and do affect players’ performance on the field. There’s no shame in that.

Robin and the rest of the White Sox front office knows more about, well everything baseball than I do. Specifically in this case you’re just going to have to trust their judgement the rest of the way. Don’t be surprised if you start seeing even more Tyler Flowers.

Starlin Castro

There’s absolutely no shame in being a shortstop that hits .280-300 with an OBP in the .330 range and a .430+ slugging. Add in the plus defense Castro has played this year and that’s essentially a perennial all-star.

Yeah. Plus defense.

While you were too busy freaking out about the 8 quick errors at the start of the season and trying to move the kid to the OF, Castro went on a particularly nice streak of good/great defense. We can go with the boring numbers like Range Factor and I can point out how he’s leading the league (meaning that he’s getting to more balls than anyone else in the league, at shortstop, mitigating the error count). I can also point to how his fielding percentage has been on a steady climb since he’s entered the league and that he’s probably due for a massive breakout year next year. But when you evaluate defense, metrics won’t do.

You have to watch (sorry UZR, suck it).

Until they come up with a better way to measure defense, the eye test is going to have to do it for now. Starlin’s thought process has changed since entering the league. Reckless abandon has turned into aggressive play, and that’s a good thing. Watching him think out there can be funny at times, but for the most part it’s refreshing given what we were subject to in the past.

Worst played games of the year

It’s hard to pick one, but we had two strong candidates in the past week. The Chicago White Sox and the Seattle Mariners had an epic struggle of ineptitude last Friday. Particularly the last two innings of baseball were a veritable LOLlercoaster of dumb baseball.

Brendan Ryan is an awful shortstop defensively and the display was out on Friday night. After choking away a 5 run lead with walks and really hard hit balls (by Mariners, oddly enough), the White Sox slap fought their way back, riding an error by Ryan, and then two outfielders collided on a fairly routine flyball, thus ending the game in favor of the pale hosed warriors from Bridgeport.

Not to be outdone the Cubs and the Brewers slacked their way to a slugfest yesterday. 12-11 was the final and while there were no errors in the game, there was a lot of lollygagging going on. Outfielders were jogging everywhere, the pitching was godawful and it just looked like everyone mailed it in. It’s fine, I get it. Neither team is going anywhere and it’s the last game of the series. It was just godawful to watch for almost FOUR HOURS (I did anyway, and then did again when my choices were College Football, Preseason Football, and old reruns of MacGyver. Not gonna lie, if it was Columbo I would’ve gone that route).

I say the award for the worst played game of the year goes to Sox-Mariners. This isn’t a sleight on the Sox, but mercy that game was funny and brutal at the same time.

Seriously, two grown ass men ran into each other for no good reason. None. Even my former co-ed softball team had better communication skills.

#RIPHammertime #SkyPoint

by: Tony Leva
email: tonytrucker1969@gmail.com

White Sox fans…paging all Sox fans…..your team is wondering where the fuck you are…

78,127.  That’s how many people turned out for this week’s first-place White Sox series against the mighty, and also first-place, New York Yankees, a series the Sox ended up sweeping.  Read that number again, this time paired with the capacity….

78,127/121,845.   One more time, in bold.  And italics.

78,127/121,845.

That’s 64% of capacity for a series between two first place teams in late August (capacity at the Cellblock is 40,615).  Where the fuck where you people?  How could there have been no fan momentum in this series?  I can see the low turnout for the opener a bit.  The Sox had just gotten swept by Kansas City and the axe looked to be falling.  Many could be forgiven for deciding to come disguised as empty seats for the opener that drew 27,561 fans (67.9% full)  .  After the Sox pounded 4 homers in an exciting 9-6 win in the opener, surely there would be excitement for game two, right?  They’d draw 30,000, no problem, right?  It’s a cinch, surely.

Nope.

They drew a paltry 24,247 fans (59.7% full).  Less than 60% of that park was occupied on a beautiful summer night the night after a slugfest.  Okay, maybe Sox fans thought there was bound to be a letdown and decided to do meth or bang crack-whores or whatever it is that Sox fans do when they aren’t going to the park.   Fine.  But after game 2’s 7-3 Sox obliteration of the Yanks and the Sox going for the sweep with the A.L.’s best pitcher, Chris Sale, on the hill, you’d figure the place would be packed for game 3, right?  Well, maybe not packed, but maybe a great  turnout in the neighborhood of 35,000?  Well, okay, maybe 35K is a stretch.  Certainly they could expect to break the coveted 30K plateau?  Come on…..30,000 fans are going to come out, right?  Certainly it was to be true, right?

Nope.

A seriously laughable 26,319  souls turned out to witness Sale earn his 15th win and lead the team to a 2-1 win and series sweep.  Where the fuck was everyone?  I mean, this is the same group of “fans” that rip Cubs fans for going out to games even when we suck.  It’s all “NO WONDER YOUSE GUYS AINT NEVER WON NUTTIN!!  (takes huge hit off the glass dick, passes it to his dad)  DAT TEAM SUCKS AN DAT PARK IS A TOILET AN YOU’RE ALL GAY BECAUSE BOYSTOWN IS DOWN THE STREET!!!  (exhales a hit that would kill a horse)  WE ONLY GO WHEN WE WIN BECAUSE WE’RE SMART!!”

That’s what we get from them on a constant basis.  Then they fail to cash that check they wrote with their stretch-marked mouths.  What excuses could they possibly have for not walking the walk after talking the talk?   Where was Joe Fakesoxfan all week?  I thought this was the type of series that would be perfect to generate some sort of buzz, especially the way it unfolded….a slugfest in game 1 leading into a Sox domination in game 2 that prefaced the Sale start for the sweep.  What the fuck were these mouth-breathing clowns waiting for?  Seriously?

From now I don’t want to hear shit from these cocklunches.  If they couldn’t even get 28,000 against the Yankees to that VERY nice ballpark (I can admit it.  They did a tremendous job with the renovations) with both teams in first place, they have no right to ever throw that argument at me ever again.  The next one that does it gets a visit from Mr. Backhand.

The Most Interesting Knee in Chicago

or

As The Knee Turns

I can’t decide which of these headers I like better, so I’m going with both of them.

Flashback to last season’s finale against Minnesota.  Bears MLB Brian Urlacher, a future HOFer, sprained his MCL late in the game.  No additional damage was found and surgery was avoided.  Camp began and the knee swelled up, which eventually led to arthroscopic surgery, sidelining #54 for the rest of camp and possibly into the season.  All early signs show Urlacher should be ready sooner rather than later, an encouraging sign.  Aiding his recovery is the fact he went to Europe this summer and underwent a blood-spinning procedure.  Here’s a link to what it is… http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blood-spinning  That’s cutting-edge stuff right there.

So how does Urlacher’s absence in the short-term affect us?  Not very much.  The Bears open against a bad Indianapolis team, who they should be able to beat even without Urlacher.  They have a quick turn-around Thursday night against Green Bay, which is kind of stupid to schedule early in the season.  But Green Bay isn’t indomitable by any means, nor are the Rams the week after that.  Those are 3 very winnable games in a schedule full of winnable games.  That’s short-term.

Long-term, it’s never good to lose a player like Urlacher, but this wouldn’t be the 27 year old version we’d be losing.  It’s the 34 year old version…the version with 11+ seasons of rough play under his belt.  He’s not the best player on the defense anymore.  That would be Julius Peppers.  He’s not even the best LB on the defense anymore.  That would be Lance Briggs.  Hell, he’s not even the best white guy on the team anymore.  That would be Jay Cutler.  Speaking of Cutler, isn’t it funny how nobody said shit when Urlacher suffered the EXACT same injury Cutler did and came out of the game against Minny?  Cutler played with his, without pain relief, for over a quarter and had to be removed from the game but he’s viewed as soft.  Urlacher came right out and is forever labeled a warrior.  I love hypocritical douchebaggery, but I digress.

The bottom line is that this injury is hardly season-wrecking from a team standpoint.  There are few indispensable players on the Bears and Urlacher is no longer first and foremost among them.  A healthy Urlacher is still a plus of course, but he’s not a deal-breaker anymore.  Few 34 year olds can claim that distinction as it is.