Posts Tagged ‘Cubs’

Weekend Roundup

Posted: January 28, 2013 by Mauricio Rubio Jr. in Sports
Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

The Blackhawks are off to the best start in franchise history Nick Leddy scored an OT goal to push the Blackhawks to 6-0-0 with the 10-0-0 Maple Leafs firmly in sight. 

Bulls lose to the Wizards – The Bulls front court got eaten up in an ugly loss to the Wizards, who are suddenly hot after an atrocious start. They were of course Wall-less for the first half of the season, but the Wiz have managed to beat the Heat, the Bulls, and the Thunder. 

Oh, and everyone is still waiting for Derrick Rose.

Paul Konerko shaved his goatee – Please note that all beards are to be flown at half mast until the start of the season in remembrance of PK’s tremendous goatee. He looks so wrong without one.

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I just can’t.

Dave Sappelt made some unfortunate comments on twitter – They’ve been deleted, but here’s the recap.

The Pro Bowl was on? – Some stuff happened and here’s a happy fun time article about it.

Go forth and attack the day:

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One of prized possessions.

By: Matthew Kohl
Email: virtualsportsman@gmail.com
Twitter: @virtuallymatt

Baseball will sorely miss Chipper Jones. In one player you had one of the ten best third basemen in history, arguably one of the top three switch hitters in history, an MVP, a World Series Champion, an eight time all-star, a batting title winner, a surefire Hall of Famer, and one of the few players who had no problem taking a lower paying contract to stay and help his team. The Braves really had a top tier guy with Jones and they were lucky to have him and keep him for 19 seasons. Just ask Todd Van Poppel.

The MLB was lucky to have him as well. With all the performance enhancing what-have-yous and ugly ugly UGLY things going on in baseball and professional sports in general in the last 20 years, players of Chipper’s ilk are a heavenly shining light of hope for a game slowly losing public interest to other less classy endeavors. Jones’ retirement makes professional baseball a little less comfortable and a lot less polished. I’m not saying that baseball needs spotless players who keep a Clark Kent lifestyle and share his sense of truth, justice, and yada yada yada, but I cannot stress enough that it’s becoming harder to find those types in the sea of douchebaggery that seems to have invaded professional sports. When a juiced up ass like Alex Rodriguez is paid more than a consistently productive stand up player like Chipper Jones, it means that there are many misplaced priorities in the sport.

I had said in a previous article that my first baseball team love was the Atlanta Braves. I literally began following baseball in a serious way in 1990. It may be just a coincidence that Chipper Jones was the first overall pick in the 1990 draft, but baseball is a superstitious beast. Who am I to say it wasn’t fate that the beginning of my interest in baseball wasn’t destined to parallel the start of such an auspicious career? I’m pretty sure at this point that I’m coming off like a Chipper Jones super fan, but to an extent I am. Jones started playing for the Braves organization at the time when my baseball senses were at their highest. This, like many, was when I was a child with  rookie cards and all and it didn’t hurt that TBS broadcasted every single Braves game into my living room. How else does a kid from Illinois get to name Tom Glavine as his favorite pitcher of all time? It sure as hell wasn’t from watching him play with the Mets. I’m a huge fan of what I can see and I saw more of the Atlanta Braves between 1990 and 1999 than any other team in baseball. I felt the sting of loss in 1992 and the immense joy of victory 1995. I still consider myself lucky to have been able to see a decent amount of Chipper’s MVP season in 1999. After that cable got a bit too expensive.

After that I was forced to watch the Cubs.

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I continued to follow as best as I could, but to be perfectly honest I lost track of the man for a while. I was surprised to find him still there when I heard he won the NL batting title in 2008. Then when I came back to baseball for good a few years ago I found he was still waiting for me. He was still in the same uniform and he was still great. It’s hard to imagine another player doing the same thing in this era of big dollar free agents and inflated egos. I assumed a solid consistent player like ol’ Chipper would seep through the cracks and decline as his career went on but he hadn’t.

Chipper Jones IS a Hall of Fame player. In the truest sense of it. When his name hits the ballot in five years, there won’t be any doubt about his chances. There won’t be any questions about his character. No one will be saying “he’s just getting in because there’s nobody worth voting for this time.” They won’t wait until he dies to say yes.

There will be no asterisk mentioned.

I’m hoping he won’t be the last player we can say those things about. Let’s face it. If there’s a question about a player, then the Hall of Fame shouldn’t be the answer. I hope sports writers will think of Chipper Jones just a little bit when they vote for the 2013 inductees. It’s a high bar to set, but it’s worth raising our standards if it means we get to keep the integrity of the game of baseball intact.

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We can call this new standard “The Chipper Line.”

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: 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

Find us on iTunes

  • 00:05 – HORALE MANG!
  • 00:44 – Sad Girl
  • 01:15 – Propers
  • 02:50 – Weekend Round-Up
  • 04:35 – Tittlebrooks
  • 06:15 – Facebook Questions
  • 08:27 – Luke Gregorson knowledge
  • 21:04 – “It Begs The Question, What Kind Of Drugs Is AJ On?”
  • 22:00 – Sam Hurd, via Jared S. Hopkins
  • 24:24 – Chewing Tobacco Is The Devil
  • 27:10 – Breakage
  • 27:43 – Anybody Got A Wet-Nap?
  • 28:10 – Bears
  • 31:00 – Well That’s Professional/Texts From Mom
  • 36:46 – White Sox
  • 42:35 – Raul Goes All In
  • 45:40 – Cubs
  • 51:36 – “We Need To Sell This Shit.”
  • 53:22 – The Absolutely Worst Swear Word In The History Of The World
  • 57:10 – Canadian Can’t Go To Canada
  • 59:00 – Exit
  • 1:01:21 – Bye Bye

www.99sportsproblems.com @sportsproblems

Find us on iTunes

www.99sportsproblems.com @sportsproblems

  • 00:03 – “Hey it’s me it’s Andy it’s mah birfday”
  • 00:24 – Propers
  • 03:00 – Andy listens to stupid shit at a baseball game
  • 06:56 – Current pitchers that could survive in a 4-man rotation
  • 12:39 – Baseball video game talk
  • 14:40 – Mike Lovendahl and the Bears
  • 15:40 – “We almost had a professional segue”
  • 19:30 – Breakage
  • 20:30 – Bears talk
  • 26:00 – Where is Bill Cartwright now?
  • 30:10 – Dusty Ventura
  • 34:10 – The Year of Kenny
  • 40:10 – South Side Face
  • 42:48 – “Why do I know this much about Dan Johnson?”
  • 44:15 – Breakage
  • 45:00 – Cubs callups
  • 50:40 – Talking about the Cubs rebuild
  • 1:01:00 – Top Ten Rec League Douche Moments
  • 1:07:57 – “What are you talking about Randy? He’s…6…”
  • 1:12:25 – “Basically Randy is a raging fucking cunt”
  • 1:15:50 – The douchiest story ever told
  • 1:19:20 – Bye Bye

www.99sportsproblems.com @sportsproblems

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

“What are these
So wither’d and so wild in their attire,
That look not like the inhabitants o’ the earth,
And yet are on ’t?”

-Macbeth

It wasn’t right.

None of it was, here we were, two Cubs fans trekking into enemy territory sharing a moment over Phil Collins in a family car without our two compatriots. The whole situation stank but our noses had been out in the cold too long.

Our missing comrades would have given us legitimacy to the masses, a validation that we sorely needed. One was busy making an honest living and the other was at home nursing his injured back. We would continue on without them.

And here we were, two deviants acting nefariously, speeding towards uncertainty on the south side of Chicago, nervously passing the time, killing the hours before our own hour of judgment was upon us. Words were spoken but the meaning of those simple sentences is lost. Perhaps we discussed important things, but mainly we bitched about our MIA associates.

Our validation.

Our shields.

Onward, ever onward. Into the black and gray abyss, into the enemy stronghold. We dove straight into the heart of all that we were not, and we did so willingly.

How and why? Because we could, we had the means and it seemed like a good idea at the time. As we approached the steel and concrete colossus however, the idea that had planted its seed in our brains a scant few weeks earlier seemed like a harbinger rather than an inspiration. We arrived at the stadium known around this neighborhood as Comiskey II, two Cubs fans, armed with beer, and we dared not venture outside of the confines of the family vehicle with little sex appeal.

We used the rain as an excuse, but we both knew the real reason we didn’t want to go mingle amongst the people gathered at 35th and Shields.

We were afraid.

Afraid they would smell it on us, that they would know we didn’t belong. We didn’t want to start any trouble in the parking lot, out in the open, far, far away from any security, from any salvation.

But onward, ever onward we went, and when we had finally mustered up the courage to step beyond the steel confines of our vehicle, we knew.

We knew that they knew.

What are we doing here? Who are these people? Why is he wearing a White Sox construction hat? What devilish game of dice is going on in that corner? Where are we?

All silent questions shared between two friends in the light, grey afternoon drizzle. It was all so ugly, all so rough, it was all so south side.

And we waded through the cars, taking stock of the situation, counting the people in the lot who could kick our ass.

The number was uncomfortably high.

It wasn’t the carnie scene we were expecting, but the crowd itself had a unique flavor, an unspoken hardness about them that perhaps told more of the neighborhood than the individual. We stumbled upon some bastard game called “Bags,” we found grilles, there was even some sort of dentist carnival party happening a few rows across from us. It was all unsettling in a way.

What was most unsettling however, was that they knew. We weren’t safe here, before long the questions would start. “Where is your Sox gear? Where are you guys from? Are you guys Sox fans?” And then we’d be fucked.

We needed validation, we need salvation.

The fenced-in parking lot wasn’t quite a prison, given the location it felt more like a great big cattle chute that had ensnared us in its grip, and was holding us there until someone saw us for what we really were.

We decided to walk around, to look for a place to sit and relax for a moment, to get the stench of fear off of us. We needed to remain calm, lest we begin to arouse their suspicion. We needed to wait it out for Bob.

Who is this Bob? Truth be told I’m a little unsure myself, but for the two of us in that moment, Bob was the validation we sorely needed. Bob was a true and true White Sox fan, lives there, works there, plays there, will likely die there in Canaryville. Bob owns a “World’s Largest Gay Bar” shirt. Bob is for real. With two spare tix Raul alerted us that Bob was interested in tagging along.

Why not, it couldn’t hurt and I rather liked Bob. Or Vladimir as he is wont to call himself.

Vlad was coming, and he had his cousin in tow. Vlad was what we needed to survive.

We were still walking, still waiting for Vlad, when the phone rang.

“Meet me by the souvenir stand.”

Finally. We can relax.

We were deep in the shit, behind enemy lines and our only allies were members of the same clan that we feared.

It was a dire situation in the least.

We drank to assuage the fear, to beat back the panic, we drank to drink. We shared our spoils, provided by my fellow Cub fan. The time was drawing nearer, we were to begin our slow approach. The stadium loomed large, it was no friendly confines, and given the agenda we had laid out before hand, it never would be for us during our brief 3 hour stay there.

Time was running down, our fear gave way to liquid courage.

The absurdity of the situation didn’t hit until we started taking pictures of bronze men frozen in time, monuments to an era gone by. Fisk and Baines and Thomas and Minnie, they were all there, frozen. Dead eyes took our stock, judged us silently, and looked upon us with utter disdain.

It was clear that even with the newfound courage and credibility, they would still smell it on us.

It was at this point that Tony, my fellow Cubs fan, decided to become a Royals fan.

The rat bastard was going to out us, and then we’d be royally fucked.

There was no turning back, as soon as that sad sack franchise from Kansas City took the field it was over, Tony was cheering for nobodies, and people noticed. Of particular import was a family of four that was seated 3 rows in front of us. We could take them all, but surely by the time we would be wiping the blood off our knuckles the mob would’ve had their say, and we’d be at their mercy.

God save us, this man is going to get us killed.

Every Royals run put us closer to danger, each hit edged us closer to the point of no return, where sensible men acted irrationally and where violence reigned supreme.

We were dangerously close to getting fucked up.

And yet he pushed on, perhaps without fear for he showed none despite our trepidation at the start of the trip. Every play was a dance with death, we were playing Russian roulette with a large stockpile of both guns and bullets. Every cheer was a like the click of an empty gun chamber, and he pushed the dance dangerously close to disaster.

The youngest male member of the family was ready to scrap, the mind was ready even though the body would regret that notion gravely. He was no match for us, but he wasn’t my concern.  It was the endless mass of others that was my fear.

It wasn’t supposed to be like this, to hear the press tell it the stadium is always empty and devoid of life. Not this night, no it was teeming with hard faces who faced hard lives and hard jobs. We were poking the hornet’s nest, and to this point the hornets hadn’t paid much mind to us.

As the Royals ground out a meaningless victory over a first place team, I was sure that our time was done, that Tony would say something, and I would pile on it, and our lives would be in forfeit.

Alas, we made it out of there alive somehow. We spat in the devil’s eye and came out alive.

We lived, damnit we lived.

On our journey back we decided that escaping danger once wasn’t enough, we would cruise Chicago’s 47th street and tempt the street demons to ensnare us, ruining our escape.

We were fools, children who hadn’t been burned and decided to tempt the hot coals once again. We drove and drove and we saw what many of our kind, Cubs fans, are too soft to see. We saw the real heart of Chicago, and all of its glory. Signs for mom and pop hot dog stands, chicken shops, front room bars, grocery stores run by 3 people, and the liquor stores.

Oh the liquor stores.

It was glorious, our perceived jewel was at its heart was as flawed as we are. This neighborhood encapsulated our experience, danger lurked somewhere beyond the safety of our vehicle, visible but seemingly far away.

All it took was one to break the charade.

We were at a red light, about done with tempting fate, when a lady of the night approached our car. Fear gripped me, and I sat there frozen as we made unfortunate eye contact.

Time froze as she sauntered over, preparing to lean in and perhaps grab our junk, ask us for a date, looking for a hit from the glass cock. As she made the final approach all thoughts raced through my head, and once I contemplated simply raising the window and looking away. But I couldn’t. I was caught and she knew it.

She had the face, the type of look that you couldn’t look away from. Age and wear were etched into her by a craftsman who’s hands were too rough, who was careless, who simply wanted to be done with the job. She was down on her luck, that was plain enough, she was also hardened by years of struggle that she wore so plainly on her face.

She was of the night, and the road back to the daylight was nowhere in sight.

“Hey look I’m not looking for a date-“

Green light.

Deliverance.

Salvation.

Onward. Ever Onward.

Ranking the greatest catchers in Chicago history.

This discussion was born on our facebook page. Given the surprising season that AJ Pierzynski is enjoying at the catcher position, it is natural to wonder where he sits in the pantheon of all time great catchers. It’s a fair question, there aren’t that many great catchers period, and Chicago has a particular dearth of talent there. I thought about including Negro League players but I left them off. The stats are too sketchy. I don’t doubt the talent at all, in the wake of baseball integration we got Mays, Banks, Billy Williams, Aaron, Campanella, to name a few. That’s a hell of a talent pool to pick from.

Let’s get straight into it:

1. Gabby Hartnett

White Sox fans will make the compelling case for Carlton Fisk to be the best catcher in Chicago history. It has to be Gabby though. As much as I love Fisk and his defense, Gabby’s bat was more valuable. He posted a 126 OPS+ for his career, and had a lot of peak value. From 1924-1930 he posted a .302/.378/.532 slash line with an OPS+ of 132. He also hit the most famous home run in Chicago Cubs history, the Homer in the Gloamin. He posted an oWAR number of 48.9, and a dWAR of 6.6 (BBR WAR, fangraphs will give you a different number) in Chicago.

2. Carlton Fisk

If we flip Fisk’s Sox years, 71-80 in White, the rest in Red, you can make a better argument for #1. He posted a 34.7 oWAR number in Boston, and a stunning 9.3 dWAR. Defensive metrics are a bit screwy, but Fisk was a premier defensive player while Hartnett was merely a good one. Fisk was a better player than Hartnett and if this were a pure player draft, he would be #1. I am, however, judging these players by their contributions made while in Chicago uniforms, and Hartnett has Fisk beat in that regard.

3. Sherm Lollar

Dude could hit and he wasn’t a slouch behind the dish. He was an integral member of the Go Go White Sox in ’59. Oddly enough, early on in his career he was regarded as an all stick, no hit catcher. He was a prospect in the Yankees system with Yogi Berra and his defense didn’t really take off until he landed with the White Sox and Paul Richards taught him how to become a better catcher. Bill James has written about the existence of baseball families in the scientific sense. I think it’s most pronounced in catchers. If I say he’s like Mike Piazza, you can think of Joe Torre, Yogi Berra, and guys like that. All hit, little glove guys who moved to another position. I think Lollar fits into the Bench category of all around catcher. He’s not on that skill level, but he did everything you could ask of a catcher. You know, he might even be mini-Pudge now that I think of it…

4. Cracker Schalk

The bottom half of this list of 6 is almost interchangeable. Almost. If you gave any combo of AJ, Randy the Rebel, Cracker Schalk, and Lollar, I wouldn’t contest it too hard. Schalk was a good/great defensive catcher with no stick. Cracker gets #4 from me because he was probably a better defender relative to era than AJ and Lollar, and he hit better than Hundley. He is also famous for being “the clean Black Sox.”

5. AJ Pierzynski

I wrestle with this one. Pierzynski is ultimately the more important player, and that’s why he ranks ahead of Hundley. If we’re drafting though, I am taking Randy over AJ. AJ has a much better bat, but Hundley’s receiving skills are elite, and he helped usher in the modern way of catching, one arm snug behind his back. To speak of AJ, he is a smart baseball player, and that will never show up on stats. He’s a lot like Ozzie Guillen was in that regard. Ozzie was never a prolific hitter, but he was smart as hell. He made the hidden ball trick work, he deked runners with uncanny ability, and he did things that didn’t show up on the scorecard to help the team win. AJ is that. It’s not sabermetric, and it’s not quantifiable, but I’ll be damned if anyone tells me otherwise. The man knows the game, and he has a great head for it. It’s that and the bat that puts him ahead of Randy.

6. Randy Hundley

Elite defense, couldn’t hit for shit. If he could hit a little, if he could’ve been Yadier Molina, early years edition, he’s #3. He wasn’t Yadier though, he was Mario Mendoza. That’s a damn shame too. He was Russell Martin 1.0, a catcher who handled a workload that was too heavy for him and it ended up costing him. From ’66-’69 he averaged 153 games played. That’s sadistic managing.

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

BASEBALL NERDOM

I would imagine that in the strata of baseball nerdom my star burns pretty bright. I love the history of the game and how it has intertwined with our own history as Americans over time. The games past can be beautiful, inspiring, ugly, sadistic, but above all baseball history is complex. One of my nerdier endeavors baseball wise is Strat-O-Matic baseball. Yeah, I’ll let that one wash over you for a moment.

I play a dice and card tabletop baseball game.

I feel that the game is lacking some flavor, however, so I designed what cards would look like if Chicago baseball fans designed them.

FIRST THE TYPICAL DESIGN OF THE CARD:

It’s pretty basic, there’s three six-sided dice, one determines what column you’re looking at, the other two determine the outcome. 1-3 is the hitter’s side, 4-6 is the pitcher’s side. It gets more complex but we don’t need to go over that right now. Without further delay:

RYAN DEMPSTER

As you can see I’ve encapsulated all that Ryan Dempster has become into one Strat card. His desire for LA is visible, and perhaps a bit disturbing. His Harry Caray impersonation is also well represented as is his rather “endearing” sense of humor.

JAKE PEAVY

Now there’s no denying Peavy’s brilliance this year. The man is having an amazing, Cy Young caliber year. He’s also a max-effort bulldog on the mound, and I feel that is well-represented here on this card. The Alabama Strong Man is having a stellar year on the mound and this card reflects that.

ADAM “THE BIG DONKEY” DUNN

Now, Adam Dunn is having a bounce back season of sorts. He’s doing exactly what they paid him for, hitting bombs, drawing walks, and striking out at a rather epic pace. He has an outside chance to earn the TTO triple crown, leading the league in K’s, BB’s, and HR’s. And he’s fat, and I love him for it.

ANTHONY “THE SAINT” RIZZO

Anthony Rizzo has earned a sterling reputation on the North Side as the savior. Now, maybe that’s not fair, he only walks on water now, but it has yet to translate into wins for the Cubs, which might mean that he sucks. I was perhaps too kind with this card.

KEVIN YOUKILIS

Youk has provided a genuine spark for the White Sox, a fact well-represented on his strat card. I think Sox fans of both persuasions enjoyed his dong video as well, so that gets a mention. Youk is colorful, grindy, and white, which is what matters most in Boston.

STARLIN CASTRO

The Cubs eventual 3B is a poor fielder and an awful human being who will never hit more than 10 HR’s in a season ever. He sucks and should even move into the outfield to sink his value even more. I’ve never seen him make a good play when I’m looking at his stats.

A letter to Cubs fans in 2016, from us poor saps in 2012.

Hey there, you guys are back! I was wondering where all the die hard Dempster fans went after the Cubs traded him to the Rangers, but that doesn’t matter, welcome!

I know, I know, trust me, it’s still Wrigley, there’s just a bigass awesome Jumbotron out there and a few more advertisements than you’re used to. It’s all good, it’s still the same experience you remember, well, that you might remember. You guys used to get WASTED here. The beer is still here so there’s that.

Oh, yeah, a lot has changed over your hiatus. We’re winning now! Yeah, you remember, when Theo outlined his whole plan in a 30 minute presser about changing the culture and building a winner? IT ACTUALLY FUCKING HAPPENED! Damn man, I mean he laid it out for us, then he started doing it, and then he gutted the team like he said he would, and goddamnit, the kids could actually play! I know, not all of the prospects are here, there were a lot of good drafts but baseball is a bitch on the young, it lets you know what it thinks of you. Oh Starlin? Yeah he’s still a shortstop. Funny thing happened in 2012, a young kid kept learning! I KNOW CRAZY! I always thought that you stopped learning after 18 and you never got better at anything at that point.

Look, I don’t blame you for leaving, it was hard to watch those teams. There was a lot of ugly. Some of the talent we traded away even went on to have good years elsewhere, but hey, that happens. They are old and most of them are retired now. If they aren’t they’re way past their usefulness. LaHair? Oh yeah, he had a crazy 2012. I can’t remember if he did much of anything after that. He had his uses back then, but he’s older now too. This young crop of talent they have now is amazing.

Man, this team is fun to watch, and you know what, because they decided to build from within, to bite the bullet a few years ago and not listen to antsy fans bitch and moan, begging for a win now mentality, they might just keep on winning, I think they can beat the Nats this year!

It’s been a long wait man, I’m glad you guys are back, I want to hear this stadium groan when everyone in this joint is rocking out after a meaningful Cubs victory.

You know what, we might get that deep into October too. Not just this year either, I mean for years. And it all started with that shit show in 2012!

Crazy, huh?

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

The stretch run

Pennant races are amazingly fun. We saw a surreal race last year as 4 teams played on the last day for 2 spots in hands down the most epic 24 hours of baseball I’ve ever seen. The White Sox and the Tigers are going to be in a dogfight for the division as both teams are pretty equal in terms of talent, which I don’t think anyone was saying at the start of the season. The x factors for the White Sox, more so than the Tigers, are health and defense. The White Sox rotation is turning out to be the fragile thing most of us predicted, Chris Sale is going through some dead arm, John Danks is done for the year, Gavin Floyd hit the DL with some arm issues, Phil Humber turned into a hurt pumpkin, hell, the only constant in the White Sox rotation has been Jake Peavy, which makes my head hurt every time I try to wrap my head around it.

The defense of late has been sloppy, which proves the point that defense can slump from time to time. Neither concern has mattered too much as the White Sox got lucky with Livan Hernandez-Fidrych II. There has been a lot of talk that the White Sox farm system is somehow vindicated because of the contributions rookies have given the White Sox this year. Of the three main arms that have stuck around, Nate Jones, Addison Reed, Jose Quintana, only Quintana has made consistent contributions to the big league club, albeit contributions that are a bit over his head. Eduardo Escobar has been a sum zero player this year, Dylan Axelrod was awful in his limited playing time, Pedro Hernandez got blowed up real good in his lone start this year, they haven’t all been gold. Quality does count some.

Addison Reed and the bullpen have issues to sort out as well, but I’m cautiously optimistic about this bunch. I think Addison Reed is going through an expected rough patch for a rookie.

Detroit has a stable of veterans and the best hitter and pitcher in the division. Their offense has stalled around the Miggy and Prince show, Austin Jackson and Quintin Barry are the only other regulars showing a pulse at the plate, with Austin Jackson having a breakout year. The defense hasn’t been as atrocious as I thought it would be initially, but the pitching around Verlander has fluctuated between awful and inconsistent.

Both the Tigers and White Sox are separated by the thinnest of margins. I fully expect this to be a seesaw battle that the White Sox should win, albeit with a high degree of difficulty. The White Sox rotation is starting to take the hits. To this point they’ve weathered the storm particularly well, but I’m still wary of the staff as a whole. I think the offense carries the Sox to a division crown.

How to watch the Cubs in the second half

The trade deadline is done. Cubs fans have a month to wait for September call-ups. Some of your favorite players are gone. So now what? Well, I’ll outline some things I’m looking for in August, feel free to follow the advice or turn off the Cubs completely. I won’t blame you if you did either.

I’ve heard a lot of things about Theo and the trade deadline/draft/prospects over the past few months that make sense on the surface but don’t really hold up to scrutiny.

  • The Cubs screwed up the Dempster to ATL deal – There are two schools of thought on this; They screwed up by not telling him ahead of time, or they screwed it up because they didn’t get a big haul from LA or Texas. Well, for starters Dempster was told well ahead of time that he was likely to be dealt to a contender if the Cubs liked the package. Dempster pre-approved certain teams and Atlanta was on the approved list. That list was a damn lie. Dempster’s list was all about the Doyers until the last possible second. He’s trying to do damage control to preserve his image in Chicago as a lovable ex-Cub. Don’t buy it, Jed and Theo were pissed with him about the whole ordeal and still are. Yes, he has 10 and 5 rights, but he straight up waffled on a great trade for the Cubs because he wanted to be closer to Ted Lilly.
  • Prospects don’t matter, prospect rankings don’t matter – Wrong and wrong. If you own a Baseball Prospectus from 2008, go to the back and find the top 100 prospect list. Go 1-50 and find the guys that didn’t make the Major Leagues. I’ll wait. As for the organizational prospect rankings, they of course matter. This pops up in relation to the White Sox and their wonder group of Rookies that they brought up. Let’s be honest, outside of Quintana the rookies have been pretty bad or zeroes. I outlined Pedro Hernandez above, nobody likes talking about Eduardo Escobar in the Rookie Wonder Group, or Dylan Axelrod. If the system had more talent, do you think they would have moved for a wife beater in Brett Myers, an injury prone 3B in Youkilis, or a headcase like Francisco Liriano? No, they’d make another call up from their deep system. The White Sox system has talent, all systems have talent, it’s just not very deep.
  • The draft is a crap shoot/Why did the Cubs trade for more prospects? – Let’s say every prospect has a 5% chance of making the major leagues. In a group of 10, .5 will make it. In a group of 20, 1 will make it. In a group of 100, 5 will make it. The bigger the pool of talent, the higher number of potential Major League contributors you’ll have. Not all prospects are made the same. Some have a much bigger chance of making the Majors than others. So doesn’t it make sense to acquire guys who have a better chance of helping your major league squad for a rebuilding team? The Cubs competitive window won’t begin to crack for another 4 years at minimum. Why not throw as many prospects as you can at the wall and see who sticks?

Starlin Castro and the lazy narrative

Starlin Castro set a new career high in HR’s, with 11. He should finish the year with 15-17 HR’s, and his SLG% is climbing with his average again. Castro’s Fldg % sits at .970 right now. It was .961 last year, and .950 two years ago. His Range Factor has also steadily improved. To listen to the lazy narrative told around town, he is regressing as a player because his batting average isn’t sitting at .300 and he’s made 15 errors. Most of the fanbase has already thrown the “Defensive Butcher” tag on Castro, and it won’t ever come off. What I’ve seen from Castro is a steady improvement afield, and a running in place of sorts at the plate. Castro’s walk rate hasn’t improved as much as I would like. His power has gone up as some of those doubles from last year are turning into home runs. Castro has a lot of work to do, and in August I’m looking for a better approach at the plate from him. He’s in between patient and passive right now. He needs to find that happy medium.

Synopsis

Overall, I’m looking for consistency from guys like Rizzo and Castro. August will be the month that I watch a lot of minor league ball. The pieces the Cubs traded for are intriguing. Vizcaino is the prize of the deadline, but he’s ouchy. Villanueva had an impressive debut last night, but that was in A ball, seemingly years away from the big leagues. The Cubs have talent in the system, this will be reflected in next years prospect rankings. They’ll acquire more next year via the draft and the trade deadline. For now, the things I’m watching in August are the same things I’ve been looking for all year.

Improvement by the youngins.