Monday, June 22, 2009

Cubs starting to show signs of life

About this time last week, we were all starting to wonder if the Cubs had any heart left in them.

Sure, one of their biggest hitters, 3B Aramis Ramirez, has been out since May 9 with a dislocated shoulder, and likely won't be back until after the All-Star break. The Cubs also have dealt with a series of nagging injuries to Milton Bradley, Carlos Zambrano and others.

Good teams battle through these obstacles, though. And after their 4-1 loss to the White Sox Wednesday at Wrigley Field despite an unexpected day off thanks to the rain on Tuesday, that listlessness continued, and many, including yours truly, were beginning to wonder if we should write off the rest of the season.

However, starting Thursday, the Cubs showed that we can be a little fickle at times.

The Cubs fell behind 5-0 to the White Sox going into the bottom of the eighth inning, and it was starting to look like more of the same. But Derrek Lee and Geovany Soto hit back-to-back home runs, and Alfonso Soriano hit in the game-winning run in the ninth inning to win, 6-5.

The next day, the Cubs welcomed the Cleveland Indians and former teammates Kerry Wood and Mark DeRosa, both of whom got warm welcomes from the Wrigley faithful. The Tribe went up 7-0 in the fourth inning, and it was starting to look like the same old Cubs we had come to expect during the last six weeks. But they chipped away, and got four in the seventh inning and another in the eighth inning to cut it to 7-6. Wood gets the call to put the game away in the ninth, but Lee comes through, hitting his second home run of the game to tie things up. In the tenth, after Soriano walks, he shows off some of the speed we had been wondering about and stole second before scoring on a bad-hop single by Ryan Theriot for the Cubs' win, 8-7.

Saturday was more of the same for Wood, who came in the bottom of the 13th inning to try to seal a 5-4 win for the Indians. But he missed again, giving up a game-tying single to Andres Blanco before throwing a wild pitch that saw Blanco score the winning run, giving the Cubs a 6-5 win. Sunday was more decisive, with the Cubs winning 6-2, leaving the Cubs at 34-31 with a four-game winning streak and only 2.5 games behind St. Louis, who took over first place from the Brewers over the weekend by feasting on Kansas City pitching, including an 12-5 win Sunday.

The point behind this weekend wrap-up. With no sense of bias and homerism, the Cubs are definitely still in contention, and never were really out of it during this slump. Granted, they have had a lot of help from the Brewers, Cardinals and Reds not keeping up their winning ways all that much, but the Cubs are still in this thing.

Copyright 2009 - Wait Til Next Century.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Can Pedro help the Cubs?

The Cubs are reportedly one of two teams, along with the Tampa Bay Rays, who are pursuing former All-Star pitcher Pedro Martinez.

The 37-year-old Martinez, who has been a free agent after his tenure with the Mets ended after last year, has been working out in his native Dominican Republic. According to ESPN, he is hoping to sign with a team that has a chance to win the pennant.

Whether the Cubs should sign him is a mixed bag, with arguments strong on both sides:

Martinez, during 17 seasons in the majors, is 214-99 in stints with the Dodgers, Expos, Red Sox and most recently, the Mets.

But he is 37 years old.

He has shown signs of life during his most recent stint in New York, winning 15 games during his first season there in 2005. He also showed he might still be able to be a productive pitcher during this spring's World Baseball Classic, throwing six scoreless inning of one-hit in two appearances for the Dominican Republic team.

But those last four years in New York were plagued with injuries. Though he won 15 games in 2005, his innings dropped significantly the next three years, including only 32 innings that saw three wins in 2007 and five wins last year in 109 innings.

He could be a sign that the Cubs are still trying to win something this season despite being 31-31 and four games out of first place after yesterday's 6-5 win over the crosstown White Sox.

But he hasn't pitched in the majors during the entire year.

He has a World Series title under his belt, having helped the Red Sox win their first one since 1918 in 2004. Out of the current Cubs players, only Derrek Lee (2003 with Florida), Ted Lilly (2000 with the Yankees), Aaron Miles (2006 with St. Louis), and Alfonso Soriano (2000 with the Yankees) have been on World Series champion teams.

But starting pitching is actually one of the strengths of this Cubs team. Hitting and the bullpen are areas that should be addressed.

However, starting pitcher Rich Harden has been plagued with a bad back for the better part of the year, and you can never have too much starting pitching.

Will the Cubs actually go forward and sign Pedro Martinez? Not the best player available, but he couldn't hurt and might actually still have some gas left in the tank. He just might be the final piece that could help the Cubs turn this season around.

Copyright 2009 - Wait Til Next Century.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Did he earn the contract extension?

The term of Iowa State athletic director Jamie Pollard has been a point of contention and debate among Cyclone fans ever since he came to the job in 2005, when he took over for the departed Gene Smith.

When the Des Moines Register posted the story Monday that Pollard had signed a two-year contract extension, extending his deal with ISU to 2014, the first commenter on the story knew the heated debate was coming:

wdmguy1 wrote:
5... 4... 3... 2...
6/15/2009 10:28:40 AM

The very next poster said ISU fans should stop all donations to the Cyclone athletic department until Pollard was gone, saying the entire department has experienced nothing but losing since he arrived.

But has that been the case?

Well, since his arrival in the fall of 2005, ISU's fortunes have been less than stellar. The football team was coming off four bowl games in five years, the best stretch it had experienced since the 1970s. It was an improvement at that, since it had won two of those games, including the 2004 Independence Bowl over Miami of Ohio. Dan McCarney was becoming the best coach in ISU history.

However, after one more bowl game in 2005 (a 27-24 loss to Texas Christian in the Houston Bowl), the Cyclones slipped to 4-8 the following year, and McCarney, replaced by Auburn defensive coordinator Gene Chizik. Chizik was even worse, winning only five games in two years before he left to become the head coach back at Auburn, stunning everyone, including Pollard.

The basketball team came into the 2005-06 season ranked in the preseason top 25, coming a year in which it made the second round of the NCAA tournament and three starters returning. However, the Cyclones finished 16-14 overall and 6-10 in the Big 12, missing out on the NCAA Tournament and coach Wayne Morgan being relieved of his coaching duties.

Greg McDermott was brought in from in-state rival Northern Iowa, and things have not improved, as the Cyclones finished 15-16 (6-10 in Big 12 play) in 2006-07, 14-18 (4-12 in Big 12) in 2007-08, and last season, 15-17 (4-12 in Big 12).

There have been some bright spots, though, as the women's basketball team under Bill Fennelly made it to the Elite Eight of the NCAA tournament last year and the wrestling team still contending for the national title. That team, however, lost coach and legend Cael Sanderson over the season as he moved on to a better offer at Penn State.

Is there hope for the ISU athletic department? Paul Rhoades, a native of Ankeny, Iowa, is the new football coach, and could bring in a new attitude. All-Big 12 basketball player and AP honorable mention All-American Craig Brackins was convinced to stay for his senior season.

Plus, and this may have been the biggest reason for Pollard's retention, but the overall athletic program is starting to show signs it might even remotely compete with its bigger brethren in the Big 12 like Nebraska and Texas. Jack Trice Stadium is receiving a face lift, with a wider concourse introduced for this upcoming season and plans to enclose the south end zone with seats, increasing capacity. A new practice facility for the men's and women's basketball teams also is in the works.

So which is more important for an AD: wins or money to expand the facilities? Considering ISU has been operating on the smallest athletic budget in the Big 12 for some time, it may just be a matter of wait and see on whether Pollard has delivered on what he was hired to do.

However, if the teams, especially the football team and men's basketball team, don't begin to win sometime in the near future, Pollard may not make it to the end of the contract.

Copyright 2009 - Wait Til Next Century.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Sammy Sosa juicing confirmed?

A New York Times article released Tuesday said that former Cubs slugger Sammy Sosa was among 104 baseball players who tested positive for performance-enhancing drugs in 2003.

Citing lawyers with knowledge of the test results, the article claims Sosa, who helped reignite interest in baseball during 1998's pursuit of the single season home run record with Mark McGwire, tested for an unspecified drug. He joins McGwire, current home run champ Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Alex Rodriguez and Manny Ramirez as current or recent stars who have been linked for PEDs.

Assuming this is true, the revelation does serious damage to Sosa in two ways. One, the possibility of his being inducted into the Hall of Fame is seriously diminished, despite his being sixth on the all-time home run list with 609 dingers. McGwire, who finished with 583 home runs, including a then-record 70 in 1998, has been rejected in each of the three years he has been on the ballot. It also puts Sosa in danger of being charged with perjury following his denial of using PEDs in a Congressional hearing in 2005.

What does the article mean? Sosa has been linked to PEDs for some time during the last several years, especially after the 2003 season in which he served a seven-game suspension for using a corked bat, yet helped the Cubs come within five outs of making it to their first World Series since 1945. Whether this report confirms those suspicions remains to be seen. The sad thing is nobody is really shocked by the report, ranging from players to former Cubs broadcaster and current White Sox announcer Steve Stone.

The biggest problem with this report is that it is anonymous. No one is cited on the record as saying that Sosa did indeed test positive for the drugs. While this has been used in previous newspaper reports to great effect (see Watergate, for example), it does have some problem because of the possibility that, like an poster on an Internet forum, any person can say anything about anybody or anything and still remain anonymous, regardless of whether they are telling the truth or not. In this case, it might be best until Sosa is formally charged or confirmed that he did indeed test positive.

Regardless, the report is another black mark on what was supposed to be the rejuvenation era of baseball following the 1994 strike that cancelled the World Series that year. It also will continue to cast suspicion and doubt on who really is using PEDs and who is actually clean and doing things the way they're supposed to.

Copyright 2009 - Wait Til Next Century.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Is the headache worth a good wide receiver?

One of two potential headache players could be headed to Chicago in the coming weeks.

The Bears, along with the Jets and Buccaneers, are reportedly the main teams interested in signing former Giants wide receiver Plaxico Burress. Burress, as you may recall, missed the last five games of the 2008 season after he shot himself in the leg while at a nightclub, leading to his eventually being released by the Giants on April 3. He now faces up to 3.5 years in prison on a weapons charge after the incident.

His stats are something to behold. While his 2008 season was basically a wash-out thanks to the gunshot, in 2007 he caught 70 passed for 1,025 yards and 12 touchdowns while helping lead the Giants to their upset Super Bowl win over the then-undefeated New England Patriots.

Right now, his attorney is trying to work out a deal that will at least keep Burress out of jail for the 2009 season, and possibly get the weapons charge reduced to the point where he only get probation. That includes Monday's news that the case was delayed until Sept. 23. There also is the possibility that Commissioner Roger Goodell could suspend Burress for all or part of the season for the incident.

If not Burress, then who does new QB Jay Cutler get to throw to? ESPN's Jeff Dickerson reports that while early reviews of the Bears' current receiving corp of Devin Hester, Earl Bennett, Brandon Rideau and Johnny Knox have been good so far, they are at best unprovable and at worst not going to be good enough targets for Cutler.

One possibility could be former Jaguars' WR Matt Jones, who caught 65 passes for 761 yards last year. He was released by the Jaguars after he got busted for possession of cocaine, and likely will avoid suspension by the NFL higher-ups, according to the Chicago Sun-Times and ESPN's Chris Mortensen.

Like I mentioned on Friday, Chicago is a town known for embracing controversial and potentially troubled athletes.

Dennis Rodman, for example, spent three years in Chicago with the Bulls, from the 1995-96 to 1997-98 seasons. He was, shall we say, colorful and controversial, doing everything from kicking a cameraman during a game to wearing a wedding dress to promote his autobiography in 1996.

However, he was a beast on the boards, averaging more than 15 rebounds a game as he played a big role in helping the Bulls win NBA titles all three years he was in town.

The Bears aren't looking for any choirboys, though it would be nice to hear what your wide receiver is up to on the practice field rather than the courtroom or commissioner's office.

Could Burress or Jones be the answer? Jones has the potential, mainly because he is healthy and not nearly as distracted as Burress, who with delays, likely will have the prospect of prison time hanging over his head for the season and potentially making him largely ineffective. That is also assuming he remains healthy and that the 2007 season was not a fluke.

Copyright 2009 - Wait Til Next Century

Monday, June 15, 2009

Cubs vs. Sox - The real challenge

Tuesday marks the first game of the three games of the Crosstown Classic between the Cubs and White Sox at Wrigley Field.

Now there is the matter of which is the better team. We can't rely too much on the current records. The Cubs are 30-30 after avoiding a sweep in this past weekend's home series against the Twins, while the Sox have fallen on hard times taking two of three from the Brewers in Milwaukee . While the season's not quite over, both teams have a lot of catching up if they're going to still be playing in October.

That leaves the intangibles, or the other things that we have to look at to determine which is the better team.

With a nod to Uni Watch, we look first at the aesthetics of the teams.

Both sport the pinstripes at home, the Cubs since 1957, the Sox since the last few games of 1990 in their current form. The Cubs have largely kept the same main logo since the 1950s, while the Sox have undergone several changes in that same time period, though they have largely kept their current logo and colors since just before moving into the new Comiskey Park in 1991.

Both look sharp at the current time.

PICK: Draw

This is where it has the potential to get ugly in the fight between Cubs and Sox fans.

One of the main strikes against the Sox is they have a corporate-sponsored name for their ballpark, U.S. Cellular Field. Granted, the name was taken in part to help fund $68 million in improvements to the ballpark.

However, they wouldn't have had to fund those improvements if they had built the place the right way the first time. When it opened in 1991, the then-new Comiskey Park was a concrete, soulless place with an upper deck that stretched 29 rows up and was so steep that it winded my very healthy Marine father as he climbed to the 25th row. Yes, it brought the pinwheel, exploding scoreboard from the old park, but it lacked any character or comfort until the renovations, which chopped nine rows from the upper deck and put in black arches over the top to make it more cozy.

Wrigley Field, on the other hand, is considered a cathedral of everything that is good in baseball. Yes, it has had some structure problems that have caught up with a park open since 1914, and men's urinals are troughs. But it still retains the old charm with more day games than most teams, the manual scoreboard and the marquee in a place that with few exceptions (like lights installed in 1988, the last team to do so), is much like it was in the 1940s.

Plus, I've never heard the Cell mentioned as a destination like Wrigley Field, which is kept in a neighborhood rather than fenced off from the outside world like Sox Park is.

PICK: Cubs

Here the teams are similar in that they both have fiery men as their leaders.

Cubs managers Lou Pinella is one of the bigger managerial names in baseball, having managed and won in just about every place he has gone. He spent time with the Yankees, Reds (winning the World Series in 1990), Mariners (first division title in team history in 1995), Devil Rays (nobody could help them at the time) and now the Cubs, whom he has led to division crowns in 2007 and 2008. He also has retained the same passion, taking on umpires and players in the same fashion as ever.

Sox skipper Ozzie Guillen is one of the more popular players to ever play for the Southsiders, and he was an interesting pick when he took over after the 2003 season. He has kept himself in the limelight, constantly baiting opposing players and his own players to keep them on their toes. In his first managerial job, he has kept up a winner, leading the Sox to a World Series title in 2005, his second year on the job.

Experience vs. a world title? Tough call.

PICK: Draw

Both teams have been around for what seems to be forever, the Cubs born in 1876 with the start of the National League, and the Sox in 1901 with the American League. Both have had fairly sad histories, going decades between championships and only winning five titles between them in their histories.

The Sox, while colorful, have been fairly quiet in their history in the World Series, making it to only five title matches in their history (1906, 1917, 1919, 1959 and 2005). The Cubs have been to 10 in their time (1906, 1907, 1908, 1910, 1918, 1929, 1932, 1935, 1938, and 1945), with both teams being dominant early in the 1900s.

That's where the similarities end. The Sox likely would have four titles to their credit if not for the Black Sox scandal of 1919, but they have been to two World Series since World War II and won one in the last 30 years (2005). The Cubs, on the other hand, have not been to a World Series since 1945 (the year World War II ended) and not won one since 1908 (when Theodore Roosevelt was President of the United States).

PICK: White Sox

Who wins this year? That is why they play the game on the field. However, if the Cubs' bats can finally wake up and the bullpen can finally get somebody, we'll have to give this round to the Northsiders.

Copyright 2009 - Wait Til Next Century

Friday, June 12, 2009

Was bringing in Bradley a mistake?

Was the Cubs bringing in Milton Bradley over the last season a mistake?

More and more, it is starting to seem that way. The way this season has gone for him, and by extension for the Cubs, it is becoming more and more obvious that hiring Bradley as the new right fielder was the wrong move.

He wasn't exactly an angel prior to this season, during stints with the Dodgers, Indians, Athletics, and last year, the Rangers. In fact, it was his 2008 campaign in Arlington, where he batted .321 with 22 home runs and 77 RBIs in 126 games, that encouraged Jim Hendry to give him $30 million to play right field much of the time.

But prior to that, he was known as being a hothead and injury-prone. In September 2007 with the Padres, he tore his ACL while arguing with an umpire. Last year with the Rangers, he went after a Royals TV announcer because he didn't like comments the broadcaster was making up about him.

But that could have been overlooked. Chicago is a very forgiving town when it comes to passionate and colorful players (see Dennis Rodman during the 1990s with the Bulls, and to a lesser degree, Carlos Zambrano now with the Cubs).

However, that is dependent on if the player is productive and helps the team win. Big Z, while not getting into fights with teammates (see Michael Barrett incident in June 2008) and destroying Gatorade coolers, is productive, including only giving up three hits in eight innings the other night in Houston (The Cubs lost, though, thanks to that shaky bullpen and no run support, again). Bradley has yet to produce, so far only batting .224 with five home runs in only 45 games.

Today's game against the Twins showed deficiencies in other areas. While he did manage to go 2 for 4 with two RBIs, he lost a fly ball in the sun, didn't catch a blooper that cost the Cubs a run, and made a base-running error.

The biggest gaffe, though, came in the eighth inning, when after catching a fly ball from Twins catcher Joe Mauer, tossed the ball into the right field bleachers despite the catch only making it two outs. He, of course, was booed lustily by the Cubbie faithful.

Do the Cubs cut their losses and let Bradley go, perhaps letting last year's big acquistion, Kosuke Fukudome, tend to right field?

If they're smart, Wrigley Field will be the latest one-year stop for Milton Bradley.

Copyright 2009 - Wait Til Next Century

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Da Notebook - June 11, 2009

-- The good news from Houston Wednesday night: Carlos Zambrano was his strong self, pitching eight innings and giving up only three hits and one run. The bad news: Outside of Geovany Soto's one-run home run in the second inning, the Cubs' bats go silent again as they lose to the Astros 2-1.
-- I've always said the Cubs sending Mark DeRosa to Cleveland during the off-season was a mistake. Considering the Cubs' lack of consistent hitting this year, it's proving to hang over the Northsiders in a bad way.
-- Current standings: 29-27, fourth place in NL Central, 2.5 games behind Milwaukee; fifth place in NL wild card, 1.5 games behind New York Mets.

White Sox
-- Pitcher John Danks had his best outing of the season Wednesday at U.S. Cellular Field, allowing only two runs on five hits in 7 1/3 innings, but Detroit pitcher Justin Verlander keeps the Sox batters under control as the Tigers win, 2-1.
-- In the same game, Paul Konerko hurt his thumb again, meaning he likely will miss some games.
-- Current standings: 27-33, third place in AL Central, 6.5 games behind Detroit; seventh place in AL wild card, 7.5 games behind New York Yankees.

-- Thanks to trading for QB Jay Cutler, Athlon Sports is picking the Bears to win the NFC North. Considering the Packers and Vikings are not all that competitive, and we won't bother with the Lions, this isn't all that awe-inspiring.
-- Do the Bears have adequate backup QBs for Cutler?

Copyright 2009 - Wait Til Next Century

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Picking major leaguers of the future?

Yesterday was the first round of the 2009 edition of the Major League Baseball draft, and both the Cubs and White Sox went after long-term needs.

How effective the picks will be in the future is a little hard to predict since unlike football and basketball and to a lesser extent, hockey, baseball drafts tend to be more of the long-term investment variety.

First, the Cubs went with California outfielder Brett Jackson with the 31st pick of the draft. Only 20 years and a junior, he is the third position player taken by the Northsiders in the last four drafts. He also is a left-handed lead-off man who hit .326 with a .416 on-base percentage, .568 slugging percentage and 11 stolen bases in 14 attempts over 46 games during the last season. He also was ranked as the second-best overall athlete among college players by Baseball America.

The Sox also went with an outfield, selecting LSU OF Jared Mitchell with the 23rd pick in the first round. With Mitchell, who is only 20 years old, the Southsiders add speed and quickness, a hallmark of Ozzie Guillen's term as manager and something they will need as players like Paul Konerko and Jermaine Dye get on in years and look to retirement.

Will either player help their new teams in the future? Only time will tell. As has been said before, the baseball draft does not often promise immediate results that football and basketball can.

Last year's number one for the Cubs, pitcher Andrew Cashner of Texas Christian University, is now pitching with the High-A Daytona Cubs in the Florida State League, though the Sox's top pick, Georgia OF Gordon Beckham, recently was called up to the big club as part of the team's "youth movement." The jury is still out on whether Beckham can handle big league pitching after only 59 games in the minors.

The status of the last few years' picks also prove hit or miss:

Cubs 2007: Cypress (Calif.) High 3B Josh Vitters, picked number three overall, is at Class A Peoria, but looking to possibly make a move up soon, says the Chicago Tribune.

White Sox 2007: P Aaron Poreda also was recently called up to the big club.

The previous years have been hit or miss. Cubs 2006 pick, OF Tyler Colvin, is at AA Tennessee, though likely to move up thanks to the Cubs' outfield troubles, while the Sox's 2004 pick, 3B Josh Fields, is sweating it out under Guillen's regime. Other Cubs top picks like P Kerry Woods (1995), P Mark Prior (2001) and OF Corey Patterson (1998), made some noise for a couple of years, but were ineffective after a short time and have since moved on.

With this year's class, we'll wait and see what happens.

Copyright 2009 - Wait Til Next Century

Da Notebook - June 10, 2009

We're back and it's time to get started again.


-- Ted Lilly provides the pitching and the big bat in leading the Cubs to a 7-1 win over the Astros in Houston Tuesday night. Coupled with losses by the Cardinals and Brewers, the Cubs are now in second place behind the Brewers and by a percentage point over the Cardinals and Reds.

-- Could the Cubs have their third baseman of the future in Josh Vitters? The Chicago Tribune thinks so, though the writer cautions against bringing somebody up so young too quick (he's 19 and playing at Class A Peoria right now).

White Sox
-- Paul Konerko hit a two-run double in the bottom of the ninth inning to force extra innings, but the White Sox ultimately fall to the Tigers, 7-6, Tuesday night at U.S. Cellular Field after a controversial call that said pinch runner Dewayne Wise was out at home plate trying to score the game-winning run.

-- The Jay Cutler saga continues for the Bears, as both coaching legend Mike Ditka and Super Bowl winning coach Tony Dungy question whether the Bears got what they bargained for in acquiring the Pro Bowl quarterback in February for Kyle Orton and draft picks. Ditka says Cutler still has to prove himself before being considered among the Bears' all-time greats, while Dungy said the Bears gave up a lot for a QB who has yet to prove himself great.

-- Former Bear Roland Harper gets probation and a year of house arrest in a case that he allegedly acted as a front man in a $1.5 million fraud involving a landscaping contract for Chicago public schools.

- Jarrett Payton, the son of the late, great Walter Payton, has signed with the Toronto Argonauts of the Canadian Football League.

-- Former Bulls and Iowa State coach Tim Floyd resigned from his post as head basketball coach at USC Tuesday in the midst of a scandal that he allegedly provided money to associates of former player O.J. Mayo to get the phenom to sign with the Trojans.

-- Bulls guard Ben Gordon is not acting like a man planning to leave.

Copyright 2009 - Wait Til Next Century

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Coming back soon!!!

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