Saturday, April 21, 2007

Yay! Playoff Basketball!!!

As much as April means baseball to me, for a long time in my childhood, basketball shared the spring spotlight. How could an avid baseball fan such as myself split my sports world showing attention to a team not playing in Wrigley Field? The easiest answer: I grew up in the Michael Jordan era.

As a child of the Jordan era (and Chicago native) the Bulls took center stage from April to June. It's as if nothing mattered in the regular season, the Bulls always turned it on in the playoffs.

And how could they not? They had Michael Jordan, the greatest of all time. They had Scottie Pippen, the greatest complimentary player of all time. And they had Phil Jackson, one of the greatest coaches of all time. Phil did an amazing job taking some of the biggest ego's in sports and molding them together to bring championships to Chicago.

The first three championships featured Horace Grant, John Paxson and a deep bench of role players. The second set of three championships featured rebounding machine Dennis Rodman, Toni Kukoc and another deep bench. The constants in those two teams are Jordan, Pippen & Coach Phil.

After Jordan and Co. left, the Bulls disappeared off the face of the basketball earth. They got bad, real bad. They were constantly one of the worst teams in basketball. They couldn't attract any impact players through the free agent market, they failed to pick up young talent through the draft and their coaches weren't doing their jobs.

Enter John Paxson who replaced Jerry Krause as GM. Krause is best known as the architect of the Bulls championship teams. Paxson rebuilt this team from scratch. He dumped high price, high ego players in an attempt to build team chemistry. Next, he dumped all the remaining links of the Krause era--players, coaches, all of them. Then, Paxson did what Krause couldn't do and built through the draft.

In 2003, he drafted PG Kirk Hinirch out of Kansas. In 2004, he drafted Ben Gordon (UConn) and Luol Deng and Chris Duhon (Duke). Paxson's draft strategy was to draft players out of perennial NCAA powerhouse schools with a pedigree of success. Hinrich appeared in two final fours. Deng and Duhon went deep in the tourney under Coach K at Duke. Gordon won a Nat'l Championship in his junior year at UConn.

In free agency, the Bulls added Andres Nocioni who won a gold medal in the Olympics while playing for Team Argentina. He was also successful overseas.

In 2006, the Bulls stepped away from their draft strategy a bit. They chose Tyrus Thomas (LSU) and Thabo Sefolosha (Switz.). Thomas was chosen with the second pick (acquired from NY Knicks for Eddy Curry) and possesses amazing athletic ability and draws comparisons to Suns forward Shawn Marion. Sefolosha starred in the European basketball leagues and is another superb athlete who is versatile enough to play three positions.

Again, Paxson hit the free agent market this summer doing what Krause couldn't do--land the big free agent when he signed C Ben Wallace away from the rival Detroit Pistons.

So the Bulls look for their first playoff series win since the Jordan era again. Last year they took the eventual champion Miami Heat to six games. This Bulls team could be better with their additions while the Heat bring back basically the same team from last year. And the Bulls (despite having a lower seed) will get home court advantage because of their better record.

So break out the black shoes and the black socks. It's time for some Bulls playoff basketball.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Game One Goes To The Birds :-(

This wasn't only an introduction to the Cubs/Cards series for Lou Piniella, it was also an introduction to Cub-dumb.

Cub-dumb, also known as "being Cubbed" is an act when players decide to revert to the crap that they truly are, do stupid things in the field or on the short, Cub-dumb is baseball retardation. In the Cubs 2-1 loss to the Cardinals there was plenty of retardation to go around.

There were several strange plays and they all cost the Cubs in the end. They took a 1-0 lead in the 1st inning behind a run scoring single by Aramis Ramirez. Next, Mark DeRosa grounded into a double play to end the inning. But it wasn't a normal 6-4-3. DeRosa was safe when the second basemen's throw pulled Albert Pujols off the first base bag. DeRosa was tagged out when he entered fair territory while avoiding Pujols' tag.

In the 7th inning, Henry Blanco failed to move runners on first and second when he popped a bunt that was fielded by catcher Yadier Molina and almost turned into a triple play. Blanco was called out at the plate, and the Cubs rally was stifled after that when Cesar Izturis struck out looking and Daryle Ward struck out swinging at three splitters that weren't even close to being strikes.

The Cubs had a chance to make some noise in the bottom of the 9th inning. DeRosa hit a one out single and was pinch run in favor of Ronny Cedeno. Cedeno moved to second after Jacques Jones walk---kinda. Cedeno, off with the pitch, slid past the bag while shortstop David Eckstein kept the tag on Cedeno. The umpire initially called Cedeno safe until Tony LaRussa came out to argue the call, which was eventually overturned with the help of the umpiring crew and LaRussa insisting that he'd buy the first round at Sluggers after the game.

The Cub rally ended meekly as Matt Murton popped out on the first pitch he saw.

Sounds like the Cubs lost more than the Cardinals won, doesn't it? The Cards scored on a Preston Wilson two-run homer in the top of the 7th. That sucked, because I was watching the game in the student center and the Cubs were just rolling around. And in typical Cub fashion, as soon as you turn away...SMACK!!!

Preston F***ing Wilson. You've gotta be f***ing kidding me.

Besides Wilson's home run, Ted Lilly (1-2) was brilliant striking out six in seven innings while only allowing four hits. Lilly looks like he's gonna be that pitcher that gets NO run support despite good stuff.

Braden Looper (3-1) pitched well, especially knowing that I would be more than 300 miles south of Wrigley Field as I spent most of my afternoon taking a test. Nearly everyone by now should know my past interactions with Mr. Looper. Looptey-loop struck out five in seven innings while picking up the win.

If my mom was here, she'd tell me something to the extent of 'the sun will rise tomorrow."

If it does, game two will take place as Jason Marquis will take the mound against his former mates. If Marquis knows what's good for him, he pitches a complete game, no-hitter and hits a couple of dingers.

As you can tell, I don't like losing. I absolutely HATE losing to the Cardinals. Losing to the Cardinals is the absolute worse feeling in the world for me.

LIST PART I: Things that are bad, but not as bad as losing to the Cardinals.

  • Losing to Duke (UNC; basketball)
  • Losing to Ohio State (Michigan; football)
  • Losing to the White Sox
  • Rejection
  • Heartbreak (over a girl)

Yeah, I said it. Being rejected by a girl, not as painful as losing to the Cardinals in my eyes. And heartbreak? Not even close, a few drinks coupled with a night of poetry writing can get me through any heartbreak. Getting over a loss by the Cubs at the hands of the Cardinals---that's just on the brink of depressing.

LIST PART II: Issues with Lou Piniella....because we haven't seen eye to eye sometimes this year.

  • Why is Cliff Floyd batting second?
  • Why wasn't Felix Pie starting in center field against the righty Looper?
  • Why wasn't Pie used in the 9th inning as a defensive replacement? Either he or JJ could have caught that ball that Floyd missed on a dive that Jim Edmonds turned from a single into a triple.
  • If you weren't gonna use Pie as a pinch hitter or as a defensive replacement---why didn't you use Pie as the pinch runner instead of Ronny Cedeno? Pie is faster and a better base stealer than Cedeno.
  • Where was Michael Barrett? Last I checked, he hit a game winning Grand Slam against Jason Isringhausen last year against the Cardinals. Mikey B. is a better option off the bench than The Big Murt, who is struggling without constant playing time.
  • I will give Lou credit for arguing the 9th inning call---good to see the manager awake at the wheel (not that's not a jab at LaRussa's DUI....but it should be!)

Hopefully the Cubs will get it right in the next two games, or else I (and the rest of Cubdom) have to face humiliation at the hands of the Cardinals fans on campus.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Bring On The Cardinals!

As all the attention of the baseball world shifts east, baseball's most overlooked rivalry starts up again Friday at Wrigley Field when the defending World Champion St. Louis Cardinals visit the Chicago Cubs.

Yuck, it sickens me every time I have to think about the Cards being World Champs. I've had to deal with it every day since October. With World Champs hats, sweaters, t-shirts.....any time I have to see someone wearing those items, it feels like a punch to the balls.

But that was last year, every day is a step further away from that disastrous month of October. Since that night however, a lot has changed in the world of Cubdom.

I came up with the slogan "This is the year that Cubdom strikes back" which is a play on "The Empire Strikes Back." Pretty cool, I think. Then Andy MacPhail (F-A-I-L) stepped down, triggering the following events:

    • John McDonough becoming interim president
    • Lou Piniella is hired as manager
    • The Cubs spend $300 million on revamping the worst team in the NL
    • The Tribune Co. announces that it will sell the team at the end of the season
It's not like a lot hasn't happened to the Cards since then too.
    • The Cards decided to weaken their bullpen because they decided that they didn't want to partake in the free agent spending spree. The Cards will go to battle with their 8th and 9th inning guys to start the game instead of end them.
    • They've also decided not to go with a right fielder. Unless you consider Skip Schumaker, Juan Encarnacion (still injured), Preston Wilson and So Taguchi as a formidable right field trio. Oh and they've also decided to give Jim Edmonds uber amounts of money despite health concerns and a clear decline in skills.
    • Then there was this little bitch fit between Albert Pujols and Scott Rolen. "I won't sign autographs unless I make this much more than Rolen."-Pujols. "I won't sign autographs unless I make this much compared to Albert." -Rolen. What a bunch of bitches.
    • Oh, and then Tony LaRussa decided that he was gonna drive off that World Series hangover.
Again, lots has changed since the Cards were crowned. So that leads us into the first of about 19 or 20 games against our arch-rival (no pun intended.)

  • Game 1 matches up reliever-turned-starter Braden Looper and Ted "The Forty Million Dollar Man" Lilly. I endorsed the Lilly signing for a multitude of reasons, including the Cardinals inability to hit left handed starting pitching which continues to be a trend. Lilly has yet to disappoint, he's 1-1 with a 2.37 ERA and is racking up strikeouts while minimizing walks. Looper isn't terrible in his own right (except for the fact that he is wearing a Cardinals uniform.) Looptey-loop is 2-1 with a 2.37 ERA. He'll benefit from me not being at Wrigley to heckle him. As some of you may or may not know, Looper and I have history between us. As a member of the Marlins, Looper was heckled endlessly by me before, during and after a rain delay. He tried to get me kicked out (presumably...why else would he be talking to an usher pointing at me?) However, little did Braden's bitch ass know that the usher was a friend of mine. Looper would go on to blow the save, just like I predicted.
  • The most intriguing match up occurs Saturday afternoon as the Cardinals send Anthony Reyes (0-2, 5.40 ERA) to the mound against former Cardinal Jason Marquis. Marquis signed a three year deal worth $21 million with the Cubs after a terrible 2006 season in which Marquis posted an ERA higher than 6.00. To add insult to injury, Marq was left off the WS roster and left out to dry on several occasions by LaRussa and pitching coach Dave Duncan. Duncan and LaRussa grew thin of Marquis and basically made him Cardinal Nation's whipping boy. Cards fans are licking their chops for a shot at Marquis, who is coming off his first win in a Cubs uniform. He's sporting a 1-1 record with a 2.65 ERA.
  • On paper, game three looks to be a mismatch in favor of the Cardinals. They'll send World Series hero Adam Wainwright (1-1, 3.20) against Wade Miller (0-1, 9.00). Miller has been absolutely terrible this year. He hasn't pitched deep into ball games and I don't think his fastball has reached 90 MPH this year. If he continues to struggle, Angel Guzman might take his spot in the rotation if he keeps impressing out of the pen (and now in the minors.) Wainwright, a starter-turned-reliever-turned-starter struggled in his last two innings of work against the Pirates in his first loss of the 2006 season. But his raw stuff is still there as there are times where that mid-90s fastball coupled with that big breaking ball look untouchable.
This series will match two of baseball's best managers. We already know about what type of piece of crap LaRussa is, but what about Lou? Yes, Sweet Uncle Lou gets his first taste of the Cubs-Cards rivalry on Friday. Good news for Cubs fans is that he's out-managed LaRussa before, note the 1990 World Series in which Lou's Reds swept the heavily favored A's.

  • Both teams will be missing significant players this series. The Cardinals are without Chris Carpenter for about 4-6 weeks after an elbow injury. The Cubs will be without the services of Alfonso Soriano, who is nursing a hamstring injury.
  • The Cardinals should consider themselves lucky, they're missing lefty Rich Hill who threw an outstanding game in the Cubs 3-0 win against the Braves. They're also on a long flight from San Fran. to Chicago after their 6-2 loss to the Giants. Sucks for them! The Cubs are on their way back from Atlanta as we speak.