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Archive for September, 2008

Something Special In The Air In Chicago

Posted by sportsmaven on September 30, 2008

It almost didn’t happen.  Two series ago, the Chicago White Sox were left for dead.  They went into Minnesota to play the badly limping Twins, armed with a 2.5 game lead and left down by .5 game with 3 to play.  At least they were home and playing a Cleveland Indians team that was playing out the string in a disappointing season.  The Twins were doing their part, losing the first two games of their final series against an all of a sudden very tough Kansas City Royals team, but the Sox kept throwing the generosity back, losing their first two games as well.  Then, the first break came.  Indians LHP Cliff Lee, the probable AL Cy Young Award winner and 22-game winner was shut down due to a stiff neck.  The next break came in the form of a clutch outing by LHP Mark Buehrle on Sunday to extend the season.  The third break was facing RHP Freddy Garcia (who so happens to be married to Sox manager Ozzie Guillen’s wife’s niece) and the Detroit Tigers at home.  The break after that was Garcia pulled from the game in the 6th inning after shutting down the Sox, only to be followed by 2B Alexi Ramirez’ grand slam to win the game for the Sox.  The biggest break of them all?  Hosting a one game playoff for the AL Central Division title at home against Minnesota.

(AP Photo/Paul Beaty)

(AP Photo/Paul Beaty)

The local Chicago media has been focused on a dual Cubs/Sox playoff presence for most of the baseball season.  Both teams were in 1st place in their respective divisions for most of the season.  TBS made a huge mention of this fact tonight on their television broadcast, as well as the fact that it has been 102 years since both the Cubs and the Sox made the post-season in the same year.  Nobody else mentioned the fact that in the same city theme, the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim and the Los Angeles Dodgers also made the playoffs this season.  Little coverage, little play anywhere for that story.  Since 1901, the White Sox have made the post-season 10 times, in 2008, 2005, 2000, 1993, 1983, 1959, 1919, 1917, 1906, and 1901.  In the same timeframe, the Cubs have made the post-season 16 times, in 2008, 2007, 2003, 1998, 1989, 1984, 1945, 1938, 1935, 1932, 1929, 1918, 1910, 1908, 1907, and 1906.  The last time both the Cubs and Sox make the playoffs in the same year?  That’s right, 1906.  In contrast, the San Francisco Giants and Oakland A’s have made the playoffs in the same season 5 times since 1968.  The New York Yankees and New York Mets have shared post seasons three times since 1969 and the Dodgers and Angels have done it twice since 1961.

There have been 17 intracity World Series matchups in baseball history.  The Yankees and Mets played each other in the 2000 World Series, dubbed the Subway Series.  In 1989, the A’s swept the Giants in the Bay Series, marred by a devestating earthquake.   Then it’s the Yankees vs. Brooklyn Dodgers in 1956 and 1955, 1953, 1952, 1949, 1947, and 1941.  In the middle, the St. Louis Cardinals vs. St. Louis Browns in 1944.  Before that, it’s the Yankees again vs. New York Giants in 1951, 1937, 1936, 1923, 1922, and 1921.  Chicago Cubs vs. the Chicago White Sox?  Once, in 1906.

I don’t know if this will be the year for the Chicago match up for the ages, but something special is in the air in the Chicago baseball world in 2008.  Lets hope that it’s not another century before this happens again.

Posted in Chicago Cubs, Chicago White Sox | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

Do The Chicago Cubs Own Destiny? Only Time Will Tell…

Posted by sportsmaven on September 25, 2008

Hardly a day goes by before someone spouts an opinion about who our beloved Chicago Cubs should or should not want to play in the playoffs.  Just this evening, I had a conversation with my wife, her cousin, and a couple of other well informed sports theorists on the merits of each team the Cubs may have to face in the upcoming playoffs.

(AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)

(AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)

Like many others, I was initially caught up in the popular debate.  I originally wanted the Cubs to face the New York Mets in the NLDS, as the Mets provide a very favorable matchup for the Cubs.  Anyone, but the Philadelphia Phillies, I thought.  After the Cubs, the Phillies were the most complete team in the NL this season and played the Cubs very tough this season.  Then I jumped on the Los Angeles Dodgers bandwagon, Manny Ramirez included.  The Dodgers were less imposing, offensively challenged, and in the weakest division in Major League Baseball, the good old National League West division.  Ripe for the picking.

The Milwaukee Brewers?  Won’t have to even think about facing the Brewers until the NLCS, that is if they secure the NL Wildcard.  That bullpen, the streaky offense, did the Brewers ride CC Sabathia and Ben Sheets into the ground in their push to the playoffs?

Amidst the thinking of the various scenarios and how they would potentially play out, another scenario popped into my little head, like a great rush of fresh air.  It seemed almost too simple to comprehend, as though simplicity eliminated the potential of this concept to be with merit.

Really, it doesn’t matter who the Cubs play in the playoffs.  There are no Pittsburgh Pirates or Washington Nationals in the playoffs.  Every team that makes the playoffs is an excellent quality team.  Each playoff team has it’s flaws, some more than others.  The playoffs are seldom about the best team during the season, but rather, the team playing the best when the playoffs happen to be played.  It’s a crapshoot – the team with the hot hand has the best chance of going all the way, first to win 11games wins it all.  It means that the Brewers or Dodgers have as good a chance as the Cubs in winning a World Series.  It means that the Chicago White Sox or  Minnesota Twins have as good a chance to win it all as the Tampa Bay Rays or the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.

Network analysts, newspaper sports columnists, Peter Gammons, Ken Rosenthal and other baseball talking heads get paid to spin their most favorable matchups for each playoff team, to analyze favorites and make predictions based on the results of a 162 game season.  It’s even vogue to pick a dark horse, playing on past runs of underdog wildcard teams such as the St. Louis Cardinals, who won 83 games en route to a unlikely World Championship in 2006 over a 95 win Detroit Tigers team.

The team that will win the 2008 World Series will be the team that plays unified team baseball, puts it all together at the right time, catches lightning in a bottle to ride a hot streak that lasts for a month, a team that powers through the 11 wins necessary to be called World Champions.  Destiny has already chosen the 2008 World Series Champion.  The only question remaining is if destiny has chosen the Chicago Cubs, or do the Cubs have the balls and heart to go out and get their destiny?  Come October 30th, we’ll all know the answer to that question.

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Top 5 Reasons Why The Chicago Bears Lose Football Games

Posted by sportsmaven on September 22, 2008

The Chicago Bears have lost yet another game in this young season that they should have won.  Today’s loss makes two in a row, where the Bears have enjoyed statistical dominance, only to be trounced by late and furious comebacks by teams that are arguably average teams from the NFC South, in a weak National Football Conference.  Why are the Bears losing games to average teams that they should have closed out and put away?  There are 5 main reasons to explain the malaise this Bears team is facing after a very solid opening performance against the Indianapolis Colts to start the season:

(AP Photo/M. Spencer Green)

(AP Photo/M. Spencer Green)

1. Bears team unable to close out games – two weeks in a row, the Bears have lead games going into the second half.  Two weeks in a row, the Bears offense has chances to extend drives to put games away and don’t execute.  Two weeks in a row, the Bears defense has let teams come back to score the points that cost the Bears victories.  The 4th and 1 play against the Carolina Panthers last week, the 3rd and 2 play in today’s game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, both situations and lack of execution on those plays highlight the Bears inability to close out games.  Then the tired Bears defense gets steamrolled by comebacks two weeks in a row.

The Bears need to develop some killer instinct and execution to put teams away, especially at the end of games.  The Bears should be 3-0 after this week, but instead they are 1-2 and play a very tough Philadelphia Eagles team this coming Sunday night.

2.  Too many mistakes and execution errors/lack of discipline – 22 penalties for 166 yards (average of 7 penalties for 55 yards per game), 4 key turnovers in the last two games.  Missed blocks, missed tackles, untimely penalties wiping out big offensive gains.  CB Charles Tillman’s unsportsmanlike conduct penalty in the OT was a gamebreaker today.  In today’s game, LB Hunter Hillenmeyer makes a key mistake on the TD by Bucs TE Jerramy Stevens by not taking away the inside route.  The same mistake was made on the TD pass to WR Ike Hilliard earlier in the game.  TE Greg Olsen fumbling the only 2 balls he touches in the Carolina game, both because he failed to tuck the ball properly after making the reception.  These mistakes were minimized or hardly apparent in the opener against the Colts, but have been glaring the last two games, costing the Bears two victories against key NFC opponents.

3.  Questionable play calling and coaching – when Special Teams coordinator Dave Toub is calling more effective plays than your offensive coordinator, that could be a  sign that your team could be in trouble.  When Toub bailed out Ron Turner on yet another failed 3rd and 1 call this afternoon with the fake punt, 38 yard run by RB Garrett Wolfe, he did two things that Turner has yet to master this season: he called a play to pick up the yard, and he figured out a way to get Garrett Wolfe into the game.   RB Matt Forte is quickly emerging as a star.  Forte touched the ball on 46% of the offensive plays in the Buccaneers game, but on a crucial 3rd down and 2, he was nowhere to be found.  San Diego puts the ball in RB LaDanian Tomlinson’s hands in that position.  Minnesota gives it to RB Adrian Peterson when they absolutely need 1 yard to extend an offensive series.  Ten times out of ten, Turner needs to put the ball in Forte’s hands in that position.  Two weeks in a row, he has failed to make the correct call.

Lovie Smith failed to challenge the Darrell McClover strip in the Tampa Bay game.  Smith has had difficulties managing the challenge process and today was a glaring example of that difficulty.  Defensive coordinator Bob Babich made virtually no adjustments at halftime, particularly in stopping the Tampa Bay slant plays.  Buccaneers QB Brian Griese threw that slant for at least 15 completions today, mostly on 3rd and long situations.  The Bears have yet to stop that play.  The high marks the Bears staff received in preparation for the Colts game has been virtually wiped out by the Bears performance the last two weeks.  Of course, it is way easier to be prepared with you have six weeks to prepare for that first game.

4.  Inability to get key playmakers more touches – The Bears have 3 playmakers on the offensive side of the ball, WR Devin Hester, Forte and now WR Brandon LloydQB Kyle Orton may or may not be a playmaker, but that can’t be determined because the play calling has yet to establish Orton as a playmaker.  Until the second half of today’s game against the Buccaneers, the Bears have done a poor job of getting Lloyd more touches.  The Bears have also neglected to get Forte into more touches in key moments of the games, moments that would put games away.  Hester has yet to be a significant part of the weekly offensive gameplan and now he is injured.  Again, Turner has weapons that can be devastating with a little applied creativity.  Hester should get about 15-20 touches a game, and not just as an outside receiver.  The Bears need to use Hester like they use Forte – lineup in the backfield, receiver screen, slot receiver, on the end of the line at TE.  They need to make defenses have to game plan to stop the perception that Hester might be used.  This is a HUGE missed opportunity that needs to be exploited more going forward for the Bears offense to have any chance of winning.  Turner needs to unleash Orton more often.  The interception that Orton threw in the end zone of today’s game was actually not bad; it was nice to see Orton actually throw the ball down field.  Turner needs to move Orton around, roll him out a bit more, get the moving pocket working.  Orton took three sacks today, standing up as a statue in the pocket.  His best moments were in the 3 and 5 step drops where he can move the ball quickly.  The Green Bay Packers move QB Aaron Rodgers around all the time, with great success so far.  Give Orton a chance to make some plays.  I hate that the Bears set him up to “manage” football games.  That has to change if the Bears are going to move the offense to the next level.

5.  Lack of a NFL caliber offense – this is perhaps the biggest reason of all reasons that the Chicago Bears lose football games.  The offense is too bland, too conservative when it needs to be more dynamic.  The lack of playmakers is evident in the skill positions.  The most dynamic WR on the team is Hester, who also is the WR with the least amount of touches.  The most dynamic playmaker on the offense is Forte, but the Turner fails to get Forte the ball in key short yardage situations and on the goal line in consecutive weeks. The defense put the offense in great position on the first two series of the game, only for the offense to crawl into it’s conservative shell of bland, uninspiring playcalling, settling for two field goals when we really needed touchdowns, particularly on that first possession.  Comcast Sports Chicago pulled an interesting statistic today regarding the TD reception by Forte.  It was the first receiving touchdown the Bears have intentionally thrown to a RB in the last 116 games!  Turner has proven to be conservative to a fault precisely at the times where more dynamic touch is necessary. The Bears offense seems very predictable, with virtually no deep game to keep defenses honest.  This allows defenses to pick up tendencies before they happen, and with no deep game, defenses stack the line and box, forcing the Bears offense to work much harder for lesser output.  This explains how the Bears are so challenged at times to gain a yard on 4th and 1 situations.

The Bears have lots of work to do to reverse the disturbing trends of the last two weeks.  The big fear the Bears faced was losing the hard earned respect by the league that was garnered by the Colts win.  The Bears could either prove they were for real with a 3-0 record, but with every loss, the Colts victory becomes more of a fluke rather than the decisive victory that signaled that the Monsters of the Midway are back.

Posted in Chicago Bears | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Zambrano’s No, No Turns Into A No-No

Posted by sportsmaven on September 18, 2008

If you were one of the 95,000 people who were at Miller Park on Sunday night, you witnessed an event 36 years in the waiting.  Actually, I know only 23,000 attended the game, but by today, 95,000 people will claim to have seen Carlos Zambrano’s no-hitter in person.  The Sports Maven was there in person to witness the latest magical moment in the 2008 season for the Chicago Cubs and the place was rocking!  It sounded like 95,000 people were in attendance.

(AP Photo/Morry Gash)

(AP Photo/Morry Gash)

The Hurricane Ike displaced Houston Astros were certainly there, although if you believe the reports, they were there physically, but their minds were in Houston and on their families.  Fair enough, but you had to play and due to the stubborn insistence from owner Drayton McLane, the Astros were forced to play in “Wrigley North” instead of a more neutral site in a not so favorable travel or scheduling situation.  No one to blame but Mr. McLane.

Now that the dust has settled from the Carlos Zambrano no-no, lets not overlook the dominance and historical significance of Big Z’s performance on this magical night:

  • 110 pitches, 73 strikes, 10 strikeouts
  • 8th Cubs no-hitter in history
  • 3rd Venezuelan to throw a no-hitter
  • 1st no-hitter in Miller Park history
  • 1st no hitter at a neutral site in major league history

Witnessing a no-hitter in person is nothing short of amazing.  Witnessing a Chicago Cubs no-hitter in person a year where the Cubs are breaking 70, 80, and 90 year old records is nothing short of spectacular.  Good things happen to those who believe, but great things happen to those who dare to dream….

Posted in Chicago Cubs | Tagged: , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Ike Spikes Chicago Cubs

Posted by sportsmaven on September 12, 2008

It’s Friday night and if we were playing by the rules, the Chicago Cubs would be in cozy Minute Maid Park shooting for some payback from last week’s sweep by the Houston Astros.  Once again, due to a “Cubby Occurance”, the Cubs are stymied by another hurricane, this time the venerable Hurricane Ike.  The Cubs were affected by a hurricane in Florida in 2004, forcing them to take 4 days off in a heated playoff race.  The result was the Cubs playing 26 games in 24 days to end the season.  That contributed mightily to their losing 7 of their last 8 games to miss the wild card.

Ike is preparing to hit shore sometime Friday night/Saturday morning starting at Galveston, Texas.   Despite everyone on the planet knowing that Ike was due to hit Houston, the braintrust at Major League Baseball somehow missed it, with no plan in place on backup sites for this critical 3 game series, thus the potential of 3 days off for both the Cubs and Astros.  Of course, the only thing worse then letting MLB come up with a plan to play the games is to let the Houston Astros come up with a plan.

When Milwaukee was suggested as an alternate site, the Astros response was pointed:

Astros player representative Mark Loretta said the Cubs had asked to play the series in Milwaukee’s Miller Park, where they would be close to Chicago and assured of playing because of the retractable roof.

“We didn’t think that was a very good idea, to try and evacuate our families and take off [or] leave them behind,” Loretta told the Houston Chronicle. “Of course, Milwaukee is kind of a Cubs home game.”

So playing a game at a neutral site out of the path of the hurricane while taking the opportunity to have your family along for the “road trip” in a comfortable evacuation is not a very good idea?  This is all about playing these games in Houston and nothing more.  Understandably so, as the Astros have been baseball’s hottest team and three games at home are priceless, but at the expense of potential danger and backed up with less than intelligent comments like the one above clearly doesn’t make sense.  This should have been resolved days ago by MLB and they dropped the ball.  Someone please help Bud Selig’s crew find the Weather Channel on cable TV.

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