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Archive for September, 2008

…But Even More Brutal To The Chicago Cubs

Posted by sportsmaven on September 10, 2008

South Siders, you think the Sox have it bad?  You haven’t seen the September 2008 version of the Chicago Cubs. The Cubs entered September with the best record in baseball, a 4.5 game lead over the Milwaukee Brewers in the NL Central Division standings, and a good shot to win 100 games for the first time since 1935.  The Cubs appeared to be the best team in the National League and arguably the best team in baseball.  Then came September, the most dreaded month for Cubs fans, especially when the Cubs are contending for post-season play.  The Cubs September schedule was already brutal, but mix in a slumping offense, a huge turn of injury fate for key Cubs pitchers, and the typical unusual Cubs karma of September, and the faith of Chicago Cubs fans is being shaken, stirred, and tested like never before.  The last 18 games will be the ride of a lifetime.

(AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)

(AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)

The MLB schedule makers have played a cruel joke on the Cubs this season by the looks of the September schedule. The Cubs have 16 road games (9 home games) and 22 of their final 25 games with teams that are 10 games over .500 or better, i.e. the teams that are chasing the Cubs.  This is the most difficult schedule for any of the contending teams in baseball for a team that until recently, struggles on the road.  The Houston Astros have been the hottest team in baseball since the All-Star break and are quickly moving into wild card contention.  Could they be this season’s version of the Colorado Rockies?

The Cubs have played all season in baseball’s best division, the NL Central.  The Cubs have had the best record in baseball at key moments of the season.  The Brewers have the second best record in the NL behind the Cubs and the St. Louis Cardinals have been on the heels of the two division upstarts.  And now the surging Astros are putting pressure on all the division leaders with their remarkable run of 12 wins in their last 13 including a home sweep of the Cubs last week.  The Cubs still have 3 games to play in Houston, 2 more in St, Louis, 4 games against the New York Mets in Shea Stadium and 3 in Milwaukee to end the season.  The schedule couldn’t be any worse for the Cubs until adding strange and unusual injuries and the lack of offense in the last 10 days that is disturbing to say the least.

The schedule withstanding, the Cubs needed to enter September with a healthy roster to close out a run to the NL Central Division title that started on May 11th.  The position players appear to be healthy and ready to play, but the pitching is in disarray, due to untimely injuries to staff ace, RHP Carlos Zambrano, RHP Rich Harden, and now RHP Chad Gaudin.  Zambrano, who historically fights ailments in August (his worst month of the season) provided Cubs management and fans a scare with a potential rotator cuff injury that cut his last start on Sept. 1st short.  After examination and an MRI, it appears the injury is inflammation of the shoulder muscle, a much lesser concern.  Zambrano is due to miss a turn in the rotation before making his next start on Sept. 13th in Houston.  Harden was being rested for two starts due to a tired arm.  Harden repeatedly told reporters that he is not injured and the Cubs are being extra cautious of his workload going into the post-season, but combined with the Zambrano scare and the timing of the precautionary moves, potentially upsets the Cubs rotation for a decisive final series against Milwaukee, or the first series of the post-season.

Adding to the injuries above is the very unusual injury of the glue to the Cubs bullpen, RHP Chad Gaudin.  The Chicago Sun-Times reports that Gaudin said he bruised his lower back in a fall away from the ballpark, apparently sometime between his Aug. 29 appearance against the  [Philadelphia] Phillies and the next morning when he got to the park. Initial medical tests revealed no serious damage, but Gaudin hasn’t been able to pitch since.  With Gaudin out, the Cubs bullpen has been shuffled, with LHP Sean Marshall moving into the rotation, RHP Jeff Samardzija moved into middle relief and LHP Neal Cotts the only left-handed pitcher in the bullpen. RHP Bobby Howry has been ineffective and for all intents and purposes, unusable in games, being hit hard virtually the entire season and risks being left off the 25 man playoff roster.  The pitching appears to be a mess right in the middle of the most important stretch of the season.

If that doesn’t scare you, how about the inconsistency of the Cubs offense?  The Cubs lead the NL in runs scored and are first in nearly every offensive category that matters (batting avg, runs, OBP, OPS, SLG, BB’s) but in their current stretch of losing, their offense has disappeared.  In their current 1-8 stretch, the offense has scored 3 or fewer runs 7 times.  In their last 8 losses, the Cubs have left 67 men on base, or an average of 8.3 runners per game.  They have also hit into a whopping 12 double plays in those 8 games, including 4 in one game against the Astros.  The Cubs have also lacked timely hitting, scoring well above their 5.29 runs per game average.

The scenario may seem doom and gloom to the pessimistic Cubs fans, and after 100 years of futility, the disasters of 1969, 1986, and close calls of 1998, 2003, and 2007 who would blame anyone if a bit of cynicism set into Cub Nation.  But consider this:  The Milwaukee Brewers, the team closest to the Cubs in the standings have picked up exactly 0 games in the standings during the 1-8 stretch.  The Astros have won 12 of 13 and are still 8.5 games behind the Cubs.  The Cubs are 8.5 games ahead of the 2nd place wild-card team (Philadelphia Phillies).  Even Steve Stone said on AM670 The Score this afternoon that the Cubs will make the playoffs, just a question of where.  Just my prediction — The Cubs finish the season 13-6 and win 99 games.  They win the NL Central Division title for the second year in a row.  Anything beyond that — your guess is as good as mine.

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The Baseball Gods Are Brutal To The White Sox…

Posted by sportsmaven on September 9, 2008

Historically, the month of September has been a month of angst for Chicago baseball fans. This September is no exception. In fact, this September has been particularly brutal for the Chicago White Sox. If a tough schedule wasn’t enough, the Sox are losing key players to an injury bug that has them clinging to dear life to a one game lead in the AL Central Division with 18 games left in the season.

(AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)

(AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)

The September schedule looks a bit tougher in real life than on paper. The month started by facing perhaps the best pitcher in baseball this season in Cleveland Indians LHP Cliff Lee. All Lee did was hang 5-hit complete game shut out on the Sox to run his record to a MLB leading 20-2. It gets worse this week with the hottest team in baseball, the Toronto Blue Jays hitting town. The Sox lost the first two of a 5 game series today and they face RHP Roy Halladay and his 18-9 record.  The Blue Jays have won 10 in a row to move into 3rd place in the AL East.   After this homestand, the Sox hit the road for 9 games with 6 games against a hungry New York Yankees team and the upstart and amazingly resilient Minnesota Twins before a season ending 3 game homestand against the Indians and one more potential shot at Cliff Lee.

That’s not even the worst of it. The rash of injuries that have hit the Sox this season has been absolutely horrific, with the brunt of key injuries happening this month. The Sox had already lost RHP Jose Contreras on August 11th with a season ending achilles injury and had to endure losing all of August and the beginning of September without their best releiver, RHP Scott Linebrink. Now, in September alone, the Sox expect 3B Joe Crede to miss the rest of the season with a back injury, AL MVP candidate LF Carlos Quentin is injured, breaking his wrist in a freak mishap with his bat and is out until potentially the post season if that happens, and now tonight, the Sox hottest hitter in the last 10 days and team captain 1B Paul Konerko goes down with a sprained MCL slipping while cutting off a throw from right field.  His status is uncertain.  In addition, also announced today, September callup IF Chris Getz will miss the rest of the season due to two broken bones in his wrist.

Now the Sox don’t want anyone to feel sorry for them, with Manager Ozzie Guillen stating that they just have to fight through this and keep going with the team they have.  Things aren’t all that bad, with CF Nick Swisher moving to first and plenty of CF options are available for Guillen to play with.  DH Jim Thome can play first if Swisher needs a breather and OF Ken Griffey, Jr. is also available to swing between DH and OF.  The Sox definitely have karma working against that right now, but have somehow managed to fight through all the adversity that has plagued them this season to still remain in first place, one game ahead of the Twins with 18 games to play.  The Sox have a lot of fight left in them…they will need every ounce of fight to cross the finish line in first, and they may be the better off of the two Chicago baseball teams…..

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Chicago Bears GM Jerry Angelo Is Officially On The Hot Seat

Posted by sportsmaven on September 5, 2008

The Chicago Bears season opener is roughly 67 hours away, which is about the time that Bears GM Jerry Angelo’s tenure on the hot seat is about to officially begin.  If you are one of the few that haven’t questioned the performance of Angelo to date, by kickoff on Sunday night in a nationally televised opener against Super Bowl XLI nemesis, the Indianapolis Colts, you may have second thoughts.  By getting to the Super Bowl two years ago, the Bears have bought some time for the newly embattled GM, but the clock is ticking under the weight of very questionable draft picks and lack of player development on the offensive side of the ball.

Jerry Angelo was named GM of the Chicago Bears on June 12, 2001.  During his tenure, the Bears have drafted the following players in the following rounds:

2008

Rd Player Position School

1 Chris Williams OT Vanderbilt

2 Matt Forte RB Tulane

3 Earl Bennett WR Vanderbilt

3 Marcus Harrison DT Arkansas

4 Craig Steltz SAF Louisiana State

5 Zack Bowman CB Nebraska

5 Kellen Davis TE Michigan State

7 Ervin Baldwin DE Michigan State

7 Chester Adams G Georgia

7 Joey LaRocque LB Oregon State

7 Kirk Barton T Ohio State

7 Marcus Monk WR Arkansas

2007

Rd Player Position School

1 Greg Olsen TE Miami (Fla.)

2 Dan Bazuin DE Central Michigan

3 Garrett Wolfe RB Northern Illinois

3 Michael Okwo LB Stanford

4 Josh Beekman G Boston College

5 Kevin Payne SAF Louisiana-Monroe

5 Corey Graham CB New Hampshire

7 Trumaine McBride CB Mississippi

7 Aaron Brant T Iowa State

2006

Rd Player Position School

2 Danieal Manning FS Abilene Christian

2 Devin Hester DB Miami (Fla.)

3 Dusty Dvoracek DT Oklahoma

4 Jamar Williams LB Arizona State

5 Mark Anderson DE Alabama

6 J.D. Runnels RB Oklahoma

6 Tyler Reed G Penn State

2005

Rd Player Position School

1 Cedric Benson RB Texas

2 Mark Bradley WR Oklahoma

4 Kyle Orton QB Purdue

5 Airese Currie WR Clemson

6 Chris Harris FS Louisiana-Monroe

7 Rod Wilson LB South Carolina

2004

Rd Player Position School

1 Tommie Harris DT Oklahoma

2 Tank Johnson DT Washington

3 Bernard Berrian WR Fresno State

4 Nathan Vasher CB Texas

4 Leon Joe LB Maryland

5 Claude Harriott DE Pittsburgh

5 Craig Krenzel QB Ohio State

7 Alfonso Marshall CB Miami (Fla.)

2003

Rd Player Position School

1 Michael Haynes DE Penn State

1 Rex Grossman QB Florida

2 Charles Tillman CB Louisiana-Lafayette

3 Lance Briggs OLB Arizona

4 Todd Johnson DB Florida

4 Ian Scott DT Florida

5 Bobby Wade WR Arizona

5 Justin Gage WR Missouri

5 Tron LaFavor DT Florida

6 Joe Odom LB Purdue

6 Brock Forsey RB Boise State

7 Bryan Anderson G Pittsburgh

2002

Rd Player Position School

1 Marc Colombo T Boston College

3 Roe Williams CB Tuskegee

3 Terrence Metcalf G Mississippi

4 Alex Brown DE Florida

5 Bobby Gray DB Louisiana Tech

5 Bryan Knight DE Pittsburgh

6 Adrian Peterson RB Georgia Southern

6 Jamin Elliott WR Delaware

6 Bryan Fletcher TE UCLA

In total, 63 players have been drafted by Jerry Angelo since 2002, his first draft as GM of the Bears.  Of the 63 players, 28 (44%) are still with the Bears.  Of the 63 total, 29 (46%)  were offensive players, 34 (54%) were defensive players.

Angelo has been particularly questionable at the top of the draft, the first 3 picks. His misses: Marc Columbo (1st round 2002), Roosevelt Williams (3rd round 2002), Terrence Metcalf (3rd round 2002), Michael Haynes (1st round 2003), Rex Grossman (1st round 2003), Tank Johnson (2nd round 2004), Cedric Benson (1st round 2005), Mark Bradley (2nd round 2005), Dan Bazuin (2nd round 2007), Michael Okwo (3rd round 2007).  Of Angelo’s 7 first round draft picks since 2002, he has completely whiffed on 4 (Columbo, Haynes, Grossman, and Benson), hit it big with one (Tommie Harris) and jury still out on two (Greg Olsen and Chris Williams).

One position that has been completely neglected is offensive line. After picking T Marc Columbo #1 in 2002, Angelo doesn’t even sniff a top OL pick until 2008 with #1 pick T Chris Williams. In fact, in 7 total drafts, Angelo drafted a total of 8 offensive lineman (2 in the 1st round, one in the 3rd round, one in the 6th round and 4 in the 7th round) Of those lineman, only 3 are still with the Bears. The injury to Williams is the icing on the sketchy cake for Angelo’s lack of high round draft pick success.

Hits in the top 3 rounds include: Charles Tillman (2nd round 2003), Lance Briggs (3rd round 2003), Tommy Harris (1st round 2004), Bernard Berrian (3rd round 2004), Devin Hester (2nd Round 2006) and arguably Greg Olsen (1st round 2007), twice as many misses than hits in the first three rounds.  Of all Angelo picks, only 4 made it to the Pro Bowl (Hester, Harris, Briggs, and Vasher).

On the other end in player development, the Bears have been less than satisfactory on the offensive side of the ball, most glaringly at QB.  Since 2002, the Bears have had the following QB’s on their roster who played at least one game: Jim Miller, Chris Chandler, Henry Burris, Cory Sauter, Kordell Stewart, Jonathan Quinn, Craig Krenzel, Chad Hutchinson, Jeff Blake, Kyle Orton, Rex Grossman, and Brian Griese.  Those are a lot of mediocre football players at the most important offensive position.  At WR, the Bears developed Bernard Berrian only to watch him sign with the Minnesota Vikings.  Justin Gage was a bust for the Bears, but emerged last season playing for the Tennessee Titans.

At RB, Cedric Benson will forever be linked to Jerry Angelo’s futility, seeing as the Bears best RB on the roster in 2007 (Thomas Jones) was traded to accomodate Benson, who rushed for 200 more yards in his entire career to date as Thomas Jones did in the 2006 Super Bowl season.  With draft and development failures as those listed above, it is no wonder that most analysts pick the Bears to finish 3rd or 4th in the NFC North this season.

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